Another sad commentary on the state of the music business, emphasis on business:
The strange thing about Neil Young's decision is that the audio quality on streaming services really isn't that bad. And in many cases, it's pretty good: If you're a premium subscriber to Spotify, for example, you're streaming music in 320 kbps in a format called Ogg Vorbis, which roughly translates to the quality of a CD.
Streaming services know that they have to provide quality if they want to properly steal the work of artists. You'd think that Young would have some answers, but he has his own hardware to sell instead of a better idea.
Anyway, we are well and truly fucked:
Young might argue that listeners are merely in the dark, and that they have no idea what they're missing. But if that were the case, wouldn't at least one of the dozens of high-quality audio services, formats or startups have taken off by now? TIDAL -- which Jay-Z recently launched in March -- features extremely high-definition audio quality for $19.99 a month, but very few have even noticed. And high-fidelity digital music stores such as HDtracks have existed for more than a decade, yet consumer interest has been tepid at best.
The same is true for high-end stereo systems, which appeal to a narrow, usually older niche of audiophiles. And painfully-engineered, high-end earphones are mostly for the demanding music connoisseur -- which translates to probably something like 0.01% of the population. Even earlier, high-fidelity physical formats such as Super Audio CD and DVD-Audio have floppedamidst nonexistent demand.
There just aren't enough audiophiles with endless budgets to fuel these ongoing market attempts. Even vinyl -- a warm, inviting alternative to digitized formats -- remains a relatively narrow market, despite overwhelming uptake in places such as Brooklyn and Echo Park, Los Angeles.
So what is taking off? Well, the most popular portable music device is the phone, typically connected to either white earbuds or Beats headphones, neither of which are renowned for their high-fidelity sound. Even FM radio remains a surprisingly massive format, simply because it's extremely cheap and extremely easy to use. And for those who dislike traditional radio, there's Pandora, Spotify and other free or low-cost music streaming services -- favorites for on-the-go listeners.
None of these formats are pitching users on super hi-fidelity experiences. Instead, they excel in areas such as convenience, portability, price and selection -- all things that fit active, on-the-go lifestyles in ways that higher-fidelity experiences typically can't.
How many Pono players have you bought this week? How many streaming services do you subscribe to? Good luck getting a nickel out of them when everything ever recorded becomes something you have to stream in order to hear.