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In 1899, American ragtime composer Scott Joplin – living in Sedalia, Missouri – composed The Maple Leaf Rag and hoped to get it published. He took the sheet music to John Stark, one of the leading publishers in town, who looked at it and scoffed.

“There are too many notes!”

Disappointed, Joplin aired his grievances to a young lawyer and a fan, who managed to convince Stark to buy The Maple Leaf Rag on the terms that the composer would receive one penny for each copy sold. Joplin may have thereby become the recipient of the first royalty payment in history.

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Impostor Syndrome: Fake Artists Posing as Icelandic Musicians on Spotify

Björk Guðmundsdóttir musician

Minister of Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir will meet with the CEO of Spotify this week to discuss the proliferation of “fake artists” posing as Icelandic musicians on the music streaming platform, RÚV reports. She says Spotify has thus far ignored requests to remove the impostors, which is costing real Icelandic artists a substantial amount of potential revenue.

During the meeting, Lilja intends to discuss the seriousness of this matter with the streaming service and fight for real Icelandic musicians to get the exposure and revenue they deserve. “The whole landscape has changed so much with streaming services and this can be a positive thing in some ways, but there are negative sides, too, and this is clearly one of them,” she said. “I believe our musicians deserve more for their efforts and I intend to say so. I understand that people think Iceland is cool, but this [appreciation] can’t be [performed] in such a way that our musicians’ earnings go down. That’s out of the question, in my mind.”

The Swedish Connection

The phenomenon of so-called ‘fake artists’ on Spotify has caused considerable consternation within the international music scene for years. Fake artists are the inventions of a small number of individual music producers and/or record companies that create untraceable pseudonyms with little-to-no digital footprint, and then mass-produce songs that are added to Spotify’s popular playlists. Playlists encourage song play and Spotify revenues are, of course, paid according to the number of plays an artist receives. Therefore, fake artists funnel streaming profits to a select few entities and deprive actual working musicians of their already scant streaming royalties.

A recent report by Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter discovered that Firefly Entertainment, a Swedish record label whose management appears to have close personal ties with a former Spotify executive, boasts a roster of over 800 fake artists, nearly 500 of whom are found on key Spotify playlists. Per Music Business Worldwide: “DN also discovered–via the register of Swedish publishing body STIM–that music from over 500 of these “fake artists” have been created by just 20 songwriters. The publication says it even found one composer who is the creator of songs for no less than 62 fake artists on Spotify; his music is currently attracting 7.7 million listeners on the service each month.” (Read Music Business Worldwide’s latest reporting on this developing story, in English, here.)

RÚV reports that a number of Firefly Entertainment’s fake artists are reputedly Icelandic. These Icelandic impostors then appear on a number of Iceland-themed playlists and thereby cash in on the country’s cachet as a nature- and music-lover’s paradise.

Ekfat the Fake “Icelandic Beatmaker”

One particularly egregious example of Firefly’s undercover antics is a fake artist going by the moniker Ekfat, whose song “Polar Circle” has generated over 3.52 million listens. According to the artist bio on Spotify, Ekfat is the pseudonym of “upcoming Icelandic beatmaker” Guðmundur Gunnarsson, who has been “part of the legendary Smekkleysa Lo-Fi Rockers crew since 2017.”

But in reality, no such musician exists and neither does his “legendary crew,” although Smekkleysa Lo-Fi Rockers is undoubtedly a play on the real (and actually iconic) Smekkleysa SM, or Bad Taste Records, which launched Björk’s career, among others. And yet, until recently, Ekfat could apparently be found on the Spotify-created playlist “Lo-Fi House.” (At time of writing, Spotify showed that Ekfat was supposed to be featured on this playlist, but no song by the artist appears on the playlist anymore.)

Real Icelandic Music from Real Icelandic Artists

Some of Iceland Music’s Verified Icelandic Playlists on Spotify

Luckily for Icelandic music enthusiasts, there’s an easy way to find and support real Icelandic musicians on Spotify. Iceland Music, an organization that promotes and exports music from Iceland, has created a number of playlists on both Spotify and Apple Music, all of which are populated with verified songs and musicians from Iceland. These include a playlist of new music from Iceland, which is updated on a weekly basis, as well as playlists of ‘atmospheric’ songs, contemporary classical music, music by Icelandic women, Icelandic hip hop, metal, electronic, and more. (Icelandic artists who want to have their music added to these verified playlists can request so here.)

More on Icelandic musicians and streaming platforms in our latest issue.

Icelandic Artist Royalties No Longer Subject to Income Tax

Masterkey Studios

Revenue from copyrighted material will now be taxed as capital gains in Iceland, and therefore not subject to income tax, RÚV reports. Performing rights organisations are welcoming this change, passed by the Icelandic parliament yesterday.

Musicians are one example of copyright holders who get paid royalties for the use of their compositions. The new amendment means they will no longer have to pay income taxes on this revenue. The legislation will also affect other types of creators, such as writer and visual artists. Icelandic Music Association Chairman Jakob Frímann Magnússon welcomed the change in a Facebook post, calling the legislation unique and its implementation the result of a 25-year battle.