On January 26, industry legend Neil Young requested the removal of his music from Spotify, a private company, due to his complicity in allowing misinformation about COVID-19 to spread on the streaming platform. Digital platforms, like Spotify, present a perfect landscape for the spread of disinformation, due to their relatively low-key algorithms and immense volume of participating voices.
His decision supports a open letter to spotifywritten by a cohort of medical professionals and scientific researchers, demanding that the company take responsibility for spreading misinformation about the virus that has caused millions of deaths around the world.
The letter quoted the Joe Rogan Experience (JRE), Spotify’s most popular podcast. Specifically, the Affected Professionals Group referenced episode JRE #1757, in which Dr. Robert Malone, who holds a medical license from the State of Maryland, was included as a guest. Malone is banned from Twitter for spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and particularly attracts an anti-vaccine audience due to his clarity of speech and fluency with medical terminology.
In May 2020, Joe Rogan signed a $100 million contract OK with Spotify, which allowed the company to acquire exclusive streaming rights from JRE, which has been around since 2009.
In one public statementYoung framed his protest as a moral issue, and not an easy one, since he receives 60% of his streaming revenue from Spotify.
“I did this because I had no choice in my heart. This is who I am,” he wrote.
Young was lucky to have that choice. Young and experienced musicians and creators like Joni Mitchell and Brene Brown, who are in solidarity with it, benefit from longevity, power and social notoriety. In contrast, less established artists who rely on the warmth of internet fame and record deals need to keep their music on Spotify to stay afloat, especially with the lack of reliable touring during the pandemic.
Moreover, Young’s call to action seems hollow. Despite his supposed moral calling, in the same statement, Young called Spotify CEO Daniel Ek a “friend.” To trigger a movement – a mass exodus from a hugely popular platform – you probably need to lose more than a few friends who control the platform.
As a half-baked solution, Spotify recently announced that it would provide a warning before any podcast mentioning COVID-19.
In one to call With the New York Times, Young’s pal Ek made his values clear, valuing profit above eradicating COVID-19 misinformation.
“I think the important part here is that we don’t change our policies based on a creator or based on a media cycle or calls from someone else,” he said.
If not a creator, even one with millions of monthly listeners, what will push the company over the edge?
For a movement to take hold, it has to be built from scratch, including artists who aren’t as established or as lucky as Neil Young. Artists, however, are controlled by their record labels. A truly impactful movement would probably only be possible in the hands of the consumer. Spotify relies on subscriptions as well as ad revenue. Without people buying into the platform, Spotify’s business model couldn’t work.
Yet people should still be able to consume art. Spotify provides access to endless music and podcasts, a feat that enriches people’s daily lives. Everyone wants to listen to music. Many people have a favorite podcast they turn to. As a society, we shouldn’t have to sacrifice art consumption for protest. Instead, art should be consumed as a form of protest. That may mean looking to other streaming platforms, although that’s a tough problem with no clear solution.
COVID-19 has infiltrated every conceivable part of our society. We’ve relied on artists to deliver information through TV shows, podcasts and more. Our access has become decentralized, fracturing universality, allowing misinformation to proliferate.
This moment won’t have a huge impact on the future of streaming or affect Spotify’s gargantuan revenue, but we must remember that art has always been rooted in resistance. Artists should continue to act on this revolutionary instinct. More importantly, consumers also need to realize the power they hold in the future of art and entertainment.