“This is not only a scientific or medical concern; it is a sociological issue of devastating proportions and Spotify is responsible for allowing this activity to thrive on its platform,” wrote renowned musician Neil Young last week in a letter to his record label.

Young in 2016, Image Courtesy of Sydney Morning Herald

The letter, which was posted to Young’s website that has since been taken down, details Young’s decision that he can no longer cosign the actions of the streaming service by allowing them access to his catalogue. The catalyst for the 76-year old reneging his over 40-studio album discography came in the form of “fake information about vaccines” which he claims is being distributed at the hands of the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. Rogan has built up perhaps the most recognized podcast currently, gathering an estimated  11 million listeners per episode, and interviewing guests from all walks of life holding a variety of occupations. Young ends his letter summarizing his ultimatum saying “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.”. Spotify has addressed Young’s request and removed the artist’s catalogue from its platform.

Image Courtesy of Carmen Mandato

Perhaps by choice, Young failed to mention in his letter a specific moment where he felt that the podcast crossed the line from thought-provoking entertainment into life-threatening falsity. The celebrated folk-rocker has a deep history of being outspoken against the status quo, ranging from the Bush administration to the Monsanto organization’s use of genetically-modified food, thus for Young to hold his tongue would be out of character. Medical experts share the same point of view as Young, illustrated by an open letter created in December with the intention of persuading Spotify to establish  “a clear and public policy to moderate misinformation on its platform.”. The letter, which has been signed 270 times by different medical professionals ranging from different areas of focus, singles out one notorious episode in particular, which featured virologist Dr. Robert Malone. The episode saw the pair going back and forth as Malone brought forward claims such as hospitals are incentivized to falsely diagnose deaths as having been caused by Covid-19; despite Malone being a distinguished expert in his field. Maybe distinguished is an understatement, given that Malone is a founding member of the technology behind mRNA vaccines which has led to some of the modern vaccines that are currently in use. Not only that, that very same vaccine technology is responsible for saving thousands of lives in the US according to a recent study, and is rumoured to be considered for a Nobel prize. Despite the noteworthy accolades, Malone is anything but proud of his accomplishments; appearing on a run of podcasts even before JRE last year spewing various anti-vaccine claims. Being featured on Rogans podcast broadcasted his, at the very least, highly questionable opinion to a more mainstream audience. 

Image Courtesy of Wall Street Journal

If a sizeable list of doctors and other authorized experts, not to mention the director-general of WHO, didn’t spark enough momentum, Young’s actions have sparked a musician exodus over the last 2 weeks. Joni Mitchell and guitarist Nils Loferagan have demanded Spotify remove their catalogue as well, as well as many other musicians vocalizing support for Young’s actions. Streaming platforms famously carry the ability to render artist’s contacts severely nuanced and convoluted, and even an artist of Young’s prominence is no stranger to these conditions. Back in 2021 Young sold a 50% stake of his master recording’s to publishing company Hipnogsis, and acknowledged that legally he doesn’t have control of his music. However, his label Reprise, which is owned by Warner Brothers, agreed to Young’s demands regardless of the fact that removing his catalogue from Spotify cost Young 60% of his worldwide streaming revenue. Other artist’s have come to the realization that despite their well-placed intentions, dismantling a Spotify page in solidarity involves more than just desire. 

Image Courtesy of Verve

This is not a showdown of veteran musician Vs. contemporary podcaster. On January 30th, Rogan uploaded a 10 minute video addressing the fallout that has been taking place, reminding people that he simply plays the role of neutral conversation host. In the video, Rogan explains his only agenda is to grant people of differing opinions a voice on his show and vows to “have all the pertinent facts on hand” concerning the controversial topics he hosts going forward. This was after Spotify CEO Danny Ek came forward claiming that the streaming service will be implementing content advisories to podcasts that discuss the Corona virus in response to the fallout that has been taking place. Whether or not Rogan is innocent in the matter is up to debate but the capitalist nature of Spotify has been brought into the limelight. On the same day that Rogan uploaded his video Spotify reported a more than US $2 Billion in market share losses from Young removing his music. Podcasts that release episodes once a week provide larger revenue opportunities for the streaming service than musicians who release a major album once every 1-3 years, thus one must question the motivation behind the decision to remove Young’s music from the service. Regardless of the position that each party of this public tribulation holds, creatives are obliged to share their art without compromising the safety of the public. The massive reach that the streaming platform holds was bound to birth some sort of confrontation of this contemporary sort. Hopefully with updated terms of service regarding misinformation, the pair can enjoy freedom of speech in their respective creative outlets.