One of music in the digital age’s biggest fights is in the spotlight these days. On one corner we have veteran crooner and two-times Rock and Roll Hall of Famer — Neil Young. The folk-rock legend is here to battle the host of the world’s biggest podcast series — Joe Rogan. The former comedian and MMA presenter is the poster boy for Spotify (having signed a $100 million deal with them in 2020) and has them ringside. As Young goes to take a swing at Rogan, Spotify jumps in the ring and soon all hell breaks loose.
Welcome to Neil Young v Joe Rogan. A mega face-off from the music industry that has got the world pressing play. Young stirred the fire first when he accused the Joe Rogan Experience podcast of spreading misinformation on Covid-19. “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.” he thundered on the letter he sent to Spotify. The streaming giants went on to remove Young’s complete discography from its platform. And then the exodus began.
Spotify users and fans of Young’s music started to unsubscribe and even delete Spotify from their phones. Days after, Spotify’s shares fell 6%, dipping to a 19-month low at one point and their market capitalization dropped about $2.1 billion. And team Young was all-arms against Joe Rogan on social media.
Support for Neil Young also started trickling in from the artist community. Fellow folk legend Joni Mitchell, E Street Band guitarist Nils Lofgren, and the folk-rock supergroup Crosby, Stills & Nash have pulled their music out from Spotify. While Young has been handing out free four-month subscriptions to Amazon Music.
With such added pressure, the industry goliaths have had to budge. Spotify CEO Daniel Ek has announced steps that the firm plans to take to combat Covid-19 misinformation and add content advisories on podcasts. Over 40 episodes of The Joe Rogan Experience have been removed, while Rogan has called himself a Young fan.
As a folk poet, iconic artist, and vehement activist Young, now 76, has been a guiding light to many. His influence on artists like Eddie Vedder and Kurt Cobain earned him the tag of ‘Godfather of Grunge’ while Paste magazine in 2006 put him second only to Bob Dylan on the ‘Greatest Songwriters’ list. But above all, Young has a reason to be angry at Rogan and understand the value of vaccines. He is a polio survivor. The disease struck him at the age of 6, just a few years before its vaccine arrived.
So, maybe Neil Young’s vendetta against Joe Rogan and Spotify comes from a space of good intent and activism. Or is it an elder statesman discovering ‘cancel culture’ and ways to profit off it?
But for a man who crooned “Keep on rockin’ in the free world” what’s Neil Young’s take on hampering free speech in this situation? Joe Rogan, like many podcast hosts, relies on freestyling on conversations with guests and can hardly be counted as a trusted source of medical information.
And while Young v Spotify may continue to gather steam, this battle has only one loser — artists. While the current debate playing on maybe about misinformation being traded as facts and the role of platforms to regulate content — ‘does Spotify help artists’ is a topic kept on mute. The average pay-per-stream for an artist on Spotify is $ 0.003. That means an indie artist would need 1000 streams from you to get $3 — $5 (or a coffee at Starbucks).
So the next time you press play on this debate, think through which perspectives you want to hear and be heard.
“Don’t let it bring you down
It’s only castles burning
Find someone who’s turning
And you will come around.”