Through my coverage of various media industry scandals over the years, and through my first-hand experience with a few of them, I can confidently say this: The scandals are more intense on the inside than they may seem on the outside. And so it is at Spotify right now, as employees challenge management and condemn Joe Rogan.
Spotify CEO Daniel Ek’s Sunday night memo was full of signs that his employee base is in revolt over Rogan. The most recent controversy is over his past use of the N-word, but as the Wall Street Journal reported last week, before this eruption, “employees have used message boards to express their concerns about his show” ever since the exclusive distribution deal was struck back in September 2020.
So, these issues have been bubbling up for a long time. But Ek also knows that — in the words of the WSJ — “Rogan’s show has been crucial to making Spotify the top U.S. podcast platform by listeners.”
Can the circle be squared? Neil Young, whose public challenge to Spotify sparked earlier news cycles about Rogan, added even more pressure on Monday by saying in an open letter that Spotify employees should quit.
First, Young addressed the public by saying “misinformation is the problem” so “ditch the misinformers” and “find a good clean place to support with your monthly checks.” In other words, cancel Spotify subscriptions. Then he wrote, “To the musicians and creators in this world, I say this: You must be able to find a better place than Spotify to be the home of your art.”
Finally, he addressed “the workers at Spotify” and said “Daniel Ek is your problem — not Joe Rogan. Ek pulls the strings. Get out of the place before it eats up your soul. The goals stated by Ek are about numbers — not art, not creativity.”
Young saw a “big boost in music streams and sales” after he pulled his music from Spotify, Jon Blistein reported for Rolling Stone. But his focus seems to be elsewhere. I noticed that Young’s Monday missive credited “the medical professionals who started this conversation.” As I pointed out on “Don Lemon Tonight,” the early January statement by doctors and other pros calling Rogan a “menace to public health” is the proximate cause of the dominos that have fallen since. Here’s the report….
Will Spotify’s audiences be satisfied?
As for the edited compilation video of Rogan using the N-word on past episodes, I think it’s important to point out in news coverage that the video came from a Twitter account tied to a liberal super PAC. India Arie helped it go viral several days later. Rogan then apologized on Saturday and Ek sent out his memo on Sunday. And now everyone is waiting to see if the scandal will subside. (Arie talked with Lemon and said she is not trying to “cancel” Rogan.) Will employees, performers and subscribers be satisfied with Spotify’s answers?
— Ashely Carman writes about the “mixed messaging” coming out of Spotify: “As the situation has evolved, so has the company’s treatment of its star podcaster…” (The Verge)
— “Spotify’s answer to its Rogan conundrum seems increasingly clear; it needs to exert a little more influence over Rogan’s show,” Lucas Shaw said… (Twitter)
— Mary McNamara’s latest column sums it up: “Spotify knows Joe Rogan’s podcast is hurtful, but gosh, there’s money to be made…” (LAT)
— Others also see $$$ signs: Rumble, a platform favored by conservatives, has offered Rogan $100 million over four years to exclusively carry his shows… (Reuters)
— Philip Bump’s riff on Rogan and misplaced trust: “Anti-elitism and the Internet are a problematic combination…” (WaPo)