Spotify doesn't want to be right. It wants to be too big to cancel.
And CEO Daniel Ek has made clear he thinks Joe Rogan will help the company get there.
Spotify CEO Daniel Ek may not know it, but he just pushed the company into its next chapter. After reading his reasoning against completely removing Joe Rogan from the platform after a series of controversial content has come to light, it’s clear that Spotify would rather be everywhere than liked by everyone.
Neil Young threatened to have his catalog removed from Spotify if the streaming giant failed to remove Rogan over the podcaster’s COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, but Spotify’s support of Rogan and its $100 million-plus investment in him as unwavering. It only took a few days for Spotify to begin removing Young’s music in the name of “balancing both safety for listeners and freedom for creators.” But the company also wants to be the place where “all the world’s music and audio content” exists, according to their statement about the decision. But being a giant in any industry means there are more places for people to poke holes in their logic, and Spotify got a shotgun-sized incision from the public that forced it to solidify what really matters in its balancing act between customers and creators.
Less than two weeks after Spotify let one of the most beloved artists in American music history remove his catalog, neo-soul artist India.Arie shared more than 20 clips of Rogan making racially insensitive comments on his podcast, including his use of the N-word numerous times. A viral compilation of the clips went viral, and in response, more than 110 episodes of The Joe Rogan Experience were removed from Spotify days later. All but one of them was from before the pandemic, intimating that those episodes weren’t removed because of COVID-19 and vaccine misinformation, but for racial insensitivity. In conjunction with the news of the episode removal, Rogan apologized in an Instagram video for using the slurs, calling it “the most regretful and shameful thing that I’ve ever had to talk about publicly,” but also saying his use of the slurs were taken out of context. And that’s all Spotify needed to double down its support of the polarizing podcast host.
In a letter sent to Spotify’s staff, Ek once again clarified he nor Spotify agreed with Rogan’s offensive content. However, his platitude was made hollow by later explaining how “silencing” Rogan through a complete removal wouldn’t be the correct answer because “canceling voices is a slippery slope.” In actuality, Ek is trying to say that if Spotify de-platforms The Joe Rogan Experience, it’ll set a precedent that may result in other content being removed and disrupting the platform’s open ecosystem for creators. He’s telling his staff and the world that Spotify is in the business of growth, and voices as polarizing and popular as Rogan are key to the company’s ultimate goal: becoming a monopolistic giant in the audio space.
“We want to get to 50 million creators and a billion users, and to be a true platform and achieve this ambition, it’s really critical that creators can use their voice independently,” Ek said in a town hall meeting with Spotify’s staff on February 2.
To reach a billion users, Ek essentially let it be known Spotify wants to be for audio what Google is for search, YouTube is for video, and Facebook is for social connectivity. But, those companies only achieved their respective cultural ubiquity by eschewing moralistic views of connectivity in favor of anything that would help them grow. Facebook, now known weirdly as Meta, was once the spunky upstart where college kids could chat. But by the time Facebook had reached 2.5 billion monthly users by the end of 2019, the company had achieved its goal of connecting the world so well that hackers from Russia were able to leverage the platform’s unprecedented global reach to spread misinformation about U.S. presidential candidates and sway the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Facebook eventually changed its policies on political ad targeting, but CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s comments before that change were telling. He said that Facebook’s goal “isn’t to be liked, but to be understood.”
Ek seems to have the same view for Spotify, as he supports a controversial podcast he has openly admitted has been the key to Spotify’s growth in the podcast area. Rogan was spewing the N-word on his podcast for years, and not only did no one care, but Rogan also became “the number one podcaster in the world by a wide margin,” according to Ek’s February 2 town hall statement. But, for now, Spotify isn’t in the business of being the friendly neighborhood streamer; they want to be too big to cancel.