After last week’s showdown between legendary singer-songwriter Neil Young and the world’s largest music streaming service, Spotify, over the anti-vax musings of Joe Rogan, more musicians have followed suit and ditched the platform.
In addition to the ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’ singer, fellow Canadian and 60s icon Joni Mitchell announced over the weekend that her music would also be removed from Spotify.
“Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives. I stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue,” she wrote in a statement.
Nils Lofgren, guitarist for Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, has made a similar decision, pulling two decades worth of his music from the service, encouraging all other artists to do the same.
In addition, best-selling author Brené Brown has said that she will not release any new episodes of her ‘Unlocking Us’ and ‘Dare to Lead’ podcasts until the issue is sorted. Brown, author of self-help and leadership books like The Gifts of Imperfection and Rising Strong, had recently signed an exclusive deal with Spotify to release her podcasts.
Spotify has also been hit by yet another blow as British singer-songwriter Graham Nash added his name to the list of artist uncomfortable with the platforms position.
“Having heard the Covid disinformation spread by Joe Rogan on Spotify, I completely agree with and support my friend Neil Young and I am requesting that my solo recordings be removed from the service,” Nash said in a statement.
“There is a difference between being open to varying viewpoints on a matter and knowingly spreading false information which some 270 medical professionals have derided as not only false but dangerous.”
Soon after, Nash released a joint statement with the band members of Crosby, Stills and Nash, who said that they were all standing in solidarity with their former band mate Young and would be removing all of their individual and group music from the platform “until real action is taken to show that a concern for humanity must be balanced with commerce.”
US singer India. Arie has also announced that she will seek to leave Spotify, however she has taken issue with more than just Rogan’s COVID stance. In a statement posted to Instagram, India wrote that she “believes in freedom of speech” however his language around race is also problematic.
“What I am talking about is RESPECT – who gets it and who doesn’t. Paying musicians a fraction of a penny? and HIM $100M?”
Rogan has recently opined about race with controversial psychologist Jordan Peterson on a four-hour podcast in which he said “even the term Black is weird.”
“When you use it for people who are literally my colour, it becomes very strange,” he said, adding that it was weird to use “Unless you are talking to someone who is like 100% African from the darkest place where they are not wearing any clothes all day.”
Race, it shouldn’t need to be said, is about much more than skin tone and incorporates culture, tradition, and a myriad of complex social factors.
Perhaps in response to this, although no explanation was given, famed feminist author Roxane Gay also announced on Twitter that she has removed her podcast, The Roxane Gay Agenda from Spotify.
It won't move any sort of needle but I removed my podcast from Spotify. That's all there really is to say about that. Onward.
— roxane gay (@rgay) February 1, 2022
The boycott was sparked by Young, who made an ultimatum to Spotify last week in an open letter, saying that he could not stand by and allow the same company who hosts his music to also host information that has been deemed anti-scientific in the face of the pandemic.
“They can have Rogan or Young,” he wrote, “not both”.
Spotify made the decision to call Young’s bluff by removing his music from their service instead of Rogan. This resulted in a massive share market plunge for the company, who saw USD $2.1 billion wiped off their market capitalisation over the three days following the announcement. The company has since however bounced back.
Despite the risks, after spending USD $100 million for exclusive rights to the Joe Rogan Experience, Spotify were unlikely to have taken their star player out of their lineup. However, they have responded to the decision by making their content guideline policies public and creating a COVID-19 information hub.
Rogan took to Instagram yesterday to post a lengthy apology to the boycott of Spotify by these artists, saying that “I most certainly don’t want that”.
He defended his show, claiming that he’s merely “having conversations” and that he is in no way an arbiter of the truth around COVID and the vaccines. However, he did not address the fact that many of the views shared by himself and his guests are easily disprovable about COVID treatments and the vaccines, although said he will seek to book guests who support more mainstream medical views in the future to give a more rounded perspective.
Rogan mentioned some proposed structural changes that Spotify has put to him in response to the controversy, including the use of disclaimers on his content.
“[The idea,] at the beginning of these controversial podcasts, specifically the ones around COVID, is to put a disclaimer and say that you should speak with your physician and that these people and the opinions they express are contrary to the opinions of the consensus of experts.”
“Sure. Have that on there. I’m very happy with that,” he said.
Rogan also noted that his podcast is not well researched or prepared and that many of the ideas and remarks he makes during them are not well evidenced and are merely the result of him thinking out loud.
“I don’t always get it right,” he said.
It’s unclear yet whether more artists will join the boycott. The artists who have so far left the platform are all legacy artists with enough capital and diversified financial streams to sustain themselves without Spotify. Not all musicians have the capacity or the support to be able to do so, and may be risking their reputation and could face financial difficulties by doing so.
Spotify has long been criticised for underpaying its musicians for the work they supply. Each stream on Spotify nets an artist an average of US $0.004, meaning only artists with very large fan bases can ever hope to see a sustainable income from the platform.
Going forward, the measures Spotify and Rogan have sought to implement may be enough to stop further musicians from leaving, however as long as Rogan stays, there will be controversies around his views and the positioning of the company that profits from them.