January 28, 2022
The streaming service’s decision to back the controversial podcast shows it might have lost its way
The Joe Rogan v Neil Young furore reveals Spotify’s new priority: naked capitalism | Eamonn Forde
Neil Young this week issued Spotify with a blunt ultimatum: it’s me or Joe Rogan. The Canadian-American musician criticised its exclusive hosting of the Joe Rogan Experience podcast in a letter to his manager and record label published online, which asked his music be removed from the streaming service. Spotify chose Rogan, removing Young’s entire back catalogue. Young’s objections were based on what he saw as “life-threatening Covid misinformation” being pushed by Rogan. This claim was supported in a letter sent to the streaming service earlier this month, signed by 270 medical and scientific professionals who called for Spotify to stop spreading Rogan’s unfounded point of view. Young had the courage of his convictions – and the backing of his long-term label Reprise Records (part of Warner Music Group), because, as he said in a statement on his website, removing his music would mean “losing 60% of my worldwide streaming income in the name of Truth”.
The decision from Spotify draws an entirely new battle line for the service when facing down artists. In the past, fights tended to be around commercial issues, with artists arguing the micro-payments it made for streams were unfairly low; this new conflict is remarkable for being entirely ideological. These recent moves feel like a grand betrayal of Spotify’s roots in liberal Sweden, where it was founded. This is a company where diversity is applauded, paternity leave is encouraged, the mental wellbeing of staff is deemed paramount and efforts to promote artists from outside of a heterosexual and Caucasian orthodoxy have become part of the raison d’etre – such as the Unlike Any Other initiative around Pride 2020 and the Frequency campaign in 2021, which was intended to help elevate Black artists.
Eamonn Forde is a music business and technology journalist
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