Sirius XM has announced its intention to restore a formerly defunct radio station dedicated exclusively to the music of Neil Young, likely in response to the singer’s ongoing battle with the streaming platform Spotify.
Like a phoenix from the ashes, “Neil Young Radio” has been resuscitated by Sirius XM after a limited-time debut last month. The channel features well-known hits by the Canadian musician, as well as heretofore unheard rarities and interviews with the 76-year-old folk-rock star. The new announcement follows after a dispute between Young and the streaming platform Spotify over the latter’s support for “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast.
The controversy began on Monday, when Young issued an ultimatum to the music streaming platform, demanding that they censor or remove the podcast over alleged “misinformation” concerning the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus vaccines.
“I am 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,” said the aging folk-rock star in a letter to his management, requesting that Spotify remove his music from their platform.
“The Joe Rogan Experience” is an unlikely success story: In a media landscape that prioritizes brevity and sensationalism, Rogan’s show is often slow, probing, and prolonged, with episodes frequently running over three hours in length. Rogan, whose interests are wide-ranging, maintains an open-minded and non-confrontational temperament, and he often allows his guests to set the tone and content of the conversation. To his critics, this is a feature of his pernicious style: By having cordial conversations with the likes of Alex Jones and Gavin McInnes, Rogan has cultivated a salon of little Eichmanns, in the eyes of his opponents.
In 2020, Spotify became deeply enmeshed in “The Joe Rogan Experience” experience when it signed an exclusive deal with the show’s titular host, estimated at $100 million. Even at the time, the deal was controversial: Critics accused Rogan of transphobia and Islamophobia. Rogan was grouped in with the “Intellectual Dark Web,” an eclectic coalition of public figures broadly opposed to censorship and political correctness, which included the podcast’s guests such as Jordan Peterson, Sam Harris, and Bret Weinstein.
The controversies of Rogan’s platform have only been magnified since the emergence of the CCP virus, which causes COVID-19, with Rogan’s speech on the subject often attracting controversy for his defiance of pharmaceutical orthodoxy. Rogan has often expressed agnosticism or skepticism on the safety of the existing vaccines: In April, Rogan said he thought COVID-19 vaccines may not be necessary for healthy young people. When Rogan personally contracted the CCP virus last August, he told followers on social media that he had been treating his illness with ivermectin, a pharmaceutical that the medical community once described as a “wonder drug” but which has become controversial as a purported treatment for the virus.
The recent controversy appears to result from Rogan’s episode with dissident doctor Robert Malone, who is outspoken in defiance of the tenets of the medical orthodoxy on the CCP virus. The episode with Malone prompted a petition by 270 doctors and medical professionals, urging Spotify to censor Rogan’s show for alleged “disinformation.”
As of the second quarter of 2021, Spotify has over 172 million premium subscribers, whereas Sirius XM boasts 34.3 million subscribers. Whereas Spotify has seen steady growth and widespread popularity among young people, Sirius XM’s marketshare is actually shrinking: Its total subscriber count is down from a peak of 34.91 million in the final quarter of 2019.
There is much triumphalism to be had in these figures by defenders of Rogan, who may find that the folk-rocker has gotten his just desserts for making the censorship ultimatum. Even with the revived Sirius XM radio station, Young will be reaching a smaller audience. While Young may find a new foothold among people who recently purchased a new car, the removal from Spotify will almost certainly result in fewer people listening to his music.
However, Young’s boycott may not be so trivial. While the mere disappearance of the “Heart of Gold” singer may not significantly impact Spotify’s bottom line, it could become the catalyst for other artists to redact themselves from the platform. If a mass exodus were to occur, it could force Spotify’s hand to censor its most beloved podcast.
While Young’s catalogue constitutes meager leverage to negotiate with the music streaming giant, he has a few advantages which may not be shared by younger musicians. Whereas many of his peers have sold the rights to their music, Young retains 50 percent ownership of his own catalogue, giving him greater autonomy than the likes of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. And unlike many ambitious upstarts and contemporary upstarts, Young has little need to fear burning bridges with music industry platforms, and it is likely that he will live comfortably on “Rockin’ in the Free World” royalties, regardless of the outcome of the Spotify dispute.
However, should the censorship of Joe Rogan become a cause célèbre among a younger generation of musicians, it could still mean an uphill battle against the world’s biggest podcast. Rogan’s podcast pulls in an estimated 11 million listeners per episode—an audience that would have many professional musicians seething with envy. Any attempt to boycott Spotify over this extraordinarily popular show will likely face a long war of attrition, with immense costs and no guarantee of success.