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DAVID BAUDER and MATT O’BRIE
Associated Press Writers
NEW YORK (AP) — Neil Young vs Joe Rogan seems like the strangest of cultural clashes.
Yet the 76-year-old rock star’s protest over coronavirus-related content on Rogan’s popular Spotify podcast has ignited a hot debate over misinformation and free speech, bruising a streaming service that has become the central way that millions of people around the world experience music.
“Rockin’ in the Free World”? Not on Spotify. Not anymore. Here’s what’s going on.
WHY IS YOUNG UPSET?
His protest came after dozens of doctors and scientists wrote an open letter to Spotify, complaining about Rogan’s decision to have a podcast discussion with Dr. Robert Malone, an infectious disease specialist who has been banned from Twitter for spreading misinformation on COVID-19. Malone has become a hero in the anti-vaccination community.
Saying Spotify was complicit in spreading misinformation, Young told the company that it could have his music or Rogan’s podcast — “not both.” Spotify agreed to remove his music from the service.
IS THE PROTEST SPREADING?
Slowly. Joni Mitchell said she was standing in solidarity and also asked for her music to be removed. So did Nils Lofgren, a guitarist who plays in one of Young’s backing bands, Crazy Horse, and also with Bruce Springsteen. Podcaster Brene Brown also said she was halting new podcasts without saying exactly why.
Graham Nash, Young’s former bandmate in Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, said Tuesday he wanted his solo music pulled, according to several reports Tuesday. India.arie said on Instagram that “Neil Young opened a door that I must walk through,” although she said she’s also concerned about unspecified Rogan comments on race.
The rock band Belly put the message “Delete Spotify” in the background of its Spotify page, but you could still stream their music. Pulling music off Spotify isn’t necessarily easy — often it’s the record company, not the artist, who controls that.
Spotify dominates the marketplace. It had 31 percent of the 524 million worldwide music stream subscriptions in the second quarter of 2021, more than double that of second-place Apple Music, according to Midia Research. Spotify is not always popular with musicians, many of whom complain that it doesn’t pay them enough for their work.
“Spotify has a huge amount of cultural capital that is itself power,” says Midia Research’s Mark Mulligan. “And that is what at risk if more artists essentially tried to push their fans to other places.”
While losing Young and Mitchell may be a psychic blow, what would really matter is if a more current artist takes up the cause. Everyone in Spotify’s top 10 list of most-streamed artists, led by Drake’s 44 billion, are from past the turn of the century, with the possible exception of Eminem, who first became popular in 1999.
For those artists, and for Spotify, taking a stand like Young’s would have much more serious financial consequences.
WHY CHOOSE ROGAN OVER YOUNG?
Music accounts for the vast majority of Spotify’s revenue, but Rogan represents its future.
Spotify reportedly paid more than $100 million to license Rogan’s podcast, its most popular. He’s the centerpiece of the company’s strategy to become an audio company rather than just a music company. In the long term, Spotify has more control over potential revenue from podcasts than it does for music, Mulligan says.