WTFN: Neil Young Vs. Joe Rogan/Spotify

The Indy Review is a site for supporting music and artists. That’s our main goal. We love music and want to share great new up-and-coming artists, along with classic older songs, with the world. I do my best to keep things completely apolitical here, as music should be for everyone.

Unfortunately last week, I stupidly dipped my toe into the culture war, and was soon drowning in it. For those of you not aware, famed folk rocker Neil Young gave music streaming giant Spotify an ultimatum: remove all of his music from the service, unless they stop podcaster Joe Rogan‘s spreading of covid misinformation. Obviously, as a fan of classic rock, who has many of Neil’s classic songs across my playlists, I didn’t want to lose access to that vast catalogue, so I made a small reply to one Rolling Stone article post on Twitter:

And as you can see at the time of this writing, it’s received more likes/retweets and comments than anything I’ve ever posted on Twitter. And the comments, as you might imagine, ran the gamut from fully supportive to cries of censorship and fascism. The commenters began long arguments with each other; truth vs lies, life vs free speech; corporations vs morality. It was a mess, and one I had no interest in further falling into.

I don’t listen to Joe Rogan, so I won’t try to comment on what he talks about on his show. From the few clips and articles I’ve read about his thoughts on Covid and the vaccines, his thoughts don’t stand up to the majority of scientific research on the subjects, and I think the world would be better off if he didn’t spout opinions on things which he clearly doesn’t know enough about. In his defense, it was often his guests making the outrageous claims, and he did issue a respectable apology with promises to have better balance to his future discussions. And let’s be honest – his followers aren’t going to change their minds about him or what he says because of anything I or Neil Young say. They are going to have to learn for themselves, and I just hope that they make smart decisions that protect themselves and everyone they come in contact with.

The main thing I want to look at is Neil Young‘s decision to remove his music from Spotify as a form of protest against Spotify’s decision to support Rogan and not do more to prevent the spread of harmful misinformation. Personally, I think it was a well-meaning but misguided decision on his part. What did it actually accomplish? Some of his followers might have left Spotify, a lot of Rogan’s followers now probably hate Neil Young, and Young looks like an outdated curmudgeon fighting free speech and promoting censorship (or more accurately, that’s the easy talking points he’s given Rogan’s followers). To be fair, it has left a mark on Spotify’s bottom line, with the company losing $4 billion in market value during the controversy, Daniel Ek has made Spotify’s policies more transparent, and Young has inspired some contemporaries like Joni Mitchell to also remove her music from the service.

But the main reason Young made his decision (Rogan spreading Covid misinformation) is pretty much moot by now – all the information about Covid and vaccines is out there for those who want to find it and listen to it – Rogan’s been spouting his thoughts about it for long enough now that all damage is done. It’s not going to change Spotify’s minds unless the market value plunge and artist exodus continues for an extended time. They are a corporation, and will only do the right thing when it’s financially beneficial to them – they have no obligation to make the moral, ethical choice in these matters (and I’ve already discussed the issue of how little they pay artists).

So what should have Young done? If he had possibly made the ultimatum with a coalition of artists with meaningful catalogues on Spotify backing him from the start, with all of them threatening to pull their music from the service, it could have had a more meaningful impact and influenced more people to leave the service. But that would still be tackling the problem with negative effects: Spotify users who are there for music would either have to go through the trouble of switching to a new service and remaking their playlists, or have to live without the music they love. The artists would lose most of their streaming revenue (which may not be much, but it adds up), and Rogan would still be doing whatever it is he does.

In my personal opinion, I think the best and most positive option for him would have been to stay on Spotify, and to announce that he would donate all his revenue from the service to a charitable organization in protest of Spotify continuing to promote Rogan’s show (perhaps one which helped get vaccines and other life-saving medications to country’s in need of them). By doing this, he would have:

  1. Taken a negative, and spun it into a positive. He would have appeared less like a curmudgeon looking to silence a popular voice, and more like someone who cared about helping the world and trying to solve a problem. Since it seems he’s already willing to give up his streaming revenue, he might as well put it to a good cause.
  2. His fans on Spotify wouldn’t lose his music, and it would instead activate them to stream his music more. Good causes are great calls-to-action, and hell, even some of Rogan’s fans may have streamed his music if they believed in the charity.
  3. It would have taken away Rogan’s fans’ ammunition against him that he’s trying to censor free speech or cancel Rogan. Trying to criticize Young for giving his revenue to charity would not be a win for them. Anything that prevents further division in this country is a good thing.
  4. He might inspire other artists who share a negative view on Rogan’s covid misinformation to follow in his footsteps, leading to more money going to good organizations and more awareness of the problems with Rogan’s beliefs.
  5. If enough artists did this, Spotify may have taken notice and potentially made a donation towards a good cause, and in a perfect world, they may add in some fact-checkers on their service to contradict Rogan’s misinformation (much like Facebook and Twitter were doing with Trump).

Taking things in a positive direction will always do more good and carry more influence than ultimatums. I don’t think anyone (including me) seriously thought Spotify would choose to end Rogan’s podcast or punish the podcaster just to keep Neil Young‘s music. The debate he sparked is important but negligible and is just furthering the divide, as people are already too far entrenched in their own sides and beliefs. At the end of the day, Neil Young is losing money, his fans who use Spotify are losing his music, and Rogan will continue to say anything he wants (though hopefully based on his apology, more thoughtfully). And Spotify is not going to police their biggest podcasting star (at least, I would be pleasantly surprised if they did). Maybe Apple Music will gain a few more users, but that’s it.

Of course Young could still put his music back up and try this strategy, but knowing his thoughts on Spotify’s poor audio quality, I’m fairly sure he’s done with their service as long as his label lets him be. It’s a shame, cause he’s stopping all of Spotify’s users from rocking in the free world. Then again, maybe it is time to switch over to Apple or Tidal – they do pay artists better!

What are your thoughts?

1 Comment

  1. Rogan is awesome! He’s a bright spot in our culture with the ability to reach across divides. Rogan has interviewed both Peter McCullough and Sanjay Gupta. Rogan is a beacon of hope for free speech and scientific conversation.

    It’s those who are trying to gag Rogan who are the problem. We need an open conversation.

    Young is just trying to get people to buy his music by jumping the shark. Spotify isn’t an important platform for Young. Young is also signaling his “virtue”….


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