Remember when Spotify bought Joe Rogan’s podcast and signed him to deliver futures? Big money, big press release. Big chuckles in some quarters, why? Welcome to the world of artist relations, Mr. Ek.
Here’s a suggestion. When you sign an artist who you know is controversial going in, expect…you know…controversy. Is that really so hard to figure out? And understand that whatever that artist does, their brand is potentially going to be wrapped around your brand.
In Spotify’s case, there are plenty of controversial recording artists who have been distributed by Spotify. None of that has blown back on Spotify. In Joe Rogan’s case, however, Spotify is essentially the label. Remember all that guff from Daniel Ek about middlemen and gatekeepers? Well, guess what? Spotify is ostensibly Joe Rogan’s gatekeeper, but nobody told Joe Rogan. Which is problem #1 for Daniel Ek.
I seriously doubt that Mr. Rogan gives a hoot what Mr. Ek or any of his employees think of Mr. Rogan. I’m not a listener, so I have no idea how genuine the outrage is, but even if it is the most genuine outrage, Daniel Ek signed up for this. Daniel Ek paid lots of the shareholders’ money for this. Daniel Ek has the company’s governance structure rigged so he’s both president for life and also controls the board. Which is problem #2 for Daniel Ek–he brought this on himself.
So here’s a little unsolicited advice. When your artist comes to you with a recording that you simply cannot bring yourself to release, what you don’t do is tell them to change it. What you don’t do is censor them. That is, as we say in the trade, a chickenshit move. And I don’t care which or how many employees are offended.
What you do is you offer the artist one of two options, both of which are financially painful but ethically healing. First, you have a frank conversation with the artist where you explain that you are not putting out their record but you respect their right to say what they want to say. And if you don’t actually believe that, then you are in the wrong business and you have problem #3.
Then you tell the artist, I will let you go and you don’t owe me anything. This is the clean break option.
If the artist doesn’t want to leave–and notice that money has not come into the conversation and isn’t going to–you tell them they are free to take the record somewhere else and Godspeed and you’ll work with them on their next record. You want nothing more than to preserve your relationship with the artist whether on or off the label. You should want this because if you thought highly enough of them to sign them in the first place, and if they thought highly enough of you to sign with you in the first place, then that relationship is what matters, not the cash.
The cash is rarely significant and soon will be forgotten…well, you’ll definitely take grief from the bean counters, but screw them. What people remember is how you conducted yourself in the situation. That’s what matters.
And that is what seems to be lost on Mr. Ek. Be honest–are you surprised?