Neil Young took on the music industry so that fans could hear his music—all music—the way it was meant to be heard.
Today, most of the music we hear is com-pressed to a fraction of its original sound,while analog masterpieces are turning to dustin record company vaults. As these record-ings disappear, music fans aren’t just losing acollection of notes. We’re losing spaciousness,breadth of the sound field, and the ability tohear and feel a ping of a triangle or a pluckof a guitar string, each with its own reso-nance and harmonics that slowly trail off intosilence.
The result is music that is robbed of its original quality—muddy and flat in sound compared to the rich, warm sound artists hear in the studio. It doesn’t have to be this way, but the record and technology companies have incorrectly assumed that most listeners are satisfied with these low-quality tracks.
Neil Young is challenging the assault on audio quality—and working to free music lovers from the flat and lifeless status quo.
To Feel the Music is the true story of his questto bring high-quality audio back to musiclovers—the most important undertaking ofhis career. It’s an unprecedented look insidethe successes and setbacks of creating thePono player, the fights and negotiationswith record companies to preserve master-pieces for the future, and Neil’s unrelentingdetermination to make musical art availableto everyone. It’s a story that shows how muchmore there is to music than meets the ear.
Neil’s efforts to bring quality audio to his fans garnered media attention when his Kickstarter campaign for his Pono player—a revolutionary music player that would combine the highest quality possible with the portability, simplicity and affordability modern listeners crave—became the third-most successful Kickstarter campaign in the website’s history. It had raised more than $6M in pledges in 40 days. Encouraged by the enthusiastic response, Neil still had a long road ahead, and his Pono music player would not have the commercial success he’d imagined. But he remained committed to his mission, and faced with the rise of streaming services that used even lower quality audio, he was determined to rise to the challenge.
An eye-opening read for all fans of Neil Young and all fans of great music, as well as readers interesting in going behind the scenes of product creation, To Feel the Music has an inspiring story at its heart: One determined artist with a groundbreaking vision and the absolute refusal to give up, despite setbacks, naysayers, and skeptics.
Musician Young (Waging Heavy Peace) and consumer electronics developer Baker passionately tell of their quest for premium sound in this narrowly focused memoir. Their quest involved creating the PonoPlayer in 2012, a portable device that could play uncompressed audio files, as an alternative to what Young felt were MP3's poor sound quality. Young, an audio evangelist, argues that digital music is too compressed and muddy, whereas "if the highest-quality music audio were available at a reasonable price... everybody would hear and feel better music." He and Baker write about their attempt to build Pono, which ranged from haggling with music industry types ("most companies... had to put up millions of dollars for those rights. I was able to get the three major record companies to do it without paying those huge fees") to launching a multimillion-dollar Kickstarter campaign in 2014. However, Pono was discontinued only three years later, when Omnifone, the music service company that hosted Pono's store, stopped operating. There's a great story in here about Pono and the debate over sound quality standards in the music industry, but the authors are too close to the subject to bring it out. The narrative gets too far into the weeds for the casual reader, but tech junkies will find lots to enjoy.