It Has Sucked Since The Beginning Of Time

So Neil Young, the man who should talk in his singing voice because everything he says is a constant whine, is pulling his music from streaming services because of the “sound quality”:

Reading his little blurb, this bit stands out:

“It’s not because of the money, although my share (like all the other artists) was dramatically reduced by bad deals made without my consent.”

If it’s not about the money, Neil, then you don’t say “It’s not about the money”. If you go on to complain about having your share reduced, no matter if you mention “all other artists”, then it’s about the money.

Look Neil, nobody gives a sweet shit about sound quality. Well, maybe a small percentage of people do but in the large scheme of things the majority of people don’t care…

… Because everyone has been listening to shit quality music since the beginning of recorded music!

Some “artists” like to blame technology for the state of music sound. “Its the digital file”, they rant and rave, “it’s all the fault of the MP3”.

People who have been screaming about lack of sound quality seem to have forgotten the audio cassette with its hissing and warbling and muddiness. They seem to have forgotten AM radio (mono and tinny sounding). Yet both were popular because they brought music to the masses without having to be chained down to a music player at home. You could turn on the radio anywhere. Thanks to Sony’s Walkman (and all the knockoffs it inspired) you could take some of your music collection with you; create few mix tapes (usually over top of a mix tape which degraded the sound even more), pop it into your Walkman and presto! And hardly anyone cared about the cheap, crappy headphones that came with these devices.

“Ok, so tapes and AM radio kind of sucked. But vinyl and CD! Superior! Ha!”

Sure, if you had thousands of dollars of stereo equipment, which none of us had. I listened to my music on relatively inexpensive equipment. When I had records, I used my folks stereo which kind of looked like a shithouse tipped over on its side:

The Folks Record Player


Everyone I hung out with had one of these monoliths in their house. It’s what we were introduced to records with. They sounded like shit; the speakers were tiny and hidden in there amongst all that cheap wood so everything sounded kind of hollow.

Let’s not forget the crackling and popping (and skipping/needle bouncing when there was a huge scratch in the album).

In the end we didn’t care. We got to listen to our music.

Once all of us got our own players, they looked something like this:

Our Own Record Player

And they sounded even shitter. Oh those plastic speakers. Again, we didn’t care. We all just wanted to play our music and play it loud. We did know someone with a huge ass stereo and every now and then we’d go over and blast our records; and it was never about the sound quality of the format the music was on, it was about the speakers this guy had: We could turn that shit up up up – record, cassette, CD – and it wouldn’t distort because the speakers could handle excess volume.

Fast forward to today. We can now get music anywhere. And I mean anywhere. I can buy an album while walking my dog. Or sitting at the park while my kids and their friends try to kill each other on the play structure. A few taps and we can listen to what we want, when we want, where we want. We can purchase, stream, and download. And yes, we can even order CD’s and vinyl if we want but not many people do that anymore. And why should we? We can take our entire music collection with us. Our music libraries are all contained on the little pocket computers we all carry around with us. And guess what?

The music sounds great.

I ask everyone who lived in the 80’s, the original heyday of portable music, to think back and remember what your music sounded like played through these:

Love That 80's Hair!Ugh. Puns. And, oh, that hair!


And then compare that to what your music sounds like today, as an MP3 on an iPhone played through the default earbuds.

I guarantee that the MP3 on the iPhone wins out. Hands down.

Here is the thing: when MP3’s became super popular in the early 2000’s, they were shitty sounding because they were encoded at 128kbps. This was due to the fact that we didn’t have gobs of hard drive space back then. We also didn’t have online Cloud storage and the fastest, consumer internet download speed one could get was 3Mbps – and keep in mind that most people were still on dialup connections. 

Portable MP3 players were rare and the affordable ones only had limited storage. My first MP3 player cost me damn near a hundred bucks and only had 128Mb (yes, that’s megabytes) of space. It had room for, maybe, a single album of music encoded at 128K.

Now our devices are measured in gigabytes and can now hold thousands of MP3s encoded at 320Kbps (or 256Kbps AAC in the case of Apple) which is CD quality compression. Our devices can connect to the internet with near 300Mbps download speeds. We’re now capped by our monthly data plans so yes, we’re just fine with the default quality of the music we’re buying/downloading/streaming; anything more would eat up our data which costs us money for every megabyte we go over (for us listeners, it’s about the money).

Very, very few care about Lossless compression. Even fewer are willing to pay what amounts to a huge fee to access these so called “better sounding files”. And only a few of those few can actually tell the difference.

So be honest Neil: It’s about the money isn’t it? I know it is for most of us. We already bought Harvest on vinyl (and you had no problem with us listening to it on shitty stereos). And then on cassette (and you had no problem with us listening to it on shitty Walkmans). And then on CD (and you had no problems listening to is on shitty CD players). And then on iTunes… and now you want us to fork over $25 for a FLAC version? Oh after forking out $400 for your Pono Player (which real people don’t really care about). And now you’re pulling a hissy fit and pulling your entire collection of music from steaming services because of this supposed sound quality issue?

I actually question how Neil Young’s soon-to-be-seventy year old ears can tell the difference between a cats meow and a dogs bark these days (after decades of making people deaf at Crazy Horse shows) let alone the nuances of digital compression.

So let’s be honest. It’s about money. He said it in that one quote:

“It’s not because of the money, although my share (like all the other artists) was dramatically reduced by bad deals made without my consent.”

If you have to say it’s not about the money, then it’s about the money. Steaming does not pay as much as album sales. Welcome to the twenty first century. The old guard is no more. Everyone can have a slice, no matter now small, of the music business pie. There are new ways to make money.

Trying to convince people the quality of the accepted format is shit is not one of these ways…

… Especially when music has always sounded like shit.