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Spotify upheaval over Rogan content

If we are to believe reports in Digital Music News and Vice, Spotify employees are more than unhappy with Joe Rogan’s controversial guests and remarks in some catalog episodes of The Joe Rogan Experience, which is starting an exclusive distribution deal. Much of the turmoil is reportedly centered around perceived transphobia expressed in the show, notably in an episode featuring Abigail Shrier, author of Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters. There have also been issues of outright misinformation.

As Rogan’s catalog undergoes heightened scrutiny (although, to be sure, a lot of potentially offensive JRE content has been in the news for years), Spotify employees are expressing outrage and disapproval of the affiliation. According to DMN, there is an internal outcry to establish editorial control of episodes before publication.

That’s an eye-widening suggestion, considering that Spotify did not acquire Rogan; the global audio platform is merely licensing it. There is no indication at present that Spotify execs (Daniel Ek is reported to be personally involved in moderating the internal turbulence) are considering such a dramatic level of hands-on oversight, which, one might imagine, would break the distribution agreement entirely.

Alongside the outrage, Rogan himself issued an apology — a singular one. We don’t recall another instance of Joe Rogan publicly regretting any of his content. In this case, it wasn’t about social issues, but about straight misinformation. Rogan stated that left-wing activists had set fires in Portland (“They’ve arrested left-wing people for lighting these forest fires […] this stuff isn’t widely being reported.”) Rogan’s apology was, shall we say, stylistically congruent with his show:

The idea of owning editorial control of content not contractually owned is interesting in Spotify’s case. DMN points out: “Spotify already exerts control over content like playlists, even those created by outside curators.  So why not extend that oversight to podcasts as well?”

One difference is that musicians, even upper-crust musicians, need Spotify more than Joe Rogan does. Daniel Ek and his execcutive committee are caught in a skewering intersection of social responsibility and business mandates. Changing Rogan in any way, or exerting control, is so off-brand for the JRE that any attempt would sour the relationship for certain, if not sever it outright.

Here’s what MIT professor Lex Fridman, a recent JRE guest, has to say:

It’s not that simple inside Spotify, which held nearly a dozen meetings with staffers as of last week, according to Vice. The publication’s reporting seemed to indicate the issue is now closed: “The fact that we aren’t changing our position doesn’t mean we aren’t listening. It just means we made a different judgment call,” vice reports that Ek said in an all-hands meeting.

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Brad Hill

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