UPDATED: As the Spotify-Neil Young-Joe Rogan controversy continued to rage on Saturday amid a firestorm of criticism toward the streaming giant, an image reading “Delete Spotify” appeared on Spotify’s own platform in a very unexpected place: the homepage of the ‘90s alt-rock band Belly — and only on desktop, not on phones.
A rep for Spotify did not immediately respond to Variety’s request for comment.
In a statement to Variety, the members of Belly said: “From the start, Spotify’s business model has been to devalue creative work and underpay artists, while lobbying (along with other tech giants) to keep the regulations governing royalty payments hard in their favor and against artists. Turning around and using a big chunk of the money that ought to be distributed to artists to fund, and give a platform to disinformation- disinformation that may well prolong the pandemic and further hurt artists by limiting live-performance options- is finally too much. Yes, we believe in free speech, but we do not believe we have an obligation to help fund deliberate disinformation and doubt sowed to undermine the very notion of a collective, public good (and get underpaid in the process).” The band directs those “interested in learning more” about their position to the Union of Musicians’ Justice at Spotify campaign and the Songwriters of North America website.
As for how the image appeared on Spotify, although rights-holders, usually a record label, control the uploading of music to Spotify, artists often can control the imagery that goes with their pages on the platform through the Spotify for Artists portal. That’s exactly what Belly did, independently of their music’s rights holder, which ironically is Warner Music for all of Belly’s albums except its most recent studio album (Warner also holds the rights to most of Neil Young’s and Joni Mitchell’s catalogs and have removed all of the titles the company controls from Spotify, at the artists’ request). It was not immediately clear why the “Delete Spotify” image appears only on desktops, not on phones.
So why doesn’t the group just remove their music from the platform? The band wrote on Facebook Friday that they would like to, but the process is “difficult” and “very complicated.” The process apparently was not as difficult for Young or Mitchell, whose music was removed within days or, in Mitchell’s case, hours of the request being made public. However, that may be more reflective of Belly’s 1990s deal, which saw the band signed directly to 4AD Records and distributed in the U.S. by Warner. The group elaborated on the process in a second statement to Variety:
“Even getting material we do completely own [i.e. the band’s self-released 2018 album “Dove”] taken off Spotify is a multi-step process, as we contracted to have that release distributed, so we have to go through the distributor to request the material be pulled. We’re working on this, too.”
Notably, at the time of this article’s publication, Joni Mitchell’s albums that were released through Universal Music remain available on Spotify.
Strictly from a business standpoint: Heinous enough that @Spotify doesn't pay its artists but to use that revenue to fund Covid disinfo thereby prolonging the pandemic which has kept all of us from touring income makes it even more obvious #cancelspotify + #maskup #GetVaccinated https://t.co/T6nlr50kYM
— Belly (@bellytheband) January 28, 2022
Belly was formed in 1991 by former Throwing Muses and Breeders singer-guitarist Tanya Donnelly and scored a gold album and two Grammy nominations for their 1993 debut, “Star,” which included the alternative radio smash “Feed the Tree” among other singles. However, the 1995 follow-up “King” was not as successful and the group split soon after, with Donnelly pursuing a solo career and releasing several albums over the years. The group reformed in 2016 and released the album “Dove” two years later via its own Belly Touring label; its first two albums were released by Warner Bros. Records and remain affiliated with Warner Music.
Young announced Wednesday that he was demanding the company drop his music, writing that “Spotify has recently become a very damaging force via its public misinformation and lies about COVID.” He didn’t cite Rogan by name, but referred to an open letter from doctors and health professionals issued earlier this month calling on Spotify to crack down on coronavirus-related falsehoods on “The Joe Rogan Experience.”
Spotify’s market capitalization fell about $2.1 billion over a three-day span this week, coming afterYoung yanked his songs from the audio-streaming giant in protest.
Shares of Spotify fell 6% from Jan. 26-28. Over the same time period, the tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index rose 1.7% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 1.1%. For the sake of comparison, Netflix’s stock recovered a bit, up 4.9% over the last three days, after getting hammered following its Jan. 20 earnings report.
To be sure, Spotify’s stock price was already on the slide — having plummeted 25% year-to-date as of Jan. 25, the day before Young’s catalog was pulled off Spotify. Investors have been rattled by signals that Spotify’s growth may be slowing, particularly after Netflix’s warning of a significant cooldown in first quarter subscriber net adds (which precipitated a 24% drop in its share price).
Also, it’s worth noting is that Spotify’s stock rebounded slightly Friday, closing up 1% to $172.98/share, amid a broader market upturn. However, that came before Joni Mitchell announced that she, too, would be removing her music from Spotify. “Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives. I stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue,” the singer-songwriter wrote.