Spotify Said to Rethink Policy on Artist Misconduct After Outcry
(Bloomberg) -- Facing a rebellion among artists and even some of its own employees, Spotify Technology SA will partially walk back a move to punish musicians for their personal misconduct.
The music-streaming giant has told artists, managers and record-label executives that it will eventually restore songs by XXXTentacion to playlists, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The company’s top executives are talking to the music industry and civil-rights activists about how and when to adjust its rules in a manner suitable to both sides.
The uproar followed Spotify’s May 10 announcement that it would root out hate speech and punish artists for misconduct. The company singled out R. Kelly, the R&B singer who has been dogged by accusations of statutory rape, as well as XXXTentacion, a rapper charged with battering a pregnant woman.
The policy changes are still being hammered out and no final decisions have been made, according to the people. There also are no plans to begin promoting R. Kelly again.
Spotify stopped including the artists in its playlists, though customers can still find the music on their own.
Though the move drew praise, it also infuriated the music industry, forcing Spotify -- just two months out from its stock-market debut -- to repair a fissure with artists. Representatives for several acts, including rapper Kendrick Lamar, called Spotify Chief Executive Officer Daniel Ek and head of artist relations Troy Carter to express their frustration. They also threatened to pull their music if the company maintained its current policy.
There’s also been internal dissent. Carter, the former artist manager hired two years ago as Spotify’s liaison to the music industry, told several associates that he planned to leave Spotify following the incident, three of the people said. He has since said he plans to stay, thanks to assurances from Ek that the policy will be changed.
Spotify needs the music industry’s support now more than ever, as it contends with a growing threat from rivals Apple, Amazon and Alphabet. The company, Carter, Lamar and the three major record labels all declined to comment on the ongoing negotiations.
“It is virtually impossible to police millions of songs, lyrics, contributors and artists,” said Vickie Nauman, a media consultant who has worked with Spotify and all three major record labels.
Jonathan Prince, who joined Spotify in 2014 as its head of communications, began devising the policy for hate speech and hateful conduct months ago -- just as fresh allegations of sexual harassment by powerful men were surfacing every day. The idea was to adapt to the new realities of the #MeToo era.
Though Spotify’s intentions were lauded, many have questioned its moral authority to punish acts for conduct in their privates lives. A spokeswoman for XXXTentacion declined to comment, but she previously responded to a query from the New York Times with a list of more than a dozen other musicians who have been accused of misconduct and haven’t been punished.
Prince was the company’s chief spokesman during its feud with Taylor Swift in 2014, the last time Spotify openly antagonized a major artist. The streaming service already had a rocky relationship with musicians, many of whom believed Spotify wasn’t paying them enough. They viewed the Swedish startup as just the latest rapacious technology company looking to get rich off their work.
The conduct policy has been especially unpopular among artists and executives who work in hip-hop, the best-selling genre in the U.S. music industry. Executives have privately wondered why the two acts singled out are black, while plenty of white men with histories of violence were unscathed.
The abrupt way Spotify instituted the policy also sparked complaints. Record labels, music publishers, artists and managers were blindsided, and left to respond in public. “Whoa. Are they censoring the music? That’s dangerous,” Punch, the president of Top Dawg Entertainment, posted on Twitter. Top Dawg releases the music of rappers Lamar and Schoolboy Q.
The approach also opened the door to misinterpretation. Some in the music industry first believed Spotify removed the work of R. Kelly and XXXTentacion altogether. But Spotify had just scrubbed their work from playlists, a popular tool for music discovery akin to Top 40 radio.
The controversy has brought increased scrutiny to Spotify at a time when it’s adjusting to life as a public company. It began trading in April after a direct listing -- a move that let it skip the traditional initial public offering. The shares were little changed in early trading on Friday.
There appears to be no easy solution for Spotify as it grapples with the misconduct issue. One one hand, it wants to firm up its support among artists. But it doesn’t want to give the appearance of supporting alleged criminals -- and alienate the activists who have rushed to the company’s defense.
“Where and how do you draw the line?” said Nauman, the media consultant. “I support taking a stand and not willingly sponsoring a known violent artist, but it’s quite unclear to me how you can consistently monitor and apply any sort of similar editorial/social/cultural standards across art on any scale.”
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