Neil Young opens new front in war on streaming: 'Sound quality is worst in audio history'

In a statement the veteran rocker said: 'streaming has ended for me'

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The Independent Culture

For younger pop stars such as Taylor Swift, the problem with music-streaming services is that they don’t generate enough money for artists. For veteran rocker Neil Young the issue is sound quality.

Young, who found success in the 1960s and 1970s, has opened up a second front in the battle against streaming by pulling his music from services, saying that the quality is “the worst in audio history”.

In a statement on Facebook he said “streaming has ended for me” and described the quality from online streaming sites as worse than AM radio and eight-track tapes.

The decision was “about sound quality” not money, he added. “I don’t need my music to be devalued by the worst quality in the history of broadcasting or any other form of distribution.”

It follows Swift’s decision last year to pull her albums from Spotify, arguing that “valuable things should be paid for”, and her row with Apple last month, when she forced the tech giant to back down over plans not to pay artists for the first three months of its new streaming service.

Streaming services including Spotify, Tidal (owned by rapper Jay Z), Apple Music, Deezer and Qobuz have not commented on Young’s decision.

Midia Research analyst Mark Mulligan believes it will have little impact on companies or consumers. “Something the music industry has been struggling with throughout the entire digital era is that quality doesn’t matter that much anymore,” he said.

“It used to. In the 1980s and 1990s we were educated as consumers that quality was everything. Then along comes the internet and now it’s about convenience. Most consumers can’t tell the difference.”

Young has long criticised the quality of digital music but his attack on streaming sites may come as a surprise to services such as Tidal, which was aimed at music fans seeking high-quality audio.

Steve Guttenberg, who writes The Audiophiliac blog for US website Cnet, told The Independent: “I was baffled about Neil Young’s position. Why did he wake up this week and demand to take his music off? What changed? He’s like Donald Trump; he says these things to get a reaction.”

Spotify’s service use a system to keep file sizes and streaming costs down. Tidal uses “lossless” audio, which means the quality is not lost after it has been converted to playable digital files from the original recordings. Tidal streams at 1,411kbps, while Spotify’s Premium service offers 320kbps.

“Streaming may not be the best, but Tidal is CD quality, which is mostly what Neil Young sells on his own site,” Mr Guttenberg said. “Even with 320kbps, the difference in quality is very small.”

Mr Mulligan said it could be a marketing ploy given the launch of  Young’s high-quality digital download service Pono and PonoPlayer portable digital media player.

Some fans supported the move, including Ryan Cummings who said: “It’s artists like you that will help bring out the best in music! We’re suffering from serious lack of quality these days.”

Others were unimpressed. Nick Norod said he would “take bad-sounding music over no music”, and John Pile Jr said: “Spotify is significantly better than my old eight-track or the AM radio I used to listen to your music on.”

Young posted a second message rejecting the negative responses. “AM radio kicked streaming’s ass. Analogue cassettes and eight-tracks also kicked streaming’s ass, and absolutely rocked compared to streaming,” he said.

Mr Guttenberg said: “AM radio is worse than MP3, it’s just awful. His logic for taking his music off streaming services was about it being ‘devalued’. When Neil Young was young, most people heard his music on AM radio.”

Mr Mulligan added: “Neil Young isn’t a force in music anymore and not too many artists will follow his lead, particularly not contemporary artists. You don’t hear many superstar artists complaining about Spotify except for Taylor Swift. The reason she is complaining is because she is a shareholder in her record label. She’s talking as a label rather than an artist.”

Young, who had a successful solo career with albums including Harvest and After the Gold Rush and played in bands including Buffalo Springfield, did not rule out bringing his music back to the sites. “When the quality is back, I’ll give it another look. Never say never.”

Chris Carey, CEO of Media Insight Consulting, said: “It’s reasonable an artist should want their art to be consumed in the highest possible quality. We shouldn’t mistake this for streaming services not providing good enough quality for consumers – many have high-definition offerings.”