Spotify CEO Daniel Ek wrote a memo to employees on Sunday about the controversy surrounding podcaster Joe Rogan, who removed over 100 episodes of his show over the weekend that reportedly contained racial slurs. And frankly the Grammy Awards should consider giving out a trophy for this kind of corporate fence-sitting.
Ek simultaneously argued Rogan shouldn’t be “canceled” for his use of the n-word and that The Joe Rogan Experience doesn’t represent the values of Spotify, according to the memo, first obtained by Peter Kafka of Recode Media.
“There are no words I can say to adequately convey how deeply sorry I am for the way The Joe Rogan Experience controversy continues to impact each of you,” Ek wrote in his memo that was addressed to the “Spotify Team.”
“Not only are some of Joe Rogan’s comments incredibly hurtful—I want to make clear that they do not represent the values of this company. I know this situation leaves many of you feeling drained, frustrated and unheard,” Ek continued.
While Ek’s memo opened by saying Joe Rogan’s show doesn’t represent the values of Spotify, the CEO had to acknowledge just how bad things have gotten during this latest scandal, first kicked off by Neil Young’s insistence that his music be pulled from the service because Rogan has promoted misinformation about covid-19 vaccines.
“I think it’s important you’re aware that we’ve had conversations with Joe and his team about some of the content in his show, including his history of using some racially insensitive language. Following these discussions and his own reflections, he chose to remove a number of episodes from Spotify. He also issued his own apology over the weekend,” Ek continued.
Rogan did issue an apology, but “racially insensitive language” certainly feels like an understatement. Rogan has repeatedly used the n-word in episodes and compared Black people to monkeys after he attended a screening of Planet of the Apes.
“While I strongly condemn what Joe has said and I agree with his decision to remove past episodes from our platform, I realize some will want more. And I want to make one point very clear—I do not believe that silencing Joe is the answer. We should have clear lines around content and take action when they are crossed, but canceling voices is a slippery slope. Looking at the issue more broadly, it’s critical thinking and open debate that powers real and necessary progress,” Ek wrote.
“Another criticism that I continue to hear from many of you is that it’s not just about The Joe Rogan Experience on Spotify; it comes down to our direct relationship with him. In last week’s Town Hall, I outlined to you that we are not the publisher of JRE. But perception due to our exclusive license implies otherwise. So I’ve been wrestling with how this perception squares with our values,” Ek continued.
And this is where things get really confusing. Rogan signed a $100 million deal with Spotify, which is the exclusive home of his podcast. The Joe Rogan Experience was previously available for free but Spotify paid to get this content and publishes it. Any reasonable person would describe Spotify as the publisher of his podcast. And yet Ek insists Spotify isn’t Rogan’s publisher.
But Ek said he’s taking concrete steps to make his company better. Or at least that’s how he’s positioning it.
“If we believe in having an open platform as a core value of the company, then we must also believe in elevating all types of creators, including those from underrepresented communities and a diversity of backgrounds. We’ve been doing a great deal of work in this area already but I think we can do even more. So I am committing to an incremental investment of $100 million for the licensing, development, and marketing of music (artists and songwriters) and audio content from historically marginalized groups,” Ek wrote.
“This will dramatically increase our efforts in these areas. While some might want us to pursue a different path, I believe that more speech on more issues can be highly effective in improving the status quo and enhancing the conversation altogether.”
While Ek might be commended for investing $100 million in marginalized groups, remember that Spotify spent $100 million on just one guy—the guy that’s causing them all this trouble in the first place.
“I deeply regret that you are carrying so much of this burden. I also want to be transparent in setting the expectation that in order to achieve our goal of becoming the global audio platform, these kinds of disputes will be inevitable. For me, I come back to centering on our mission of unlocking the potential of human creativity and enabling more than a billion people to enjoy the work of what we think will be more than 50 million creators. That mission makes these clashes worth the effort,” Ek continued.
It’s definitely interesting that Ek believes this kind of scandal was “inevitable,” given that he paid $100 million to have this very specific person host a podcast on his platform.
“I’ve told you several times over the last week, but I think it’s critical we listen carefully to one another and consider how we can and should do better. I’ve spent this time having lots of conversations with people inside and outside of Spotify—some have been supportive while others have been incredibly hard, but all of them have made me think,” Ek continued.
Ek went on to say the company is consulting with outside “experts,” who weren’t named, and said he wants to, “further balance creator expression with user safety.”
“Your passion for this company and our mission has made a difference in the lives of so many listeners and creators around the world. I hope you won’t lose sight of that. It’s that ability to focus and improve Spotify even on some of our toughest days that has helped us build the platform we have. We have a clear opportunity to learn and grow together from this challenge and I am ready to meet it head on,” Ek wrote.
“I know it is difficult to have these conversations play out so publicly, and I continue to encourage you to reach out to your leaders, your HR partners or me directly if you need support or resources for yourself or your team.”