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.

Disney Answers Call for Icelandic Subtitles and Dubbing

Lilja Alfreðsdóttir / Minister of Culture and Business Affairs

A Disney representative has answered a letter from Iceland’s Minister of Education and Culture urging the company to add Icelandic-language subbing and dubbing to their streaming service Disney+, which launched in Iceland last year. In a letter to the Minister, Manager of The Walt Disney Company in the Nordic and Baltic regions Hans van Rijn states the company is currently working on adding Icelandic dubbing and subtitles to the service but it will take “a few months” to complete the project.

Iceland’s Minister of Education and Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir wrote a letter to Disney CEO Bob Chapek on February 1 urging the company to add Icelandic subtitles and dubbing to its Disney+ streaming service. Disney films and TV shows have been subtitled and dubbed in Icelandic over the past several decades and Disney owns the rights to that material, but it has not been made available on the company’s streaming service, which entered the Icelandic market last September. In her letter, Lilja described the Icelandic language as “the core of the nation’s culture and identity,” adding: “We work hard to maintain it, especially among children and young people who are heavily exposed to other languages daily, mainly English.”

Read More: Icelanders Call on Disney+ to Add Icelandic Subtitles and Dubbing

In his reply, Van Rijn thanked Lilja for her letter, saying Disney “strive[s] to be locally and culturally relevant” in all markets in which it operates, adding that the company had been exploring how to add “more dubbed and subtitled stories in Icelandic” to its service since launching in the country last September. Among the titles that van Rijn says the company will make available in Icelandic in the future are the four Toy Story films, the Cars franchise, The Lion King, WALL-E, and more recent titles such as Frozen 2 and Coco.

In a Facebook post, Lilja described the letter as a “sign of goodwill,” saying she would push for the project to be sped up so Icelandic content would be available even sooner.

Netflix Continues Production in Iceland, Crediting Strong COVID Response

Vatnajökull Grímsfjall Grímsvötn Bárðarbunga Kverkfjöll Jöklar Jökull Vísindi

With people quarantined around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, viewership on streaming services such as Netflix has surged, even as production on new content has basically come to a halt. Even so, Netflix is currently in production in both South Korea and Iceland, thanks to those countries’ strong response in containing and tracking the novel coronavirus. This was among the information shared as part of the streaming giant’s first-quarter earnings report and a subsequent call with company executives.

“When it comes to production, almost all filming has now been stopped globally, with the exception of a few countries like Korea [sic] and Iceland,” Netflix content chief Theodore A. Sarandos explained. Both South Korea and Iceland have been “very aggressive about testing and tracking early,” he continued, which he says “lays out a good framework for future rollouts” in other parts of the world.

While Sarandos did not indicate specific productions that are underway in either country, previous Netflix shows and/or co-productions that have been filmed in Iceland include Sense8 and The Valhalla Murders.

Extensive testing in a country or state is a prerequisite for Netflix relaunching production efforts, Sarandos noted – “We have to be able to look our employees and cast and crew in the eyes and say, ‘This is a safe place to work.’”