Neil Young and Joni Mitchell's Spotify Exodus

Last week singer Neil Young requested his music be taken off Spotify because, “[Spotify] is spreading fake information about vaccines.” This is largely spurred by Spotify’s exclusivity deal with Joe Rogan and his podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, which is the most popular podcast in the world. Spotify pulled Young’s catalog several days later. Singer Joni Mitchell and guitarist Nils Lofgren as well as Graham Nash and India Arie have also decided to pull their discography as a sign of solidarity with Young.


Rogan has been flirting with vaccine misinformation for some time now, inviting such controversial figures as vaccine skeptic Robert Malone and Dr. Peter McCollough to speak with him on air. For the last 6 months Rogan has come under fire for his political comments regarding vaccination and alternative treatment methods. Spotify signed a $100 million exclusive deal with Rogan in May 2020 signaling a movement into the podcast space. Rogan responded on Instagram.


“I do not know if they’re right, I’m not a doctor. I’m not a scientist. I’m just a person who sits down and talks to people and has conversations with them. Do I get things wrong? Absolutely I get things wrong. But I try to correct them,” Rogan said. “I’m interested in telling the truth. I’m interested in finding out what the truth is.”


Spotify also responded to the outcry by adding a controversial tag to relevant podcasts as well as a content advisory to any podcast relating to COVID. This tag will apply whether the podcast is talking to experts or potential disseminates of misinformation, but will direct listeners to public health resources.


All of this comes at a time when streaming services are starting to move toward exclusivity deals of any kind. Neil Young tweeted that he would be partnering with Amazon Music. Exclusivity currently drives the streaming competition within the TV/movie space where media giants such as Disney, Netflix and Amazon collect intellectual property as incentives for consumers. While it may seem like Young has planted the seeds for a similar fight in the music streaming space the reality is far more complex. Young had the privilege of being backed by his label which pulled the music. Other artists have an uphill battle in order to do the same. Especially as the trend of legacy artists selling the rights to their masters continues. Young’s former bandmate David Crosby was asked if he intended to do the same but responded, “I no longer control it or I would be in support of Neil”. Crosby sold off 50% of his catalog to Hipgnosis early last year and then shortly thereafter the remaining half to Iconic Artists Group. Even for more recent artists, access to song rights can be severely limited as shown by Taylor Swift’s public battle for her masters this year. The trend of the music industry has been to utilize the US’ complicated and archaic copyright laws in order to secure the master’s rights of artists. Swift got around this by re-recording her songs as the label had the rights to the song recording but did not have rights to the composition of the song itself.


While stock prices dropped dramatically initially, the end result seems to be marginal for Spotify. Headlines made a big deal of their stock price plunging Friday afternoon after Young’s music was relinquished, but the market seems to have a short memory span as Spotify stock rebounded Monday morning.


Cover Photo by Mantas Hesthavan


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