SXSW Interview: Neil Young - 2014 SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival

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.

Tags: , ,  
Comments (28)
  1. i’ve read the guy’s response like 5 times, but he means he gets 30% [like Apple does] too?

    • The albums in the Pono store, while being a higher quality, appear to be at a higher price point. I believe you see the online store in the promo video and albums cost $17+. We have no idea what costs they have above licensing but assuming it isn’t much different from other models would lead one to believe that PONO’s cut after licensing could be higher than Apples. Assuming I’m reading this right…

      • wow, yeah you might be right provided the $17 price point is true. scary.

        • Yeah escpecially since they are just selling you flac files, not a new format…… just a player and over priced music, might as well buy the player and torrent all your music in flac. Also Young leaves out yet again other formats like .wav which are also super hi-quality. Mr. Moneyman Young.

  2. He could have also asked “Why asking for people to kickstart the project so late ? Don’t you have enough money to release it ?”
    (yeah I’m gonna post about that in EVERY news about Pono => )

  3. Man this thing is gonna flop so hard…

  4. Even aside from the issue of Pono’s cut, I’m just having a hard time imagining people paying 15-20 dollars for non-tangible albums, even if they of are higher quality than 320kpbs MP3s. Most people feel that 10 bucks on iTunes is too much – is there really a market for paying double that? Personally, if I’m spending over 5 bucks on music, it’s vinyl.

  5. Neil Young DOES know that FLAC files are ALL OVER the internet – for free – right?

    • P.S. I respect and love Young, don’t get me wrong – and I’m not trying to knock him trying this – but the audience he’s trying to approach already knows about FLAC files and plays them all the time.

      • Yes Adam, FLAC is out there. But it is the contents of the FLAC files where Pono will be different. If you have FLAC files from a cd rip, you have “all” the information that was on that CD. But the CD does not have all the information that was captured on the original analog tape (or digital hard drive). The Pono FLAC files will have “all” this information, and will, they suggest, give us a completely full representation of how the music is intended to sound. At least that is my understanding.

        • I guess that’s great for the 0,01 % of the population with a playback system sophisticated enough to play this ‘completely full representation’.

  6. Uh, who cares about this story? That’s like saying to Springsteen, “Thanks for playing that four hour show that blew my mind, but how much money did you make from it? Gotcha! If you really cared about the people you’d play for free!”

  7. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  8. What he’s saying is that sometimes the PONO music player gets stuck in his ass due to it’s triangular shape.

  9. Australians already pay average $16-21.00 for an album on itunes – Apple applies some mystery “Australia tax”. So if Mr Young decides not to price-gouge Australians (like Apple, Adobe , Microsoft etc) there is one ready market.

  10. 192 kHZ FLAC files will cost much more to distribute than mp3′s due to size of the file and bandwidth. A 5 minute mp3 track may be 5 mb’s and a 192 kHZ track may be 300 mb’s. 192 kHZ is more than 4 x the sample/bit rate of a CD quality file (44.1 kHZ). That said, I still think the albums are 30% over priced and should be the same as a CD or record album, and the player is also 30% overpriced (however, this depends on all the components (Ayre) and quality of the player – if it’s a good product it may be worth it).

  11. Also, the player needs to be an excellent product – if the Pono player and store are successful Apogee and Apple will start building iOS devices with high quality converters/components.

  12. As of now, the pono player capacity is WAY to small for 96 kHZ, 192 kHZ FLAC files. A max of 128GB’s combined internal and SD card storage? No. These need to be 500GB’s minimum.

    • Yeah really, when I export stuff myself it ends up being like 200mbs a song, and I have no doubt that my file sizes would be miniscule compared to a lot of professional musicians.

      With PONO you can store a whole ep!

  13. has FLAC files of live concerts by hundreds of bands. And they are free, people.

    • Again, though, they are only as good as the medium they were recorded on. If these were captured on Mini-disc, cassette, or a digital recorder, they start out with less data/information than will be present in the Pono FLAC files.

  14. This is the first time in awhile that I’ve been called “a young man.” Thanks, Billboard!

  15. Pono will live or die by two things: The available catalog; and the number of record company d-bags who will tack on extra fees for access via Pono.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post, reply to, or rate a comment.

%s1 / %s2