How will Neil Young fare as a streaming presence now that he’s taken his music off Spotify, the service that accounted for close to half of his streaming revenue prior to his initiating a break amid the ongoing Joe Rogan?
The long-term effect on consumption for Young’s songs remains to be seen or felt, and the veteran rocker may yet see his numbers sink without consumers being able to access his material via music’s most popular digital destination. But in the two weeks since he made his stand, two trends became evident: first, a big surge in streaming attention as fans followed him to other services… followed by a return to the kind of numbers he had in normal times, when he was still on Spotify — but, of course, without Spotify.
Following that initial boon, then, the most recent numbers, while on the low side of what Young had been averaging previously, still count as impressive, and suggest that at least a portion of the listeners that used to hear him on Spotify are seeking him out on a new platform. Naturally, though, observers cynical of music fans making wholesale shifts will wait it out longer to see if some of the streams Young is picking up now on alternative services are residual “protest” streams that will diminish over time.
Merck Mercuriadis, whose Hipgnosis Songs Fund had acquired half of the rights to Young’s publishing catalog, said in an interview with Bloomberg published Tuesday that “the interesting thing about Neil is that his consumption has gone up in the two weeks since he came off the service,” and that “we’re at 38% up in streaming alone.” But the full range of data is a little more complicated than that.
Variety looked at numbers provided by MRC Data since the beginning of the year to look at trends for Young’s music before, during and since the peak of the controversy.
Prior to Young first making noise about wanting off Spotify on Jan. 24, his daily on-demand streams in both audio and visual formats were tallying somewhere between a low of 550,000 and a high of 715,000, usually reliably landing in the 600,000s each day.
The day after news of his ultimatum to Spotify broke, his total streams rose dramatically from 619,000 to 860,000, and the day after that, sharply again to 1,005,000 — but some of those listens were presumably on Spotify, which hadn’t yet removed all his music from the service. So maybe, you could argue, some of that rising tally was from Spotify-only consumers wanting to literally get some last licks in.
Yet his numbers continued to rise after Spotify successfully cleared out his archives from its catalog. On Jan. 28, with listeners now being diverted to Amazon Music, Apple Music, Tidal and other services, he reached a peak-to-date of 983,000, followed by his surpassing the million-stream mark for a second time on Jan. 29, with 1,020,000 streams, which stands as his high-water mark.
From there, interest fell but remained high. In all, Young managed eight straight days in which on-demand streams surpassed the 700,000 mark, a benchmark he’d only reached once in January prior to the Rogan spat.
A leveling off that has happened coming into February could be spun either way. On Feb. 6, the latest day for which MRC Data had figures available, Young had 576,000 on-demand streams — his second-lowest daily number so far this year.
So now that he’s finally seeing streaming numbers again that are at or a little below his pre-controversy average, does that mean he “lost”? Hardly, if you’re a Young supporter. It’s worth remembering that Young has said 60% of his streaming revenue came from Spotify — although Billboard put the actual monetary value, due to lower Spotify payout rates, at 42%. If Young continues to draw anything even close to the consumption figures he enjoyed when he was still on Spotify, it would mean that a very big part of his audience made the leap to competing platforms, at least to hear him, if not for all their streaming needs. It’s also possible that out of the controversy he got a lot of sign-ups for his own subscription service, Neil Young Archives, which wouldn’t necessarily be reflected in these numbers.
(Mercuriadis also told Bloomberg that, with Young, “we’re hundreds of percentages up in terms of album sales,” but those figures are hardly worth looking at, in comparative terms. Prior to the controversy, Young was selling about 125-360 albums a day, per MRC; his peak daily album sales number, on the day Spotify removed his material, was 1,197, and that was back down to 239 by Feb. 6.)
Will any of these migration blips — especially as Young has begged fans to turn to services with paid HD tiers — turn out to be permanent? Or do even most Neil Young fans prefer to keep on rockin’ in the free-mium world?
The answers one way or another will play out eventually… although, yes, an additional spin could be that none of these classic-rock problems amount to a hill of beans in a world where a single song with a more youthful demographic, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” amassed 37 million streams all by itself last week. If Bruno boycotted Spotify, then we’d really have something to talk about.