Some people say the modern music business lacks entrepreneurial new independent record companies. Those people haven't met Stef Van Vugt.
The 25-year-old Dutchman founded Strange Fruits (now Fruits Music) in 2016 while studying music as an aspiring DJ.
The label-cum-playlist company now has millions of followers on Spotify, where it's racked up tens of billions of streams.
From Dance Fruits (5.4m followers) to LoFi Fruits (7m followers), Fruits Music's playlists have become a phenomenon on Spotify – but not without controversy.
For one thing, Fruits Music 'buys out' the rights to all its tunes from artists who work with the company (although it does continue to pay through royalties as part of these deals).
In addition, in order to better ride the Spotify algorithm, the lead 'artist' name on all of the tracks the company produces is Fruits Music itself (or one of its sub-brands). This creates similarities to the 'fake artists' that caused controversy for Spotify a few years back.
And last year, Rolling Stone wrote an exposé of Fruits Music playlists – particularly Rain Fruits Sounds – that are designed to maximize payouts from Spotify (via its 'pro rate' royalty model). Rain Fruits Sounds contains over 2,000 'tracks' of rain noises, many of which are just over 30 seconds long. Every time one of those 'tracks' gets played, Strange Fruits increases its market share of Spotify's royalty pool – ultimately ensuring it gets paid more each month, and 'real' artists get paid less.
On this MBW Podcast, Music Business Worldwide founder, Tim Ingham, grills Stef Van Vugt on the story of Strange Fruits, accusations that its actions hurt 'real' artists, the 'gaming' of streaming playlists – and what he thinks about a shift to 'user-centric' licensing on streaming platforms. (His answer to that last one might surprise you.)
The MBW Podcast is supported by Voly Music) .
The Music Business Worldwide Podcast is supported by Voly Music.