The Empty Promise Of Spotify’s Underrepresented Podcast Creator Fund, Missing In Action

The Empty Promise Of Spotify’s Underrepresented Podcast Creator Fund, Missing In Action

Spotify underrepresented podcast fund

It was to be the fund of funds. Spotify, in a grand mea culpa for the repeated use of the “N” word by way of its $100 million podcast deal with the controversial Joe Rogan, announced that it would offer the same monetary equivalent for an underrepresented (read: those in the “N-word” demographic) podcast creator fund.  

Yet, it’s been nearly a year since Spotify CEO Daniel Ek made the announcement and since then, crickets.

The plan seemed to be quickly thrown together after a video went viral of Rogan using the N-word more than 20 times in clips from different podcast episodes, which he said were collected over a span of 12 years. He apologized and Ek said that Spotify would indeed invest in the “licensing, development and marketing of music and audio from historically marginalized groups.” 

However, no additional path, application page, webinar, or any other form of communication as to the status of such a fund can be found.

This writer has investigated by inquiring with Spotify’s communications department over the last several months. Communication, if it comes at all, is over long swaths of time only to be told that “my information has been forwarded.”  When asked who is actually overseeing the fund, I was told, “Oh, a number of different people,” but I could not obtain any specific names or titles with whom to follow up. 

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Yet what analysis will show one, however, is that other podcast deals are well-supported and well-promoted. From Alex Cooper and her “Call Me Daddy” (heralded as followed by all women, though this writer has yet to see the title pop up as a must-listen in Black female and Latina social communities) to Emma Chamberlin’s recent “Anything Goes” podcast deal, certain demographics are enjoying overflowing success.

The inequity of podcast deals, promotion, production budgets and more is a growing conversation. Indeed, Spotify has even noted this fact on its own news page. Diversity is a glaringly weak point for podcasting, and this attempt, though interesting, is still not nearly enough.

To be quite, clear, the podcast industry is an intriguing game of smoke and mirrors anyway, one would assume, due to the high stakes for, of course, revenue.  Indeed, Bloomberg recently posted a compelling piece investigating how podcast numbers are counted and how suspect some of the methods truly are.  One could say that this is the latest “insiders club.”

However, when it comes to voice, especially in today’s era, having an equal shot at information sharing is probably more critical now than ever. So why woudn’t Spotify move in a timely manner?

By simply writing a convincing statement and promising a certain amount of money after a controversy, many companies can survive the criticism without much trouble or financial loss, said Nina Nguyen, an LGBTQ+ diversity expert.

“People don’t have access to information that supports those statements, so it’s all a matter of whether or not customers and activists believe in what these companies say,” Nguyen said in an interview for The Moguldom Nation.

“In most cases, we can’t know if the companies actually pay the money that was promised,” Nguyen added. “We can’t even know if these companies even hire diverse people or have an ethical production process. Because of that, it’s very easy for companies to fall into performative activism, basically pretending to do the work without actually doing it.”

Accountability in such circumstances is almost non-existent, according to Dr. Kristen Liesch, co-founder and co-CEO of Tidal Equality, a tech-enabled strategy firm working to solve the problem of inequality at scale.

“Simply saying the right words is easy,” Liesch said in an interview for The Moguldom Nation. “When a corporation says the ‘feel good’ thing, they usually get an immediate positive response, as well, from a brand standpoint. They don’t however, get an equal but opposite response when/if they don’t follow through on their words. In other words, the accountability mechanism that might otherwise keep them to their word doesn’t exist in most cases.” 

Even if a company’s diversity pledges are backed up by really good and sincere intentions, it’s hard to change the status quo, Liesch added. “And, today, the status quo is such that not everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed and reach their full potential. The status quo today disproportionately rewards some people and groups and disproportionately disadvantages some people and groups, and this status quo is upheld in really complex ways by the systems we all live, work, learn, and play inside.”

Very few tools or programs exist that can actually help an individual, let alone a corporation, connect the dots between their intentions and their actions, Liesch said.

So this begs for new ways to create accountability right now.

Liesch suggests that creating more equitable, inclusive, and just corporations means changing the ways decisions are made at every level, not only at the point of recruitment and hiring, but in terms of how pricing is set, products are designed, communications are drafted, policies are developed, and so on.

If an organization wants to add accountability to their words, let them show the change in everyday decisions, Liesch said. How are they creating the conditions for more participatory decision-making? How are they transforming the “how” of what they do every day? Let them tell the stories of transformation and change at the point of decision-making.

Take Virgin Media O2, for example, which recently explained how it provided its lowest-paid workers a cost-of-living pay increase. “This was an equity measure,” Liesch said. “This was an example of being accountable to their business’ statements around equity, diversity, and inclusion. Other organizations could take note.”

Follow-up and true metrics, something that all corporations worship, must be applied across the board. Further, corporations can move very quickly on something that they desire. We have seen Ek’s fast moves in criticising Apple when it did not like the company’s terms for its Spotify book offering. The same can absolutely be applied in this case.

Rogan was asked for comment. There was no response as of the publication of this article.

Many good, old-fashioned tools are equally powerful at getting the ball rolling. To that end, there is now a petition to ask Spotify to launch this fund immediately. Now is the time to support all voices. 

The new petition can be accessed here.  Sign. Share. Spread.

Images: Grammy-winner India Arie posted video clips in early 2022 clips of Joe Rogan using the N-word about 24 times on his podcast. She had her music pulled from Spotify. Arie attends the Black Girls Rock! Awards Aug. 5, 2017, in Newark, N.J. (Charles Sykes/Invision/AP) / Joe Rogan at a weigh-in before UFC 211 on May 12, 2017, in Dallas ( AP/Gregory Payan) / Podcast image: Adriano Gasparri, https://www.flickr.com/photos/4everyoung/

Lauren DeLisa Coleman is a Digi-Cultural Trend Analyst and Producer. She’s the founder of http://lnkagency.com/ and Vapor Media, and a commentator on public sentiment and tech on MSNBC.
Agency representation: Leading Authorities. Author: “America’s Most Wanted: The Millennial” an Amazon, “Best: New Media Studies” pick: http://amzn.to/KmsuJ8