Neil Young might be searching for a heart of gold, but as far as he’s concerned, streaming music services are for ears of tin. Today he announced via Facebook that “Streaming has ended for me”. He is pulling all his music from streaming services because streaming has “the worst quality in the history of broadcasting or any other form of distribution.” If the quality improves, he’ll consider putting it back.
This isn’t exactly the first time Young has kicked up a fuss about music quality. A few years back, he launched a Kickstarter to create a special digital music player, the Toblerone-shaped $400 Pono, that would play music in as close to its original analog quality as could be managed. (Reviews effectively said that it worked okay and all, but they couldn’t really tell a lot of difference in sound quality.) And really, it sort of demonstrates the precise difference between the digital music and digital book markets—and at the same time, their sameness.
I mean, look at the Pono. Nobody’s tried to create a super-duper high-fidelity e-book device, have they? Something that would replicate the feel and smell of paper, maybe have a leather slipcover like a real print book? No, of course not! The Kindle has incrementally improved, and continues to do so, but it’s not trying to be the same original quality as a book. And yet, that’s what Neil Young wanted for music.
But do any of the people actually listening to the music want that? I’m not so sure.
Digital music, after all, started out with music files whose sound quality was really pretty terrible compared to CD. The original MP3s largely weren’t even 128 kilobits, they were 112, because that was the limit of how good the free ripper/encoder people used back then was able to do. And people loved it because it was convenient. The encoding got a bit better, especially once Apple brought in VBR AAC, but it was still not CD quality—but people loved it because it was convenient.
And really, for these people, a good high-quality MP3 or AAC effectively was as good as a CD, and still is, unless you have super-duper high-end home stereo equipment and haven’t already ruined your ears with decades of over-loud music. It’s good enough.
But it’s not good enough for Neil Young. I don’t know, maybe he just can’t unhear the sound deficiencies that keep his songs from sounding the way they do in his mind’s ear. Whatever the reason, a lot of listeners don’t have that problem. Which means they do have a problem with him yanking the music from the streaming services they use. Many of the responses to his Facebook post are complaints from fans that he’s taking away the music they found perfectly enjoyable. Will he change his mind under fan pressure? I don’t know.
Personally, I’ve always thought Neil Young’s singing was a little too whiny to be enjoyable, and I’m actually rather pleased that now I don’t run the chance of accidentally hearing it when I have my ‘70s music station on random play.