David Crosby On The “Scummy People” At Spotify And His Lack Of Hope For The Music Industry
Crosby's advice to aspiring musicians: "Don't become a musician."
In recent weeks, there has been an ongoing controversy surrounding Spotify and Joe Rogan. First it was about Rogan’s insistence on spreading misinformation about COVID vaccines through his podcast — a Spotify exclusive that, as revealed this week, cost the company $200 million, double the initially reported figure. But then other objectionable elements of Rogan’s show resurfaced, including his recurring use of racial slurs, resulting in the removal of more than 100 episodes from Spotify’s servers. In the first wave surrounding the COVID issues, some artists decided to pull their music from Spotify in response to Rogan’s ongoing affiliation with the platform, igniting debates about censorship along the way.
One of those artists was David Crosby. Following Neil Young’s departure from Spotify, which set the wave in motion, Crosby and his former bandmates in Crosby, Stills & Nash also removed their music. Crosby’s long been a vocal critic of Spotify and streaming platforms at large, given the lack of compensation for artists that exists in the streaming era and the questions of how musicians are supposed to make a living as a result. Amidst this most recent episode, we called up Crosby to talk to him about removing his music and where he sees things going from here.
When I first wanted to speak to you about the whole Spotify situation, you all had taken the CSN music off but your solo music was still on there for a bit.
DAVID CROSBY: Of course I had to ask Irving [Azoff]. He holds my publishing. The amazing and really wonderful thing is both [Azoff’s company] Iconic and BMG went along with it. They said, “If that’s what you feel you have to do, we’ll go along with it.” I was stunned. That is not normal corporate behavior. Normally they go for the dollar and the quickest possible answer. They don’t go for that, they don’t do that. They don’t support a moral stand.
With me, you have to understand — I don’t like Spotify. I don’t like any of the streamers, because they don’t pay us properly. Their proportion is wrong. They’re making billions with a b and they’re paying out pennies with a p. That’s not OK. It’s not OK in that it took away half my income, and it’s not OK in that, especially, it makes it impossibly difficult for young people to make it in the business. It doesn’t pay them anything. It’s wrong. I don’t like Spotify on purpose because of that. I don’t like their quality level either. They bum up the signal pretty badly. But they and all the other streaming services are ripping us off. They’re quite happy with it. They have no intention of changing it.
Frankly, streaming is the thing of the future. You’re not going to see any physical objects, in film or music. It’s going to keep going this way. But it isn’t right and I don’t have to shut up and pretend that it’s right because I want their money. I don’t want their money. I want what I had. I’m not willing to lick their boots because I need their pitiful $1.57 they’re paying me. They’re not doing the right thing, and in the long run it will get them. In some kind of karmic thing, it’s going to come around and crush them. I don’t know what it’ll be, but I hope it’s soon. I really don’t like how they’re all sticking together and staying with it.
Now besides that, we come to Joe Rogan. Here’s how I feel about it. I think Joe Rogan is… eh, not real impressive. But I think he has a right to spew his garbage. He has a right to do it. I think Spotify has a right to put him up there. I absolutely will fight for their right to do that. I have a right to not be associated with it. I told a friend this morning, “Listen man, if I was selling my records in a marketplace, I don’t want to be selling them next to some spoiled meat.”
That’s why I don’t want to be on the same platform as Joe Rogan. He’s calling people the n word all the time. He’s talking about women as if they’re a mouth and a pair of tits. He doesn’t really represent me at all, so I don’t want to be there with him. That’s all I said. I said I’m removing me. I’m not trying censor him or you. That’s of course the first thing that all his fans said: “This is censorship! You used to be a hippie!” I still am. I still have the exact same set of values. I just don’t want to be associated with that guy.
You and I have talked about Spotify every time we’ve spoken. There’s always been that problem of the business model being unsustainable, musicians not getting paid. Now there’s this new element with Rogan. If they had removed him, would you want to put your music back on Spotify?
CROSBY: No, I don’t want to be in there. I don’t like ’em and their quality’s lousy and their payscale’s lousy and I don’t want anything to do with them.
So this was a final straw, you envision never going back now.
CROSBY: No, I do not envision going back.
Neil Young did this, CSN did this, Joni Mitchell did this. Were you disappointed it did not become more widespread?
CROSBY: No, I wasn’t trying to start something. There’s other people. Nils Lofgren and some other people I respect strongly did the same thing. There’s a few of us who are bothered by the situation enough to where we don’t want to accept their pittance they’re paying us in order to keep silent.
Do you think younger artists have less flexibility to pull their music off these platforms?
CROSBY: Of course! They have no ability at all. They have nowhere to go. They have Bandcamp. Some things like that are pretty good for them. That’s what I encourage them to do, go to those platforms. The thing with the streamers, man… in principle, I think everybody should pull their stuff off, but I don’t think most people can afford to simply because even the pittance they pay is better than nothing for most people. So that’s it, that’s what they have to do.
You were saying there was a karmic backlash overdue for these companies. Are you hoping something like this leads to some bigger change?
CROSBY: I don’t see them growing a conscience. I don’t believe there are good people working there. If they were good people, they wouldn’t work there. They’re not going to suddenly grow some balls and stand against the trend. They’re not going to feel the need to do the right thing. They’re going to keep on collecting money and being shitty to the world. That’s what we have to deal with.
I was trying to be grateful that I could still go out and play live and pay the rent and take care of my family. Then along comes COVID-19 and I couldn’t do that either. That’s why I sold my publishing to Irving. I didn’t wanna sell my publishing, man. I didn’t wanna sell a goddamn thing. I didn’t have any goddamn choice.
Other artists like Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan have done that too. Do you feel OK about it now?
CROSBY: Hmm. It’s OK for now. I’m going to run out of money in a couple of years and then I’ll have to sell my house. That’s just how that is. I can’t do shit about it. I can’t play live anymore. I’m 80 years old and I’m very fragile health-wise. I can’t change the marketplace. They’re making the money and they’re not going to change that. They’re not going to suddenly develop a sense of moral responsibility. They’re scummy people.
You’ve collaborated with a lot of younger artists. You’ve been through this whole arc of pop culture history. You remember when people used to pay for records, etc. The way you’re talking now, it kind of feels hopeless. You have to sell off your publishing, but you’re an older artist who has the ability and clout to do that. What do you tell the younger artists you work with about how to navigate this?
CROSBY: Don’t become a musician. You know how shitty it is for me to say that? You know how much I don’t want to say that? Some bright-eyed young kid who has talent. To the Becca Stevens and the Michelle Willises and the Michael Leagues of this world? To my own son James? I don’t want to say that to them, and it is the truth. I don’t hold out any hope for it at all.
What James and I are doing, and what the Lighthouse Band are doing — we’re making records anyway, because we love making records and because we think music is a lifting force. You can quote me. I believe this hippie bullshit. I think music is a lifting force, and I think these are really hard times, and people need the lift. I’m making music because music makes things better and it makes people happier. That’s good enough for me. If I don’t get paid, I don’t get paid.
There’s a song on my next record, it’s a Gillian Welch song that just says it all really beautifully. I have an entire other album — finished, ready, mixed, in the can — from the Lighthouse Band. I went further with that band in terms of “band.” I said, “Listen, we’re going to write this one together and we’re going to sing it together.” It’s going to be a band record, not a David Crosby record. And we did. It’s stunning. Don’t have a title for it yet, but it’s stunning and it’s finished. James and I just started yet another one. It’s about the only thing we can do. They don’t pay us for it, but it still lets me make music that makes things better.
I’m glad to hear that even with as dire as things look, you haven’t lost that spark for yourself.
CROSBY: No sir, I have not.