Neil Young says Spotify sounds "shitty", pushes fans to Amazon Music free trial

Neil Young
(Image credit: CBS)

Neil Young has taken to his own website to let his fans know that his music is no longer on Spotify, and that he wants them to keep on rocking in hi-res. The singer has shared a number of personalised promotional links offering listeners in the UK, US , Australia, Canada and Europe a four-month free trial of Amazon's premium Music Unlimited service.

On his website, Neil Young Archives, Young said: “Amazon has been leading the pack in bringing Hi-Res audio to the masses, and it’s a great place to enjoy my entire catalogue in the highest quality available. ” He added on Twitter: “Thanks also to Apple Music (I LOVE APPLE) and Qobuz for sticking with my High Res music.” No love for Tidal, then. (Even though they are still offering a free trial.)

Much of Young's music catalogue was removed from Spotify last week after he wrote an open letter to the company calling for the streaming platform to choose between his music and podcaster Joe Rogan, who has been widely criticised for giving a platform to COVID-19 vaccine misinformation. 

Despite acknowledging that the move could result in the loss of 60% of all of his worldwide streaming income, Young has stated that since leaving Spotify, he feels "better" and has heavily criticised the quality of its music streams saying, “Amazon, Apple Music and Qobuz deliver up to 100% of the music today and it sounds a lot better than the shitty, degraded and neutered sound of Spotify. If you support Spotify, you are destroying an art form. Business over art. Spotify plays the artists’s music at 5% of its quality and charges you like it was the real thing.” Strong words.

Fellow Laurel Canyon legend Joni Mitchell also pulled much of her music from the the service on Friday noting in a post on her website,"I've decided to remove all my music from Spotify. Irresponsible people are spreading lies that are costing people their lives. I stand in solidarity with Neil Young and the global scientific and medical communities on this issue." Both she and Young suffered from polio as children in the years before a vaccine was widely available.

Spotify reportedly paid $100m (£75m) for distribution rights to The Joe Rogan Experience podcast in 2020. The programme is the number one podcast on Spotify with episodes getting an average of 11 million listens. The company said that it "regrets" Young's actions and hopes he will return to the platform soon. 

So what of Young's recommended alternatives? Amazon Music Unlimited offers more than 75 million songs in 16-bit/44.1kHz (CD quality, which it calls 'HD'). Subscribers can also stream more than 7 million songs in 'Ultra HD' (better than CD quality, also known as hi-res music), with a bit depth of up to 24-bit/192 kHz.

The service is usually priced at £7.99 ($7.99, AU$9.99) per month if you're already a Prime member, or £9.99 ($9.99, AU$11.99) or non-Prime members, and is typically free for 30 days to new customers - however, the service is currently offering four months of free music. For what it's worth, Young is not receiving payment from Amazon for sharing news of the deal.

After a tumultuous few days Spotify initially lost $2 billion from its market worth. As a means of damage limitation the company has since disclosed its existing policy for handling disinformation and pledged that new content warnings would be issued, redirecting users to a data hub of coronavirus facts. Its shares are now trading at the same value as they were prior to Young's protest.

Spotify remains the only major streaming service not to offer music at lossless quality, with rivals TidalQobuzAmazonDeezer and Apple Music all supporting at least CD-quality streams. The company had announced its intention to launch its eagerly anticipated Spotify HiFi tier by the end of last year but failed to do so, much to the disappointment of its users.

This isn't the first time Neil Young has publicly expressed his frustration with the quality of online streams. In 2015 the audiophile removed his music from all major online services, writing at the time, “I don’t need my music to be devalued by the worst quality in the history of broadcasting or any other form of distribution.”

He also pulled some of his music from Tidal last year after taking issue with the service's MQA file format saying: “Tidal is calling their files of my songs Masters. But Tidal’s MQA files are not my masters... I don’t need or want Tidal’s so-called improvements. I have heard them. They are degraded from my masters. They are manipulated and not our original work." 

Young's music is also available to stream via his own comprehensive service, which offers both free and paid subscriptions, all in 16-bit and 44.1 kHz quality. Just don't mention the PonoPlayer...


Get the Amazon Music Unlimited four-month free trial

Why I don’t think Spotify HiFi is coming any time soon (and why it doesn’t matter)

Read our feature on hi-res music streaming services compared

Amazon Music Unlimited vs Spotify: which is better?

Mary is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi? and has over a decade of experience working as a sound engineer mixing live events, music and theatre. Her mixing credits include productions at The National Theatre and in the West End, as well as original musicals composed by Mark Knopfler, Tori Amos, Guy Chambers, Howard Goodall and Dan Gillespie Sells.