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In the war between Neil Young and Spotify, who is David and who is Goliath?

In the war between Neil Young and Spotify, who is David and who is Goliath?

It’s dangerous to underestimate the power of an artist like Young. And that’s what a streaming platform should know. Read the NiT Chronicle.

FILE – In this file photo dated May 18, 2016, Neil Young poses for a portrait in Calabasas, California. Young is among several musicians who oppose their songs being used at President Donald Trump’s campaign events. (Photo by Rich Fury/Invision/AP, File)

In November 2018, Neil Young was announced to be headlining the British Summer Time Festival, an annual event in London’s Hyde Park, in an epic double performance with Bob Dylan taking place the following year. As a huge Neil Young fan, I rushed to buy a ticket. Days later the unthinkable happened – Neil Young gave the festival an ultimatum over the sponsor that gave it its name and who would ultimately pay it its own fee – Barclays. Neil accused them of funding fossil fuels, writing an open letter on his website shoot: “This sponsor is no good for me. i believe in science I care about the environment and am very worried about the future of my grandchildren. Compromises are not possible”. And Neil Young didn’t move.

What happened next was even more unimaginable. Given an artist’s ultimatum against the moneymen, logic dictated that Neil’s performance would be cancelled. Only it wasn’t. Neil Young, through his music and stubbornness alone, managed to force BST Festival to take down its main investor on the day he was supposed to be playing. But what if the entire venue was lined with advertisements for the bank? With the right will, anything is possible. On Neil Young’s day, all references to Barclays were erased: all billboards were covered (some of them giant billboards – including the one on the stage that said Barclays Summer Time); all signs were hidden; Even the payment terminals had a white sticker with Barclays on the display. It was one of the most bizarre scenes I’ve ever seen in my life. The concert? Neil, of course, ruined everything.

This lengthy introduction is a reminder that Neil Young’s relentless struggle on behalf of what he believes in, whether in music, the environment or science, is anything but new. Fearless, always irreducible, against anything and everyone, no matter how powerful they are. And it’s also a reminder that underestimating Neil Young’s strength is dangerous. Yes, he is “just” an elderly musician with floral ideals from the 60’s, but he is a musician with floral ideals who does not give up and who takes thousands of believers who listen to him, precisely because they know him, accepts no concessions. . Neil Young’s strength lies in trust, in successive decades of dialogue with his audience through music – words that echo through generations, “words between the ages”. We know Neil well, we know we can trust him with the keys to our house.

This power of Neil Young, perennial and based on art, is not in danger of devaluing $4 billion in a few days. That’s exactly what’s happened to Spotify’s stock since Neil Young pulled his music off the streaming platform. It’s been the talk of the past few weeks. As with BST in 2018, Neil Young gave Spotify a new ultimatum: either stop spreading misinformation about vaccines, or your music would be taken off the platform effective immediately. The goal was former American comedian Joe Rogan’s superpowered podcast – The Joe Rogan Experience. “You can have Rogan or Young. Both, no,” he concluded in another open letter on his website. So anyone who thought Neil made futile threats was terribly mistaken. With no response from Spotify, Neil promptly withdrew his discography from them.

The reaction on social media was curious. I see successive attacks on Neil Young by the usual vocal anti-science minority in the name of an alleged freedom of expression that Spotify and especially Joe Rogan need to have in order to voice their views. At the same time, in the usual coherence bingo, they’re telling Neil to shut up — because “he’s just a musician after all” — but on the other hand, they’re elevating Eric Clapton to heroism for having the guts “to go against the system.” ” . Well, first of all, Neil Young just had to shut up. There is nothing to know about him. And as for Clapton’s “pie” (I’m quoting Brian May), who seems very concerned about the chemicals being injected into his body, I remember this beacon of science and health consuming $16,000 worth of heroin a week (per week ! ) in the 70s, back then Neil Young sang “The Needle And The Damage Done”, Eric played “Cocaine”. Choose your heroes well.

For better or for worse, at least Eric Clapton is a guitar hero. Joe Rogan, on the other hand, is a hero of nothing. I know “who” he is, it’s easy to identify – Joe is the Alfama guy from RAP, in the “Amaricana” version. The difference between Joe Rogan and our regular at the tavern across the street is that instead of spitting nonsense at a table of four, he has a megaphone that reaches over 11 million people on every show. He has a larger audience than the BBC or CNN news and is someone of considerable power whose misinformation has a direct public health cost. And that’s why it needs to be properly contextualized and constrained at the boundary.

Allow me to pull the strings on this issue of free speech to remind you that I am, and always have been, against censorship of any kind. I’ve written extensively on NiT about how all content should be accessible to the public, with the right context and limitations. Just as “Mein Kampf” should only be presented in schools to older boys as an example of how hate speech can lead to the Holocaust, Joe Rogan’s podcast needed to have a gatekeeper warning of fallacious content and fantasies of the same. And don’t think that Spotify defends the freedom or inability to remove content, and that it hasn’t even done so countless times in the past whenever it felt like it. The burden of this problem is precisely that Spotify checked Rogan’s content and even then decided to broadcast and promote it.

So that we understand each other. Joe Rogan is not “a” piece of content on Spotify, it’s “the” flagship piece of Spotify content. For those who don’t know, Spotify invested $100 million (!!!) in 2020 to have the exclusive rights to air Rogan’s podcast. There’s nothing naïve about the platforming action of keeping a Gajo de Alfama on the bow of your ship. These people make money. And that’s why Spotify chose between a popular music icon of the last 50 years trying to cater to public health and a podcaster for the latter. The explanation is quite simple: Spotify isn’t a music company, it doesn’t care about music at all, let alone the boring artists who produce it. Spotify is a tech company looking to make money. Period. Music was just the vehicle through which they made profit, and not always (or rarely) in the most ethical way.

The problem is that, as is often the case with decision-makers looking at Excel spreadsheets, Spotify executives have failed to look at the forest. Neil Young is a centuries-old tree. When he speaks, the other trees listen. So it was not surprising that I met artists like Joni Mitchell, CSNY’s Graham Nash (David Crosby revealed he has no control over the matter, otherwise he would too) and Nils Lofgren (guitarist for Crazy Horse and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band) saw you follow in your footsteps. Even James Blunt threatened to return to the records if no action is taken, which particularly scares me. Of course, most musicians can’t follow them outside of Spotify as they are platform dependent; But that’s another, no less important, conversation about the power we’ve ceded to Spotify and the meager royalties it pays artists. Perhaps that is exactly the discussion we should be having now.

Spotify has bought a war against an adversary it cannot bring down – Neil Young’s stubbornness. I don’t have to agree with him on everything, admire his courage and have enormous respect for a man who doesn’t give up what he believes in. I also had and still have my reservations when it comes to Spotify, since the main victims of this campaign, like me, are your fans who can no longer listen to your music on the way to work. But Neil has already taken care of that and subscribed to Amazon Music for four months free of charge. And let’s face it, Neil Young sounds better on vinyl anyway. War is war, and those who stand against Neil Young must be prepared to deal with the consequences. The Barclays fell out of Hyde Park; Let’s see how far Spotify falls after the $4 billion it lost over the past week.


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