Neil Young vs. Spotify

The classic folk singer’s ultimatum toward Spotify has created a chain reaction

It has not been a good start to the new year for Spotify: Neil Young has taken his music off of the streaming platform. The legendary Canadian folk singer made his decision due to the spreading of false information about vaccines on the streaming service, specifically targeting Joe Rogan’s podcast The Joe Rogan Experience.

Young made a reference to Rogan, who had said on his podcast “I think for the most part it’s safe to get vaccinated. I do. I do. But if you’re like 21 years old, and you say to me, should I get vaccinated? I’ll go no.” The comedian/commentator extraordinaire made a deal with Spotify for the platform to host his podcast exclusively in May 2020. The majority of Spotify premium users were already there before Joe Rogan joined the roster; however, his podcast was responsible for a 21 per cent increase in user numbers (from 130 to 158 million).  

While this might have played out to be a win for both players, things turned sour when Young gave Spotify an ultimatum. He said “They can have Rogan or Young. Not both.” Given that they had spent $100 million for an exclusive deal with Rogan, the company made the “hard” choice and picked him. What they did not expect was that Young’s exit would trigger a domino effect, causing more artists to up and leave the streaming platform’s embrace. The first musician to give way after Young was fellow Laurel Canyon folk artist Joni Mitchell. The singer-songwriter proceeded to remove more than nineteen albums including Blue and Ladies of the Canyon last week to further cement her departure from the platform.

The next artists that followed suit were Nils Lofgren from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band; as well as Crosby, Stills, & Nash (which Young is sometimes a part of), Québecois legend Gilles Vigneault, and singer-songwriter India Arie. They took a leaf out of Young’s playbook and chose to stand up against misinformation, or in Arie’s case, a race-related comment by Rogan. On the other hand, there are artists that use the current situation to troll: James Blunt jokingly announced that he’d be releasing new music amidst the Young vs. Rogan debacle.    

Joe Rogan’s podcast invites a smorgasbord of people from all walks of life: from comedians to astrophysicists, and even Concordia professors such as Dr. Gad Saad. Each person has a different set of beliefs and ideologies that might or might not be agreed upon by the public. There is a difference between freedom of speech and spreading misinformation that could endanger the lives of people, but where is the line?   

     So what does this mean for Young, Spotify, and Rogan (who apologized)? Young is a household name internationally and as such is able to afford not having the extra income from Spotify when his loyal fans would still buy his records and concert tickets. Spotify will most certainly recover from the cluster of artists leaving its roster, but maybe the worst is yet to come. At least they’ll be able to benefit from Rogan’s exclusive podcast, but who knows how long that could last, what with him constantly asking his guests if they want to try DMT.         


Graphic by Madeline Schmidt and Catherine Reynolds

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