You might never have heard of hit producer John Matrix, but the Aussie has surpassed the chart-busting likes of Flume, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, and Aussie-loved pop singer Pink on multiple streaming services.
His ear-splitting avant-garde electronica may be “garbage,” but its shot to the top of online music charts, getting hundreds of streams and earning thousands of dollars in royalties, despite being borderline unlistenable.
That’s because the Melbournite behind the John Matrix moniker has never played a musical instrument in his life. Instead, he has played the algorithms and security of streaming services like a virtuoso guitarist would his six strings.
Peter Fillmore is a Melbourne security professional (with a wicked sense of humour) who managed to hack a number of subscription-based digital platforms with ‘spoofed’ streams of John Matrix (named after Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in Commando) and the 50 humorously titled tracks from the faux album Where’s My Chenny?, as SC Magazine reports.
The ruse might be up, with the Rdio artist account now lying dormant, but in an experiment in online security, Fillmore racked up nearly a million hits in a month or so by compiling random noises, outdated MIDI files, and public domain recordings through the use of computer algorithms.
Filimore then uploaded his garbled audio results to multiple streaming services, such as Spotify, Pandora, and CDBaby, to test their fraud detection mechanisms. He then purchased three Amazon-linked domain ‘computer instances’, crafting a simple hack that simulated three human listeners streaming his ‘music’ 24 hours a day for a whole month. “As it turns out, you’re doing it wrong if you want to make money in music by being a musician…”
Within days, he’d managed the relatively high traffic of 1,200 plays on Spotify (likely riling up those artists whose uploaded music hasn’t even played on the service yet) before he was banned. Fillmore reasons that the removal was down to, not an automated security program, but a manual removal, likely encouraged by other Spotify users reporting the noisy tracks as fraudulent.
There was little success with Telstra’s MOG service either, even after Fillmore attempted a less obviously fake album, a mix of “festival carols and blasting 90s techno… dubbed Kim Jong Christmas,” as SC Magazine points out.
Alas, it failed to stick, but the looping streaming hack of John Matrix found a functional home on Rdio.
While real-life listeners who happened upon the Arnie-referencing tunes appreciated the pop culture refernces (songs titled ‘Let Off Some Steam, Bennett’ and ‘I Eat Green Berets For Breakfast’), they didn’t so much like what was gracing their ears.
Reviewers on Rdio described Filimore’s computer-generated tunes as “rubbish”, “horrible”, and like “a monkey playing an organ.” One user’s eloquent write-up read: “Loops, poorly mixed sound resulting in distortion, cheesy horrible samples; it might sound good on cocaine like when it was made but this isn’t music.”
But others picked up on what Filimore was trying to achieve with his high-rotation experiment, questioning if Rdio had been “hacked” while another wrote: “I’m assuming someone is trying to beat the system.”
“I’m not a musician,” Fillmore admitted to SC at a security event held in his hometown this week, explaining the motivation behind his brilliant online fraud experiment. “I kept hearing that artists were going broke and wanted to look into it,” he says, no doubt referring to the chorus of musicians that are disgruntled with the pittance they receive from streaming services.
“As it turns out, you’re doing it wrong if you want to make money in music by being a musician,” says Fillmore.
For the paltry cost of around $30, Fillmore pocketed around $1,000 in royalty payments from a steady trickle of streams. The entire hoax made possible, suspects the computer expert, because Rdio lacked automated analysis systems to detect his fraudulent music, and instead relied on users’ to report on shady tunes.
The con musician adds that while he received suspension notices alerting that his accounts had breached terms of service, he did not receive further correspondence to remove or ban his Commando music parody. Fillmore, demonstrating his research at the Ruxcon Security Conference this week, suspects that his technique could be easily applied on a much larger scale – with enough computer resources – possibly generating thousands more in fake royalties.
Of course, there’s some legal murky waters swimming into view over the John Matrix experiment, it’s hard not to agree that there’s a kind of madcap brilliance to Filmore’s examination of streaming service security.
To quote one Rdio admirer: ” I recognise genius; and I have proof – who else gets 30000 plays a week. Not Nick Cave, not David Bowie… This is a whole new sound – I call it Troll music.”