Neil Young’s Spotify Protest Isn’t Censorship, It’s Exercising His Free Market Rights. Why Are We Confusing The Two?
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“Neil Young should stay in his lane and just play music” says the person who has never listened to Ohio or Southern Man and who thinks Rockin’ In The Free World is a politician’s campaign song. Next you’ll tell me Rage Against The Machine isn’t just a party band.
I can’t tell whether the ‘free speech’ pundits yelling at Neil Young actually believe what they’re accusing him of, or just found their next tribal rhetoric culture war issue [that’s a rhetorical question], but besides free speech literally *not* being an issue that’s possible between two private non-governmental parties, what Neil is doing is exerting the ultimate aspect of free market control: deciding who he does business with.
When Spotify signed Joe Rogan to a very large exclusive contract they took him out of the category of content that they “just host and make available to subscribers” and into the realm of strategic business partner. I’m a generally happy Spotify customer but I’m not a fan of Joe Rogan. I wish they didn’t pay him all this money, but it is what it is, and Spotify probably doesn’t care anyway, assuming that he brings them more subscribers than he loses them.
Neil Young — and a handful of other musicians — have made the decision that they don’t want to be in business with Spotify right now based on their beliefs being in conflict with some of Rogan’s beliefs (or guests’ beliefs). Specifically COVID and vaccine efficacy. They are punching up, not down. When they remove their music from the Spotify service they are losing out. If they can catalyze other artists to do the same, or Spotify employees to question their employer’s business decisions, well that’s activism, not censorship.
Given my own personal bias for Young and against Rogan, I tried to play this out in my head with different POVs using another Spotify scenario. Let’s say that Kanye West thought Bill Simmons (Spotify first party…