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Loose Ends: Spotify and Neil Young

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Loose Ends — Spotify and Neil Young

Prior to last week, the odds of David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young agreeing on anything in the 21st century were the same as the sales of music CDs increasing in the universe of anywhere, anytime streaming.

But with a country split by Covid and a giant gulf in what used to be the middle, the four classic rock activists reunited to take on a common enemy: big business.

Young’s Jan. 24 request to remove his solo music from Spotify prompted his former bandmates to issue a statement on Wednesday asking for all their music to be pulled from the streaming service, which has 172 million subscribers. Young pulled his music from Spotify in a protest over “fake information about vaccines” that has been spread on the “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast.

“While we always value alternate points of view, knowingly spreading disinformation during this global pandemic has deadly consequences,” Crosby, Stills, and Nash said in the statement, which was posted to Twitter. “Until real action is taken to show that a concern for humanity must be balanced with commerce, we don’t want our music — or the music we made together — to be on the same platform.”

With a limited number of artists (Joni Mitchell, India Aire) joining in so far, the long-term consequences of such a move are unknown, but Spotify’s stock dropped 17 percent on Thursday. And other large conglomerates, such as Apple Music, were quick to tout that Young and his former bandmates are still available on their services.

It didn’t take long for Spotify to issue a statement that Covid-related content would now come with advisories. And Rogen, who was ruled not to have violated the streamer’s standards, played the innocence card.

“I’m not trying to promote misinformation. I’m not trying to be controversial,” he said in an Instagram video. “… I’ve never tried to do anything with this podcast other than just talk to people and have interesting conversations.”

And I have a bridge to nowhere to sell you.

As with anything these days, Young’s move prompted yet another dive into the “cancel culture” debate that has only worsened during the pandemic. Rogen’s defenders — his video was viewed more than 7 million times in four days — talk about his free speech rights. Facts, it seems, should never get in the way of an opinion no matter the vitriol and danger those opinions present.

Case in point: Last weekend, Memphis writer (and music publicist for Sweetheart PR) Rachel Hurley posted an excellent 2,500-word essay on Spotify and the music business to Facebook. Hurley’s work was that of a good journalist, taking a topic in the headlines and going deeper on how it affects the majority of working musicians out there.

“Streaming isn’t keeping musicians from making a living. The real issue is that music is an over saturated market. There are too many musicians and too much music,” Hurley writes, noting that Spotify estimates 60,000 songs are uploaded to its platform every day. “You know the whole economic theory about the more there is of something, the less it’s worth? The barrier to becoming a musician has been lowered to the ground. And that’s great in terms of giving everyone equal access, but due to the influx of people participating, well, that’s what has devalued the product.”

She’s right, and yet most of the comments on her post waded deep into the culture wars. So many people simply refuse to look at the bigger picture: that the product we know and love — recorded music — is being persistently devalued.

That’s why it came as such a surprise to see this week’s other music miracle: a report that CD sales did in fact increase for the first time in 17 years in 2020. You can thank Adele and Taylor Swift for that anomaly, but it happened. (Vinyl sales continued to rise, too.)

Like many of my generation that grew up on vinyl, 8-tracks, and cassettes before evolving into CDs, I have missed the widespread availability of physical music and the tactile experience of holding albums in my hand. I especially miss liner notes and credits, where I could see who was making the music, and then tracing the performers to other works and albums. Yes, you can do an Internet search, but that keeps your eyeballs on the screen for longer than they already are.

So as we search for a sliver of good news in 2022, you can say two minor miracles have already occurred: CSNY agreed on something, and CD sales are up. Hey, it’s a long climb, and at least it’s a start.


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