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Follow the Music

Coke or Pepsi? An age old question, but perhaps a bit tired. There is an obvious answer anyway. For music lovers, and indeed regular people, the new question to ask is: Spotify or Apple Music? In my naivety I thought there was a clear answer to this as well, but recent developments have had me questioning everything I thought I knew about music streaming. Is a superior interface and cus- tomized playlists enough to counter- balance spreading anti-vax rhetoric? Some of the greats think not. Joni Mitchell, legendary singer-song-writer—and my own favorite artist—announced on 28 January that she would be removing her work from the streaming giant, citing Spotify’s role in spreading covid misinformation, notably through Joe Rogan’s podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, a Spotify exclusive. In a post on her website she said, “Irresponsible people are spread- ing lies that are costing people their lives... I stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue”. Mitchell joins Young, and many other artists such as Nils Lofgren, Brené Brown, India Ari, and Roxane Gray in boycotting Spotify, with others citing concerns of racial language or unsa- vory investments made by Spotify. In a letter posted on his website Young wrote, “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.” For Spotify, however, it is not so simple to banish Rogan from the platform to appease musicians and their fans.

In 2020 Spotify struck a 100 million dollar deal with Rogan for the exclusive rights to his podcast. Presently, podcasts are making more money than music for Spotify, and they have judged that Rogan is more valuable to them than Young. Young made good on his claim and requested that his record label, Warn- er Bros’ Reprise Records, remove his work from the streaming service. Artists have made their choices, and why shouldn’t they? If they do not want their work putting money in the pockets of Spotify executives or Joe Rogan, they shouldn’t have to. Some artists, however, who ei- ther do not have the control over their own masters or the sympathy of their record labels, would be unable to remove their work from the stream-ing platform even if they wanted to. Very few artists own their own music however, which reduces their bargaining power in situations like these. This is an issue which artists like Taylor Swift have brought to public attention in recent years. For example, Young’s former bandmate has expressed his desire to support Young but is not able to do so. The question that stands at this point is what are listeners meant to do? I want to preface by saying that no discussion about what Spotify or its listeners should or shouldn’t do has anything to do with free speech or the laws protecting it. The Human Rights Act of 1998 protects you from the British government—not from Spotify. I do not want to hear anything about the United States’ First Amendment either, and especially not about shouting “fire”! in a crowded theater. That being said, I’m not sure how I feel about boycotting a media site because they include viewpoints that I disagree with. Although I guess I have already done this to Fox News. Spotify has become involved in a much wider and older debate on the responsibility of media organizations in regulating misinformation that me- dia giants like Meta (Facebook) and Twitter have been notable players. Last week, in response to the boycott, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek out- lined the steps the streaming platform would take to halt the spread of Covid misinformation, including content advisories, and the deletion of 20,000 podcast episodes, including over 100 episodes of The Joe Rogan Experience. Neither Mitchell or Young have made a response at the time of writ- ing, and perhaps, in their opinion, Spotify’s plans are too little too late. Where is the line between opinion and misinformation, between harmless entertainment and the death of thousands? Mitchell, Young, and plenty of others have decided where their lines are. Some listeners will identify with the principles that these artists have stood for, and others will find their subscriptions to be entirely too steep if they can’t listen to their favorite artists. There are certainly other streaming options to turn to. Only time will tell how many listeners will follow their favorites off the platform, or whether Spotify has gambled away their lon- gevity by betting on current cash flow. As for me, I’ll be trying out Apple Music, and drinking Pepsi I guess.

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