How Spotify ended up uploading “fake” and “insulting” lyrics for My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins’ music

Lyric sticklers 1, Spotify 0. Whatever happened to “humming is fun”?

My Bloody Valentine

Image: Steve Speller / Alamy Stock Photo

Last month, My Bloody Valentine united lyric sticklers around the world with a tweet lambasting Spotify for putting up “fake” lyrics to their music. The band, often known for their unintelligible whisper-like lyrics, did not mince words, tweeting: “Just noticed that Spotify has put fake lyrics up for our songs without our knowledge. These lyrics are actually completely incorrect and insulting. We’re not sure where they got them from, probably one of those bullshit lyrics sites on the internet.”

The Irish shoegazers are not the only ones mad at Spotify for taking ‘fill in the blanks’ a little too seriously. Cocteau Twins’ Simon Ray Monde chimed in in the replies, saying, “If we’d wanted our lyrics put up anywhere, we would’ve done it 30 odd years ago.”

As streaming came to dominate the industry in the past decade, real-time lyrics have become a staple of music streaming apps clamouring for market share. Today, most of the major platforms like Spotify, Tidal and Amazon Music that offer this feature obtain their lyrics from data companies like Musixmatch, whose sub-licensing deals with the major publishing companies and team of transcribers allows it to provide lyrics on a massive scale.

Songwriters who are part of Musixmatch’s “Official Artist Verified Program” can also greenlight their own lyrics and prevent changes to them. Unsurprisingly, neither My Bloody Valentine nor Cocteau Twins were among the 700,000 on board the program, though the company says that groups need only ask: After seeing My Bloody Valentine’s tweet, they contacted the group’s label and publishing company to authorise the lyrics’ removal, then carried it out swiftly.

Much like fan-run community sites of the old days, Musixmatch credits its rise to a presumed wisdom of crowds. Its website advertises a community of 20 million volunteers, and top contributors who pass an exam can attain “curator” status, which allows them to conduct quality checks in return for small sums of payment.

At the top, in-house editors assign songs and proofread lyrics to maximise quality assurance, ultimately bestowing lyrics with “verified by Musixmatch” status—one rung below artist verification. All this human labour is enhanced with the help of AI, which weeds out suspicious content, including lyrics copied from other sites.

Each completed lyric is then rated with a quality score, which Musixmatch shares with streaming services. The firm’s founder and CEO Max Ciociola told Pitchfork that streaming services knew that the My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins lyrics had a low quality rating. This meant that the streamers’ choice to publish them was either a calculated risk or one deemed inconsequential.

This is not the first and certainly not the last time the industry’s need to package and churn out content have placed artists at odds with the platforms that purport to serve their needs. One thing is clear: Bands like My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins whose inscrutability is a big part of their charm and vision transcend the scope of a service like Musixmatch.

Asked if Musixmatch should allow users to flag indecipherable lyrics, Ciociola told Pitchfork, “We’re talking about a few cases out of millions of songs.”

“We have massively invested in high-quality engineers to ensure the best experience for creators, rights owners, and—last but not least—music fans. But there’s still a long journey ahead.”

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