Neil Young brings his digital music vision to SXSW

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) – Neil Young loves quality sound and he’s willing to pay for it. Turns out a lot of others are, too.

Young easily doubled his goal when fans contributed nearly $2 million in 24 hours to a Kickstarter campaign to fund his high-quality service, PonoMusic. It was an auspicious start for a somewhat quixotic effort the singer has mostly funded himself so far. After initially targeting audiophiles who remember warm sound, Young hopes to eventually draw younger listeners as he tries to right what he considers wrong decisions made over the years when production moved from analog to digital.

“Life has been good to me, but this has drained me right to the nub,” Young said with a smile. “So it’s really good to see this happen because now all my guys are going to get paid. That’s my happiest moment. Now we can keep going.”

The 68-year-old rock ‘n’ roll pioneer gave a keynote address Tuesday during South By Southwest. Then he and PonoMusic CEO John Hamm met with reporters Wednesday, explaining why quality sound is important in the age of convenience and the MP3.

They’ve created a standalone multi-format player for the service, which won’t work on cellphones, and have made high-end digital masters of more than 2,000 albums available for purchase in an online store. The player, triangularly shaped like a Toblerone bar, will retail for $399.

Hamm said the service is aimed at people who remember what quality sound was like before compression and other changes meant for ease of use erased the depth listeners could hear on vinyl records. Hamm noted the popularity of turntables among hip 20-somethings and thinks they may too one day migrate to the Pono player.

“We’re really happy with this movement,” Hamm said. “It’s shocking how many people have been waiting for better music.”

Young, who says he will release two albums this year and tour both as a solo act and with Crazy Horse, has been working on the service for years. He has previewed it for friends every chance he gets at events like the Grammy Awards. He’s gotten not only celebrity endorsements, but now the support of the public.

“The digital age was fraught with errors, errors of judgment,” Young said. “What can people hear? What can people not hear? They forgot about what people can feel.”

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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