Grant Langston Suffers Digital Song Theft Ahead of New Album

The theft of songs by phantom performers to then be repurposed on to streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon has been a prevalent issue in music for multiple years now.

In 2020, Saving Country Music did an extensive investigation that found nearly 1,500 songs from over 120 artists had been taken and released under fictitious artist and song names using the digital distribution service Distrokid. The massive song theft affected artists such as Colter Wall and Rich O’Toole just to name a few.

A similar fate has befallen other artists in 2024, but with a much more sinister and scary turn. Now in multiple instances, song thieves have gained access to the original song files of artists, uploaded them to the streaming services before the original artists themselves can, and essentially locked out these artists from being able to release their own music.

Alabama-born and California-based country artist Grant Langston was planning to release his latest album aLAbama on May 10th when he found out that four of the songs from the album had been uploaded to streaming services before he had the opportunity to do so through the distribution service TuneCore.

“TuneCore took the entry, charged me, and then they got back with me and noted that four of the songs had been previously released, and that they didn’t need to be released again, as if I had made a mistake,” Langston tells Saving Country Music. “I was immediately concerned and asked who the artist was that had released the music. They told me ‘Bertram Graham.’ So I hopped on Spotify and found Bertram Graham. He had six songs listed, no picture. And I started clicking on the tracks and it was my music.”

“Bertram Graham” on Spotify with Grant Langston’s songs

It doesn’t take long to determine that Bertram Graham doesn’t exist. Searching Google for any performer under that name pulls up nothing. It’s just one of thousands of fictitious music performers that is generated each year to release stolen songs under.

Langston said it was very scary that someone was able to get his tracks and release them before he was. But he thought that since the theft was so obvious, he would be able to resolve the matter eventually. Langston is an artist with a long and provable track record, he had possession of the original multi track recordings, and he’d registered the songs with BMI. But regaining control over the songs has been anything but easy.

Langston reached out to TuneCore who told him that since the stolen songs weren’t originally uploaded through their service, they weren’t able to take them down. Langston would have to solicit each individual streaming company to get them taken down first before he could upload his own tracks. But it’s not like you can just call Spotify and Apple Music on the phone. The process can take weeks or even months, and often despite insurmountable evidence, still may not resolve in the original artist regaining control over the songs in the digital marketplace.

This is what happened to Washington, D.C. folk duo Bad Dog. They uploaded their new album The Jukebox of Regret to Soundcloud in 2023 before their intent to release it on streaming services. This is where song thieves found the tracks, released them under fictitious names, and started profiteering from them. According to The New York Times, the practice is believed to cost musicians around $2 billion a year.

Since these song thefts often affect independent and unsigned musicians who do not have the benefit of protection from big labels, it’s an especially pernicious issue with grassroots and up-and-coming artists. A big label can call their representative at Spotify, and often resolve the issue quickly. For artists like Bad Dog and Grant Langston, this isn’t the case.

“I don’t know if I’m going to get these songs back,” Langston says. “I’m kind of in limbo. I don’t know what to do. I’ve pushed the release date back for this music. I guess I could strip these four songs out of the release and probably put it out.”

Along with trying to gain back control of his own songs, Grant Langston is also trying to unravel just how someone gained access to his unreleased music and released it before he did. He had to reach out to the production team he worked with on the album and ask them the awkward question if they had ever stored the files in an insecure location. Of course they said no, but it’s difficult to impossible to trace back where the files were taken, or when.

Another possibility is that the theft happened when an initial batch of physical CDs were sent out to radio stations and journalists as part of the promotion of the new album before it was released. This happened in February of 2024 for Langston, but according to the upload date by the fictitious artist “Bertram Graham,” the songs first appeared on December 22, 2023, meaning a month or two before promotional copies of aLAbama were sent out.

Another possibility is the songs were taken out of a Dropbox file, which are not always 100% secure. Though again, how and when the theft happened via Dropbox would be difficult to impossible to determine. Grant Langston’s experience means that virtually any artist could have their song files taken, uploaded to streaming services, and rendered them permanently the property of the thieves with no real recourse by the original creators.

“The first session for this record was May of 2022. I probably started writing these songs in May of 2021. That’s the lead time that it takes for me to make a record,”
Langston explains. “It’s hard to do all this work, but you’re passionate about your music. And you love to do it. So I do all that work, I get to what me feels like the finish line, and then this happens. It’s personally crushing really. It just makes you want to quit, honestly. I’m not equipped to fight a global crime syndicate.”

As Langston points out, there’s no major incentive to steal six of his songs. There’s an incentive to steal 1,000 songs a day, and then the cumulative revenue generated through the scheme eventually adds up.

“And then you’ve got these big streaming companies, and I’m on my hands and knees praying that they’ll care enough about this to even investigate,” Langston says. “If they listened to the tracks, checked out my previous music, they would say, ‘This is Grant Langson. There’s no question about it. There is no Bertram Graham.’ But they are huge mega companies, and there’s a good chance they just don’t even bother with it. I think there’s a really good chance I lose these songs. You can get really depressed thinking about this.”

Langston is quick to say that TuneCore has been as helpful as they can be in the situation. They have been quick and responsive to him, even if ultimately they will not be able to resolve the problem. Ironically, the reason Langston, Bad Dog, and others are experiencing this issue is due to streaming services trying to mitigate song theft by making sure duplicate songs do not exist on the same service.

“If I could tell everybody one thing, it would be that at the earliest possible moment, get your music into the streaming space, even if it’s not to be released for many months, just because if you’re gonna have a problem, you want to know about it as soon as you can,” Langston councils. “And once you’re accepted into the digital space, when the bad guy comes with your stolen tracks, they’ll be blocked.”

Though four of the songs that were stolen from Langston were from his new album, two were from a previous album that Langston has not released digitally.

“With the old record that they took the other two songs from, I had decided to just keep it only available on vinyl or CD directly from me. But in this day and age, I think that’s pretty dumb. If you’re gonna make a CD, you’re in the digital space, because somebody can rip that, and you might as well get into the streaming world and stake your claim, and it prevents someone else from taking the songs.”

With the onset of AI, massive streaming companies relying more and more on bot and algorithmic monitoring of tracks, and the elimination of human interactions in support channels, this dystopian aspect of artists having their songs stolen with little or no recourse is unfortunate phenomenon that may only increase in severity over time, and promises to continue to affect independent artists in a disproportionate manner.

Grant Langston’s aLabama is now set for release on June 14th, pending a resolution with the stolen tracks. It is available for pre-order on Bandcamp, which is the one place he was able to upload the stolen songs.

© 2024 Saving Country Music