Neil Young Says Record Labels Killed the Market for Hi-Res Music Downloads

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Neil Young watched Pono Music burn to the ground.  But apparently it wasn’t his fault.

It’s already part of music tech’s vast wasteland.  So maybe you’ve never heard of it. But Pono was a music download store and dedicated music player, with a focus on high-quality recorded audio.

Neil Young was the visionary founder, though the timing was unbelievably bad.  Basically, Young wanted to bring high-resolution music to music fans around the world, and outdo the relatively low-fi iTunes.

That drew millions in support, with huge accolades from artists like Jack White.  But onlookers questioned whether anyone wanted a stand-alone, clunky MP3 player, especially as smartphones were surging.  Of course, smartphones themselves were  powering a surge in streaming music, with companies like Spotify about to take the entire cake.

But Young still blames Pono’s meltdown on other factors.  Like, greedy major labels.  In a recent interview, Young blasted the labels for killing Pono “by insisting on charging two to three times as much for the high-res files as for MP3s.”

“Why would anybody pay three times as much?” Young asked. “It’s my feeling that all music should cost the same.  The file doesn’t cost any more to transfer.  And today with streaming, you don’t have the problem [of unauthorized file sharing].  Who wants to copy something if you can stream it?”

But was hi-res music — especially hi-res downloading — ever a promising market?

“The record companies, by charging three times as much for hi-res music as they charge for regular music, they’ve killed hi-res music.  It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen,” Young continued.

Accordingly, prices for full albums of hi-resolution files on Pono ranged from $20 to $28.  Of course, iTunes and other download stores charged half of that price . Individual songs on Pono cost between $1.99 and $2.99 apiece.

Young’s Pono player and download service crashed and burned last year.

Neil Young Refuses to Accept Utter Defeat on Pono

Introducing Neil Young’s next venture…

The legendary rock star is now focusing on establishing a hi-resolution streaming platform called XStream.  He is putting it to use on his recently-launched Neil Young Archives website.

The streaming platform is currently free.  Young plans on introducing a couple paid subscription choices for fans who want continued access beyond six months.

This time around, it might be harder to raise millions of dollars — and there’s zero hype.  But let’s see how this one goes.



5 Responses

  1. Remi Swierczek

    Record labels, to be exact, UMG has KILLED music as a merchandise!

    Streaming Ek’s style and ads YouTube/VEVO style are venting $300B of music goodwill obvious to a child and leading to $30B music business TOMB by 2030.

    Unite, get NEW FAIR USE ACT that will lock music away from Google and will allow next day to convert 150,000 Radio and TV stations, 5,000,0000 busy public spots and 7 streamers on Ek’s DOPE to simple, old fashion, music stores!

    Play the best and charge for addition to personal playlist!

  2. Anonymous

    Maybe the triangle shape of the player had something to do with the collapse of Pono also, what a dumb idea, how do you put that in your pocket? However Neil Young is not hurting, I believe he raised over $6M from Kickstarter for Pono which lasted 5 minutes!

    • Anonymous

      The high price of the music itself certainly was a contributing factor, but you also have to take into account that the average consumer isn’t going to really notice much of a difference between high quality audio and regular. Audiophiles, musicians, and engineers will of course notice the difference immediately, but not the masses. Plus, you need some expensive gear to really take advantage of it. Convenience is king, regular quality is “good enough” for most people, and high quality audio will always be a niche market.

  3. Anonymous

    I know nobody cares about the old man yelling at clouds, but somebody should probably point out that what he is saying is outright false, and that nobody was asking to charge 2-3x as much for high-res. I know dude has an agenda, but he’s only hurting himself by lying.

    • Frankie

      iTunes charges $10 for an album (in AAC), same one in 24/192 res FLAC costs $25 in HD Tracks; that’s 2.5 times. Neil’s right, no?