Image Source: The Joe Rogan Experience
Last week, after Joe Rogan uploaded a bizarre four-hour conversation with a tuxedo-clad Jordan Peterson, Neil Young decided he’d had enough. In an open letter, he gave Spotify an ultimatum: Rogan, or him. “I am doing this because Spotify is spreading fake information about vaccines,” Young wrote in an open letter on his website, which has since been deleted. “Please act on this immediately today and keep me informed of the time schedule.”
Spotify chose Rogan. By the end of the week, Joni Mitchell and longtime Bruce Springsteen guitarist Nils Lofgren had also removed their music from Spotify in solidarity with Young, some unknown number of people had canceled their subscriptions to the service, and the culture wars had a new battlefield.Spotify, which has lost billions in market value over the last week for reasons that probably only have to do a bit with the current controversy, has since said that it will add a disclaimer to podcast episodes that discuss COVID-19, and Rogan himself has (sort of) apologized for the content of his podcasts. (A recent lowlight was anti-vaxx physician Robert Malone attributing people’s concern over COVID to the non-existent “mass formation psychosis” on Rogan’s program, which has previously highlighted ivermectin enthusiasts.) But there are a lot of reasons to not use Spotify that have nothing to do with Rogan or his guests, and this controversy has only highlighted the ways in which the streaming service is just a bad product.
Besides hosting Rogan and apparently being unwilling to reconsider that deal, Spotify notoriously pays artists like shit. Musician-advocacy groups like Union of Musicians and Allied Workers have highlighted just how unfair it's payout to artists is per stream. According to their data, in order to earn a dollar off of streaming a single song, you’d have to play it 236 times. Other streaming services offer much fairer payouts. Apple Music pays one cent per stream, which is what UMAW is asking Spotify to match, and Tidal likely pays the same, and offers ways for listeners to pay even more to the artists they listen to. Since Young removed his music from Spotify, musicians have taken to social media to highlight exactly how unfair the relationship with Spotify is:
Another issue with Spotify is how the music sounds—it’s terrible. Spotify has generally prioritized speed over audio quality, compressing the music so much that you’ll miss a lot of little details. Even as a person who doesn’t know much about the technical aspects of music, I can tell just by listening to the new Utada Hikaru album on Spotify and on Tidal that it simply sounds different on Tidal. I can hear new details, pick out interesting pieces of instrumentation more clearly, and in general, the music is much louder and feels more balanced.Spotify’s indexing is also bad, and the algorithms that are supposed to tell what you’d like to listen to from what you actually do listen to are not only notoriously wonky, but have led to accusations that Spotify is simply a payola machine. It should be noted that none of the major streaming music services that currently exist are good, exactly; it’s just that by almost every metric, Spotify is a lot worse than all its direct competitors. These include tech giants like Apple, Amazon, and Square, which owns Tidal, so the streaming service should have a huge well of goodwill for its product. Instead, in terms of how it pays artists and presents their work, Spotify has opted to be even worse than the companies that have used child labor, let their workers die in a warehouse during a tornado, or gone all-in on cryptocurrencies. Spotify is still the most popular of those services, but the minor differences between them highlights what Spotify is lacking outside of its catalog of songs. The absence of Young and co. only reveals that music lovers do have more options, and that out of all of them, zonked comedians aside, Spotify just might be the worst.