Neil Young Knows Why Pono Failed: ‘The Record Labels Killed It’

Billboard Magazine Article (February 15, 2018)


Neil Young has some thoughts as to why his Pono player and download service crashed and burned, pointing to one villain in particular: “The record labels killed it.” The rock icon told the Los Angeles Times that his Toblerone-shaped gadget for hi-res music playback was vanquished due to labels charging too much for song files.

“They killed it,” he says referring to labels, “by insisting on charging two to three times as much for the high-res files as for MP3s. Why would anybody pay three times as much?”

Young launched his PonoMusic World store in early 2015, following the release of the actual player, with a catalog of 24-bit 192kHz tracks. Prices for full albums of hi-res files went from anywhere between $20 to $28 versus half that on iTunes and other download stores. Individual songs on PonoMusic usually cost between $1.99 and $2.99 a piece.


The singer-songwriter said that more than 1 million hi-res tracks were downloaded from the service before it shut down last year, but it wasn’t enough to outrun overhead costs and the rising tide of streaming.

“It’s my feeling that all music should cost the same,” he said. “The [hi-res] file doesn’t cost any more to transfer. And today with streaming, you don’t have the problem [of unauthorized file sharing]. Who wants to copy something if you can stream it? The record companies, by charging three times as much for hi-res music as they charge for regular music, they’ve killed hi-res music.”

He added, “It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Since Pono’s demise, Young has turned his attention to establishing a hi-res streaming platform called XStream, which he is putting to use on his recently launched Neil Young Archives website. Currently free, Young plans on introducing a couple paid subscription options for fans who want continued access beyond six months.


He explained that XStream is more a platform than a service, and that other artists should do the same and establish their own streaming services. “There’s nothing stopping anybody else from doing this,” he said. “The record companies are in the way with the high prices. There should be hi-res streaming services everywhere.”



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