NEIL YOUNG: (Singing) I want to live. I want to give. I've been a miner for a heart of gold.
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And that, of course, is the voice of Neil Young - his song "Heart Of Gold." But if you try to find it on Spotify today, you're going to be out of luck. The streaming service has taken all of Neil Young's music off its platform, and they did so because the singer asked them to. Young made this request as a protest against the COVID-19 misinformation and false claims that Joe Rogan has been spreading on his hugely popular Spotify podcast.
We should note Spotify is one of the funders of NPR, and our programs are available on the streaming service, but we cover it like any other company.
We are joined now by NPR culture correspondent Anastasia Tsioulcas. Hi, Anastasia.
ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Rachel.
MARTIN: So this is a little bit of a saga. Tell us how it started.
TSIOULCAS: Yeah. Just on Monday, Young briefly posted an open letter on his own website, addressed his management and his record label. And he asked them to remove his music from Spotify as a protest against Joe Rogan, who has been widely criticized for spreading misinformation about coronavirus vaccines.
MARTIN: Right. And then Neil Young took his open letter down?
TSIOULCAS: Yes, very quickly, but it was up long enough to get his message out there. According to Rolling Stone magazine, wrote - Young wrote in part, quote, "I'm doing this because Spotify is spreading fake information about vaccines, potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation being spread by them. They can have Rogan or Young, not both."
MARTIN: Wow. I mean, Neil Young - obviously icon, hugely successful musician. Was he popular on Spotify, though?
TSIOULCAS: Yes. His songs have been streamed hundreds of millions of times on Spotify, and now he is certainly one of the most significant musical artists who doesn't appear on the service.
MARTIN: Is he setting a possible precedent here? I mean, does it look like any other musicians are going to follow?
TSIOULCAS: Well, no one else of that stature certainly has pulled their material as of now. After all, Spotify is the most popular audio streaming service in the world. The company says it has 381 million users worldwide. And musicians do want to meet their fans where they are. And not every artist or creator is willing to go to the lengths that Neil Young is in terms of putting their money where their mouths are.
TSIOULCAS: In a statement posted on his own website last night, Neil Young said that 60% of his streaming came via Spotify, so that's a pretty big number.
MARTIN: Has Spotify responded to this?
TSIOULCAS: Yes. A company spokesperson sent us a statement yesterday that said in full, quote, "we want all the world's music and audio content to be available to Spotify users. With that comes great responsibility in balancing both safety for listeners and freedom for creators. We have detailed content policies in place, and we've removed over 20,000 podcast episodes related to COVID since the start of the pandemic. We regret Neil's decision to remove his music from Spotify but hope to welcome him back soon."
MARTIN: I mean, this would've been a tough choice, right? I mean, Joe Rogan is hugely popular. Was Spotify ever really going to consider taking him down to preserve Neil Young?
TSIOULCAS: Yeah, I think that they are looking, frankly, at numbers. Joe Rogan's podcast is really important to the service. It's their most popular one globally. And they signed an exclusive distribution deal with Rogan in 2020 that's worth a reported $100 million.
TSIOULCAS: And last year, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek said in an interview that Spotify isn't dictating what Joe Rogan can say, but it's also not restricting what musicians can say, either.
MARTIN: NPR culture correspondent Anastasia Tsioulcas, thank you.
TSIOULCAS: Thanks for having me.
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