Arcade Fire’s Will Butler on Spotify: “I feel confident holding Joe Rogan’s dumb-assery against him”

"New ways of doing business are destroying the possibility of a creative middle class"

Arcade Fire multi-instrumentalist Will Butler has penned an op-ed piece in which he discusses the issues surrounding Spotify and its current situation with Joe Rogan.

In January, hundreds of scientists and medical professionals asked Spotify to address COVID-19 misinformation on its platform, sparked by comments made on The Joe Rogan Experience. The 270-plus members of the science and medical community signed an open letter, which called Rogan’s actions “not only objectionable and offensive but also medically and culturally dangerous”.

Following the publishing of that letter, Neil Young demanded his music be “immediately” removed from the platform, with many high-profile artists like Joni MitchellDavid Crosby and Graham Nash following suit.

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Since then, a consumer poll from Forrester Research has found that 19 per cent of the streaming service’s customers have since cancelled their subscriptions, or plan to in the near future. Although 54 per cent of responders said they have no intention of cancelling their plans, another 18.5 per cent said they would consider cancelling if more music was removed from the platform.

Spotify The Joe Rogan Experience
CREDIT: Cindy Ord/Getty Images

In his new piece for The Atlantic, Butler discusses how little artists make from Spotify, and why their decision to back Joe Rogan has wider consequences for the entire music industry.

“When Neil Young said he’d take his music off Spotify if it kept streaming the podcaster Joe Rogan, I doubted he was trying to deplatform Rogan,” the article began. “I assumed he was just telling the company, ‘I don’t need this. I’m out of here’.

“I support Young’s stance. He has the moral right to get off Spotify, the largest music-streaming service, to protest Rogan’s comments about COVID-19 vaccines. But, notably, Young himself did not in fact have the legal right to leave. He’d signed away those rights to his label, which is part of Warner Music Group, and he had to ask Warner to let him leave Spotify as a personal favour.

He added: “Ultimately, the dispute between Young and Spotify over Rogan’s show says much more about what is happening to the music business than it does about free expression or artistic integrity.”

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Later in the piece, Butler said: “From the business side, the picture looks bleak. But I can still also just listen to music and feel inspired; still sit at a piano and try to make something new; still go to a show (well, when this coronavirus wave passes) and forget myself.

“My deep dread, though, is that this ability to tune out and focus on art becomes an aristocratic luxury; that a lack of money for music means a lack of money for musicians; that new ways of doing business are destroying the possibility of a creative middle class.

“I don’t know that, if I were Rogan, I would do much different,” he added. “I feel confident holding Rogan’s dumb-assery against him, but it’s hard to turn down free money.”

Elsewhere, a rock band from St Albans have announced plans to release a 1,000-track album of 30-second songs in protest at Spotify’s royalty rates.

The under-fire streaming service’s model means that a single stream of a song, and the revenue that brings in, is activated after just 30 seconds of airtime.

As such, The Pocket Gods have decided to release a new album of songs that are all around the 30-second mark, titled ‘1000×30 – Nobody Makes Money Anymore’ and inspired by an article in the i by New York-based music professor Mike Errico, who said that Spotify’s methods surrounding what constitutes a stream could signal the end of the three-minute pop song.

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