October 16, 2013 at 10:41 am

How One Band’s Fans Warped Online Music Charts

fifth_harmony fan army

Some artists have been complaining about the royalties paid out by online streaming services like Rdio and Spotify (which depend on record label deals), and also about what they get from streaming radio services (even though the U.S. government mostly sets those).

But at least one band has inadvertently discovered how to climb up the charts and earn a bit more cash from streaming services. It’s simple: Their fans, apparently self-organized on a grassroots level, put together a social media campaign to encourage the band’s fans to listen to the same song by said band, on repeat, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on Spotify and Rdio.

The band in question is Fifth Harmony, and their fans are called Harmonizers. This is their jam:

By crunching the numbers, Paul Lamere of MusicMachinery (and director of developer platform for The Echo Nest, publisher of Evolver.fm) determined that one song, “Miss Movin’ On,” was an “extreme outlier” in terms of having a passionate fan base. He had measured the passion fans have for certain songs by determining the number of plays each song had per user, over the summer of 2013. “Miss Movin’ On” stood out by a big margin.

What was it about Fifth Harmony’s “Miss Movin’ On” was arousing such passionate, borderline obsessive listening behavior?

What was it about this song that made people listen to it over and over and over again?

As Lamere discovered through a simple Twitter search, many of the listens he’d spotted were part of a concerted effort on the part of fans of the group to boost the popularity of “Miss Movin’ On” by listening to it on repeat in Spotify, Rdio, and in other places.

Here’s one of many examples:

Lamere posted extensive research into the effect of this behavior on the song in the charts, concluding that a few hundred Fifth Harmony fans were able to boost the song’s chart position by around 300 spots.

“Fans and shills need to simple play a song on autorepeat across a a few hundred accounts to boost the chart position of a song,” writes Lamere. “Fifth Harmony proves that if you have a small, but committed fan base,  you can radically boost your chart position for very little cost.”

It’s amusing that some extreme fans of a pop music group managed to game the system like this, and it’s not like they broke a law. Compared to what other organizations get up to online, it’s not a huge deal.

Still, it could lead to more serious shenanigans, if more groups get their listeners similarly organized. Streaming services have to pay for these listens, even if the song plays on repeat throughout several nights in hundreds of homes with all the speakers on mute.

(Photo courtesy of Flickr/Disney | ABC Television Group)

  • Svantana

    I REALLY hope this type of behavior doesn’t spread. I mean chart positions hardly matter in the grand scheme of things, but this is such a ridiculous waste of bandwidth, electricity (and royalties).

    What’s next? Botnets that “listen” to music all day and night? I hope spotify and its ilk implement checks for this type of stuff in their chart calculations.

  • INAD

    This is funny because a lot of fanbases use this “technique” to get their faves more fame and recognition. How do you think Miley has the record to most viewed music video in 24 hours? This is not a first and won’t be a last.

  • clarissa

    Actually this has been done for years, from Gga fans to One Direction fans, they’ve all found a way to cheat the system one way or another. What these fans are doing is actually harmless compared to what other fandoms do.

  • Nat

    Harmonizers are definitely passionate. In just the past month, many 5H fans in a number of cities in and outside the U.S. have organized their own street teams to volunteer their time to circulate flyers about the upcoming EP! Fifth Harmony’s fan base is committed indeed and growing.

  • Jerseydemic

    All this type of stuff wouldn’t even matter if people werent so obsessed with what was popular instead of what was actually good. If you watch the charts to determine what you should listen to, then why not fool you for being dumb? Just my take on things.