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The Hollywood Insider Neil Young and Spotify

Photo: Neil Young/Shutterstock

Spotify is a revolutionary music platform, allowing listeners to download and stream music directly on their devices whenever and wherever they pleased. It became and still stands to be one of the biggest music platforms in the business, sparking competition in groups like Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Tidal. Despite this, it remains at the top of music streaming apps with a plethora of additional services that contribute to its versatility and favorability. 

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One of its best-added features – podcasts. This move on Spotify’s part changed the audio entertainment world, trumping YouTube and the actual Podcast app when it came to views, downloads, and streams. Now Spotify serves as a place for music, entertainment, and even news. It expanded the industry for creators and just lengthened the list of content for listeners to consume. 

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Neil Young’s Disruption of the Music Business 

Neil Young disrupted what looked like a seamless system, not just asking but demanding that some of his biggest hits, including rock hits ‘Heart of Gold’ and ‘Cinnamon Girl’ be removed from the Spotify platform. His request came seemingly out of nowhere but Young stood by it, claiming it was in protest of the company’s support of creators who promote misinformation and lies. 

He wasn’t shy to point fingers, claiming that Joe Rogan, the star podcaster of Spotify, was the biggest culprit of using his clout to confuse viewers about the coronavirus and vaccines, two controversial topics. 

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Censorship vs Honesty In Social Media 

Twitter, Youtube, and Facebook all have tried tackling this misinformation forest fire. They’ve created software to sift through lies or false information and prevent it from being posted or flagging it for potentially misleading facts. The move has been both appreciated and hated, sparking a conversation about free speech and freedom of expression. The tension and controversy around this were why it was so surprising for Young to take an avid stance on it. Especially when you consider that 60% of his income comes from streams on Spotify.

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But the move wasn’t for nothing, it encouraged Joni Mitchell, another musical icon whose cultural influence on the music industry has greatly outweighed any commercial impact she’s had. Mitchell also pulled her music in solidarity which was then followed by India Arie, R&B artist, and Young’s fellow musician buddies Nils Lofgren and Graham Nash. 

Competitors and Supporters Alike Raise Questions 

Young’s withdrawal spurred other music platforms to capitalize off of that. Apple began to call itself “the home of Neil Young” and Sirius XM brought back to life the Neil Young channel. Commercially, the impact is yet to be seen but many fans and users have taken to social media to say they are canceling their subscriptions. The company also will be facing backlash from Wall Street analysts especially when the fourth-quarter earnings surface. 

Daniel Ek, the chief executive, and co-founder spoke up on the Sunday that Young and Mitchell had their music removed. He said that as the individual behind the platform rules, he would work to add “content advisory” messages and flags to information about the vaccine and pandemic to prevent issues like this from arising again. 

“It is important to me that we don’t take on the position of being content censor,” he said while still acknowledging the importance of distinguishing between opinion and fact.

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Rogan also promised to find a better balance in his show, claiming he loved Mitchel and Young’s music, although the point was diminished when he mixed up the former with singer Rickie Lee Jones. It’s yet to be seen whether this damage control will abate the anger of fans and those who are less enthused about Rogan’s show. 

The White House chimed in as well, with press secretary Jen Psaki saying, “This disclaimer, it’s a positive step, but we want every platform to continue doing more to call out mis- and disinformation, while also uplifting accurate information.”

Spotify and Multiple Questions of Censorship 

Spotify isn’t shy to controversy over musical ownership and censorship. In 2014 Taylor Swift chose to remove her catalog of music because the “freemium” model that Spotify had then was a disadvantage to creators. It was an ad-supported version that allowed users to listen for free but had a paid subscription that got rid of ads. It meant artists weren’t entirely fairly compensated for their work and it took three years for Swift to re-release her music to the platform. 

She wasn’t the first or last musician to remark on this, others agreed that the streaming model was unfair to the hard-working creators that made the platform possible, to begin with. It would generate them only a fraction of a cent in payments, something that Youtube was critiqued for as well. 

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In 2018 Spotify tried removing playlists and songs that included R. Kelly or XXXTentacion after sexual misconduct rumors surfaced. Originally the hateful conduct policy allowed them to rightfully remove the creators’ content but when the industry objected, they gave up on their pursuit. This greatly upset many people who were outraged at Spotify’s lack of initiative. 

Perhaps the only thing preventing conflicts and issues from arising every day is the fact that streaming amounts to 84 percent of sales revenues for artists in the US. Spotify has over 172 million paying subscribers which means those who solicit their music to the app are gaining revenue from around 31 percent of the population worldwide. 

Spotify is a “necessary evil” for Artists and Audiences

In a way, Spotify has become a “necessary evil.” No artist loves the platform or actively raves about it, but they don’t step away from it either. With a great chunk of the revenue falling straight into their pockets, the ethical issues surrounding the app are becoming less and less important to money-hungry creators. A prime example is Joe Rogan whose podcast on the app is worth over 100 million dollars, which is why Spotify is being incriminated in the controversy around Rogan. 

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Whether artists want to take that huge leap and step away from the app or fight for the legal rights over their songs remains to be seen but it’s very clear the chokehold Spotify has on the audience and artists of our generation. Young rounded out his bold move and opinion on Spotify with a public statement. He thanked his record label and music publishers and left a message for other artists in the field. 

He said, “I sincerely hope that other artists can make a move,” Young wrote, “but I can’t really expect that to happen.”

By Mireille Karadanaian

Click here to read The Hollywood Insider’s CEO Pritan Ambroase’s love letter to Black Lives Matter, in which he tackles more than just police reform, press freedom and more – click here.

An excerpt from the love letter: The Hollywood Insider’s CEO/editor-in-chief Pritan Ambroase affirms, “The Hollywood Insider fully supports the much-needed Black Lives Matter movement. We are actively, physically and digitally a part of this global movement. We will continue reporting on this major issue of police brutality and legal murders of Black people to hold the system accountable. We will continue reporting on this major issue with kindness and respect to all Black people, as each and every one of them are seen and heard.

Just a reminder, that the Black Lives Matter movement is about more than just police brutality and extends into banking, housing, education, medical, infrastructure, etc. We have the space and time for all your stories. We believe in peaceful/non-violent protests and I would like to request the rest of media to focus on 95% of the protests that are peaceful and working effectively with positive changes happening daily. Media has a responsibility to better the world and The Hollywood Insider will continue to do so.”

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