Why Neil Young’s Vow to Pull His Music From Streaming Services Will Have Little Impact

What if you put out new music and no one cared?

Even more to the point, what if you said you were gonna save the soul of the music business and no one cared?

Then you’d be Neil Young.

On July 15, Young posted on Facebook that he won’t let his tracks be streamed anymore. He cited poor sound quality — said his fans deserved better — but also took a swing at the reduced royalties paid by streaming.

I’d say he’s become a laughing stock, but too many in the press have neglected to adequately point out his failings.

We had to endure endless plaudits for Pono — how so few paid so much on Kickstarter. Young appeared not only on latenight TV, but at the Salesforce conference. Then the product became commercially available, and it made less noise than Peter Frampton’s “I’m in You.” Now, Young is discussing the merits of streaming music. But why, when it’s already the delivery medium of choice (primarily on YouTube). Clearly, he’s still trying to drive Pono utilization, which is like trying to put a Segway in every garage.

And while it’s true that  if you’re a mid-level artist, you’re never going to make the money on streaming that you did on sales back in the pre-Internet era, that’s because today all the superstars of all time are within everybody’s reach. And the money is in mass.

Besides, whether you get paid for recordings or not, that’s not where the lion’s share of the money is. Most of it is in touring and sponsorships, and will continue to be, because our society is moving toward  placing greater value on experiences that cannot be purchased anywhere else.

That’s where Young has been making his money for eons. Just ask Clear Channel/Live Nation, which has footed the bill. And the reason people come to see him is the music of his past, which they oftentimes heard through AM radios, with some of the worst speakers of all time. Listening to a low-res stream on Beats headphones is far superior to what Detroit was delivering when Young made his bones.

The truth is, CD-quality streaming is already here. Both Deezer and Tidal deliver CD quality music. But most people don’t want to pay for it, either because they can’t hear the difference or they believe it’s too expensive. Want to solve the problem? Agitate for a reduction in price. Furthermore, Spotify streams in 320kbps; iTunes doesn’t even sell at that quality. Are you gonna remove your music from the iTunes Store too, Mr. Young?

If Young were 25 today, he’d be giving his music away for free. Like Ed Sheeran and David Guetta, who’ve testified to the benefit of streaming and piracy, respectively. These guys know it’s a new world. They’ve adjusted.

As for making money on streaming: Stay independent; don’t sign with a label. Spotify pays quite well if you’re the only rights holder. But that’s assuming people are listening. If you made a deal with a major for that marketing and promotion push, don’t bitch about payment. That’s inside baseball. Take your complaint off the homepage; you’re only muddying the water. You’re driving people from streaming, and your only hope is to get people to stream.

Sure, you want people to pay for it, but remember, you’re building a career. And careers rain down money. Young already has his. But how about the people who don’t?

They should embrace streaming. They should tell everybody to sign up. They should make access to their music cheap and easy— and argue about the division of revenues off the field.

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