There is no doubt that the move from vinyl to CD and now MP3 has compressed and degraded the quality of music we listen to on a daily basis. Neil Young is hoping to change this. In an interview at the D: Dive Into Media conference yesterday, Young was quite vocal and realistic about where the music industry is and where he’d like it to go. The singer/songwriter claims that MP3s only offer about 5 percent of the true sound bands and artists like him make when recording in the studio. CDs aren’t much better either, as he claims they only reproduce about 15 percent of the true sound of a record.
“My goal is to try to rescue the art form that I’ve been practicing for the past 50 years,” said Young. “We live in the digital age and, unfortunately, it’s degrading our music, not improving it … It’s not that digital is bad or inferior, it’s that the way it’s being used isn’t doing justice to the art. The MP3 only has 5 percent of the data present in the original recording. … The convenience of the digital age has forced people to choose between quality and convenience, but they shouldn’t have to make that choice.”
His plan is to try and get “some rich guy” or a music/tech company to develop a new audio format and device that can deliver audio files that are about 20 times more accurate than today’s digital music. Unfortunately, he admits that the process is difficult, as it would take about 30 minutes to download a single hi-fidelity song in his format, and a top device may only be able to hold 30 albums (360 or so songs), but he’s got a solution for that too: download while you sleep.
“Sleep well,” said Young. “Wake up in the morning. Play some real music and listen to the joy of 100 percent of the sound of music.”
At one point in the interview, Walt Mossberg and colleagues did argue that even in the golden age of vinyl, many people were still listening to his music on crappy stereo equipment and through crappy headphones, which he admitted was true, but countered by saying that we’ve had a lot of innovation in headphones and such, but things like Beats can only do so much to enhance audio that is inherently of low quality.
High quality audio recordings could actually help curb piracy by offering something of better quality than the pirated versions available, said Young, though he has no real problem with piracy as it exists. “I look at the Internet as the new radio,” he explained. “I look at radio as gone … Piracy is the new radio, that’s how music gets around.”
So how does a device like this get made? Young said he was working with the late Steve Jobs: “I talked to Steve about it. We were working on it.” Unfortunately, not much has happened, he admits, since the Apple co-founder’s death in October. Still, that isn’t stopping Young.
“Steve Jobs was a pioneer of digital music and his legacy is tremendous, but when he went home he listened to vinyl,” said Young. “You’ve got to believe that if he would have lived long enough he would have eventually done what I’m trying to do.”
The full video interview is below.
A question for audiophiles in our audience, any reason why FLAC wasn’t brought up in this interview?