Joe Rogan hosts the world’s largest podcast, “The Joe Rogan Experience”, which can only be accessed through Spotify. It’s not clear what the audience for his podcast is. The Guardian reports that around 11 million people listen to each episode and the BBC state that the podcast is downloaded 200 million times each month. The average age of his audience is 24. Spotify are reported to have paid $100 million for the rights to the podcast in 2020. Each episode features a guest who discusses current events, philosophy, comedy, hobbies etc.
Joe Rogan has forged a career as a comedian since 1988 (when he was 21), after initially achieving success in the field of martial arts. He was the US lightweight taekwondo champion. His political views include support for same-sex marriage, gay rights, women’s rights, recreational drug use and universal health care. He is also a supporter of gun rights and freedom of speech, expressing strong opposition to “cancel culture”.
He has strong views about COVID-19. When he tested positive in September 2021, he stated that he had taken various drugs to combat the illness, none of which were endorsed by medical professions. For example, he advocated for the use of ivermectin, which is used to treat parasitic infestations in livestock and has caused an increase in poison-related hospitalisations.
On 30th December, 2021, Joe Rogan’s guest was Dr Robert Malone. In 1987, Dr Malone carried out laboratory work that was crucial for the development of the mRNA vaccine development which has been at the heart of the current, successful world wide vaccine programme. He has subsequently spread misinformation about the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccinations, claiming that they worsen COVID infections. On December 29th, 2021, Twitter suspended his account because of the lies he was spreading. In the Joe Rogan podcast, he likened the trust in the vaccination programme to the “mass formation psychosis” that was prevalent in Nazi Germany.
In early January, 2022, 270 physicians wrote an open letter to Spotify, complaining about the content of the podcast. It’s a powerful statement and includes the following: “As physicians, we bear the arduous weight of a pandemic that has stretched our medical systems to their limits and only stands to be exacerbated by the anti-vaccination sentiment woven into this and other episodes of Rogan’s podcast”.
On 25th January, 2022, Neil Young contacted Spotify, stating that they could have Joe Rogan or Neil Young, but not both. He stated “I am doing this because Spotify is spreading fake information about vaccinations”. As of today, none of Neil Young’s albums are available on Spotify and he claims that this has reduced his royalties by 60%. Today, Joni Mitchell has also stated that her music will not be available through Spotify. 3.7 million Joni Mitchell songs are streamed through Spotify each month. Right now, only five of her albums are available – nothing before 1982.
At this precise moment, I am listening to the new Anais Mitchell album on Spotify while the physical CD and lyric booklet are on the table next to me. I could put the CD in the CD player but it’s easier to press a few buttons on my phone. I’m one of 170 million people worldwide who pay £10 a month for the ad-free version of Spotify.
I don’t agree that it’s right to spread lies but I’m not sure who should adjudicate on what is acceptable and what isn’t. I suppose if I had to pick two people, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell wouldn’t be bad choices. Do I believe in “free speech”? Even when it’s so dangerous that people die as a result? QAnon anybody? Who has the moral authority to censor what we are allowed to say or hear? Scotland’s Hate Crime Act makes it an offence, punishable by up to seven years in prison, to make an inflammatory or insulting comment, even in your own home. Is this a good thing or a restriction on civil liberty?
Should I withdraw my money from Spotify as a result of them giving a platform to evil lies? If I were to be the only person to do do, leaving the company with only 169,999,999 paying customers, I’m not sure they would sit up and take notice. If there were a significantly large action group to force them to remove this podcast, would I join it?
Is Spotify an evil money grabbing business or does it provide a wonderful service? It is often stated that artists make hardly any money from steaming services.
As far as I can ascertain, around 13% of the cost of a CD may go to the artist so, having paid £9.99 for “Anais Mitchell”, she will receive about £1.30. Spotify are reported to pay about $0.004 per stream. That’s about £0.003. There are 10 songs on “Anais Mitchell” so that’s £0.03 every time the entire album is listened to. £1.30 divided by £0.03 = 43. Listening to the entire album on Spotify 43 times pays Anais Mitchell the same as buying the CD. I’m surprised that this number is this low. I would expect to play an album at least 43 times, if it’s any good. At the moment, I intend to play the album at least 430 times. The next time I see Anais Mitchell play live, I will expect her to resume our previous conversation (when she said ‘excuse me’ because I was standing in her way) and thank me for contributing £13 towards her bank balance. I’m digressing into fantasy world.
(The above figures may be an over simplification. Record companies may charge artists for recording costs and the production of music videos.)
Why do I buy the CD when I can get it for “free” on Spotify? A number of reasons. Firstly, the materialistic side of me likes to possess a music collection. Storage is obviously a problem but I like to look at my record and CD collection. Other people buy paintings, guitars, expensive cars or bottles of whiskey. I buy CDs. Secondly, my memory is so poor that I can enjoy listening to an album by, for example, Modern Nature in January, and then forget about it completely in July. Having a physical artefact reminds me of the pleasure I can get from listening to it. Thirdly, the art work and lyric book can be a bonus; in some cases, it’s disgracefully shabby but in the case of “Anais Mitchell”, the cover is lovely, the lyric booklet is easily read and there’s an interesting story about a song called “On Your Way (Felix Song)”.
Should I boycott Spotify? Should I continue to buy CDs? Should I buy vinyl? How far does the principle of free speech extend? There are more questions than answers. Even Johnny Nash agrees.
I’ve played “Anais Mitchell” non stop since yesterday. I must have played it through at least ten times. It’s excellent. It was recorded in December 2020 but it’s release has been delayed by the shortage of vinyl.
Anais Mitchell has released eight studio albums and has made significant contributions to albums by Bonny Light Horseman and Big Red Machine. This is her first album of all new material since “Young Man In America” in 2012. Most of her previous songs have found her inventing or inhabiting new characters. Her last album was about a young man and his travails in America. The clue was in the title. Her 2010 album, “Hadestown”, was turned into a successful Broadway musical and was a variation of the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice as they stepped into Hades. The clue was in the title. (This production led to her being awarded a Tony and a Grammy and being listed in Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of 2020.)
Her new album is called “Anais Mitchell” and, once again, the clue was in the title. This album is all about her. The voice coming through describes her own feelings, joys and concerns. She says that in the past “it always felt easier to take on the voice of another character or just dress up my own feelings with language or a story that felt like it could be someone else’s. But on this album – there’s no costume”.
The musicians on this album include Josh Kaufman and Aaron Dessner. Josh Kaufman is a member of Bonny Light Horseman (along with Anais Mitchell and Eric D. Johnson) and has been heavily involved in albums by The War On Drugs, Taylor Swift, The Hold Steady, Dawn Landes and The National. Aaron Dessner is a member of The National and Big Red Machine and has been heavily involved in albums by Taylor Swift.
In March 2020, just before lockdown, Anais Mitchell moved from New York City back to her home state of Vermont along with her husband and seven year old daughter. A week later, her second daughter was born. She had many family members living nearby and this caused her to reflect on her childhood.
Anais Mitchell is involved in Big Red Machine along with Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner. This band grew out of a artistic collective called ‘People’, sometimes referred to as ‘37d03d’ (look at it upside down). One of the challenges in this collective was to write a new song every day. Anais Mitchell was, at first, reluctant to try this because she thought she was too slow and careful. “I had gotten into my head that I was the slowest writer on the planet. I told myself that it has to be hard to be good”. However, with encouragement from Adam Cohen (Leonard’s son), she tried writing much more quickly and three songs, “Revenant”, “On Your Way (Felix Song)” and “Real World” emerged.
Ed ‘Felix’ McTeigue was a record producer and songwriter who died in 2020, aged 48. He was the son of Maggie Roche, a member of The Roches. When he first met Anais Mitchell, he was in the middle of writing a song a day for 50 consecutive days. “On Your Way (Felix Song)” is about him. It’s one of the more up-tempo songs on the album and describes how he started out in the music business, with little accolade but determined to follow his instincts. “You were going where the take was going. No regrets and no mistakes. You get one take. You’re on your way.” Towards the end of the song she recalls the last time she saw him in New York and how he didn’t like to say goodbye. In the aftermath of his death, she determines to follow his example. “I’m going where the take is going. No regrets and no mistakes. You get one take.”
“Backroads” recalls her teenage years, driving round the back roads near her house, with boyfriends and girlfriends under bright stars, listening to the radio, with her future yet to be determined. “Hey, you might be someone, someday”. It was an idyllic time for Anais Mitchell to recall but when she came to record it, the Black Lives Matters protests caused her to acknowledge how privileged she was. She wrote a new verse in which she described how the police turned a blind eye to her frolics but, if she had not been white, the outcome might well have been different.
“Watershed” is the somber closing song on the album. Anais Mitchell is only accompanied by piano for the first half of the song until keyboards are introduced towards the end. The song describes a seminal moment in her late teen years contemplating her future. “The tallest summit you look up to. Someday it’s gonna look small to you”.
“Now You Know” is a stream of consciousness song where one thought leads to another. She starts by thinking of dying which causes her to think of children, leading onto “you”, crying, youth, freedom, loneliness, being held, sleeping, night, weeping, getting older, making love, children and finally, dying. The last line is “You wanna know why I’m crying. Now you know”. It’s a very affecting song and was first released on her compilation album called “Xoa” in 2014.
At times, Anais Mitchell sounds a little like Nanci Griffith. At other times, I’m reminded of Mary Margaret O’Hara. The lyrics are accessible and thought provoking and the music is sympathetic and largely understated. The unique selling point seems to be a lack of melody in most of the songs. This is not a criticism. Anais Mitchell sings the words of the songs but it would be difficult to sing along with her. She creates musical notes out of a breathless talking style that is quite original.
I have a huge respect for the principled stand of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. I use Spotify a lot. I believe in free speech but hate hate speech. I love this album.