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Joni Mitchell is back on Spotify. Now what? Print-ready version

by Chloe Corning
Her Campus
April 30, 2024

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer's own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus. This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at CU Boulder chapter.

On March 21, 2024, the heavens rejoiced. A choir of angels sang as the skies cleared, and the clouds drifted apart to reveal a brilliant halo of light. Life forms across the globe sang out in declaration of the earth's vast and boundless magnificence. All this to say - on March 21, Joni Mitchell's music made its long-awaited return to Spotify. I am a broke college student who's been on my dad's family plan since I was 15; on March 21, my life was forever changed.

The restoration of Mitchell's music was part of a timeline that has been going on for years. In January of 2022, Mitchell asked her record label to pull her music from Spotify in solidarity with country rock artist Neil Young. In a statement posted to his website in January, Young explained his decision to pull his music.

Young said, "I am doing this because Spotify is spreading fake information about vaccines - potentially causing death to those who believe the disinformation being spread by them ... They can have Rogan or Young. Not both."

Among other misinformation, Rogan and his (mainly unargued with) guests have said on his podcast that vaccines can alter someone's genetic makeup, that Ivermectin can cure Covid-19, and that vaccines pose a larger risk to young people than Covid: claims that have been debunked by experts across the globe. Rogan had signed an exclusive deal with Spotify in May of 2020.

With her eleven Grammys and her permanent place in the rock and roll hall of fame, Mitchell was in a position where she clearly had the money and resources to be able to make a statement in this way. Knowing this, removing all of her music from the most prominent music streaming platform in the world as a professional artist was still a bigger sacrifice than I could imagine. Young pointed out the loss of 60% of his streaming income as a result of his decision. Despite its seemingly small return, this decision in my eyes was a huge show of her integrity as an artist and as a public figure.

In February of this year, Rogan formed a new contract with Spotify that will no longer be exclusive, allowing for him to add his podcast to other platforms. Young decided not to continue his protest without a viable alternative, an approach that would definitely have also been a lot less realistic in creating change. Mitchell followed suit, adding her music back to the platform after Young's announcement of return. The begrudging restoration of music from both artists has brought up a question that's been on my mind for a while: is Spotify a good platform at all? Is it any more or less ethical than other platforms? Should I be using it?

Spotify has been criticized numerous times for not paying its artists enough. Taylor Swift famously removed her music from Spotify from 2014-2017 as a protest to low streaming royalties and lower revenue generated from streaming services than physical or even digital sales. Anecdotal evidence, like a video from artist L. Dre have pointed out a much higher income from Apple Music when looking at a similar number of streams. One of his songs with 4.7 million streams on Apple Music made $24,200.56 at the time of filming. His song with a comparable amount, 4.5 million streams, on Spotify made just $11,683.96.

Revenue generated from streams is more complicated than Apple Music definitely paying more though. Streams from listeners using an ad-supported account, for example, have been observed to earn less per stream than those from listeners with Spotify Premium. Demographics also play a part. While some sources report this changing in recent years, an artist with mostly ad-supported listeners might still make less than those with mainly premium listeners. Per-stream data is not a commonly used metric within the industry, despite being the simplest for an outsider to understand, making it even harder to interpret how much revenue artists and labels are getting out of their songs on streaming services.

The arguments around Spotify and streaming in general can be a constant push and pull between accessibility and recognizing the value of someone's art. Swift cited the value of art when leaving the platform in 2014, telling the Wall Street Journal, "Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It's my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album's price point is. I hope they don't underestimate themselves or undervalue their art."

Including music on free platforms can have benefits beyond direct revenue, such as increasing listener bases and fans who might consider going to a live performance, buying merch, or supporting an artist in other ways - some of the pull factors that might have eventually led to Swift's return to the platform in 2017.

Streaming has only gotten bigger as time has gone on. Times have changed a lot since 2014, and streaming services have generally become the dominant source of music consumption. The idea of a free plan has also become more accepted as valuable to many artists. The 11 dollars a month that a premium plan costs may be a barrier for a lot of people, especially those who aren't financially independent or don't listen to music often enough to justify it, and it's difficult as an artist and even as a businessperson to ignore this entire audience of possible listeners and fans. Compared to other competitors like Amazon Music and Tidal, Spotify has been observed to pay the least but is also one of the only options on the market with an ad-supported option. The general consensus, though, is that Apple Music definitely pays more than Spotify (to varying amounts).

When I get older and leave my parents' family plan, I'll definitely consider making the transition to something that offers better pay to artists, but I think there is definitely a case for both sides and a lot of room for individual discretion. At the end of the day, even with the unfortunate reasons for return, I'm so grateful to be able to listen to Mitchell's songs again on my own account. The silver lining is definitely that I am excited to get familiar with more of her songs in the future and for her music to be more accessible to a greater audience than it had been before.

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