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Neil Young’s Pono Music Service Relies on Outdated Model That Trades on Fame

My inbox has been filling up with critics saying gotcha, implying my endorsement of the hi-res streaming service Wimp is a belated acknowledgement of the superiority and inevitability of Pono.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Wimp is a new technology service that will probably be plowed under as its competitors embrace hi-fi streaming. Pono is merch. Never has something so minor received such outsized publicity.

Yes, 18,220 people pledged Pono. If an album sold that many copies, you never would have heard of it.

But in our money-focused culture, he who can dazzle us with a figure — in this case, six-odd-million dollars — gets all the press, and an ignorant public blindly accepts it, just like they believe Miley Cyrus is a desirable star, even though she can’t sell out arenas.

So what Neil Young has done is demonstrate that star power can get lemmings to donate, sight unseen. This is even better than selling platinum tickets to shows. In this case, people are putting up their money and may not get anything. Then again, what they may get is not what they expect, just like at a Neil Young concert, wherein the master is famous for delivering the unexpected, and often
the unwanted.

That’s right, Neil Young is selling a high-priced souvenir, and has gotten some of his buddies to sell their names too. What you’re buying here is a high-priced paperweight. Because it sure won’t be comfortable in your pocket.

And then comes the issue of the recordings …

Neil is selling files while Apple is cringing, its iTunes Music Store suddenly faltering, with people moving to streaming. But once again, the same people embracing files are pooh-poohing streaming revenue, when the truth is that some acts are doing quite well, and the more people embrace the format, the more money will be generated, just like the mobile phone business. But the public, and especially the music press, embraces the future after the unwashed masses anoint it. CDs were gonna endure until your grandma started trading on Napster. MySpace made Tila Tequila a star, and then the service was overrun by Facebook, but Justin Timberlake was gonna bring MySpace back! As if JT knows anything about tech. But he is a star, so his efforts get press; without him, no story.

And without Neil Young’s Kickstarter consultant, his effort on the site would not have been so successful. Yup, he hired somebody who made sure his offering popped.

Yes, the world is manipulated. But the truth is Neil Young is gonna sell files, which are dying, at old CD prices — more than $10 — and you think this is big business?

Then you’re probably opening a record store!

And where is he going to get these high-res files? The labels don’t have them; they just have the CD masters. Is he going to get every act in creation to go back to Pro Tools and EQ them and deliver them? And who is going to pay for them to service the not even 20,000 people who pledged, who may not even buy them? And can you even hear the difference? Many experts believe you can’t. That CD quality is good enough, that it’s all in the mastering.

But that’s not the point. Neil Young is demonstrating nothing other than star power here. If there are artifacts to be heard at better than CD quality, they’ll eventually be streamed. Not because Neil did this Pono Kickstarter, but because increased bandwidth will allow it.

Meanwhile, the public keeps streaming on the world’s music service, YouTube, which pays even less than Spotify, et al. But you don’t see musicians bitching about that. And as a result, their fans are not complaining about it either.

If only these stars used their power for good.

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