The MBW Review is where we aim our microscope towards some of the music biz’s biggest recent goings-on. This time, we report on an interesting single-artist story in the wake of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell both pulling their catalogs from Spotify. The MBW Review is supported by Instrumental.
This is a story that says much about today’s music industry, through the prism of one legendary artist: David Crosby.
Crosby is a contemporary and former bandmate of rock icon Neil Young, who last week (via Warner Records) removed his catalog from Spotify.
Young did so in protest against what he perceives to be Covid misinformation being spread by Spotify-paid podcaster, Joe Rogan.
Since Young pulled his music from Spotify, he has been supported by his friend (and fellow illustrious songwriter), Joni Mitchell.
Mitchell publicly announced she was removing “all my music” from Spotify on Friday (January 28), while accusing Spotify of enabling “irresponsible people” to “spread lies that are costing people their lives”.
As MBW reported yesterday, by 3am ET on Saturday (January 29), all of Mitchell’s classic albums distributed by Warner Music Group (including Blue, Clouds, For The Roses, and Court And Spark) had been removed on Spotify.
In the US, typically the only entity that can request to Spotify that the platform remove a record from its service is that record’s label/distributor. Warner – just like it did for Neil Young – has evidently carried out this task for Joni Mitchell.
Mitchell’s ’80s albums – originally signed to Geffen, and now distributed by Universal Music Group (UMG) – remain on Spotify as of today (January 30), suggesting that either UMG hasn’t yet made an official demand for the service to remove these albums or, if it has, that Spotify hasn’t yet acted upon it.
The important takeaway from all of this, before we come onto Mr. Crosby?
An artist can demand to have their music removed from Spotify all they like. Yet they are generally powerless to do so until their distributor/record label carries out the deed for them.
Obviously enough, making a request for Spotify to remove an artist’s work gets even more complicated if that artist has sold their rights (particularly their master rights) to another party.
Which is exactly the situation David Crosby now finds himself in.
Over the weekend, Crosby – while retweeting messages applauding Joni Mitchell’s Spotify takedown, as well as those carrying the hashtag #IStandWithNeilYoung – was sparring with his fans on Twitter.
One of Crosby’s fans asked the songwriter whether he would be following Neil Young’s example (i.e. removing his own catalog from Spotify) to support his former Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young bandmate.
Crosby replied: “I no longer control it or I would in support of Neil.”
Those of you who’ve been reading MBW for a while will know this statement comes with a back story.
UPDATE: On Wednesday (February 2), this story took a turn, as the following statement was issued to press:
David Crosby, Graham Nash, and Stephen Stills have requested that their labels remove their collective recordings from Spotify. In solidarity with their bandmate, Neil Young, and in support of stopping harmful misinformation about COVID, they have decided to remove their records from the streaming platform including the recordings of CSNY, CSN, and CN, as well as Crosby’s and Stills’ solo projects. Nash has already begun the process to take down his solo recordings.
One of the most famous trends going on in the music business right now is the rampant acquisitions market for classic music catalog rights.
Neil Young, for example, sold 50% of his publishing rights to Hipgnosis Songs Fund for around $150 million in early 2021.
(Young last week publicly thanked both Hipgnosis and his label, Warner Records, for their support in his anti-Rogan campaign.)
During December 2020, David Crosby revealed that he was being forced to put his own music rights up for sale as his touring income had been halted by mid-pandemic lockdown measures.
He simply wasn’t earning enough from the likes of Spotify, he said, to pay the bills.
“I have a family and a mortgage and I have to take care of them so [selling my catalog is] my only option.”
David Crosby, speaking in 2020
“I can’t work… and streaming stole my record money,” said Crosby at the time, adding: “I have a family and a mortgage and I have to take care of them so [selling my catalog is] my only option.”
Three months later, it was revealed that Crosby had sold both his publishing and recorded music interests to Irving Azoff’s Iconic Artists Group for an undisclosed sum.
Crosby said of that deal: “Given our current inability to work live, this deal is a blessing for me and my family and I do believe these are the best people to do it with.”
The Iconic transaction covered both Crosby’s solo work, as well as his interests in music recorded by The Byrds; Crosby & Nash; Crosby, Stills & Nash; and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
The masters for much of Crosby’s music across his career are owned/distributed by companies including Atlantic/Warner, and, for his solo records, by Sanctuary/BMG.
This patchwork of catalog ownership is why Crosby is now, in his own words, no longer in “control” of where his solo records appear – or how they’re used.
Read: Neil Young’s Spotify Exodus Is A Test Case For Artists Who Dare Question Music Industry Dogma
All of which is a prescient case study when it comes to ‘evergreen’ artists selling their catalogs, especially their recorded music catalogs, in the modern music business… and the challenge for those artists in picking the right buyer to be the long-term custodians of their rights.
Take Bob Dylan, for example: You’d imagine that, should he wish to pull his catalog from Spotify (or another service), both Universal Music Group (who now own 100% of his song rights) and Sony Music Group (who now own 100% of his recorded music rights) would oblige.
For one thing, doing otherwise wouldn’t exactly engender a harmonious artist/rightsholder relationship when it came to co-promoting reissues / classic album-based tours etc.
Yet in the wake of Neil Young’s protest against Joe Rogan, it’s certainly something for artists and their managers to carefully consider:
If it came to the crunch, on a point of absolute principle, would the company I’m about to sell my rights to support my decision when it mattered most? Even if that decision, at least in the short term, went against that company’s commercial interests?
The MBW Review is supported by Instrumental, one of the music industry’s leading growth teams for independent artists. Instrumental uses data science to identify the fastest growing independent artists on the planet and then offer funding, premium distribution and marketing support to take them to the next level, without taking their rights.Music Business Worldwide