Neil Young Explains Spotify Beef to Howard Stern: ‘Why Would I Keep it on There When It Sounds Like a Pixilated Movie?’

Neil Young got candid about why he asked that his music be removed from Spotify earlier this year on a Wednesday morning (Nov. 16) interview with SiriusXm’s Howard Stern. The rock icon who has staked his reputation on doing things his way explained to Stern that his objection to being on the streamer was two-fold: the famously exacting guitarist/singer thinks Spotify audio quality is not up to his standard, and he was angered by the COVID conspiracy theories spouted by Spotify’s allegedly $100 million podcast star Joe Rogan.


“I woke up one morning and I heard somebody saying there was some scientists saying something about COVID, or some doctors and they were saying something about COVID and how many people were dying in hospitals and misinformation,” Young said, adding that he immediately thought about the nurses and medical professionals who were “distressed” by what they’d heard on Spotify; Young never specifically mentioned Rogan by name in his comments.

“And I listened to it and they were saying he purposely is saying this stuff that he knows isn’t true about COVID and people were dying,” he said of the misinformation on Rogan’s show about medically dubious COVID therapies. “I just called up my management and said, ‘We’re out of there. Get me off.’ And we’ll be fine, and it was a little shocking because they know all the [streaming] numbers. Who cares? You know, who cares? What’s his name? [Spotify CEO] Daniel Ek? He cares about money.”

Young said he knew Ek initially had good intentions with his service, because they’d met and he [Ek] seemed to be “coming from a good place. But then it just turned into money, money, money, money,” he said. When Stern asked how much money Young left on the table by yanking his tunes from Spotify, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer said he didn’t know and didn’t care.

“I knew I was gonna do fine. There’s Amazon, there’s Apple, there QoBuz, those are three streaming services that play hi-res,” said Young, who has long fought against what he considers the low-quality fidelity of everything from CDs to digital files. “I think in the digital age we should be able to listen to great stuff, the best that we can get out of digital… Because you’re living off the music, why not pay it some respect and make it sound as great as it does.”

Young said he wasn’t surprised that more artists didn’t join his crusade against Spotify. After Young requested that his catalog be removed from Spotify in January — citing the spread of vaccine misinformation on the Joe Rogan Experience — he wasn’t entirely alone. A handful of artists including India.Arie, Nils Lofgren, Failure, his former CSNY bandmates Graham Nash, David Crosby and Stephen Stills and Joni Mitchell eventually joined his leave-taking.

“The way I look at it, that just turned me off and I made an instant decision — I didn’t think about it at all — just take my music off, we don’t need it. We’ve got all these other places,” Young said of his request. “And it sounds better at the other places. Why would I want to keep it on Spotify when it sounds like a pixilated movie?”

When it came down to it, Young said, he made it very clear: you can have “that guy” or you can have me. “So they chose to have that guy because they’re making millions of dollars off of him and they’ve just given him a whole bunch of money and that I would just eventually roll over and be back,” he said of what he suspected the streamers’ fiscal calculus was. At press time Young’s music was not available on Spotify and he told Stern he’s “never going back there, or anywhere else like it. I don’t have to, I don’t want to. I don’t crave the airplay like that. I don’t really need it, I don’t want it.”

A spokesperson for Spotify had not returned a request for comment at press time.

Two months after Young appeared to post a snide response to Beck’s cover of his 1972 classic”Old Man” in an NFL promotional commercial, he told Stern why he objected to the use of his track. Young, legendarily averse to using his music to promote products, said in the wake of selling 50% of his catalog in 2021 to the Hipgnosis Songs Fund, he never thought one of his tracks would end up in a football. But, he noted, neither did anyone else.

“The people who made that deal did not understand it and no one talked to me about it ever being a commercial or ever being used that way,” he said. “So that was a mistake… And because it was Bec — I love Beck, he’s great — I said, ‘Oh yeah, let Beck use ‘Old Man,’ he’s doing a video or something about it being a football player…’ That’s all I knew. I didn’t realize it was a commercial for NFL.”

Young said his management should have known that but didn’t and he just chalked it up to things that happen, stressing that it had “nothing to do with my publishing company.” Stern noted that Beck got nominated for best rock performance Grammy on Tuesday for his rendition, which Young said was “great.”

“I’m happy for him,” Young said of Beck’s nomination, adding that “anyone can do anything” with a song he’s previously released. “You can’t say you can’t have a mechanical [license] for the song, you’ve already put it out. So you can’t control that and there’s nothing wrong with it. As long as I get to put it out first I’m very happy.”

Gil Kaufman