Update Jan 31: Joe Rogan has responded to the controversy by posting a video included below. And we have all the latest developments in our Spotify controversy live blog.
At the age of 76, Neil Young may have started a revolution. Last week, the legendary Canadian-American singer made headlines with his ultimatum to Spotify: "They can have Neil Young or Joe Rogan. Not both."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Spotify picked Rogan — a podcaster it paid a reported $100 million for not two years ago — but if the streaming giant hoped that would draw a line under the controversy, it was sorely mistaken. Since Young’s exit, there have been two more high-profile exits: Joni Mitchell (opens in new tab) and Nils Lofgren (opens in new tab).
The latter may be especially worrying for Spotify, because of his call for others to follow suit. "We encourage all musicians, artists and music lovers everywhere, to stand with us all, and cut ties with Spotify," Lofgren said yesterday.
"Music is our planet’s sacred weapon, uniting and healing billions of souls every day. Pick up your sword and start swinging. Neil always has. Stand with him, us (Joni Mitchell!) and others. It’s a powerful action you can all take now, to honor truth, humanity, and the heroes risking their lives every day to save ours."
Even those who aren’t actively leaving are raising awareness, even if only in a tongue-in-cheek way:
If @spotify doesn’t immediately remove @joerogan, I will release new music onto the platform. #youwerebeautifulJanuary 29, 2022
Meanwhile, alleged leaked internal messages seen by The Verge (opens in new tab) have also put an uncomfortable spotlight on Spotify’s policy around anti-vax content.
For some, it’s the last straw with many people screen-grabbing their cancellation form with the words “Joe Rogan” in the “Let us know more about why you are cancelling” box and presumably following instructions for how to transfer Spotify playlists to Apple Music or another service.
It may be a drop in the ocean of the reported 172 million paying subscribers (opens in new tab) Spotify has, but it’s impossible to know how big said drop is — or, worryingly for Spotify — could become. Indeed, Apple has been quick to capitalize on the situation, putting out tweets that Apple Music is "The home of Neil Young (opens in new tab)," and highlighting Young's playlists.
Spotify has since made its content policies publicly available.
The home of Neil Young.Listen to his entire catalog on Apple Music: https://t.co/sUGtz4JbB9 pic.twitter.com/YgRMygUqhiJanuary 28, 2022
Joe Rogan responds to controversy
In response to the Spotify controversy, Joe Rogan posted a nearly 10-minute video on Sunday, which we have included here. Rogan defended two of the most controversial episodes of his podcast that included Dr. Peter McCullough and Dr. Robert Malone and said that "many of the things that we thought of as misinformation just a short while ago are now accepted as fact."
Rogan also said that he agreed with Spotify's move to require a disclaimer appear at the front of some of his podcasts and apologized by saying "If I've pissed you off, I'm sorry." He pledged that he would "do my best to balance out these more controversial viewpoints with other people's perspectives" and that he would "do my best to make sure I have researched these topics...and have all the pertinent facts at hand before I discuss them."
Will it snowball?
There’s a real risk that this could get out of control for Spotify, and make its $100 million investment in the Joe Rogan Experience look like small potatoes.
But there is definitely potential for the streaming platform to tough it out, as well. It’s no coincidence that the artists who have felt comfortable making a stand are of a certain generation that made their fortunes before the advent of streaming. No doubt the Spotify income is a nice earner for the artists in question, but they’re renowned enough not to need the additional exposure and have already made plenty of money from the music game over the pre-internet decades.
Younger artists — the type who, on average, are more likely to appeal to the median Spotify user — don’t necessarily have that same luxury. Removing themselves from Spotify could be career suicide. Even if the amount earned directly from the platform is pretty derisory (opens in new tab), streaming platforms indirectly drive sales of tickets for live shows and merch.
But that’s not to say this couldn’t escalate very quickly. The artists who have left so far are legendary performers often idolized by younger musicians, and if more follow as rumored (opens in new tab), there could come a point where the question shifts from “why on Earth would you leave Spotify?” to “how can you possibly stay on Spotify?”.
If that point does arrive — a big ‘if’ but not impossible — Spotify may have to have a reckoning with the sunk cost fallacy and assess whether it needs to take a tougher line with its star podcaster. If the question becomes “podcasts or music,” Spotify only wins if the answer can plausibly be “music” or “both.”