Neil Young took to Facebook today to announce that “streaming has ended for me.” Oh brother.
Neil Young’s music is still on Spotify and Apple Music right this moment, but we’re meant to understand that the Canadian crooner will be removing his music from these services in the near future. The reason? It’s not the money—it’s that the audio quality isn’t up to snuff. His post continues:
It’s not because of the money, although my share (like all the other artists) was dramatically reduced by bad deals made without my consent.
It’s about sound quality. I don’t need my music to be devalued by the worst quality in the history of broadcasting or any other form of distribution. I don’t feel right allowing this to be sold to my fans. It’s bad for my music.
I’m glad he clarified that! For a second there I thought Neil Young might be taking a stand against the economic exploitation of artistry. That would be understandable.
But no, Neil Young is tooting his old sound quality horn, which is based on bad science.
Shall we recap? Neil Young doesn’t believe that even CD quality music is good enough. He’s one of the leading voices in the high-resolution audio movement, a vocal group of audio nerds and companies that say we’ve lost audio quality in the transition to digital. (This is true.) Their solution is expensive hardware and huge, inconvenient audio files. Young even started a company, Pono, to manufacture a $400 gadget that would play these huge high-resolution audio files back precisely.
The trouble is that there is no reputable science illustrating high-resolution audio sounds any different to the human ear than regular CD-quality. Ugh. We’ve been through this before. Neil Young’s bullshit is well-intentioned bullshit, but it’s still bullshit.
There is a little nuance to Young’s current attack on streaming. Technically, most streaming services use lossy audio files, which means that the files are not a mathematically perfect copy of the original source material. Theoretically, a normal human can tell the difference, if she’s listening to it carefully. Though there might be a difference, not everyone can tell. Most people would rationally trade a small amount of quality for the convenience of having easy access to all the music ever recorded, no matter where they are.
Even if there is technically something to Young’s reasoning here—and let’s face it he’s no egghead—his claims defy common sense. Isn’t it more important to meet your fans where they are than to argue over tiny gradations of audio quality most people can’t even discern? Young’s move isn’t going to do anything to improve audio quality in the broader music industry. In the end, it’s just lame for all his fans that use streaming music services. Don’t get me wrong: It’s absolutely Neil Young’s right to be an emotional, irrational dick to his fans. He’s made an art of it.