Music Business

Why Does Neil Young Need To Be On Spotify, Anyway?


Why Does Neil Young Need To Be On Spotify, Anyway?
A Multifaceted Answer

Posted by Charlie Recksieck on 2022-02-08
If you haven't been following along, Neil Young recently removed his music from Spotify streaming services. He wanted to put pressure on Spotify to remove the Joe Rogan podcast from the service because of misinformation that Rogan regularly puts forth on his podcast and issued an ultimatum to Spotify.

When then they did not comply with the request, Neil Young then formally removed his music from the platform. As he said himself, "They can have Rogan or Young. Not both."

This is obviously his right to do this. And it's a move that clearly shows some conviction, a willingness to turn off some antivax fans (to which he probably says 'Good riddance'), and it will cost him some money in his pocket.

Without diving straight into the politics of this, the first question I have is a more basic one:

Why Does Neil Young Need To Be On Spotify, Anyway?

The math is fairly complex to put a price tag on exactly how much money Neil Young is passing up personally with this decision but it's probably close to about one million dollars; his share of the recording rights per an estimated contract of an artist of his stature with Warner Bros (and after selling off a portion of his catalog to an investor last year) is over $600,000 and his songwriter royalties from the same music is over $300,000.

As tempting as it would be to say something like "Neil's rich enough already, does he need the money" - that's easy for us to say. We're still talking about a million dollars per year.

On another level, I'm sure he doesn't want his music to disappear. With streaming an increasingly dominant way that people listen to music these days, and with Spotify owning something like 60% of the streaming market �" this does mean a lot fewer ears listening to his music. That has to mean something to him and should be factored in to how gutsy of a decision this is for him.

This Note's For You, Neil

Neil Young famously has never licensed his music for any sort of advertising. He's from a generation in the 1960's and 1970's where everybody felt like commercials were "selling out". The world has softened up their attitude on that front, even the Beatles have licensed music for ads at this point.

Not Neil. His 1988 blues album "This Note's For You" explicitly attacked the idea of commercialism in music. He has put his money where his mouth is for decades.

Though I do have to mention this as an interesting wrinkle I haven't heard mentioned in this dustup with Spotify over the Joe Rogan misinformation experience: In 2021, Young sold 50% of his songwriting catalog to a firm called Hipgnosis Song Fund for a whopping $150 million. It's funny to turn around and wipe off $1-2 million annually the very next year. I can't imagine the folks at Hipgnosis being overjoyed by this.

Neil And Sound Quality

Young has been in the streaming business directly before himself. About 10 years ago he launched Pono (which only made it about 5 years). The whole idea was to provide downloads and streaming with better audio quality and significantly less compression then the other major services or small .MP3 files.

Neil was an evangelist about wanting music to be presented "as they first sound during studio recording sessions." So, there's another dimension to wondering why his music should be on Spotify in the first place; he hates the lack of sound quality. Not necessarily a direct factor in this Rogan request, but something interesting to keep in mind.

Solidarity For Other Artists

Streaming instead of buying music is killing mid-level artists. We all think that buying records is how things have to operate but let's face it, that's only been in human history for roughly the last 100 years. There's no law that says this is how people have to get their music.

That said, the music industry has been on a downhill slide for 30 years and streaming services have been the first place for record companies to be solvent again. On the artist side, the downhill slide is continuing. Established artists who were living like kings off of royalties at the Steely Dan level had to hit the road again. Mid-level artists see less. And struggling D.I.Y. artists don't fare well in this new structure (although struggling D.I.Y. artists would probably struggle under any system).

This should be a topic for another article, but with so many people listening to all of their music via streaming and not even owning CD players anymore, bands selling a few CDs at shows to goose what they take home from live performances �" that hurts the little guy too.

Even among streamers though, Spotify's royalties are noticeably the worst amongst the major players in streaming. Paul McCartney and others have long criticized Spotify for not doing enough for artists without deep pockets.

Slippery Slope

Neil Young isn't a knee-jerk liberal. He's started complex businesses. He was famously a little soft on Ronald Reagan, or at least more so than the typical Laurel Canyon 70s rocker.

But he's definitely taking a stand towards Trumpism and anti-vax nihilism (or stupidity, take your pick). I can totally back that.

Yet I do wonder what I would do in that position as an artist if I didn't need every cent that comes in from music. Personally, there are probably 50-100 people who could be making a huge living from Spotify dollars alone whom I think of as assholes and dangerous morons. Where would I draw the line? Would I refuse to let my music stream because Ted Nugent is on Spotify? Gary Glitter? Phil Spector?

The good news is that I don't have that problem. On an unrelated note, please feel free to buy our music directly from us in the Bigfellas Store.