As you’ve certainly seen, Neil Young has been the subject of much news recently, stemming from his protest of Spotify’s role in spreading misinformation.
But putting all the headlines and the opinions and the politics aside for a moment, what impact has all this controversy had on the demand for Young’s music? And if that demand has changed, what does that mean for Young’s net worth?
Neil Young’s Current Net Worth and Last Year’s Catalog Sale to Investment Fund
Young currently has an estimated net worth of $200 million dollars, according to the website Celebrity Net Worth. Much of that value has been accrued over the years through album sales, for such platinum albums like:
- Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
- After the Gold Rush
- Harvest Moon
Then just last year (2021), Young sold 50% publishing rights for his entire catalog to Hipgnosis, a UK-based investment fund founded by longtime music executive Merck Mercuriadis, who reportedly paid Young $150 million in the deal for his 1,180 songs.
Hipgnosis boasts a portfolio of 60,000 songs worth more than $1.5 billion dollars. And of that entire portfolio, you can bet Young’s catalog is towards the top in terms of demand right now. Here’s why:
Spotify Controversy Increased Demand for Young’s Music, Cue Royalties
They say there is no such thing as bad PR. In the case of Young, this rings true.
The controversy surrounding Young and Spotify started in late January when Young asked his management team and record company to ensure his music is removed from Spotify, as a protest for Spotify’s role in spreading misinformation by platforming Joe Rogan’s podcast.
Young’s statement struck a chord, immediately becoming a national news story and prompting audiences to search his name. Per Google Trends, on a relative scale from “0” to “100”, searches for “Neil Young” went from a “5” to a “100” the week Young’s statement was released.
Since then, the news story has obviously cooled, and interest levels in Young have come down, but they are still consistently higher than what they were before the controversy.
This spike in interest was not exclusive to Young as it relates to the Spotify controversy either, it extended to his actual music as well.
Using his song “Rockin’ In The Free World” as an example, data from music analytics tool Chartmetric shows that demand for the track has surged across channels amidst the controversy.
Here are Youtube views for “Rockin’ In The Free World” over the last three months:
And now Pandora streams:
And the use of “Rockin’ in the Free World” exploded on TikTok as well:
Generally speaking, views and streams of Young’s music show a similar trajectory to searches for his name, inflecting when the controversy kicked up, and despite falling since then, remaining at levels that exceed pre-controversy baselines.
And these charts are consistent with what other outlets have found as well. The New York Post reported that streaming of Young’s songs went up 38% after his Spotify exit, and Rolling Stone reported that his album sales rose 80% week over week amidst the release of his statement.
And remember, because Young sold only 50% of publishing rights to his catalog, he presumably still retains the other 50%. So with every single stream, he continues to accrue royalties.
Joni Mitchell Leaves Spotify Too, Does Controversy Always Drive Demand?
Joni Mitchell is arguably the most noteworthy person to have left Spotify in solidarity with Young. And demand for her music surged as well. Rolling Stone reported that Mitchell saw a 32% increase in streaming numbers and a 125% increase in album sales after demanding an exit from Spotify.
Curiously, on the morally indefensible side of this same spectrum, Morgan Wall’s music sales also roseen amidst a controvers, where he was caught on video using a racial slur.
People talk plenty about cancel culture and how saying the wrong thing can jeopardize your career. But at least in the case of these musicians, whether they are in the right or the wrong, controversy fostered demand which turned directly into dollars and cents.
As it is for Neil Young, he is a wealthy man. And this controversy appears to have only bolstered his popularity, the demand for his music, and ultimately, his personal net worth.
Photo: Daryl Hannah / Warner Records