Neil Young and John Huey Talk Music Quality at Brainstorm:TECH 12

By Kyle Austin

John Huey, Editor-In-Chief of TIME Inc. just wrapped-up Fortune Brainstorm: TECH by chatting with Neil Young (yes that Neil Young). Here are some excerpts, from the first part of their chat on music quality:

John Huey: We have 25 minutes to vet this treasure trove, so we’ll try do our best. He just said to me before we came out here that you have to watch what you say because it will stick with you for 20 years. I often say that rust doesn’t sleep; which is the only way to edit and I think the two tie together nicely.

Neil hasn’t disappeared. He’s been around a lot lately with his movies and he also recently wrote a song with the subtle title “Let’s Impeach the President.” I ran across this anecdote about him that I thought you would find interesting.

I have a friend that works at West Point and each year they have a artist perform for the graduating cadets. They ask the performer if they would be wiling to wave their fee for the young men going into service for their country. The only person ever to wave his fee was Neil Young. Go figure a left wing, Canadian rock star was the only one to wave their fee. Neil was kind of embarrassed when I brought this up to him and said no one is supposed to know this.

OK, let’s talk about the industry that brought you here. In the area of music. No industry has been more disrupted by technology then music. You, unlike anyone else, have been working for 15 years on an alternative digital platform. You were upset with the quality of CD’s for sometime and your feeling is that it has gotten worse from there?

Neil Young:It went downhill from there. I loved the CD when it came out. It was great for music to go to that little disk and it was very convenient. But that same convenience has been taken advantage of. Apple especially, has taken that convenience to an extreme and ignored quality. Quality is not there. I’m trying to figure out a way. Especially a play in the PC Market. I think PC makers can overlook the area of quality music on PC’s. PC hardware should include software to listen to higher resolution music. So we are not stuck with the Apple or MP3 standard. A model for a company that provides hi-res song listening is something that I am certainly pursuing.

The problem with all of this is there is no way to play back music at the resolution that it was created at. It will only play back in CD quality. This sounds a lot better then MP3 but it is not hi-res. That is not what we are capable of. It seems like the ability to listen to hi-res music is one of the missing elements in consumer technology. Any designer of PC’s that I can talk to, I will be pushing for that.

I record now in a way that can be bumped in an even higher-res. I always record at the highest-res of digital I can. We are getting better and better at recording but the quality is not there in playback.

JH: Do they believe the consumer can be lead there?

NY:I’ve never heard the quality of music mentioned. That is what made music so great. If you bought music that you could see, it would be like watching the lowest-res movie. Because you can’t view it, you can’t see that it’s lower then what it could be. The content is important but at the expense of quality; that is too big of a price to pay. Especially for me and my peers that try to create music that will last forever.

JH: Have you discussed with Apple and Steve Jobs?

NY: I’ve discussed this with Michael Dell who is checking with his folks to see what they can do.

What do you think? Do you want higer-res music that sounds live?  As we’ve learned this week at Brainstorm: Tech the industry is certainly open to your ideas. Including Michael Dell.

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