neil young Photo credit dhlovelife

Music Ally’s editorial team received our first message from a relative asking our advice on which music streaming service to switch to from Spotify. Yes, they’re a Neil Young fan.

This admittedly tiny sample size does make us wonder if Young’s decision to ask for his music to be removed from Spotify as a protest against Joe Rogan’s Covid-19 views is cutting through from music and tech circles to regular listeners, as the mainstream media picks up on the story.

It will come as no surprise to see rival and adjacent music services picking up on this and trying to capitalise. We’ve already seen Apple Music tweet out “It’s always a good idea to stream @NeilYoungNYA” with a link to his ‘Essentials’ playlist on its service, for example.

US satellite radio firm SiriusXM chose yesterday to announce the return of Neil Young Radio to its service, after a limited run in December. The channel will play a mixture of old and new tracks, as well as interview footage with Young talking about his latest album.

All’s fair in love, war and audio-market share, so Spotify won’t be surprised at any of this. Is a bigger headache brewing for the company over its decision to choose Rogan over Young? As things stand, other prominent artists have yet to follow his lead, and it’s too early to tell whether listeners unrelated to Music Ally writers are churning to rivals in protest.

(To keep things in perspective, Neil Young currently has 6.1 million monthly listeners on Spotify: around 1.6% of its active users.)

However, Midia Research has a good blog post unpicking the wider strategic dilemmas for Spotify, particularly around content regulation and moderation, using Meta’s recent experiences with regulators as a jump-off point.

“Spotify’s case is even more complicated in that it is paying for the content in question, making it much more difficult to build a [neutral] platform argument,” wrote Midia boss Mark Mulligan.

“Added to that, regardless of how much money Spotify has invested in Rogan, outspoken podcasters around the world will be looking at this as a test case for whether their freedom of speech is safe on Spotify.” Midia thinks that “Spotify is probably going to have to decide upon a political leaning, even before it feels the heavy hand of media regulation”.

We think that what happens in the short term will depend largely on whether younger, bigger (in streaming terms) artists back Young’s stance or even follow it. All eyes on Taylor Swift, perhaps – she could even throw in an extra ‘They can have Swift or Albarn. Not both’ demand for good measure – or on other popular, progressive artists or podcasters.

Podcasts in general and Joe Rogan in particular have been crucial to Spotify’s ‘audio-first’ strategy, including driving the company’s valuation to its peak of more than $57bn last November.

Whether the fact that this has since fallen (due to a variety of non-Rogan factors) to $38.2bn gives the company more latitude to toughen up its oversight of its star podcaster remains to be seen. For now, Spotify stands firmly in his corner.

Photo credit: dhlovelife

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