Neil Young couldn’t remove his music from Spotify on his own. Here’s why.


After the singer insisted that Spotify choose between his music and Joe Rogan’s program, Spotify pulled all of Neil Young’s tracks at his request this week. Young accused the comedian and streaming service of disseminating disinformation about COVID and anti-vaccine attitudes. In 2020, Spotify agreed to pay Rogan $100 million for exclusive rights to his show The Joe Rogan Experience, making it the most expensive podcast agreement ever. With 11 million users, the show is a huge source of influence and revenue for Spotify. Rogan, on the other hand, has been the subject of increased investigation in the last year. Spotify took down 42 of Rogan’s episodes last spring because they contained contentious guests and subjects. 270 health also penned an open letter to Rogan earlier last month, accusing him of “broadcasting falsehoods, notably over the COVID-19 epidemic.”

Young followed through on his promise once it became evident that Spotify would not be eliminating Rogan’s show, but he couldn’t do it on his own—he needed to contact his record company first.

So, who owns the music of Neil Young?

Young, like many other artists, was unable to freely remove his own songs from Spotify due to a lack of control over his licensing rights.

Young’s record label, Warner Bros. – Reprise Records, owns the licensing rights to his music. Warner Bros. is responsible for making partnerships with third parties that can duplicate Young’s work, such as Spotify.

“I was informed by my own legal forces that contractually I did not have the control of my music to do that before I contacted my pals at Warner Bros about my wish to leave the Spotify platform,” Young said on his official website Wednesday. “I’d want to express my gratitude to Warner Brothers – Reprise Records, my absolutely fantastic and supportive record label, for supporting me in my choice to remove all of my songs from Spotify. Thank you very much!”

Many other artists don’t have control over their songs’ rights.

Young is far from the only artist that has to negotiate with their record company about how their music is used since many musicians who are lured into lucrative record agreements early in their careers never have the opportunity to control their rights at all.

When a musician signs a deal with a record label, any licensing arrangement, such as the one between Young’s label and Spotify, is typically irreversible because the artist no longer has complete ownership over their song.

Spotify has a lot of clout with the labels they work with and the music rights they represent, and big streaming services account for the majority of record companies’ earnings today. Young has stated that his label’s relationship with Spotify accounts for 60% of his music’s streaming revenue.

So, who owns the rights to their own songs?

Some musicians have sought to keep creative control and publication rights for their music referred to as master recordings, which are essentially copyrights to utilize an artist’s music. In 2004, after becoming the president of his own record company, rapper Jay-Z was one of the first to do so when he negotiated to have his rights restored to him. 

Many of their own masters are now in the hands of Frank Ocean, U2, and Taylor Swift, with Swift even going so far as to re-record an entire album to retake ownership.

That implies they may do whatever they want with them, such as remove them entirely from a streaming platform without obtaining permission from anybody else. 

Contracts with new artists are typically put up early in the artist’s career, often when they first sign a deal with a record label, so that the record company retains legal ownership of masters, rather than the artist.

Several musicians, including Adele, Thom Yorke, and The Black Keys, have previously criticized record companies’ licensing arrangements with Spotify for underpaying musicians. These musicians all tried to keep their songs off Spotify, but in the end, they all caved up and allowed their labels to sign Spotify licensing deals.