I have always enjoyed music. During the 1980s and 1990s I would religiously buy one or two CDs a week. Technology slowly changed that. I can recall discovering Napster and the ease in which music could be transported across the globe. Clearly the CD as an art form’s days were then numbered.
A few years ago I said goodbye to them and my CD cupboard which was overflowing was suddenly empty.
It did not matter because I had a Spotify account that I used for 90% of my music listening. It has pretty well everything that I had on CD.
I have always however had reservations about Spotify as an institution. It was yet another example of the commodification of parts of the Internet to create personal profit. The entity made large amounts of money but paid its artists poorly. CEO Daniel Elk is said to be worth US $4.7 billion, built on the back of paying artists 0.004 cents for each stream of their music. Spotify is certainly in the same club as Amazon and Uber. Instead of a free market we have dominant corporate entities who have managed to create a near monopoly in their particular area of activity.
Recent events have made me reconsider my choice. Neil Young, whose music I have had a deep and abiding respect for since purchasing Decade in the 1970s, has objected to Spotify highlighting Joe Rogan podcasts and told Spotify that they need to choose between either Rogan or his music.
I don’t understand the success of Joe Rogan. Even Rogan personally thinks that he is an idiot. His success shows all that is wrong with the United States. He has nothing to add to discussions concerning important issues, apart from chaos.
Eamon Foote at the Guardian describes the issue in this way:
Neil Young this week issued Spotify with a blunt ultimatum: it’s me or Joe Rogan. The Canadian-American musician criticised its exclusive hosting of the Joe Rogan Experience podcast in a letter to his manager and record label published online, which asked his music be removed from the streaming service. Spotify chose Rogan, removing Young’s entire back catalogue.
Young’s objections were based on what he saw as “life-threatening Covid misinformation” being pushed by Rogan. This claim was supported in a letter sent to the streaming service earlier this month, signed by 270 medical and scientific professionals who called for Spotify to stop spreading Rogan’s unfounded point of view. Young had the courage of his convictions – and the backing of his long-term label Reprise Records (part of Warner Music Group), because, as he said in a statement on his website, removing his music would mean “losing 60% of my worldwide streaming income in the name of Truth”.
The decision from Spotify draws an entirely new battle line for the service when facing down artists. In the past, fights tended to be around commercial issues, with artists arguing the micro-payments it made for streams were unfairly low; this new conflict is remarkable for being entirely ideological. These recent moves feel like a grand betrayal of Spotify’s roots in liberal Sweden, where it was founded. This is a company where diversity is applauded, paternity leave is encouraged, the mental wellbeing of staff is deemed paramount and efforts to promote artists from outside of a heterosexual and Caucasian orthodoxy have become part of the raison d’etre – such as the Unlike Any Other initiative around Pride 2020 and the Frequency campaign in 2021, which was intended to help elevate Black artists.
What is unfolding is a complex ethical and financial conundrum for Daniel Ek, Spotify’s co-founder and CEO. Is he happy for Spotify to amplify medical misinformation through, among others, its crown-jewel podcast, a show it paid a rumoured $100m (£75m) to have on an exclusive basis? Or will he have the company tightly police and factcheck what its podcasters say? The rapidly curdling, and inherently Faustian nature of the Rogan deal should not surprise anyone. Rogangate says a tremendous amount about Spotify’s new priorities. No longer just a music streaming service, Spotify now regards itself as an audio platform and podcasting as its new centre of gravity.
Trevor Noah has this very funny take on Rogan. He is not only an idiot about Covid but also about race.
So what are the alternatives to Spotify? There is Apple Music which is well designed and slick. Youtube has a music exclusive alternative that also pays miniscule amounts to artists.
I am tending towards Tidal. It has a similar functionality to Spotify, has pretty well every song I have in my spotify account that I have searched for so far, but it has noticeably higher audio quality. And it has a policy directing part of the subscription to the artists they listen to the most. And it has Neil Young in blistering high fidelity.
Other artists that have recently pulled the plug on Spotify include Barry Manilow (yes he is still around and no I can’t stand his music), Peter Frampton and Lloyd Cole. I suspect that a number of others will follow.
Republicans, the same ones who are trying to ban certain books in schools, are decrying this as a terrible example of cancel culture. For me I think that Neil Young, who as a child suffered from Polio and is a firm believer in the utility of vaccines, is entitled to refuse to have a corporation pedalling an idiot’s views on Covid profit from his intellectual property.
And finally something for you to enjoy, which you will no longer be able to enjoy on Spotify.