Spotify has stumbled over questions of censorship before. In 2018, it briefly attempted to remove from playlists songs by R. Kelly and the rapper XXXTentacion — who had both been accused of sexual misconduct — through a “hateful conduct” policy, but canceled the initiative after an outcry in the industry.
But Spotify is no longer so easy for any artist to walk away from. Streaming now accounts for 84 percent of sales revenues in the United States, according to industry data, and Spotify has 172 million paying subscribers — about 31 percent of the worldwide total, and more than double that of its closest competitor, Apple Music, according to Midia Research, a market research firm.
That has made Spotify a key financial partner of record companies, and a “necessary evil” for artists, said George Howard, an associate professor at the Berklee College of Music and a former record and digital music executive.
Misinformation and the Spotify-Joe Rogan Controversy
“Not many artists would say, ‘I love Spotify,’” Howard said. “But many labels, whether they like or dislike Spotify’s values, are absolutely delighted by the fire hose of money that has flowed to them.”
Rogan’s position within Spotify’s business has made his show, “The Joe Rogan Experience,” an important target for critics. While many podcasts are distributed widely to multiple platforms, Rogan’s is exclusive to Spotify, after a 2020 licensing deal that has been reported to be worth $100 million or more, though Spotify has never confirmed that figure. As critics see it, that makes Spotify the publisher of Rogan’s show, and therefore acutely responsible for it.
So far, some of the sharpest responses to Spotify have come from its own podcast hosts. On Monday, the hosts of “Science Vs,” another Spotify podcast, said on Twitter that the company’s support of Rogan “has felt like a slap in the face,” and announced that the show would comb through the claims made by Dr. Robert Malone, a guest on Rogan’s show on Dec. 31, whose remarks drew a sharp rebuke from public health experts. The author Brené Brown, whose Spotify shows like “Unlocking Us” have been heavily promoted by the company, said over the weekend that she will not be releasing any further podcasts “until further notice.”