Why the problem with the Swedish streaming giant is bigger than Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Joe Rogan combined
There’s a lot to unpack.
On the surface, it’s simple. If your artwork is available on a platform that’s otherwise engaged in behaviors with which you don’t agree, you pull your work off the platform. And in many respects, that’s all this is: a change of venue.
But if you’re anything like me, you hear David Byrne in your head. “Well… how did I get here?”
That’s when the real shit storm begins
Consider that there’s a middle man functioning as a promoter of your artwork. In fact, that’s who’s responsible for putting your work on the platform to begin with. Maybe you’re tied up in contractual obligations with the middle man. Perhaps having your art available on the platform benefits the middle man more than it does you.
Neil Young and Joni Mitchell are legacy artists. They carry enough clout to ask their record label to remove their music from Spotify and have their wish granted. This isn’t the case for most others. Neil and Joni are also childhood polio survivors with commensurately strong feelings about vaccines and our current public health emergency. They are merely standing up for what they believe based on their mutual life experiences.
Rhino Entertainment, its parent company, Warner Music Group, and management for both songwriters have kept quiet, letting the situation play out as organically as possible. Suffice to say that for these two particular people, we have a very unusual set of circumstances. Which is why it’s unlikely we will see droves of others pulling their music from the service. It’s hard to know how it’d play out if current moneymakers like Cardi B or Dua Lipa made the same request since their earning potential is more in-the-moment.
Spotify has never had a great reputation. It’s payout scheme benefits the few. For artists at the level of household-name-fame, it’s a viable revenue stream. For others, it’s little more than a frustrating struggle. Then again, this is true of most streaming services. A recent Tweet from T-Pain compared the number of streams it takes to make a dollar across the biggest platforms. If the information he tweeted is correct, Spotify is one of the worst offenders: 315 streams yields $1. And yet, the Swedish company is still the most popular service of its kind—it would seem that listeners don’t really care how the business model works.
Streaming’s not all bad. Some of us use it as a try-before-you-buy means of discovery. And when was the last time you heard anything about people stealing files or using bit torrent? It’s been a while. Streaming helped get that problem under control.
Spotify is obviously doing quite well, since they were able to cough up $100M for the exclusive streaming rights to The Joe Rogan Experience. Rogan’s podcast, which launched in 2009, is now the most streamed podcast in the world.
And let’s be perfectly clear: the Joe Rogan Experience is entertainment. It’s a talk show. Rogan was a comedian. Then, a UFC commentator. He signed a development deal with Disney in the 90s—that’s the professional stock he comes from. Now that he hosts the most streamed podcast in the world, he’s a talk show host. More important than what he is, however, is what he isn’t. He is not a newscaster. He’s not a reporter. He hosts a show on which people share opinions. That’s all they are. Joe Rogan is little more than a conduit.
Identity Politics makes all of this much more contentious. We’re all looking for things with which to align ourselves. We boycott products and personalities that are somehow incongruent with our values and beliefs. This almost never has the impact we hope it will, but we feel better having done it. So it goes.
And if you’re Neil Young, maybe you make a dent. He’d likely reached a point of exasperation. Rogan has repeatedly drawn ire for having guests on his show that have floated false or misleading information about COVID-19 vaccines, and a recent petition signed by 270 doctors and scientists that was presented to Spotify failed to yield any results. In the wake of Young’s announcement, Spotify lost between 2 and 4 billion in market value—when logic didn’t work, identity politics came through. But it was just a dip. The company has already begun recouping losses.
Spotify has since announced it will now employ a content advisory for podcasts that include information that’s contrary to current science about COVID-19. Yay, team Neil and Joni. Rogan published a 10 minute video in which he promised to ‘do better’ in terms of presenting more balanced views.
It bears mentioning that Rogan is just doing what talk show hosts do. Having button-pushing, devils-advocate-playing guests on his talk show is why people tune in. Truth is, in the past, he’s had a great many lefty guests on his show. Bernie Sanders was on. It would at least appear as if his show is specifically designed to support conversations with folks on either side of the aisle. At least, up until COVID.
Despite this, Rogan easily incites lefty disdain. Maybe it’s his (un)virtuous signaling. His humor is crude. He hunts. He seems to be a product of bro culture. Lefty tolerance for these traits is at an all-time low thanks to PTSD from the previous administration. We’ve run out of fucks. We’re not taking any chances. Kill the messenger.
Neil Young and Joni Mitchell wanted to make sure their music was not aligned with Rogan because of how the information disseminated on his show is perceived. It’s not about censorship and free speech, it’s about alignment and, more importantly, comprehension. Therein lies the rub: people no longer know how to differentiate between news, opinion, and entertainment. This problem isn’t new, but it’s reached a damaging crescendo. The stakes are higher than ever in the wake of unusual threats to our democratic system and, of course, the pandemic.
Really, this is the most troubling aspect of the whole scenario: we’re dumb. We’re getting dumber. It’s sad and awful and disheartening… and true. Our educational systems are not arming enough people with the comprehensive skills needed to make sense of the information thrown at us. We’re unable to find the truth. Information comes at us too quickly and in too large a quantity to really sift through it all. We’re so bombarded, many of us are unable to consider the source and contextualize it. Rather than discern, we just align or cancel.
Add in our massive crisis of confidence. We don’t trust each other. We don’t trust our neighbors. We don’t trust our doctors, our lawyers or our politicians. We don’t trust the police or the judges in the SCOTUS. Nobody is above suspicion. It seems like nobody has our best interests at heart. We’re confused, which leaves us unusually susceptible to illogical conclusions.
The folks on the COVID-conspiracy end of the ideological spectrum are trying very hard to undermine the one leap of faith some of us are still willing to take, the one leap of faith that really isn’t about faith at all: science. They’d like us to believe that this, too, has been infiltrated with lies and greed, leaving us with nothing, absolutely nothing, to hold onto.
Don’t take the bait. Neil and Joni aren’t.
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