Neil Young discusiing Pono

Neil Young hates MP3s. He thinks the songs on your iPhone sound like crap. So he started a crusade to bring the “feeling” back into music. Literally. He wants you to hear everything, just as it was recorded. So, he created Pono, a high-end digital audio system.

Within hours of opening the doors on his Kickstarter campaign, Pono easily reached full funding at $800,000. The campaign ended yesterday, officially raising $6,225,354 in funding from over 18,000 backers. -The 3rd most funded project in Kickstarter history.  And with endorsements from Eddie Vedder, Flea, Beck, Stephen Stills, and Sting… Neil Young may be on to something.

What is Pono?

Pono is a music player designed to work with an associated PonoMusic.com service. The music player has 128GB of memory storage which can hold “about 100 to 500 high-resolution digital-music albums.” You’ll also be able to expand that storage with a memory card.  Its triangular design (it looks like half a Toblerone) is small enough to travel easily. Though, the Pono player is intended to be used when the listener can completely enjoy the listening experience as opposed to drowning out the noise of a loud subway.  Its essentially a preamp for playing really, really high quality audio files.

Despite the long held argument from audiophiles who are willing to spend thousands on stereo equipment, most people probably can’t really tell the difference between the audio quality of vinyl, CD, or Mp3. But Young’s take is by making music more portable and convenient “we have sacrificed the emotional impact that only higher quality music can deliver. The average listener has been listening to stuff that they are capable of hearing a lot better. They just had nothing to listen to so they’d know the difference.”

We’re all familiar with the vinyl vs digital debate. But science supports that MP3s aren’t the same quality as the CD version. And, they are far inferior to analog source, vinyl pressing, or original tape masters. But for most people MP3s have been “good enough”.

Young maintains that PonoMusic tracks go beyond being able to recognize the words and the melody of the song. “You’re actually feeling all of the music the way the artist mixed it in the studio, and that’s the difference. You’ll get the same rush that the artist got.”

But Pono has also been met some resistance. Critics in the tech industry specifically, have questioned whether high resolution is the answer to audio fidelity. Their stance is that the solution is to move toward a return to CD-quality audio, not necessarily the absurdly high-rate audio that Young proposes.

If Neil Young is right then we may have an opportunity to reach fans who prefer an alternative to MP3s. With the direct-to-fan marketing approach we take here, offering higher quality audio files might potentially offer a more unique selling proposition much in the way that vinyl has been used for years now. These files could also make great upsells or just generally help to boost our customer value stats, a key factor when it comes to scalability and being able to afford certain types of advertising.

Until Pono is widely available there are alternatives to MP3 that you can make available to your fans: WAV, ALAC, FLAC, DSD.

What do you think? Is Neil Young right? Does your music sound like crap on your fan’s iPhone? Do they care enough to purchase a higher quality product?

More importantly, will this impact your bottom line, or leave you feeling more fulfilled as an artist?


Wu-Tang Clan's Secret Album

One of the things we discuss a lot around here are “triggers”; Psychological buttons that motivate people to get off the fence and take action. There are many different triggers one can employ in their marketing but without a doubt the most powerful trigger there is, is scarcity. When we can’t have something we want it even more. It’s the human condition.

Well, (Insert maniacal laugh here)…. Wu-Tang Clan has taken the concept of scarcity to a new level by announcing that they will be releasing just a SINGLE COPY of an upcoming “secret album”.

As the band told Forbes “We’re about to put out a piece of art like nobody else has done in the history of [modern] music. We’re making a single-sale collector’s item. This is like somebody having the scepter of an Egyptian king.”

The album will be presented in a “hand-carved nickel-silver box designed by the British Moroccan artist Yahya,” and will then travel to galleries and museums where it’s estimated fans will pay between $30 – $50 to listen with headphones (to help prevent piracy). The album will then be sold to a single buyer for what is expected to be several million dollars.

In her recent Ted Talk, singer Amanda Palmer said, “I think people have been obsessed with the wrong question; ‘how do we MAKE people pay for music?’ What if we started asking, ‘how do we let people pay for music’? This move by Wu-Tang Clan (and the buzz that it has generated) really supports that sentiment, at least to my mind.

By simply positioning their music as art, rather than just another disposable download, they have changed perspective, gotten the world’s attention, and most importantly, those who do eventually get to consume the album will experience and appreciate it in a way unlike any other music has been appreciated in history.

So what do you think? Is this just another marketing gimmick or a brilliant move by the Wu-Tang Clan?


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