Neil Young Leaves Spotify 👀
This month has been an eventful one for Spotify who is dealing with a mix of backlash and support for some of their recent decisions.
If you haven’t heard already, Canadian music legend Neil Young, the voice behind the familiar single “Heart of Gold”, has reached a breaking point with the platform over a multitude of reasons.
On January 26th, 2022, Young penned an open letter on his own website, demanding that his music be removed from Spotify.
While he has some frustrations about the platform in relation to music, the main focus of his protest relates to their distribution of Covid related content by infamous podcaster Joe Rogan.
We’re not here to pick sides or tell you who is right or wrong in this situation. However, we do think it is important to highlight how the music industry is dealing with the ever evolving views on censorship and what this means for you as an artist.
The issue is complex, riddled with inconsistencies, and filled with grey area. It leaves companies, creators and fans in an interesting predicament but the reality is, this could one day impact you as an artist and your approach to the creation and roll out of your music.
What Is In This Guide
Neil Young Leaves Spotify Over Joe Rogan Controversy - What Happened Exactly?
Joe Rogan is no stranger to controversy but it seems like his polarizing podcast has put his business partner Spotify in a tough spot.
Rogan’s podcast, which is now distributed exclusively on Spotify, has been widely criticized for spreading misinformation about coronavirus vaccines which does not sit well with famous singer, Neil Young.
In a message written to fans on Young’s website he wrote “Spotify has recently become a very damaging force via its public misinformation and lies about Covid.”
Young would go on to express his concerns about the information being distributed on Spotify and not wanting to be in support of the platform for that reason.
Young made an ultimatum requesting the removal of his music from the streaming giant which sent the music world into a frenzy and Spotify reeling to conduct some damage control.
What’s interesting in all of this is that Young doesn’t technically have the right to remove his music from the platform, as the decision to do so ultimately lies with his label, Warner Brothers – Reprise Records.
Given who Neil Young is and the respect that he garners, his label was supportive of his request and promptly helped him to remove his music from Spotify.
While Rogan has yet to comment on the matter, Spotify has been trying to put out the fire by releasing a statement saying “we want all the world’s music and audio content to be available to Spotify users. With that comes great responsibility in balancing both safety for listeners and freedom for creators. We have detailed content policies in place and we’ve removed over 20,000 podcast episodes related to Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic. We regret Neil’s decision to remove his music from Spotify, but hope to welcome him back soon.”
Since Young’s departure from the platform, Aidin Vaziri of Chronicle Datebook reported that Spotify has lost nearly $4 billion in market value following the controversy.
Adding further insult to injury, Spotify’s biggest competitor Apple, took this as an opportunity to capitalize on the controversy and launch promotional campaigns reminding the public that Young’s music is still very much available on their platform.
We've been Down Similar Roads Before
While this issue revolves around Spotify being urged to remove a podcast, it also reminds of other scenarios related to Spotify and their censorship of certain artists for actions stemming from their personal life.
It wasn’t that long ago that Spotify was accused of removing Tory Lanez album “Loner Capsule” from their platform without notice. They would eventually re-upload the album but the damage was already done as Tory was removed from the libraries of his fans and the removal certainly impacted his numbers overall.
Many would suggest that the actions imposed upon Tory were due to allegations made against him by Megan The Stallion that Tory shot her in the foot after a night out.
The music of R. Kelly was in a similar predicament as news of his past abuse towards women became more public.
Controversy also erupted over the lyrics and visuals of Cardi B and Megan The Stallion’s hit single “WAP” but in this case no music was removed.
All this to say, the lines continue to get blurred with regards to what is considered “OK” in terms of freedom of speech, explicit lyrics, and the potential consequences imposed on your music due to negative press.
Ironically Neil Young is opposed to censorship
Pitted at the head of the recent controversy with Spotify, Young made another statement expanding on his stance and suggesting his support for free speech as he wrote “I have never been in favor of censorship. Private companies have the right to choose what they profit from, just as I can choose not to have my music support a platform that disseminates harmful information.”
While Spotify outlines guidelines for content and what they will allow, this seems to be inconsistent across the board.
On one hand they highlight the removal of podcasts they believe didn’t follow their guidelines in relation to Covid 19 misinformation however the assumption can be made that there is a large contract with Joe Rogan that allows him to be treated a bit differently.
Removing some unknown artist or podcaster doesn’t hurt the bottom line of Spotify as much as it might when dealing with an audience like Joe Rogan’s. However, Spotify’s support of Rogan still has them experiencing losses as mentioned above.
Big Name Creators Seem To Be treated Differently
This wouldn’t be the first time that big names got treated differently either. Whether that’s through direct deals with platforms, advances, advertising, promotions, etc. There is more at stake with these acts and more people and companies that can be impacted.
This was evidenced before when Spotify scrubbed it’s platform clean of over 750,000 songs of various artists suspected of engaging illegal streaming activity.
This isn’t something that we are against but let’s just say some of your favorite artists may have been conveniently overlooked during Spotify’s due diligence process.
Regardless of where you stand on these issues, the tough question remains which is “should someone else be allowed to censor you and your music if they don’t agree with the nature of the content or the activities of your personal life?”
Between a Rock and a hard place
We’re not here to hate on this as we get that this is a business but these inconsistencies once again make for an interesting and complex dilemma for everyone involved.
If you’re wondering why…the unfortunate truth is that it puts artists, fans and companies between a rock and a hard place.
Spotify may not agree with all of Rogan’s content but not removing his content upon Young’s ultimatum garnered some negative backlash. On the other hand, if they were in Support of Young, they would still be hit with negativity.
By no means are we hosting a pity party for a company who is worth billions and pays their creators pennies on the dollar.
However, it’s not that simple to just say screw Spotify as artists tend to feel that they are at the mercy of these streaming giants because this is where their fans go to enjoy music.
Using these platforms means creators are forced to abide by their rules but it seems like the goal posts are getting moved every other month. This can impact an artist’s approach to how they create music, what they include in their lyrics or simply how they move in their personal life.
For fans, it forces them to make a moral decision between enjoying the music or podcasts that they love or siding with public perception of what is right and wrong.
Regardless of the situation, collateral damage is sure to ensue to some degree. So what does this mean for you as an artist?
Ownership of your music is key (if possible)
As we saw with Neil Young and Spotify, Young could have expressed his displeasure until he was blue in the face but if he didn’t have the support of his label, his music could still be on Spotify as we speak.
This is simply because Young doesn’t have full control over his music. For a legend like Neil Young, chances are a lack of ownership isn’t keeping him up at night but in other situations the opposite might be true.
Owning your masters is an ideal case but there are instances where giving up ownership makes sense. Know your situation and the rights you have.
Take Ownership of your audience
The major platforms we use on a daily basis certainly help us grow our music careers but the reality is that we lack control over these platforms and the decisions they make.
We’ve seen artists get kicked off Instagram, silenced on Twitter and removed from streaming platforms. The question is, when and if you lose access to these platforms, do you also lose access to your fans?
If the answer to that question is yes then you need to seek alternative methods of connecting with your fans. Whether this is an email list, Discord server, etc. Build something that you own and can never be taken away from you.
Staying true to yourself and your branding
In today’s day and age, staying true to yourself is important and you want to maintain this consistency throughout your branding as well.
The biggest mistake an artists can make with their branding is thinking that branding is one singular element or thing.
As we touched on in our Miley Cyrus case study, branding is a combination of multiple things. Your branding should evoke emotion, and be memorable. When you’re not in the room, or your music isn’t playing, what is the public’s perception of you?
If you come off as inauthentic or inconsistent with the brand you’ve created or are trying to maintain, the tides of public opinion can change on you quickly.
Relationships and Leverage is Key
The fact remains that music is a people business. The more connections you have the more potential for access and opportunities.
Furthermore, building positive and strong relationships with the people you’re dealing with is important to your future success.
This creates leverage and is something you can rely on in a time of need. Leverage and relationships are what provided both Neil Young and Joe Rogan their desired outcomes.
If Young wasn’t on good terms with his label and the legend that he is, his requests may have fallen on deaf ears since he doesn’t fully own his music.
Rogan on the other hand has a strong relationship with Spotify and leverage in terms of the audience he brings to the platform which makes it hard for Spotify to just abruptly pull the cord on his podcast.
That said, we’d love to hear what you think about the whole controversy and whose side you land on in this situation?