Neil Young has seen the fulfilment of modern music from the beginning, and the world is a very different place to the one that it was when he started his musical journey all those years ago with Buffalo Springfield. Back then, the music industry was a completely different beast to the one it is today, the labels held all the cards, and the amount of money floating around was vast in comparison.
In its defence, the internet has made the industry more of a meritocracy and allowed people to break down barriers by entirely subverting them online, finding a fanbase of their own without having to hustle a record deal. This example is just one of the many positive aspects that have derived from the internet’s effect on the world of music. However, there are other aspects of the industry that it has altered, specifics that Neil Young isn’t grateful for and believes is harming artists. Young’s decrees aren’t anything to do with the web allowing the industry to be open for all, this is something that aligns with his world-view for a fairer world, but the comprises of sound quality is one that he believes is ruining music.
Old Shakey began his campaign to change how the internet effects music back in 2012 when he passionately stated: “My goal is to try and rescue the art form that I’ve been practising for the past 50 years. We live in the digital age, and unfortunately, it’s degrading our music, not improving.”
Young later told Wired in 2019: “There aren’t really music streaming services so much as there are tech streaming services. It’s not the same thing from what I see, or they’d be complaining themselves about the technology they have to use. They don’t seem to understand what the music’s about, or care about who’s making it.
“Besides sounding really terrible, there’s no credit given for anything. You can’t find the information, and it doesn’t seem to matter to them. Yet we’re in the information age and they’re tech companies, so that’s very confusing.”
Rather than merely complaining about the issue and doing nothing about it, Young first put his money where his mouth is with Pono, a music player that played music solely in the highest sound quality. Despite his best efforts, the item didn’t sell, and in 2017 the Pono was discontinued. However, that hasn’t deterred Young from attempting his quest for delivering his music in the highest quality.
In 2018, he launched his very own streaming service which still filled out the modern demand for being an app that was suited to how people consumed music and didn’t compromise on the quality of the music, which meant fans could listen to it the way that Young intended. “This is a life’s work,” Young said of the Neil Young Archives before adding, “It will never be finished.”
Young proudly continued: “If you want to hear my music and would like to have the option to listen to it with all the depth and glory of high resolution, it will be there. All my new records can be heard there first, before they get released anywhere else. New, unreleased albums from the archives and old, unreleased albums from the archives will always be heard there first. Our machine is a monster.”
With the Neil Young Archives, he has now successfully achieved what he first started to when he vented about the matter in 2012, even if only on a micro-scale. Young has accumulated around 25,000 ardent fans who pay a monthly fee of $1.99 to hear his work in the highest quality possible and the way he intended it.
Young’s music still sits on Spotify and collects millions of listens every month. However, with NYA, he offers a real alternative for fans who are unhappy with the quality available elsewhere whilst using technology for good without taking it away from the other services. Although Young single-handedly can’t change how streaming giants operate, he has instead offered up his alternative that could be a blueprint for many artists who share his feelings towards platforms like Spotify and Apple Music.