Neil Young’s SXSW Keynote Derailed By Simple Question About Pono

Chris DeVille | March 12, 2014 - 10:03 am

During the buildup to Pono, his new high-resolution digital music player, Neil Young and his bevy of rock star pals have presented his new product as an advancement for music fans who want real quality from their recordings. Yesterday, during a keynote speech at SXSW Interactive, Young upped the ante, basically arguing that the MP3 and its reduced sound quality has put many music professionals out of work and that a return to the hi-fi sounds of yore would revive the flagging music economy. His case was essentially that the entire music industry stands to benefit from Pono. But things got very awkward when someone asked how much Young stands to benefit from it.

As Billboard reports, after Young’s speech, Pono CEO John Hamm (not Don Draper) took the stage for a Q&A with Young and USA Today technology reporter Mike Snider. After answering questions about the PonoPlayer’s triangular shape (they wanted something “iconic”), its file format (FLAC), and whether it can play existing digital music libraries (it can), Young and Hamm waffled awkwardly when the subject of money came up. Per Billboard, it went like this:

Taking the microphone, a young man asked: “What’s your cut?” — referring, of course, to Apple’s now-famous 30% cut of sales on the iTunes Store.

Hamm, after a flustered moment, responded that, “It surprises most people that everyone who buys music from the record labels pays exactly the same amount.” At this, several audience members shouted, “What?!”

“That’s a delicate question, isn’t it?” asked Young.

Shortly thereafter, Hamm turned to the moderator, slightly flushed at this point, and said “We can end it.”

“You can answer the question if you like,” Snider said.

Hamm shook his head slightly before Snider closed the discussion.

It’s only a delicate question if you make it one, Neil. Don’t these guys know radical transparency is all the rage?

UPDATE: Hamm clarified his statement to Billboard: It’s a 70/30 split and “everyone in the world has the same deal,” he says. Pono’s Kickstarter has raised $1.6 million, doubling its goal in less than 24 hours.