Could Neil Young profit from Spotify boycott?

All over the news for the last couple of weeks has been Neil Young’s demand that Spotify remove either Joe Rogan’s podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience, or his own sizeable back catalogue from its service, citing Rogan’s spreading of COVID misinformation. Spotify didn’t budge and so, for the 365 million users still on the streaming platform despite a recent 200% surge in cancellations, the majority of Young’s music is unavailable, along with the music of Joni Mitchell and a handful of other musicians and podcasters.

The overall financial impact of this move remains to be seen; Spotify’s treatment of employees, the service’s priorities in the content it chooses to acquire and promote, impact on listening habits, and more, have come in for near-constant criticism over the last few years, yet as usual convenience wins out, with the service providing access to the vast majority of music any given user might want. Notably, however, Spotify had already posted disappointing quarterly results before the controversy.

One big winner in all this could be Neil Young, however. The ageing folk-rocker is suddenly a hot property in the news in a way he hasn’t been in years, and one imagines that, aside from the free publicity, fans no longer able to get their fix of “Like a Hurricane”, “From Hank to Hendrix”, “After the Gold Rush”, “Helpless” (the music of Crosby, Stills & Nash (& Young) has also been removed, along with members’ solo discographies), or any of his other several dozen classics, will find themselves rushing to buy his CDs and records, suddenly reminded of the fragile status of non-physical media. Likewise, Young suddenly finds himself a major asset of rival Apple Music, who have now asserted that their platform is “The home of Neil Young”.

None of this is to suggest that Young’s move was made with one eye pointed cynically towards his bank account; aside from the personal motivation of the once-polio-afflicted singer, he has also notably been a vocal champion of left-wing causes in the United States, his native Canada, and around the world (see Young’s labour song, “Motor City”, below). Equally, with 3 Grammy wins from 26 nominations and two inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame making him’s “Seventh most celebrated artist”, his career can scarcely be said to be in need of a shot in the arm.

Still, Spotify’s refusal to back down in that case would seem to make it unlikely for other political artists to make protest withdrawals in future, while the potential financial incentive, for sufficiently in-demand artists, just might.

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