Behind Neil Young versus Spotify, a sweet relationship with musicians

Spotify came out more than a decade ago with a compelling proposition: Listeners could leave behind CDs and downloads and stream virtually any song ever released. It made the platform a leading power in the music business and opened up competitors like Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Tidal, helping to reverse the industry’s growth.

Spotify is still the biggest music streaming service. But a few years ago it swing to add a buzzy format to his portfolio: podcasts. The move turned the service into a series of audio entertainment — part music service, part news outlet, part always-up-to-date gabfest. It could also put the company on a collision course with artists and leave listeners with an incomplete song library.

Last week, Neil Young started a storm in the music business and on social media when he request that his music – which includes rock classics like “Heart of Gold” and “Cinnamon Girl” – will be removed from Spotify. He protested the company’s support of Joe Rogan, its podcaster star, who has be censured to promote misinformation about coronavirus and vaccines.

Even in an era where tech companies like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook are constantly policing the Covid-19 content on their platforms – and facing backlash from both sides in the privacy debate. due to speech for doing so – it’s a rare case of a top musician taking a stance that could affect his bottom line. Young says that 60% of his streaming income comes from Spotify.

He was quickly followed by Joni Mitchell, another music icon whose cultural influence far outweighed her online commercial impact. Then there’s the R&B singer India.Arie and two musicians played with Young – the guitarist Nils Lofgren and Graham Nash – said it would also take its music off Spotify in solidarity.

Young’s exit led to swift marketing moves by Spotify’s competitors. Apple Self-promotion is the “home of Neil Young” and SiriusXM has revived the Neil Young channel.

So far the commercial impact of the controversy remains unclear. Many users took to social media to announce that they had canceled their subscription. The company is likely to face questions about this from Wall Street analysts when it reports fourth-quarter earnings on Wednesday.

On Sunday, after most of Young and Mitchell’s music was taken down, Daniel Ek, Spotify’s chief executive and co-founder, published the ground rules of the service and said Spotify will add a “content advisory” flag on podcast episodes about the pandemic. “It is important to me that we do not take the position of content moderation,” Ek said. In a video, Rogan promises to provide more “balance” on his show and says he’s a fan of Young and Mitchell’s (though he’s mixed Mitchell with singer Rickie Lee Jones).

It remains to be seen whether that will be enough to quell another artist uprising, although Young’s glove has become an immediate cultural topic. On Tuesday’s episode of “The View” on ABC, Joy Behar called on younger stars like Taylor Swift to choose sides. “Watch some young people do it,” Behar said. “Let’s see where Taylor and those guys stand.”

For longtime Spotify followers, episode Young is the latest strain in the company’s complicated and often troubled relationship with artists. Much of that trouble has to do with money. In 2014, Swift deleted her entire catalog from Spotify, says the service’s “freemium” model – it has an ad-supported tier that allows users to listen for free and offers a paid subscription to remove ads and add other perks – because, she he believes, it doesn’t pay artists properly for their work; that is almost three years before she re-added her music.

Recently, many musicians have spoken out about what they consider to be the unfairness of the overall streaming model — where each stream typically generates only a fraction of a penny in payments — though Spotify and YouTube have shouldered the brunt of that criticism.

Spotify has faced censorship questions before. In 2018, it attempted a quick removal from playlists of songs by R. Kelly and rapper XXXTentacion – both accused of sexual misconduct – via “hateful conduct”, but canceled the initiative after an outcry in the industry.

But Spotify is no longer so easy for any artist. According to industry data, streaming now accounts for 84% of sales in the United States, and Spotify has 172 million paid subscribers — roughly. 31 percent in the worldwide total, and more than double that of its closest competitor, Apple Music, according to Midia Research, a market research firm.

That has made Spotify an important financial partner for record companies and a “necessary bad guy” for artists, said George Howard, an associate professor at Berklee College of Music and a former director. digital music operator and recording said.

“Not many artists say, ‘I love Spotify,'” says Howard. “But many brands, whether they like or dislike Spotify’s values, are absolutely delighted that the money has flowed into their hands.”

Rogan’s position in the Spotify business has made his show, “The Joe Rogan Experience,” an important target of critics. While many podcasts are widely distributed to multiple platforms, Rogan’s exclusive to Spotify, following a 2020 licensing deal was reported to be worth $100 million or more, although Spotify has never confirmed the number there. As the critics see it, that makes Spotify the publisher of Rogan’s show and is therefore deeply responsible for it.

By far, some of the sharpest responses to Spotify have come from its own podcast servers. On Monday, the host of “Science Vs,” another Spotify podcast, said on Twitter that the company’s support of Rogan “is like a slap in the face” and announced that the program will review statements by Dr. Robert Malone, a guest on Rogan’s program on December 31, whose remarks drew strong criticism from public health experts. Author Brené Brown, whose Spotify shows as “Unlock us” has been heavily advertised by the company, said over the weekend that she won’t be releasing any more podcasts “until further notice.”

Few expected a slew of musicians to leave the service, especially big newcomers, as Spotify plays a major role in their music listening and driving many of their other businesses, such as tour.

Midia’s Mark Mulligan said: “It would take a front-line artist to really brave, ‘I’m going to say something that might offend half of my fan base’.

One puzzling thing might be whether artists are contractually entitled to delete their music. Their recordings are often controlled by record companies, which make licensing agreements with streaming services like Spotify.

Jeffrey M. Liebenson, an attorney who represents both record companies and digital services, says some artists’ contracts with the label may give them the right to pull music from online stores because of problems certain reason. And even if those rights are exercised, a service could raise objections to mass migration.

“The label can sometimes request a takedown if there is a genuine artist relationship issue,” Liebenson said. “But the platform might worry you a bit: ‘Are they doing this because they have a legitimate artist relationship problem or are they waging a war against us?’

In one public statement Last week, Young thanked his record label, Reprise Records, a division of Warner Music Group, as well as his music publishers, for standing with him. He’s also made a push for other artists to follow his lead, but seems to have known their numbers could be small.

“I really hope that other artists can make the move,” Young wrote, “but I really can’t expect that to happen.” Behind Neil Young versus Spotify, a sweet relationship with musicians

Fry Electronics Team

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