“It’s not about Spotify or Joe Rogan. It’s about my integrity. It’s about being who I am inside aligning with who I am outside. And it’s about my dignity. Not allowing anyone to belittle me. I’m not trying to attack anyone, what I’m doing is standing up for myself.” – India Arie
I first heard about Joe Rogan’s vaccine misinformation where I usually hear horrible news stories from – Trevor Noah’s The Daily Show. (It’s the only way I can handle horrible news. That’s how I survived four years of the defeated Prez T.)
Then I heard about musical artists pulling their songs from Spotify in protest of Spotify continuing to support Rogan and their $100 million deal.
Then I heard about Rogan’s excessive use of the n-word (to be clear, once is excessive), as exposed by India Arie.
And after listening to India’s interview with Trevor Noah, I finally started considering if I should pull my podcast from Spotify too.
It’s About Integrity
Since my life’s passion and work is about JEDI (Justice, Equity, Decolonization and Inclusion), you might think that pulling my podcast is a no brainer. But I honestly didn’t even think of it at first, and then I really hesitated to take that big step. Here’s why.
I’m nobody. I’m no Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, or India Arie (all artists who are boycotting Spotify). So Spotify could care less what I do.
I don’t pay for a Spotify subscription, so I don’t contribute to their revenue. If I did, that would be a boycott step I would take.
Pulling my podcast hurts me more than it hurts Spotify. It is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, streaming platforms for podcasts. I need them to grow my listenership, much more than they need me to increase their downloads.
That last reason was the biggest one for me. Considering I had just launched Season 3 of Changing Lenses, and I already had subscribers through Spotify – not distributing through Spotify would hurt me much more than my boycott would hurt them (or Rogan).
I came face-to-face with a decision point on my own commitment to JEDI. Was I going to walk the talk or not? If I stayed with Spotify out of fear of losing listeners, then I’d be putting profit over people. I’d be prioritizing my business growth (i.e. capitalism) over anti-racism.
You may think I think too much of myself by labelling my boycott as an act of anti-racism. Don’t worry, I have no illusions. I'm sure neither Spotify nor Rogan are concerned about me in the slightest.
But like India said in one of her Instagram posts (which I quoted at the beginning), it’s about integrity. I might not stop Rogan from using the n-word, but I can't call myself a JEDI Coach and leave my podcast on Spotify while he does.
It’s About Solidarity
“I have to say that asking for my music to be pulled from Spotify in protest doesn’t actually serve me. Because now if things actually work out the way I want, my music won’t be heard on the biggest streaming platform. But I did it in protest just because I felt like my dignity was being…I felt like I was being disrespected.
“There’s a long conversation about not being heard in the industry, not being respected in the industry for not just me but a lot of people. Especially artists of colour. Especially women of colour in the industry.” – India Arie
When I heard India say this on The Daily Show (see clip from her Instagram below), she gave me the courage to resist my own capitalism and actually do what I say. Of course India stands to lose a ton more than me by pulling her music. Of course she doesn’t want to lose her income (which because of Spotify’s model, isn’t as high as it should be – more on that later.) But she’s boycotting them anyway, because of her integrity and dignity.
And that gave me the push I needed to maintain my own integrity, and stand in solidarity with her.
It’s About Equal Pay for Equal Value Work
“Spotify is not only the biggest player, they’re also the lowest payer.
“You listen, we get .003 to .005 per cent of a penny. That’s what we get. And…it has been making the professions of producer and song writer unlivable for some people. I’m blessed that I have been successful. But a lot of people…are just working musicians. And a lot of people can’t do it now because of the pay. A lot of people are like, tired, of even just having the debate of whether someone should get paid for their work.
I didn’t expect anyone to listen because I’m used to this certain type of treatment in this industry where they don’t listen. They don’t listen to what I say in the songs, they don’t listen when I say that there’s mistreatment. They don’t listen. I say it, but they don’t listen. And so, to be honest, that made it easier to say over the years, cause I’m like, well I can say whatever. Some people will hear it, some people won’t.” – India Arie
I recently posted about the pay gap between men and women, and especially racialized women. The wage gap in corporate jobs gets some media attention, but I haven’t paid attention to the streaming platforms or how artists get paid.
I don’t charge for my podcasts, but I now consider myself a content creator, and I have a new appreciation for what creatives and artists publish, often out of passion, often without compensation.
Spotify has come out with a website to justify their pay model, which I’ve linked in the References section below. On it they say, “Artists deserve clarity about the economics of music streaming. This site aims to increase transparency…”
As a former accountant, I thought it would only be fair for me to read this and understand their side of the story - which frankly, was not particularly "transparent". I tried to decipher what their financial model was, and as far as I could tell, they verified what India was saying. Spotify pays artists based on streaming volume, and the higher your streams, the more you get paid. The most popular artists with the biggest streaming numbers (e.g. Taylor Swift) will get the biggest cut of the revenue pie. Successful artists like India who aren’t streamed as much will get paid less – maybe a lot less.
Here are some screenshots of what Spotify’s website LoudandClear.byspotify.com says (last accessed March 7, 2022):
I’m not saying that every music artist should get paid the same amount regardless of talent and audience enjoyment (which is obviously subjective). But is a pay gap of millions of dollars really justified? Similar to the corporate world – maybe the CEO and the most junior employee shouldn’t be paid the same. But how big of a pay gap becomes inequitable?
When I buy a song from iTunes (I know, I know, I’m an old fogey), I pay either $0.99 or $1.29 per song. I don’t know how these prices are determined, but the price range is the same for every artist, and the gap doesn’t seem unreasonable.
Spotify argues that streaming is different than buying a song, and so they shouldn’t be paying artists per stream. Maybe they’re even right. But when their business model results in the biggest profits going to a privileged few, they've created an inequitable system rooted in capitalism.
It’s About Curating Space
“The writer Roxane Gay brought something to light for me that I want to make sure I express. She said, this is not censorship. This is about curation. Curation meaning, choosing what you want in a space. Choosing the space you want around you….Spotify is making a choice about the space they choose to curate. I and other creators are making choices about the space we want to curate, the life we want to curate, by choosing spaces we want to be in or not.” – India Arie
In equity and inclusion, we talk about making space for people who aren’t given space or don’t have access to that space. I really liked what India (and Roxane Gay) said about curating space. It makes complete sense to me that even if you’re allowed into a space, you might not want to be there. I know if I was offered a Board directorship with a group of white men who said racist things, I would not accept.
If Spotify chooses to keep Rogan as a business partner, and spew his racist, ignorant content to the public – I don’t want to be in that space, as a listener or a content creator.
One caveat: choice is a privilege. Not everyone is free to join a space or leave a space without consequence. So I’m not calling on all artists or podcasters to leave Spotify. Everyone’s gotta do what they gotta do.
For the creators who choose to leave – I support you. I stand with you.
From India Arie’s Instagram:
From India Arie's appearance on The Daily Show:
Other articles on Spotify’s payment model: