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Basslines and Protest Signs

Basslines and Protest Signs Part 92: We All Need Neil Young Around, Anyhow

There’s really only one place to go to for this week’s column, that’s the controversy surrounding Neil Young’s decision to remove his music from the Spotify streaming platform due to the fact they host podcaster, “comedian,” and spreader of misinformation Joe Rogan. Spotify didn’t budge, Rogan remains and Young is gone. 

Those on the right quickly turned this into a “freedom of speech” issue — that Young was attempting to censor Rogan. This is, of course, bullshit. It shouldn’t need saying at this point, but we are still in a pandemic. People need to get vaccinated, and people spreading lies about negative effects of the vaccinations are dangerous. Rogan touting the legitimacy of ivermectin is dangerous, and a menace to society.

We do have free speech in this country but there have always been limits. You can’t, for example, yell “fire” in a crowded theater. You can’t verbally harass colleagues at work. You might not be arrested but employers can remove you. Joe Rogan won’t be arrested but Spotify would have every right to remove the blowhard from their platform.

Besides any of that, Neil Young has every right to choose a venue for his music. If he doesn’t feel comfortable with the situation at Spotify, for any reason, he has a right to ask them to take his music down. This isn’t censorship, this is his freedom. Other artists have the same freedoms (maybe — it might depend on their record contract structure), and we can only hope that they follow Young en masse so that Spotify takes a hit. Because the bottom line is really the only thing that Spotify and billionaire CEO Daniel Ek gives a flying fuck about.

Joni Mitchell and Nils Lofgren have been quick to follow Young. “I’ve decided to remove all my music from Spotify,” Mitchell said in a statement. “Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives. I stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue.”

“We encourage all musicians, artists and music lovers everywhere, to stand with us all, and cut ties with Spotify,” said Lofgren. “Pick up your sword and start swinging! Neil always has. Stand with him, us (Joni Mitchell!), and others. It’s a powerful action YOU can all take NOW, to honor truth, humanity and the heroes risking their lives every day to save ours.”

It’s a start but it’s not enough. There are rumors that the likes of the Foo Fighters will follow but nothing has come of that yet. The movement, if it is one, will certainly need some giants such as Lofgren’s E-Street Band-mate Bruce Springsteen.

What we are seeing is a lot of working musicians taking aim at Spotify for this and tying it into the fact they have never fairly paid the musicians they host. We’ve all heard about the musician receiving a check for less than a dollar on royalties for thousands of streams, though a lot of this is down to direct negotiations with the labels.

Young, though, spoke mainly about Spotify’s “shitty” sound quality, and the misinformation issue.

“I am happy and proud to stand in solidarity with the front line health care workers who risk their lives every day to help others,” he said in a statement.

“I want you to let Spotify know immediately TODAY that I want all my music off their platform,” Young wrote in a since-deleted letter. “They can have [Joe] Rogan or Young. Not both. With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE, which is hosted exclusively on Spotify, is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, though the company presently has no misinformation policy.”

The issue of how much responsibility rests on a streaming host to mitigate the spread of misinformation has really come to a head in recent years, in the wake of Trump’s Big Lie about election fraud building up to January 6. Social media platforms and Youtube had to step up, and now it’s Spotify’s turn.

For their part, Spotify said in a statement, “We want all the world’s music and audio content to be available to Spotify users. With that comes great responsibility in balancing both safety for listeners and freedom for creators. We have detailed content policies in place and we’ve removed over 20,000 podcast episodes related to Covid since the start of the pandemic.”

It’s also worth noting that they have started placing warnings on any Rogan show that covers the issue of COVID and vaccinations, but we all know how that worked out for Tipper Gore and her “parental guidance” black and white stickers on album sleeves — kids went out in search of those records.

Rogan himself agrees with Spotify’s “warnings” decision. “I’m very sorry that they [Young, Mitchell, etc.] feel that way, I most certainly don’t want that,” Rogan said in a statement. “I’m a Neil Young fan, I’ve always been a Neil Young fan. One of the things that Spotify wants to do, that I agree with, is that, at the beginning of these controversial podcasts, like specifically ones about COVID, is to put a disclaimer, and say that you should speak with your physician and that these people and the opinions that they express are contrary to the opinions of experts, which I think is very important. Sure, have that on there, I’m very happy with that. If there’s anything that I could do better is have more experts with differing opinions right after I have the controversial ones. I would most certainly be open to doing that.”

It all comes down to this: Musicians have a right to the same freedoms that Joe Rogan has. We as listeners have choices nowadays — this isn’t a situation where we’ll be lost without Spotify. There are even apps out there that will move your beloved and carefully curated playlists to a new platform for you. But Spotify does have a responsibility to nip misinformation in the bud. Vaccinations work, and that’s not an opinion. So go, make your music streaming choices responsibly.

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