Songwriter/musician Neil Young and comedian/podcaster Joe Rogan have recently made headlines as the central figures in a contentious debate concerning free speech and misinformation in American media.
The controversy initially emerged as a result of an open letter posted by Neil Young to his website, which demanded his music be removed from the Spotify streaming platform. Young’s insistence stemmed from the musician’s wishes to no longer be associated with a platform he claims is actively promoting vaccine misinformation, citing Rogan’s podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, in the statement.
The company acquiesced, removing the singer’s catalog from its platform on Wednesday. A subsequent statement from a Spotify spokesperson read,
“We regret Neil’s decision to remove his music from Spotify, but hope to welcome him back soon,”
To the surprise of no one, the issue has become highly politicized. Those with strong opinions on the happening generally fall into two distinct camps: advocates for the COVID vaccine and those opposed to the vaccine to one degree or another. Again, this is a substantial generalization, and it should be noted that there, indeed, exist folks who are invested for different reasons.
But painting strictly in black and white terms, Young/Rogan has become left/right, with observers’ declared allegiances serving as tacit indicators of political affiliation. But is passive opposition between two multi-millionaire celebrities truly sufficient justification for further hostility between working people?
Rogan has said that his aim is simply to have conversations with different people of differing opinions through his platform. The UFC commentator also stated that he supports Spotify’s recent decision to implement content advisory disclaimers for COVID-19 related content. Neil Young has made clear that he has no wish to “cancel” Joe Rogan. If there is any war going on here, it isn’t between Young and Rogan, and it certainly isn’t between yourself and your neighbor.
Objectively, both men stand to benefit from the attention being generated through the controversy. Young will undoubtedly benefit from renewed interest in his music, while Rogan’s already passionate fanbase will almost certainly double down on his content and boost his figures. There is little in the way of overlap between the respective fanbases of the two influential figures, and neither has much to fret about in terms of having to split the difference here.
Streaming competitors Amazon and Sirius XM are also capitalizing on the controversy, with the latter resurrecting their Neil Young Radio channel. Young himself has informed fans that his music is available on Amazon Music Unlimited in high resolution. Young has spent much of his career bemoaning the paltry audio quality of many online streaming services, and even developed his own high-quality digital media player, the Pono, in 2015.
The support of an audiophile such as Young is valuable coin, particularly for a streaming conglomerate, which brings us to the losers of this debacle. Since the removal of Young’s music, Spotify is reported to have lost over $2 billion in market value. Furthermore, artists such as Joni Mitchell and Nils Lofgren have pulled their music from the service in solidarity with Young. Artists such as David Crosby, Margo Price, and Peter Frampton have openly supported the songwriter’s decision as well.
Politicization aside, the debate has begun to shift to artists’ rights. Business Insider has stated that artists stand to earn an average of $0.004 per stream, meaning that the average artist needs to amass 250 streams to earn a single dollar for their work through the Spotify platform.
Artists have generally been forced to rely on income from touring and merchandise sales to support themselves in recent years, as the omnipresence of online streaming has decimated sales of physical media. The situation has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has radically complicated the notion of live performance.
But these developments have revealed a previously unforeseen bargaining power in the corner of musicians. This could potentially lead to better deals and subsequently, higher value being placed on music in general.
With a new week underway, further developments are likely to unfold. Spotify obtained exclusive rights to The Joe Rogan experience in a 2020 deal purported to be worth over $100 million. As such, the platform’s decision to stick by Rogan comes as little surprise. While Spotify itself looks to be the sole entity enduring any sort of true loss in this situation, it is unlikely that the streaming giant will be adversely affected in the long-term.