Thursday, January 8, 2015

Neil Young’s Pono Finally Launches, But Will Anyone Care?

Pono Players image
Noted music artist Neil Young’s pet audio project Pono Music finally launched with a big sendoff at this year’s CES show, complete with a website full of high-resolution downloads and an unusually shaped player that will be in the stores on Monday. That’s all well and good, but will there actually be a market for the offerings? 

It’s difficult to start a new music service these days, and Young should get props for following through on such a laudable idea. Anyone who creates music on a high level (especially music using real instruments and players) hates to hear what happens to it after most audio compression algorithms that are in use today get hold of it. So much of the emotional impact that the artist lived with during recording is drained from it as frequencies are literally stripped away in order to decrease the file size. 

That said, artist’s have traditionally always had a complaint about the final distribution package sold to the public, whether it be vinyl records, cassettes, CDs, downloads or streaming. It just never sounds the same as in the studio, although many will tell you that the current state of digital music distribution is the worst it’s ever been in that regard.

The fact that Young has followed his heart and tried to do something about this is very cool. The problem is, Pono the company seems to be selling the ecosystem as a mass consumer product when there’s about zero chance it will be received that way. Here’s why.

1. It’s now a streaming music world, but Pono Music is a download service. No doubt that when Young first conceptualized Pono downloads sounded like a good idea. However, in 2015 there’s no sign that fans will come rushing back to the format any time soon when they’re just discovering that they can have millions of songs at their fingertips for anywhere from zero to 10 bucks a month via streaming. Which brings us to…

2. It’s expensive. First you have to buy the Pono music player at $399, which is far more than the majority of music consumers want to pay considering that their phone has become their playback device of choice. There’s also a lot of player competition on the market for less money (check out the FiiO series of players). Not only that, then you have to buy the music that you want to listen to from the Pono store and it’s not cheap (anywhere from $18 to $25 for an album and $1.99 a song). Considering that you can purchase the same album for $7 on Google Play, the cost of the extra audio quality will be a non-starter for many. See more on Forbes.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Albums Don't Sell Anymore, Unless They do

Album Sales image
The 2014 sales figures are in and album sales have dropped another 11%. If you look at that figure you'd think that the album as a concept is done for, except that there are 3 examples that shows that the right album by the the right artist can still sell even in this Music 4.0 age of streaming. For instance:

1. Up until November there wasn't a single million selling album by an artist (the Frozen soundtrack aside) and none were even close. Taylor Swift then released her 1989 album and sold more than 3.6 million copies in less than 2 months. Sam Smith's In The Lonely Hour also edged above 1 million at the last minute.

2. Adele's 21, which was released in 2011, went on to sell more copies in 2014 than releases by Mariah Carrey, Sia, or Skrillex. The total sales now exceed 30 million units, which many said would never happen again.

3. The best selling compilation album of 2014 was one that was released 30 years ago! It was Bob Marley and The Wailer's Legend.

Also interesting was the fact that 41% of all albums were digital downloads last year, the same as 2013.

What this goes to show is that there are fans who will still buy music if it touches them in just the right way. Unfortunately, just as in the rest of music's history, no one can predict what they way is as it's a constantly moving target.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

PJ Harvey Sells Her Recording Sessions

One of the things that the new digital economy has taught us is that people value experiences more than products. In fact, many times consumers are willing to spend far more for an experience than they would ever spend for a digital product, considering that many think digital products should be free.

This was recently illustrated once again when PJ Harvey offered her fans a look into the recording process for her next album - for a price.

PJ made 3000 tickets at around $22 each available, and the demand was so great that it took her server down as it sold out in a few hours. There was a limit of 4 tickets per household, with two slots available per day for the length of the project.

Obviously this isn't something that a new artist could do, but for an established artist, it's a way of recouping at least the costs of recording and maybe more.

Of course, it will be interesting to see the reviews after fans have to watch a couple hours of the same part being played over and over, or the engineer doing a tedious Pro Tools vocal comp or edit. They may decide it's not exactly must-see TV.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Using YouTube's Audio Library

YouTube Audio Library image
Click To Enlarge
YouTube has become quite the profit center, thanks to the Content ID feature that determines if someone is using one of your songs on a video. You then have the ability to either force the video to be taken down, or monetize it (and you keep all the money). Until recently, the problem was that most YouTube users didn't know what songs were available or what might happen if they used them before they uploaded their video.

That's all changed as the platform's Audio Library now allows someone to check on the availability and consequences of using a song on their video before they even make the video.

The video library now offers a array of free songs and sound effects, as well as outlines the availability of popular songs.

As you can see from the screen shot the left, the Library now shows in what territories an ad-supported popular song is available, if you can monetize the video or not (which is usually never), and the current popularity of the video.

For the free category, you have the option of hearing the song, searching by genre, mood, instrument or genre.

If you want to check out your own music, just put the song or artist name in the search box.

The Audio Library can be found by going to Creator Studio, then looking under the Create category.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Beatport To Offer A Streaming Feature

Beatport logo image
In an interesting development, the DJ/EDM portal Beatport will soon be launching a new streaming service. The feature will be part of, which currently offers downloads of beats and songs used by DJs and EDM producers everywhere.

Contrary to what you might thing, the streaming feature is not intended to compete with other streaming services like Spotify as a "jukebox in the sky." Instead its aimed at professional DJs who want to access a library of beats and songs on the fly.

Artists and record labels will be paid if a song is streamed, since this will be a paid service, although the royalty rate has yet to be revealed. Currently the Beatport library is composed of 90% independent label material.

Beatport was purchased by SFX Entertainment in 2013, and the company has steadily tried to revamp the service. It now consists of Beatport Pro, a desktop media manager and player for DJs, and

This is an application for streaming that hasn't been tapped yet, so it should be interesting to see how well it works in real life with sometimes flakey Internet connections.


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