Monday, February 04, 2013

Pono: Rock and Roll Can Never Die

Neil Young, the musician, is now 67 and has lived through the last half century of changing music scenes, business models, formats and even channels. From his early Ontario days, through his first real break in Buffalo Springfield, then the super group era with CSN & Y, his unplugged music foray, his ‘other band’ and favourite Crazy Horse, his anti war protests, collaborations with the likes of Devo, his place at birth of grunge and his two time induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Young has never followed an easy path.
So why, after all these adventures has he decided to take $500K of venture capital money to popularize his dream of high-fidelity digital music and can it work?
In his own words, he was driven by the desire to offer better quality music, ‘I’m walking down the street, and I see some beautiful girl walking along, … she’s got these white things coming out of her ears ... And I’m going, ‘That poor girl. She’s listening to real crap. It’s so easy to fix that,’ and I put together a team of people and we fixed it…’
Young is now listed as CEO of Ivanhoe Inc., a Santa Monica based company  that last July got clearance from the U.S. Patent and Trademark office in connection with online music distribution. They plan to launch ‘Pono’ as a higher-quality alternative to today’s ubiquitous MP3 format. Pono, pronounced ‘poh-know,’ and is Hawaiian for ‘righteous.’ 
But can the bland MP3’s hold onto digital music, or can its stranglehold be broken buy Pono?
Young is not the first musician to scorn on the quality of the music being downloaded and streamed by services such as iTunes and Spotify, but he is the first to stand up and attempt to change it and is ‘trying like hell to rescue recorded sound so people can feel music again.’

However, Pono faces some massive barriers and today as many will opt for a ‘its good enough’ approach, as opposed to potentially a further investment and in the short term having to carry two devices. The change may be just too much and could potentially impact audio tuners, audio receivers, amplifiers, tape players, compact disc players, MP3 controllers/players, audio mixers, audio speakers in the nature of music studio monitors, microphones, audio speakers, compact discs, audio tapes, portable computers, antennas, phonographic record players, audio recording equipment. Well it doesn’t touch much then!
The one thing that is in Pono’s favour is that most music is recorded  and stored at high quality, although it may not be right for consumers today, the format is better for mixing, which means that there is a wealth of material out there ready to be adapted. It is at a higher bit rate and sampling frequency and therefore should sound a lot better and have more range than even CDs. It also has not been exposed to the pirate and low resolution copies. However, the big challenge is not the music but winning over the consumers as it will be harder to stream to mobile devices and will not work with today’s smartphone.  
However, Neil Young may yet go down as the musician that reversed the tide of mediocrity.
Hey hey, my my
Rock and roll can never die
There's more to the picture
Than meets the eye.
Hey hey, my my.  

‘My My Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)’ from ‘Rust Never Sleeps’ Neil Young

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