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

Neil-Young Spotify
Michael Tran/FilmMagic

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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  1. C. Gibbs says:

    If I had the balls and fame to pull my music from Spotify I would. my kids favorite song is Old Man which I already owned and had on my itunes playlist as well as on CD (Greatest Hits and Harvest) . Being the modern age I was playing it from Spotify in the car in the kitchen , anywhere for my kids who love the song.. Then I couldn’t find it on Spotify.. In seconds I bought it for .67 cents so I could play it for my kids whenever possible.. Small price to play for a genius songwriter.. It’s his music . He has the right to pull it…Don’t get me wrong – I love Spotify- but if we had to start buying CD’s or Vinyl or tape cassettes tomorrow I would be happy to support the artists I love and admire for their craft..My interest in pop music because of its ubiquitous availability for free has wained and now I can’t even think of who I want to play on Spotify half the time. There is something to be said for “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

  2. TerryTerry says:

    I just logged into my Spotify account and started making my Neil Young Playlist, when I couldn’t seem to find any music. Google search and 5 minutes later I learned he pulled his music from Spotify. Am I going to run out and buy all his music off Amazon? Not likely. Mr. Young, how is this a good thing for me? Your fan, who loves and appreciates your music. I’ll miss you on my playlist. But that’s as far as I go.

  3. Tom Wilson says:

    Neil Young, you owe me. In the sixties I bought your music on vinyl, then again on 8-track so I could rock with you in my Ford mustang. When cassettes were introduced I bought your music again, and then in college I discovered how great you sounded on reel-to-reel. Then I briefly partied to your tunes on DAT, before my final upgrade to CD in the eighties. With every format change I paid handsomely for your music….well over a thousand dollars between all of these format changes…and I didn’t mind one whit. I got my money’s worth with every purchase.

    This year I discovered Spotify, and I’m hooked. For $10.00 a month, I can listen to all of my favorite artists anytime, anywhere. I have been loyal to you, Mr. Young, for over forty years. You have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. But not so much anymore. I listen to you very rarely now. Somewhere along the line you’ve changed. You’re not the Neil Young that I’ve suported for all of my life. You’ve become just another artist the I’ve outgrown. It’s kind of sad.

    You owe me. You owe all of your fans.

  4. David Johnson says:

    Neil Young has one agenda and that is money $$$$$$$…..he would not use his own money to start Pono, he got the money through kickstarter. He even asked Donald Trump for 5 million, because he did not want to spend his own money.
    Sad that another member of the “Hippie Generation” has sold out.

  5. jhs39 says:

    I find the fetishization of vinyl as some sort of audiophile format amusing but it’s also completely ridiculous. I grew up with vinyl and it didn’t get replaced by the compact disc because of a record company conspiracy. Everybody in the 1970’s that had a decent stereo with good speakers and a nice turntable also had an equalizer to kill the high and low end on records and eliminate as much of the hiss and pop inherent in the format as possible. During the 1970’s vinyl was not an audiophile format–reel to reel tape was. If you were serious about sound quality and had the money you bought albums on reel to reel tape, not vinyl.

    The first time I heard the Rolling Stones song Satisfaction being played from compact disc in a record store I couldn’t believe how many instruments were in the mix because I never heard them on my vinyl record. It was a revelation–and the original Stones compact discs aren’t even considered well-mastered.

    If the hipsters who claim to gravitate to vinyl because of improved sound quality actually cared about sound quality they would have supported SACD, which was the best sounding home audio format that ever existed. Listening to a remastered Bob Dylan album in surround sound on SACD was like being in the recording studio–the sound was warm and crisp–you could literally feel the vibrations of the guitar strings. Vinyl has always been an inferior format subject to degradation and surface noise although it was superior to the sound quality of AM Radio and 8-track tapes.

    The problem a lot of recording artists had concerning degraded sound quality wasn’t with the compact disc–artists were fine with their music on compact disc, including Neil Young, until it became fashionable to bash the format. The problem was with the MP3. People went from listening to music on their stereos, with CD’s or cassette tapes or vinyl LP’s or whatever to listening to highly compressed audio files on crappy earbud speakers and it was the first time a music format that provided inferior sound quality (MP3) completely supplanted one that provided superior sound quality (compact disc) but the record labels brought Armageddon on themselves. They not only refused to lower compact disc prices to where vinyl prices had been even though the CD discs were actually cheaper to make but they tried putting various copy protection schemes on the discs so people couldn’t rip them and make tracks for their own MP3 players. Anyone remember that lovely Sony copy-guard system that was eventually qualified as a computer virus? If I put one of those discs in my computer the antivirus virus and anti-malware programs immediately spit it out.

    I think Neil Young is cranky and greedy. From what I read people who blind-tested Pono couldn’t tell the difference between it and a regular MP3 player–even with decent headphones. If Neil Young pulls his music from streaming services all it will ultimately do is give those people an incentive to download his music illegally–and it’s not like every track he ever recorded isn’t available on the internet. You can get any of Neil Young’s classic albums in uncompressed FLAC format in less than a half an hour–so what is he accomplishing by taking away an affordable and legal way for people to listen to his music? Not a thing but maybe he feels better about himself.

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