Spotify continues to back Rogan after Neil Young ultimatum

Music streaming service Spotify has removed Neil Young’s music after the legendary rocker said he wouldn’t share a platform with podcast giant Joe Rogan.

Andrew Wooden

January 27, 2022

5 Min Read
Spotify continues to back Rogan after Neil Young ultimatum

Music streaming service Spotify has removed Neil Young’s music after the legendary rocker said he wouldn’t share a platform with podcast giant Joe Rogan.

Young wrote an open letter to his management earlier this week asking them to remove his music from Spotify, because he didn’t want to be on the same platform as the Joe Rogan Experience – the world’s biggest podcast – which he claims has been spreading false information about covid vaccines.  In what appeared to be an ultimatum, he said: ‘They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.’

Spotify chose the former.

The controversy stems from a few recent episodes of the show where guests have discussed the potential side effects of covid vaccines. One in particular featured a doctor called Robert Malone, which prompted an open letter (there’s a lot of those going around) by a group of medical/sciencey types, who while stopping short of demanding a Spotify kick Rogan off the platform, demanded that something be done about what they claim is misinformation.

The open letter read: “We are a coalition of scientists, medical professionals, professors, and science communicators spanning a wide range of fields such as microbiology, immunology, epidemiology, and neuroscience and we are calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform. With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.”

“This is not only a scientific or medical concern; it is a sociological issue of devastating proportions and Spotify is responsible for allowing this activity to thrive on its platform. We, the undersigned doctors, nurses, scientists, and educators thus call on Spotify to immediately establish a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation on its platform.”

It seems this open letter was the inspiration for Neil Young’s initial open letter on his site, which incidentally looks like a Geocities site circa 1999 (a reference that will be even more lost on the kids than Harvest Moon).

However, much like his back catalogue Young’s initial open letter seems to have been taken down. He posted another one yesterday doubling down on his position, but angling it more towards Spotify as a platform. “Spotify has recently become a very damaging force via its public misinformation and lies about covid… I realised I could not continue to support Spotify’s life threatening misinformation to the music loving public… I sincerely hope that other artists and record companies will move off the Spotify platform and stop supporting Spotfiy’s deadly misinformation about covid.”

The call to arms was punctuated with a reassurance that people can still pay for his music elsewhere and flies off on a tangent about digital music quality: “There is an upside for my listeners, people who may have been listening to the 60 years of music I have made in my life so far. It is this: many other platforms, Amazon, Apple and Qobuz, to name a few, present my music today in all its high-resolution glory – the way it is intended to be heard, while unfortunately Spotify continues to peddle the lowest quality in music reproduction. So much for the art. But now that is in the past for me. Soon my music will live on in a better place.”

These comments are interesting since this isn’t the first time Neil Young has pulled his music from digital platforms  – and it had nothing to do with covid previously, just sound quality. He seems to have a pet peeve about how good music sounds on digital platforms, and launched his own music player called Pono in 2015. That failed, so in 2018 he began streaming directly from the same site he posts his public letters. How much all this may have spurred on his actions to make a public show of attacking Spotify as the world’s biggest streaming platform, we cannot know – but there’s certainly some complicated history there.

Spotify has backed its star signing, and since it paid 100 million to exclusively host the Joe Rogan Experience you can understand why. The move has yielded some amusing memes.

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It brings up the wider question that Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and a host of other social and content platforms are having to wrestle with – how do you deal with the notion of free speech in the digital age?

Free speech absolutists would say just put it all out there and let the chips fall where they may – people can work out for themselves what they think is nonsense. Conversely the more censorious types would say the public square has to be carefully monitored and dangerous opinions must be at least labelled as such, which comes with the baggage of someone having to decide on everyone else’s behalf what constitutes ‘dangerous’ or ‘misinformation.’

Digital platforms and social media in particular have up until now tended to gravitate towards a more censorious approach, so Spotify’s decision to not take any action against the Joe Rogan Experience in the wake of this furore is notable for going against that grain. That the show’s viewership dwarfs the most watched television news shows, let alone other podcasts, and the fact the Spotify paid $100 million to bring that audience over to its platform exclusively, will have likely driven the decision more so than any philosophical leanings.

About the Author(s)

Andrew Wooden

Andrew joins on the back of an extensive career in tech journalism and content strategy.

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