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Wednesday, September 02, 2015

An Open Letter to Neil Young on Streaming | The Daily Rind


Earlier this summer, Neil Young announced that he will no longer allow his music to be streamed.

There's been quite a reaction since the announcement, as the battle over the fundamental question of whether audio quality really matters (and can be heard) rages on. We thought the question had been settled centuries ago, but apparently not.

For example, here is an "An Open Letter to Neil Young on Streaming" from The Daily Rind by Dan Griffiths:  
To Mr. Young (or may I call you Neil?),

I have been a big fan of your music for years. I listen to you at home, at work, walking the streets of London, at friends’ houses and on my daily commute. But you recently removed all of your work from music streaming services and I wanted to point out why I think that was a bad move.

I’m aware your main issue with Spotify, Apple Music and other popular streaming services is that the quality in which the audio is broadcast is not of a standard that you feel represents your music fairly. As your music is available on MP3, CD and vinyl I’m going to presume that you consider these formats of a suitable standard. The majority of platforms available may not yet present audio to this quality, but I would argue that the average consumer generally does not care or simply can’t tell the difference. To demonstrate this I have included a video below in which some of the most popular streaming services were tested.

The test above actually includes Jay Z’s Tidal service that offers a premium lossless streaming tier, which is the same quality as a CD (at 1411 kbps). As you have seen in the video, nobody in the test can tell the difference.

What slightly upsets me about why you removed your music from streaming services is that your career to date has largely been about pushing boundaries. Your music was always very forward-thinking and ahead of its time. Your digital service Pono was a very interesting idea, even if it only spoke to a very select number of audiophiles. That’s what I love about you and your music, you have always been about evolution, and that’s why I think removing your music from streaming services was a bad move.

If you look back over the course of time and formats that have succeeded within music, the only thing that has remained true is convenience to the fan/consumer. Think about it, vinyl < cassette < CD < download < stream. As much as we would like to believe the mass consumer wants high quality audio, they don’t. I myself often find this hard to believe, but then again, I’m also not an average music consumer.

I buy almost all of my music on vinyl. I have three copies of your album Harvest — one on CD and two copies on vinyl. I think it’s that good! Up until recently I was also streaming that album (among others you have released) at work via my Spotify account. But since you removed it from the streaming service I have not been able to enjoy it at work. You have aggravated me as a fan but have also cannibalised a means of income for yourself.

But like I said, I’m not a typical music consumer and it can be hard to separate yourself from that mindset. The average music consumer simply won’t listen to any artist’s music via three different means of consumption and typically only has one preferred format. You have therefore alienated a specific type of listener, and future listeners, of your music.

What’s great about streaming platforms is that sharing is very much encouraged. The need to communicate is ingrained in human existence. If I find some music I love, I want to share it with friends. I can’t help myself! Streaming services help me achieve this with relative ease. So by not being on these services, you are also losing the ability for your music to reach new ears by the most organic means possible, word-of-mouth.

I respect your right as an artist to do whatever you like with your music; it’s your art. But the fact of the matter is that it’s my right as a paying consumer to listen to your music however I like! You can’t stop me from compressing an MP3 that I have paid for to a low bitrate and adding it to my phone (because I’m running short of space on the device and want to listen to more of your records), so why would you get protective about the audio quality of streaming services when very few can tell the difference?

You can’t change human intuition and you can’t stop evolution so why not come and ride the wave with me?

Thanks for listening and I hope to catch you when you are next on tour again in the UK (who knows, by then I may own my 4th copy of Harvest).

Dan Griffiths

For more writing by Dan Griffiths please visit musicvstech.com.

Lot's good points Dan. Let us know if you hear back from Neil and/or his PONO Team. We're all ears here at TW!

Like you, we're "not a typical music consumer"... thank goodness. :)

Lastly, we want to say thanks Dan for the "tone" of your letter. It's so nice to read a thoughtful, heartfelt, reasoned letter about a perceived injustice. Your politeness and respectfulness are truly commendable.

Maybe if more folks took the time to write a well reasoned letter to their friends and families, they would feel much better about their cause?

In contrast, to the rants and raves that so many make about every large and small injustice in the world. Rather than just shrieking anonymously into the vast internet echo chamber where no one listens there are only merely howls all along the watchtower. And the hour is getting late...

" It's a bad day to do nothin'"
~~"A New Day For Love" by Neil Young

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13 Comments:

At 9/02/2015 11:42:00 AM, Blogger timothy fontenot said...

I'd like think of myself as a typical music listener solely because at this stage of my life with my fixed income I can't keep up with NY's intense musical endeavors. I love his music and all rock n roll but I have to draw the line with what I have on hand-vinyl,cd's and mp3's and the sound systems I have invested in years ago.

 
At 9/03/2015 07:52:00 AM, Blogger Andy Walters said...

Is there a pillow in the house?

 
At 9/03/2015 01:20:00 PM, Blogger Chris Miller said...

I agree with this writer on all points. The one issue he missed and I consider it the most important. The younger generation won't have a chance to listen to Neil's music. Like a lot of folks that read this blog I have kids in their 20s and from what I know they only use a streaming service. I want kids and young adults to to learn the enjoy the bliss that Neil's music brings us and I'm afraid without his music on the streaming services he is going to lose folks 30 and younger.
Peace

 
At 9/03/2015 03:46:00 PM, Blogger Genghis Kon said...

A little off topic, sorry guys. I understand the affordability and convenience of streaming, but when it comes to that and MP3s, I don't understand why people want all their music digitally. I always prefer to own a physical copy of an album, be it on CD or vinyl. CDs aren't that much more expensive than an MP3 download. Also, if, say, Apple introduced something that limited their MP3s from iTunes to Apple based platforms, you would be screwed if you tried to switch to something else. With CDs, you own that music, period. And I love liner notes, which I think is something that a lot of people my age are missing out on. Just my two cents.

 
At 9/03/2015 06:13:00 PM, Blogger Dan1 said...

Genghis Kon,
I'm with you but my observation is that millenials are minimalists and consider stuff to be a negative (not a positive) hence their love of having all their music and books on a small device. And also seeing empty nesters these days forsaking all the junk they piled up and looking to purge a lifetimes worth of belongings ... regarding the open letter, just think Neil doesn't really care about people's opinions and won't bother even reading these kind of open letters ... when he says he works for the music I take him at face value, he's not necessarily interested in broadening the listening audience either, I'm not sure he would think twice about whether 20 and 30 something people are listening to his music ... Last night, I was re-listening to his conversation w Howard Stern from some months ago, highly recommended even as a second listen. I think Howard is somewhat provocative but he did get Neil talking about lots of things ... seemed clear Neil is kind of, as he said, "in his head" and not at all tuned in to what fans are thinking or saying ....

 
At 9/03/2015 08:31:00 PM, Blogger nick said...

https://www.yahoo.com/music/the-quality-of-streaming-was-neil-young-right-128196143916.html

 
At 9/03/2015 11:16:00 PM, Blogger Chucky said...

I have a Pono. A hi-res music file played on it and even decent headphones sounds miles better than any streaming service or an MP3. Simply no comparison. I'm hearing aspects I've never heard before - layers, depth, texture, etc Screw streaming and MP3. I'm not going back.

 
At 9/04/2015 01:37:00 AM, Blogger Markus Glauser said...

I agree on all points with the author. I gave all my Neil CD's (50 plus) away a couple of years ago. No more need of them because of Spotify. Simplicity - less is more... You can imagine that I don't like this move of Neil. Streaming ist the future wether Neil likes it or not. I see only losers - nobody wins with this decision. Too bad.

 
At 9/04/2015 02:17:00 AM, Blogger Alan said...

Only a moron would fail to hear the difference between a Streaming / MP3 and Vinyl / Pono / Blu Ray audio. The masses have been drinking the Kool Aid for a long time and don't expect more than what mp3 and streaming services deliver. But music fans with attentive ears clearly know there is a difference and can hear it. "Audiophile" is a label that used to include vinyl fans and a few other high resolution sources. Today this label ironically includes CD listeners because by today's standards, they are 10x fuller and richer in sound, since they are getting 10x the sound resolution of a MP3 or streaming source! Sorry you jettisoned all of your hard copies. Think of this as an invitation to buy Pono. Hard copies and albums are useful and fun to have around. Cheers! Alan in Seattle

 
At 9/04/2015 06:19:00 AM, Blogger TOM said...

CHOICE IS GOOD

 
At 9/04/2015 09:37:00 AM, Blogger Babbo B. said...

@Alan: Don't disagree with your overall point, but just to be fair, a CD (1411 kbps) is four times the resolution of a high-quality mp3 (320 kbps). Depending on your ears and your equipment, you may or may not hear much of a difference.

 
At 9/05/2015 11:07:00 AM, Blogger Mr Henry said...

Neuromancer is arguably the most futuristic novel of the past fifty years. William Gibson wrote it on an old typewriter and didn't even own a computer at the time.

Avatar was written twenty years ago. Then James Cameron had to wait another dozen years to make the movie, and had to invent a lot of the technology in order to do so.

Leo Fender and Dick Dale partnered up over a half century ago, and the electric guitar has never been the same. Almost 80 years old and fighting numerous afflictions, Dick Dale is the greatest electric guitarist I have ever had the privilege to hear and see live.

Neil Young plays a guitar that's as old as I am. Nobody has ever played guitar like that before, and no one ever will again.

Parsonsfield takes a song like Moonshiner and makes it sound new. The Avett Brothers perform How Many More Times and it sounds like a lost Leadbelly song.

As the old Zen Master once said, it's not the flag that's waving, it's your mind.



“...ordinary experience has to be made extraordinary in order to become accessible to reflection.”
― Shoshana Zuboff... from In the Age of the Smart Machine

 
At 9/10/2015 06:32:00 AM, Blogger Lars said...

What I think is always lacking in these discussions is some focus on the complexity of a recording and that it includes so many factors. What does it matter if a music file is of the highest resoulution if either the recording, the mastering or the listening equipment is really bad? I really like that Neil uses his name for the sake of environment and sound quality but in my opinion the focus is too narrow if you just say that high resolution is better. Isn't it possible that a big part of why PONO sounds great is that the music available contains largely of recordings done by musicians and produces with a bit more focus on sound quality than your average 2015 teen pop hit in great studios and that it is played back on a great player? If the advertisement said "With PONO the music sounds better because we select the best there is to offer within recordings, mixed and mastered with great balance and dynamic range AND presented in high resolution. Played back on our high quality player it sounds superb!" In my opinion that is much more valid than "high resolution is the only way to present music / mp3 is bad". I have a feeling that the reason some people can present blind tests that says mp3 is not that bad AND others feel confident that PONO is WAY better is because there are other factors than resolution. Just my 5 cents.

 

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