This Note's For You: Neil Young shames Spotify

I must confess to feeling a certain schadenfreude over the difficult position Spotify finds itself in because of the music streaming company’s decision to put profits from a podcast it hosts that spreads misinformation about COVID vaccination over music.

When veteran songwriter Neil Young denounced Spotify’s willingness to allow Joe Rogan to use its platform to spread disinformation over COVID, the company decided it was preferable to take down his music rather than confront the source of the misinformation it was broadcasting. In a choice between music and disinformation, the company went with the latter.

Young is not the only one to call out Spotify over the misinformation broadcast in Rogan’s podcast. More than 270 scientists, medical professionals, professors and science communicators signed an open letter calling on Spotify “to immediately establish a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation on its platform”, condemning “the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions” on an episode of Rogan’s show.

A number of other musicians have since joined the fray, most notably Joni Mitchell. I’m certain the damage they have caused to Spotify’s reputation has been out of all proportion to the revenues they bring to the platform. That’s because their value as music artists brings huge credibility to a streaming service that is built on music.

But the value that Spotify attaches to Rogan is evident in the $100 million contract it stuck for his very popular Joe Rogan Experience podcast. When Young denounced Spotify for shirking its responsibility to “mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform”, he stated: “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”

Spotify opted for Rogan. In a battle between talk and music, talk was the winner. It literally drowned out the music.

On one level, this probably shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Despite the debt it owes to music for its origins, Spotify’s CEO Daniel Ek doesn’t appear to appreciate the value of the creative process involved in making music. Not that long ago, he stated that “some artists that used to do well in the past may not do well in this future landscape, where you can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough”.

The implication seemed to be that music making was, to all intents and purposes, a manufacturing process rather than a creative one. Not that many musicians would agree, even if his point was exaggerated slightly because few recording artists tend to leave such a long gap between releases.

Ironically, this is especially true of Neil Young who is nothing if not prolific with his recording activities, having released 41 studio albums as a solo artist over his career. Some might say, judging by the patchiness of a few of them, that he could well have benefited from a slightly less Stakhanovite release cycle.

To give you an idea of how prolific Young is, Bob Dylan’s recording career is seven years longer than his Canadian counterpart but he has released two fewer studio albums.

So, in many respects, Young comes quite close to the Ek ideal of a prolific artist with an average of one studio album every 15 months. But as I mentioned, there’s quite a bit of mediocrity scattered across those records which might incline one to think that when it comes to music more is, very often, less.

Given the inability of most music artists to record more than one album a year if not less, you can see the attraction of podcasts like Rogan’s to Ek’s way of thinking because they are produced with much greater frequency. The difference is that they are rarely timeless in the way a piece of good music is.

Many people are still listening to Young’s After The Goldrush album, more than 51 years after its release. How many will be listening to a Joe Rogan podcast in 2073?