Thursday, February 2, 2012

Neil Young and the Two Ends of a Donkey

Neil Young thinks the record industry is a donkey: The artist feeds the front end, and what comes out the back is what you get; be it vinyl, compact disc, or mp3.

Recently, Neil Young was interviewed by the people at "D: Dive Into Media" about how he feels about current-day music digital music formats, how they are consumed by the customer, and what he hopes to do about improving it. You can watch the video here.

Young argues that mp3 files provide only 5% of the total audio quality available via current "hi-res" digital file technology. As a result, consumers are losing out on a top-quality listening experience, and artists are being denied the ability to provide it. Both ends of the donkey are affected.

Some may accuse Neil Young of being a stick-in-the-mud, or assume that he expects consumers to revert to a relative stone age of analog music formats. But I don't think that's the case.

That the consumer has for the past decade embraced digital music files is not a problem for Young. What is the problem is that consumers have traded a substantial amount of audio quality, if only for the sake of convenience. Young does not want the consumer to equate high quality with inconvenience. In fact, current technology already allows for digital audio quality that equals that of analog quality, and proper implementation of this technology can provide for a vastly improved listening experience in ways that are familiar to mp3 consumers today. Additionally, he suggests that a re-focused, "hi-res"-centric distribution network could offer better options for how the art is consumed, whether as singles or as part of an album. Young argues that both ends of the donkey can benefit from better utilization of technology: The artist will be able to provide higher quality work and the consumer will hear 100% of what the artist has created.

Motivation to improve the product they sell and distribute doesn't seem to exist within the industry today, and Neil Young wants to change that.
After all, shouldn't we want - and expect - the best, no matter which end of the donkey we're on?

-          Brendan Hogan

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