The recent news that Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Graham Nash, India Arie and others are leaving Spotify, thanks to their concerns over Covid-related beliefs and opinions expressed on Joe Rogan’s hugely popular podcast, has grabbed headlines and put that digital platform under scrutiny. But for other artists, veteran or indie, leaving a service like Spotify isn’t as easy as clicking a few buttons. Even Young himself confirmed that he had to get the approval of his label, Warner Brothers, before all his albums were pulled down from Spotify. Rosanne Cash, who has been recording since the Seventies and has a substantial body of work on Spotify and its competitors, spoke with Rolling Stone about the challenges she and others face as they wrestle with leaving the service — or not.
I adore Neil and Joni, and in some ways I’m a child of them. When I was growing up, Joni was the first person who made me realize a woman could be a songwriter. And of course, Neil has a right to do that, and I absolutely agree with his position. It’s a principled position and he’s courageous to do it. And he’s right [that] the Covid misinformation is so dangerous and irresponsible and anti-community service.
But they’re legacy artists, and they have the clout to get their labels to agree to pull their work off Spotify. I wish they would explain how they were able to do that and why. I think they should have said that first: “I have the ability to do this because not everyone does.”
Because it’s not viable for most artists. The public doesn’t understand the complexities. I’m not the sole rights holder to my work. Sony still owns some of my masters. Universal still owns some of my masters. Even if the master recording is owned by a label, you’ve got issues with publishers, because Spotify has to have two things. They have to have the physical recording — the performance — and also the copyright of their songs. Then you get into the complexities of co-writing. What if your co-writer doesn’t want your song pulled and you destroy your relationship there? It’s so complex.
I’ve gotten a bit of that [feedback] on Twitter: “I’m waiting to see if you pull your work.” “When are you going to pull your work?” “I know you’re going to join them.” Somebody said to me, “You can afford to hire a lawyer to help younger artists pull their work down.” Do you want me to sue Universal over a contract that I willingly signed? It doesn’t make sense.
It’s not only that a lot of people who aren’t rights holders can’t remove their work. A lot of people don’t want to. These are the digital platforms where they make a living, as paltry as it is. That’s the game. These platforms own, what, 40 percent of the market share? There are a lot of younger artists who are starting out [who] can’t do it, or it would be sacrificing their income. My son is a musician and he cares about that, you know, 500 bucks, whatever it is, he gets for his streams.
The first problem that needs to be addressed is that Spotify needs to be monitoring this shit and fair pay. It’s just abysmal what they pay artists. Spotify is not a music company. it’s a tech company. It’s not like we love Spotify. It exists. What you going to — delete the internet? There are always going to be people who spout misinformation, and we have a lot of politicians who are just vicious and vile. Online platforms have to monitor themselves.
“The first problem that needs to be addressed is that Spotify needs to be monitoring … fair pay. It’s just abysmal what they pay artists.”
I’m on the board of the [nonprofit] Artist Rights Alliance. We filed a complaint with the FTC about this, fairly recently. Congressman Ted Deutch [House of Representatives, Florida] has been a real advocate for us, so I hope we get more people to sign on. He introduced new legislation called the Protect Working Musicians Act, which would allow us to collectively negotiate with these online music companies for fair pay and for greater control and transparency.
People think, “Well, you’ve got to stand up and pull from Spotify.” The truth is, the reverse should be happening, where the consumers are boycotting or demanding a change in Spotify or demanding accountability. If you’re on Spotify, are you on the free tier? Well, sign up for the paid tier, right?
Neil is righteous. But this is complicated, and perhaps not the right way to go about getting Spotify to monitor themselves. The thing with Neil and Joni, and some others, leaving is that it’s shifted the conversation to put the onus on artists to pull their work, rather than focusing on Spotify paying artists fairly. There’s this hashtag going around, “Delete Spotify.” OK, great. Go to Apple Music or wherever. But how about paying artists for their work?