The right of free speech

The right of free speech

So Neil Young decided to remove his song catalogue from Spotify because he didn’t like what another Spotify artist, Joe Rogan, said on his popular podcasts.

Then Joni Mitchell came out saying the same thing, remove, please.

I am conflicted by this.

Anyone, including Rogan, who peddles crazy ideas and statements that are potentially harmful to anyone, is out of order. 

However, if we want free speech, Rogan has a right to speak even if what he says is nonsense and dangerous. After all, he claims to be a comic.

Equally, Spotify customers have the right not to listen. 

They choose to stream a podcast or not. And that is the key. Nobody is forced to listen to Joe Rogan for three hours or any other anti or alternative purveyor of brain farts; each person chooses to listen.

Of course, this version of free speech where anyone can say anything must assume that listeners are discerning. 

Not only must all Spotify customers have the skills and experience to decide for themselves, but they must also exercise the ability routinely. The reality is that many don’t have the skills — few schools teach discernment and the mental fortitude to turn off a feed — nor do those listeners who have a discerning taste use it all the time.

Crap gets into all our lives.

Then there is another problem.

Neil Young has 6 million monthly listeners and Joni Mitchell 3.5 million. Modern heyday artists like Drake or Adele are in the region of 60 million listeners keen enough to follow an artist and stream their songs.

Unless they get publicity by pulling their catalogue, the older generation simply doesn’t have the reach. 

As Guardian reporter Edward Helmore puts it, “Streaming is highly competitive, with low margins. Apple, Google, and Amazon are competing for market share. Spotify reported 172m paying subscribers, up from 144m when it signed Rogan. When it comes to plotting a lucrative future in modern media, Young, a cultural legend, was simply not competitive.”

Not that this stand against stupidity is to gain more streams, not even Alloporus is that cynical, but it does leverage past infamy into present-day relevance. Presumably, the hardcore fans are still listening to albums on vinyl and care little for the pristine 160kbps, so there is little to sacrifice.

And no doubt such established artists don’t need the change either.

This is all a little convoluted, and maybe I am missing the point. 

Everyone should stand up to what they know to be wrong in whatever way they can within the constraints of no harm to others.

Songwriters limiting their audience in protest at another’s voice just seems an odd way to go about it.


Hero image modified from photo by Tim Hüfner on Unsplash

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