The Archives Turns Fans Blu
Reaction to the Archives news last week continues to pour in.
As we tried to summarize the various opinions on the announcement, it became quickly evident that a lot of folks had very strong feelings on the matter. Some were outraged at Neil for being "elitist" for releasing The Archives in a format that few could afford or even wanted. Others believed that the Blu-Ray format fell into line with Neil's objectives for the past twenty years and should surprise no one.
And another interesting story line is emerging as well. There are those for whom sound does matter and those whom seem unconcerned about quality.
We've followed a number of different discussion threads across the Net and found a couple that are pretty insightful. Over on the Steve Hoffman Music Forums there have been over 500 comments on the announcement. Since the posters tend to be high-end audiophiles, for most, the developments came as welcome news for the embrace of 24 bit/192kHz high resolution audio.
But even on a forum dedicated to the art of musical recording, there was dis-belief at what some see as a marketing disaster in the making.
More surprisingly though (although not actually), is the apparent wide spread appeal of low quality MP3's. Already many are plotting how to rip the Blu-Ray discs to MP3 for their iPods. There are now well over a hundred posts on Neil Young v the MP3 on Guardian Unlimited like this one by IanShuttleworth:
After a lifetime of blarging, you'd think Neil Young would realise that what determines listener satisfaction is not primarily the quality of the release medium, but the quality of the ears. Luckily, I have cheap ears.
Seriously, the rise of the mp3 has demonstrated that the market isn't format-quality-driven. OK, so we repurchased large swathes of our vinyl collections on CD, a masterstroke of marketing, but how often do you get to pull that one? I mean, how often do you repurchase loads of your paperback books in hard covers and printed on better-finished paper? If you've got it, and it's convenient enough and works for you, that's all she wrote. And what the hell, Young's Blu-Ray rarities will be up on the p2p circuit in a flash.
Clearly, what is happening in the technology format preferences debate is breaking down as a generation gap if you will. And maybe this is all obvious and expected. Older, wealthier Neil fans can make the investment and many have a truer appreciation of quality sound. Younger, less well-to-do fans are not as concerned with quality but put higher value on convenience, portability and price (i.e., free).
Sadly, this type of split troubles us and we're sorry to see arguments much like what we went through last fall with the whole uproar over tour ticket prices. (Which incidentally, after all the wailing and moaning, not a SINGLE person wrote and said that they didn't feel like the ticket was worth it.)
But we digress.
All of which brings us back to: do the ends justify the means? Now this is where it gets interesting. There's a long history of format wars and the question of whether content drives technology or vice versa.
Undoubtedly, The Archives will be a major coup for the Blu-Ray format and creates a win-win for Neil. Or does it?
Long time Neil supporter Paul Cashmere asks on Undercover "Has Neil Young Miscalculated His Fan-Base?
Neil Young is making a massive mistake by limiting his forthcoming Archive collection to Blu-Ray.
For someone who has put his audience first for more than 40 years, Young is risking alienation of epic proportions by placing his fan-base below technology.
Young has totally miscalculated his fan-base for what appears to be a business decision. Sure, the technology for what Young wants to do with this is the best. There is no question about that. The trouble is how many Neil Young fans will ever get to hear it?
So, please, come to your senses. Release the Blu-Ray edition of Archives but also make it available for the other 99% of your audience. It should be on CD, it should be available for downloads and if you REALLY want to emulate the original sound, put it out on vinyl.
It is about the audience, not the technology.
So let's go back to what Neil himself has said before in the Shakey biography by Jimmy McDonough:
"Y'know, I don't give a shit whether anybody BUYS it or not. I just wanna do it. And there may only be two hundred copies, signed by me. But it's gonna fuckin' exist. When it's done, people can do whatever the fuck they want, make any fuckin' order they want out of it. But they're gonna have the whole fuckin' thing to choose from. They're not gonna get part of it. Everything-the good, the bad, the ugly.
So you know the difference. Some of it is good, some of it is crap that wasn't released-there's a reason. Take a look, see what it is. That's what a fuckin' archive is about, not "Here's Neil Young in all his wonderfulness-the great, phenomenal fucking wonderfulness." That's not what I want.
I want people to know how fuckin' terrible I was. How scared I was and how great I was. The real picture-that's what I'm looking for. Not a product. And I think that's what the die-hard fans want - the whole fuckin' thing."
Last week Neil said :
'Ten Blu-ray disks doesn't lend itself to P2P,' he pointed out. 'They [the fans] are going to do that anyway - people are going to copy all this music. We don't have to deal with that. All we're doing is supplying the mother-lode, trying to give them quality whether they want it or not. You can degrade it as far as you want, we just don't want our name on it.'
More than just indifference, Young was downright enthusiastic. 'It's up to the masses to distribute it however they want. The laws don't matter at that point. People sharing music in their bedrooms is the new radio.'
And many fans do in fact appreciate and understand what Neil is trying to do with the Archives on Blu-Ray, such as Chicago's comment:
What people don't seem to grasp is the Archives is not just music, pimped with film and memorabilia.
It's Neil's legacy. It's his autobiography. It's his freaking epitaph. This is what scholars will look at someday when they conduct research on popular music.
People just don't get it--that's why he's so obsessed/paranoid/unrelenting with the quality/sound/visuals.
Nevertheless, it is a daunting investment for many of us. Someone in Neil's camp should point him to the latest unemployment stats. People ARE hurting and some of those people are fans. And, I'm one of them.
In the end, I wouldn't be surprised if Reprise will issue a cd/dvd highlights. And don't forget, they are suppose to be available as dvds--not just Blu-ray.
As an aside, to cynically imply that Neil received 'a strong financial incentive' from Blu-Ray is akin to suggesting the reason he favors Martin or Gibson guitars is due to 'a strong financial incentive'. It's the tool needed to do the job. Period.
As for what we're going to do here at Thrasher's Wheat? Well, we're still in the running for the "When Will The Archives Be Released Poll" on Rust ran by Randy back in 1997. We guessed 2001. The other leading contestant "Never". Of course, the "Never" answer may still win!