India.Arie has asked to remove her songs from Spotify, joining a growing number of musicians to revolt against the streaming service over its hosting of popular podcaster Joe Rogan.
However, Arie does not own the vast majority of her music. Instead, the master recordings of her first six albums are owned by Universal Music, the world’s largest label with a $42bn market value. Universal has not taken steps to remove Arie’s albums, said three people familiar with the matter.
A person close to Universal said it was unclear whether Arie had made a formal request.
The label has been reluctant to remove music from Spotify in hopes the streaming service could strike a last-minute resolution with artists protesting Rogan’s presence on the platform, said people close to the situation.
The revolt flared last week after singer-songwriter Neil Young complained about the spread of inaccurate Covid-19 vaccine information on Rogan’s podcast, saying: “[Spotify] can have Young or Rogan, not both.”
Spotify, meanwhile, has raced to speak with labels and artists as it tries to end the crisis before earnings results set to be released on Wednesday morning, said people familiar with the matter.
The situation is uncomfortable for the world’s largest music companies. Spotify is one of the biggest sources of revenue for the industry, paying more than $5bn a year to music rightsholders.
The companies that own music must choose to either honour the takedown requests and lose potential royalty income or alienate artists and become embroiled in the controversy.
“It’s a slippery slope”, said one senior music label executive. “We can’t get into a situation where any time an artist has a problem with a service, we take down their music.”
Joni Mitchell last week asked to remove her music from Spotify, and most of her albums have been taken down. But the four albums that she released under Geffen Records, a Universal-owned label, are still on Spotify.
Warner Music, the third-largest record company that is home to most of Young and Mitchell’s work, has opted to oblige the removal requests. Young and Warner would forgo about $1.2mn in royalties a year for removing the musician’s songs from Spotify, according to Billboard estimates.
Young’s former bandmate Graham Nash has also asked for his music to be removed from the streaming service.
In a typical record contract, the label holds the rights to a musician’s master recordings for a period of time in exchange for its investment in the artist.
Arie on Monday night said she had decided to pull her music from Spotify. “I believe in freedom of speech. However, I find Joe Rogan problematic for reasons other than his Covid interviews . . . For me it’s also his language around race,” wrote the R&B singer, who has almost 1.4mn monthly listeners on Spotify.
Arie left Universal for BMG in 2020. Her 2019 album Worthy, the first released through BMG, is in the process of being removed from Spotify, said a person familiar with the matter.
Rogan and Spotify have attempted to quell the maelstrom. Rogan sought to apologise over the backlash to a December podcast episode in which he interviewed Robert Malone, a virologist who is often critical of the Covid vaccines and has been banned from Twitter.
“I’m very sorry this is happening to [Spotify] and they’re taking so much heat for it,” Rogan said in a 10-minute post on Instagram on Sunday.
The controversy has kicked off a public relations crisis for Spotify as it looks to satisfy critics without alienating Rogan, who is crucial to a billion-dollar strategy to broaden its service through podcasts.
In recent years technology companies such as YouTube and Facebook have suffered backlash over the content that users upload to their sites. However, Spotify has paid more than $100mn to bring Rogan on exclusively, giving the service a more direct relationship as the publisher of Rogan’s podcast.
Social media has been abuzz with people vowing to #DeleteSpotify. Belly, a 1990s rock band, changed the background of its Spotify profile to an image reading “Delete Spotify”. Professor Brené Brown, who has an exclusive podcast deal with Spotify, has threatened to not release any new episodes “until further notice”.
Spotify has responded to criticism by publishing its rules about content and has promised to add an advisory to all podcasts that discuss Covid.
However, the company has not removed the December 31 episode of Rogan’s podcast that triggered the ire of hundreds of doctors and scientists.
On the podcast, Malone told Rogan that US hospitals are financially incentivised to falsely report deaths as being caused by coronavirus and that vaccinated people were more likely to contract the Omicron coronavirus variant than the unvaccinated. Spotify told the Financial Times that the episode did not violate its content rules.