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Neil Young Is Vindicated As Amazon Debuts High-Quality Music Streaming Service

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Young said in a statement that Amazon offering a high-quality streaming option “will be the biggest thing to happen to music since the introduction of digital audio 40 years ago.”

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 One of the most famous musicians of our time, Neil young is praising Amazon for becoming the first large music streaming service to offer a high quality streaming option. Amazon announced its high fidelity digital audio service, Amazon Music HD. It became available yesterday young who is responsible for music hits including heart of goal than harvest set in a statement that Amazon offering a high quality streaming option quote will be the biggest thing to happen to music. Since the introduction of digital audio 40 years ago.

Speaker 2: 00:42 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 00:44 joining me now is Phil Baker who coauthored a book with Neil Young. It's called to feel the music, a songwriter's mission to save high quality audio. Phil, welcome. Thank you. It's great to be here. Jane, now you say Neil young is to credit for Amazon now offering a high quality streaming option. Why do you think that is? Well, Neil has been an advocate for trying to improve the quality of music for decades and he and I worked together beginning in 2012 trying to come up with a solution for the, uh, for the mass market, not just for audio files. And he always felt that his fans deserve to hear things as good as he heard in the studio. And he was very concerned that the technology industry kept making music poorer and poorer quality in the name of convenience. So He's been lobbying, uh, are actively fighting the industry to do something about it.

Speaker 1: 01:43 And that's what caused us to write the book together. And then when Amazon finally announced that they had heard him and we're going to create a new streaming service that did not compress the music, it was sort of a vindication of everything he's been fighting for for the last 30, 40 years. And you know, again, why is it so important to Neil young to improve that audio quality of music? Well, you know, he works so hard in the studio to create the content creators is music. And what he found is when he listens to it as we do, uh, it's just terrible. It's compressed. It doesn't sound like he, I've heard it hurts his ears. He said he can recognize the song, but he can hear the music. So, I mean, does the average person though then really hear the difference between a lower quality music file and a higher quality music file?

Speaker 1: 02:37 That's a great question and that's been debated for four eons, but I'm convinced and he's convinced that you can hear it and over time you hear it even more. It's sort of like the first time you drink a glass of wine, you don't know the different qualities, but as you mature and as you get more experienced, you then start to identify the subtleties. And it's the same with music. I've seen it myself, I've seen my wife who is a musician, listened to bad music and good music, the same song, and you hear lots of things that you miss. Otherwise things like the, that tonality of a plucked string or the ping of a triangle, you hear the, the subtleties, the reverberations, the echoes. So absolutely everybody can hear it w over time, some sooner than others. So it's almost like it becomes an acquired taste.

Speaker 1: 03:32 It is, but music is that way. Music is so important that there today there's no reason why not to give people everything that's in the original recording as opposed to 5% or 10% in, in what has been going on. 90% of the music has been pretty much thrown away the data so you can recognize the song, but it's just not very compelling and you don't feel the music, hence the title brain still. So will our current audio equipment, like our car speakers be able to play this higher quality audio, better quality music will sound better over pretty much everything. But Neil's contention and our contention in the book is that if you don't have the good content, nobody has got to develop the phones and the devices to hear them. And so that's been the problem. That hasn't been the high quality. So therefore our phones are pretty much incapable of, of playing the a as good as they can.

Speaker 1: 04:36 So you have to start somewhere and styling with the music is what is so important and that, and that happened yesterday. You know, you're an engineer by trade and met Neil young when he reached out to you to, to help and develop the opponent player. Tell us what that is. Neil's first attempt to bring quality music to his fans was to develop a, basically a iPod on steroids. It was essentially a music player, but it didn't play the compressed music that the iPod did. It played the original file. And the idea was to be able to create a device that was affordable and to be able to create a music store where people could get only the highest quality music, put the two together and listened to what he heard when he did his original recording. It really sounds like the Pono player was a victim of bad timing.

Speaker 1: 05:32 It was a victim of bad timing and, uh, some bad management in the company. And we tell that whole story, uh, all the warts. And what happened was people were really moving towards screaming. Uh, this was 2012. Streaming was a great solution for the music industry because it was a way for them to finally make money. And it enabled us, the consumer to quickly access all the music files in the world with just a pushing a button or a little search. So it was really convenient. But when the industry went to streaming, it was another degradation of music quality. So it made music even worse. They'll tell me about how you guys pivoted. Well, we're at the end of Pono. When we ended up having to close down the company and I sat with Neil, I thought he'd be, you know, upset or he'd just want to give up and move onto something else.

Speaker 1: 06:34 And his reaction was, was amazing. He said, no, I hope Pono would be the end. But as it turned out, it was just the beginning. And if people want streaming, we're going to have to find a solution and give them high quality streaming. And around that time, technology was advancing. Our cellular was working fast and memory costs were cheaper. And so we worked with it. We found a little company in Singapore and uh, together we worked out a solution where Neil was able to put all of his music online on a website called Neil young archives and people could go on and listen to the music conveniently as streamed music, but it was at the highest quality possible. And he did it only with his music because that's the only music he had available to do this with. But he made it available. And uh, people can go on and listen for free for select music or if they want to join, they can pay $20 a year and have access to everything he's ever produced.

Speaker 1: 07:41 And they're at Neil Young, archives.com people can put their, their own ear to the tasks that, tell me about that. So you have a website and there's an app for android and for Apple Ios and you can listen to music and you can actually change the delivery speed, changed the quality with a little, uh, switch on the app. And you can listen now as you pointed to earlier. All phones won't sound great with this music. The music, the high quality music will play on any device, but it'll be essentially compromised by the device you're listening to. But today there are some phones that are, have come out that will play high, high definition music, high quality music. LG makes a couple of phones that do it and we think other companies will follow. And if your phone doesn't do that, you can add a couple of little adapters to the bottom of your phone and you can listen and high quality.

Speaker 1: 08:41 And what made you want to write a book about this journey from Pono player to streaming service with Neil Young? Well, you know, about a year ago, um, I saw Neil getting all sorts of criticism. People were making fun of him about what he was doing and his cause and they said no one really cares anymore. And they were accusing him of trying to do this to make money. Like just because, you know, he was, uh, you know, eccentric and I s and I was there. I was in the room. I saw how passionate he was about this, and he told me on several occasions, Phil, this is the most important thing I've ever done in my life. It's so important to get high quality music out there because not only is it about my music, but the music that's in the archives and music has that's been recorded over the last 50 years is sitting on tape.

Speaker 1: 09:37 And that tape is degrading. And, and those tapes may burn in a fire as, as we recently read about. And I want high quality digital music to, to be prevalent so that everyone will go back and we called the old music on the tapes before those tapes disappear. And so people, generations from now, we'll be able to access all the great music of our times and the highest quality possible at is fascinating. I've been speaking to Phil Baker, who pell out there to feel the music with Neil Young. Phil, thank you so much. They could, jade, it's great to be here.

Speaker 2: 10:30 [inaudible].

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.