Neil Young: Piracy Is The New Radio (But The Quality Sucks)

from the well,-there's-that... dept

Neil Young apparently isn’t too concerned about copyright infringement these days, according to his comments at the D: Dive into Media conference:

It doesn’t affect me because I look at the internet as the new radio. I look at the radio as gone. […] Piracy is the new radio. That’s how music gets around. […] That’s the radio. If you really want to hear it, let’s make it available, let them hear it, let them hear the 95 percent of it.

Of course, that’s a bit of a reverse from back when he was angry that YouTube wasn’t paying him money when people uploaded his songs. Still, it’s good to see him come around to the view that infringement is, basically, a new form of radio. Artists like Chuck D have been making that argument for over a decade.

Young is still concerned… but about the fact that the quality of MP3 files sucks. He’d prefer technologies that provide a much fuller sound:

Steve Jobs was a pioneer of digital music, his legacy was tremendous. […] But when he went home, he listened to vinyl.

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Comments on “Neil Young: Piracy Is The New Radio (But The Quality Sucks)”

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but.. says:

“Young is still concerned… but about the fact that the quality of MP3 files sucks.”

What about FLACs and WAVs? I’ve heard these should provide pretty good quality.
I don’t have a sound system to hear the difference between 320 kbps .mp3 and FLAC, but that’s just me. I’m fine with mp3s – and I don’t even use mp3s that much these days, I’m using GrooveShark 🙂

Agust?n Dall'Alba says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Why would you need higher sample rates than what you can hear? Most of the audio equipment I’ve seen is a LOT less sensitive past 22kHz anyway.
Dynamic range of modern CDs is between 3 and 6 dB, while 16 bit samples allow for 96 dB. Compression is compression, it does not matter if your samples are 8 or 64 bit wide.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

To anti-aliases the audio it has its own name of course which I can’t remember right now.

The same thing happens to video, you can see the difference from a video encoded from Bluray and DVD the Bluray ends up with 1.5 gigabytes but it is better quality than the 4 gigabytes from the DVD itself, so in audio I assume is the same thing, they use higher frequencies to smooth out the corners of the wave.

That graph shows what sampling does to an analogue signal. It becomes more squarish the more samples you take the more smooth it becomes. Of course that only works if you had a good quality source to begin with, trying to reencode a MP3 from 22 KHz to 44.1 KHz will sound exactly the 22 KHz or worst because it had no data to do it better it started with a squared wave and turned into something more square.

So to answer your question, you need bigger sample rates to have more data points to make the sound more smooth.

To make it more pleasant you actually need another thing and that is Acoustic Illusion aka: psycho acoustics, bineural acoustics, holophonics and other names for how sounds are perceived by the brain, using only two physical points of collection(aka: ears), but take this statements with a grain of salt since I’m not a sound engineer and don’t know what names they use, I do know trigonometry though so I understand the math behind it, no matter what the name given.

AzureSky (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

now I agree with this and disagree.

as stated by others in reply to your post, vinyl is better due to mastering, It also has a bit more detail (most of it you cant hear without great gear and golden ears)

the thing is, the loudness wars dont effect vinyl because its a dead format(you can now get some newer stuff in it but its pricy as hell and sometimes is made from cd masters…no, im not kidding..)

a good test is to get the latest remasters of some beatles or eagles or boston and compare them to the vinyl versions….its shocking how bad the newer versions are.

good video on there that shows why MOST old versions soundbetter then their modern western masters.

mind you, I have been getting japanese masters or unmastered stuff alot lately because it just sounds better, even when converted down to 16/44 (really cant hear the dif if the files are down sampled and converted properly)

so tired of the loudness wars….makes me wana cry when i can hear the destortion from their shoddy work….

saulgoode (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Your blind assumption is correct; as is Mr Young’s view that CD quality is inferior to that available with vinyl. The sample rate of CDs, 44100 samples per second, was based upon the presumption that humans were incapable of discerning audio frequencies above 22kHz. This cutoff frequency was determined with tests involving AB comparisons of music (e.g., A with high frequencies, B without).

The problem with the AB testing that led to the CD sample rate was, while humans might not immediately recognize the absence of higher frequencies while listening to a brief snippet of sound, they are able to perceive them at a subliminal level. Tests which involved subjects listening to music for extended lengths of time (30 minutes or more) produced results where humans demonstrably preferred the versions containing higher frequency content, suggesting that the perceived range of human hearing extended to nearly 50kHz.

TtfnJohn (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

When CD’s first appeared the assumption was made that as 22kHz was near the high range humans can hear and distinguish that they could safely cut off the top end there. The testing, remember, was done with single tone frequency runs not by playing notes on an instrument. Pianos and guitars and harps were too imprecise for what they wanted.

Remember, though that I did say distinguish. As a whole musicians and singers can distinguish the side tones created by a note played at 22kHz well up into the 40kHz range. And that’s where the observation that CD’s sound “flat” or toneless comes from. The high frequency side tones are missing. Rather they were because they’re back in there now.

Analogue is different than digital in that it creates side tones surrounding the note(s) being played or sung. Digital doesn’t. Early CD recordings would drop the sidetones altogether.

Still, I’d agree with Neil if he thinks mp3’s are crap. I prefer to think of them as sonic swamps what with all the compression and all.

As usual it will work itself out over time. FLAC is far better while WAV does some cut off at the high and low end to save bandwidth.

aldestrawk says:

Re: Re: Newness

I don’t think you should dismiss new technology, or a new mixture of old technologies, as something that is just redundant and unnecessary because a previous technology seems to get the job done. I sometimes listen to MP3 recordings on a conveniently portable player and earbuds when I’m traveling or outside. Ambient noise in those circumstances generally mask any potential difference in quality between MP3 recordings and analog or high quality digital recordings. At home, I have a decent stereo system and can tell the difference between standard audio cds and DVD Audio or SACD recordings. I stand by that despite claims that it is just the remixing during remastering that is responsible for a perceived improvement in quality. I would only play MP3 recordings at home to learn of new music. Those two formats have not become popular enough to be widely adopted so I would welcome any high quality digital recording format that would be accepted generally enough to enable both old and new music to be mastered, or remastered, in that format. I am pointing out that differences in features that alternate technologies offer can make both or several technologies attractive to even just a single person. It will probably pass, that in the future, a single very high quality audio format we be useful for everyone when flash devices become dense enough to store thousands of songs in the highest quality format and high, end-user, bandwidth to the internet makes downloading or streaming requirements inconsequential.

DMARC is different than PGP:
DMARC offers a subset of what PGP offers but PGP requires adoption by and key distribution to all the people you want to communicate with securely. DMARC is, essentially, use in sending email of the Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM). A critical point for DKIM and SPF is that an end-user receiving mail (and in some cases sending mail if the Mail Transfer Agent supports this) does not have to do anything for this to work, not even updating their email client. They can rely on their Mail Delivery Agent (MDA) to filter out spam and phishing emails, whether it be Yahoo mail, Gmail, or their own ISPs mail server. This is useful even if it only applies to email sent or hosted by just the current set of companies who have adopted DMARC. Ease of widespread implementation is an important feature. PGP has been available since 1991. I have used it since 1996, but is use is not widespread because too many people don’t think it’s worth the bother. PGP differs from DMARC in offering confidentiality, end-to-end integrity, authentication of both sender and receiver, and non-repudiation. DMARC is limited to verifying the senders IP address and the domain of the sender. This allows for filtering of a good percentage of spam or phishing emails. So, DMARC and PGP are different technologies with only some overlap in purpose. Both are useful.

The Groove Tiger (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

FLAC is completely lossless. I don’t care much about how “better” it sounds than high bitrate mp3, I only agree that it is a good format if you’re editing (lossly decompressing/recompressing an audio sample every time you cut and paste and hit save is a big no no, you’d probably end with something that sounds like a gorilla making love to a cat)

Bengie says:

Re: Re:

I can hear the difference between 320kb MP3 and wav/flac on my $10 headphones with my integrated realtek sound card.

MP3 likes to muffle the highs A LOT. Voices and certain other sounds can be quite different with the highs muffled.

Vorbis 192kb is hard for me to hear a difference. Usually requires a lot of highs, like cymbals or other high sounds from pianos or violins. Vorbis 256kb I can’t hear the difference on my crap hardware. I haven’t tried on higher end hardware though.

Ian says:

Re: but..

It’s true, mp3 isn’t the greatest quality. It IS smaller and easier to store/transfer though, which is why it’s more of the standard. But it’s just that, a standard. Just like a Bud, Miller or Coors is more or less the standard for beer; its not exceptional, great, good, whatever, it’s just beer. But its cheap and easy for the companies to make and distribute them. (Figured beer would be something most people would understand. Also I do not mean to offend if one of those is your favorite beer, but you must realize that they are not considered a high quality beer, they are just beer.)

Heretic3e7 says:

Re: Re:

“Accepting” piracy while pointing out the lower quality of MP3’s as opposed to other forms of media that the industry still has control over is a shrewd move. Graciously view piracy as “radio” and then promote the “higher quality” of the industry product.

Too bad the industry did not go with this idea. I would have bought that line of crap before I read SOPA the way it was originally written. Now I won’t ever buy anything from the music industry ever again unless I can find it at a legal reseller such as a used CD or book store.

PaulT (profile) says:

“Steve Jobs was a pioneer of digital music, his legacy was tremendous. […] But when he went home, he listened to vinyl.”

(citation needed)

Well, I did a quick Google search and all I could find in reference to this is Young’s own speeches. Anybody have a cite?

Either way, I think he’s learned one of the hard truths of doing business – your own personal taste does not dictate what sells and what’s successful. You like vinyl? Great. I can’t fit that on my iPhone or my Spotify app, which is what I use to listen to most music nowadays. So, offer me the version I’ll pay for, don’t try to force me to stick to vinyl – I won’t buy it.

Another AC says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Exactly, and they are making a ton of money from it, so they should just shut up and leave our internet and our rights alone, and stop trying to squash new delivery technologies. As far as affordable? 1.29 per song is a bit steep (in my opinion) as a 12 song set will cost you the same as buying the disc, except they do not have to pay for all of the additional manufacturing and transportation costs.

The MPAA however are not trying to make things easier with their windowing models and all the pushback on streaming.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

he’s not staying to stick to vinyl. he mentioned in his talks with steve jobs on trying to develop the ‘next’ music player which would be able to store these high quality files in some way. he discusses the downsides and the problems, so he’s completely aware. he’s not trying to force vinyl on anyone, just saying he doesn’t want to see it go away until there’s something that can replace it. it’s terrible to lose access to real quality just because a bunch of people are happy with quantity over quality.

Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

Radio is dead!! Long live Radio!!!

I am an audiophile going back over 20 years. I love vinyl, but as you age those subtle differences are harder and harder to hear. So I bet that good old Neil could be tested and he would not be able to hear the difference between a high bit rate MP3 and vinyl.

The fact is that very few people today have ever really heard good full sound music and they don’t know enough to care. So they enjoy the music they hear and then enjoy even more when they hear it live. Might be the reason more and more bands are making more money from live concerts.

Experience is not black and white. MP3’s are not perfectly white or black they are just a bit gray.

Skeptical Cynic (profile) says:

Re: Re: Radio is dead!! Long live Radio!!!

I do and I am well aware of the difference. I love the warm and engrossing tones I hear from a vinyl record. But I hear less of a difference than I heard years ago. Hearing is always the first to go and I lament the loss. I paid over $3800 for a stereo and speakers with THD of less than .025%. I know sounds. There will never be a medium that can compare to vinyl but… Most people don’t know any different unless they hear it in a venue that provides true acoustics.

PT says:

Re: Re: Radio is dead!! Long live Radio!!!

Clearly you don’t listen to live performances then. It doesn’t sound even remotely like vinyl. Two completely different things.

For that matter, a real landscape doesn’t look like a painting of a landscape, or a photo of a landscape. Sound recordings are no different in that respect from photographs, they’re just captured and edited samples of the real thing that include a very small subset of the available sound information. Arguing that one format is more “realistic” than another is like arguing about the “realism” of a photo of a mountain printed on matt or glossy paper. So, there’s more detail? Big deal. It’s 2% realism versus 1.99%.

Richard (profile) says:

Legitimate concern

Young is still concerned… but about the fact that the quality of MP3 files sucks.

That was always the legitimate concern of authors/creators over piracy – the tendency of pirates to cut corners on quality.

Of course these days the “legit” outlets seem to trim the quality as much as any pirate ( perhaps even make it worse cf DRM) .

But it seems to me that there is a business model out there that would gel perfectly – let the low qual mp3 s circulate freely – and sell really high quality wav or FLAC files.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Legitimate concern

If you test the public, there is a very, very tiny portion of it that can differentiate an low MP3 file from a CD recording.

But I bet you anything that if you stamp it with “Higher Quality” or “Master Recording Quality” even though those people can’t hear the difference they all will pay through their noses to get it, just like there are people who pay $500 dollars for an iPhone wallpaper or $1000 dollars for a “superior” digital cable.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Legitimate concern

this has already been commented on, but folks can’t discern the difference when asked after one song, but if you let them play long enough, even though they don’t know the difference, they’ll pick the higher quality. you can hear them subliminally, and it’s still important. even if you can’t ‘hear’ it… you still hear it.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Legitimate concern

” you can hear them subliminally, and it’s still important. even if you can’t ‘hear’ it… you still hear it.”

But is that difference enough for most people to care about, especially if they’re not really consciously aware of the differences, and many people only listen through earbuds and basic car stereos anyway where those frequencies don’t come through?

I’m sure we can argue back and forth constantly, but the fact is that most people when listening on their normal equipment either can’t tell the difference or don’t care. I know that’s difficult for audiophiles to understand, but it’s the harsh truth.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Legitimate concern

It has been the very industry the one that has been cutting corners on quality and the public just takes what’s available.

Around audiophile pirate sites flac files are preferred.

There’s only a portion of the audience that cares about high quality audio, and the model you propose hits the same problem as before, flacs and wavs are still infinitely reproduceable.

Anonymous Coward says:

What Neil Young wants is to have people offering 24 bits 96KHz audio files, the same quality as a master recording used today, which can only be heard with special equipment and the file size will be significantly bigger which was one reason UMG wanted Apple to offer it, because in their minds the bigger the file the harder to pirate.

John Doe says:

Difference between piracy and radio

I think the analogy is flawed. In the old days, with radio, you got exposed to music when it is played over the air. If you want to play a song anytime you liked, you had to buy it (ignoring cassette tape, CD-R/W). With piracy, you can play the song anytime you like without buying it.

But I think the idea is right. Get your music out there, get noticed, get fans, then sell them concert tickets and merchandise.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Difference between piracy and radio

Agreed. Today’s “piracy” is not really all that different from taping songs off the radio. It didn’t stop me from buying music then (when I finally had money), it doesn’t stop me from buying music now (the difference being I make sure my purchases now aren’t RIAA’s, and especially the major label’s, artists).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Difference between piracy and radio

Very different. Taping something from the radio was very inconvenient (you had to wait until just the right moment) it didn’t encompass all music (only a tiny fraction of music commercially available was played on the radio) and the sound quality was noticeably terrible, even to an average consumer (fm radio is very compressed and has a significant loss of fidelity, recording that onto cassette compounds the problem to the point where even the most oblivious of listen can tell the difference)

That’s why taping things from the radio didn’t hurt revenue where downloading does. The devil is in the details.

GMacGuffin says:

... but we're mixing to the LCD anyway

He’s right, mp3s suck. But … here’s a little mixing trick used by many famous producers/musicians: Once you get a good mix, you play it on everything you can find, especially the car stereo, boombox, and crappy earbuds. Then you remix accordingly. Meaning, much popular music is mixed specifically to work on crappy sound systems in the first place. (OMG, you shoulda heard it on the studio monitors though …)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: re

Yeah, with radio airplay which as we know boosts actual sales and so is in effect an advertisement, the labels did pull off the rather special achievement of getting paid by the radio stations for the privilege of broadcasting the adverts.

The labels even managed to get government to make it illegal for them to pay the radio stations to play the tracks they wanted the radio to promote and even still, they are occasionally caught doing just that.

Now that was a massively brilliant deal, but it is clearly insane, and its day is over.

Anonymous Coward says:

Yup, piracy is the new radio, but it delivers the full product in a way that no longer requires anyone to actually buy the product anymore. That is so significantly different.

We are no longer satisfied just to send out a flyer with the restaurant’s menu… now we are expected to send a free dinner and hope they tip.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“required” as in “needs to buy it to fully enjoy it”.

You could tape off the radio (massively compressed and ugly) or copy tape to take (hiss on top of hiss…) or copy from vinyl (crackle, pop, and more tape hiss anyway). You would probably want to buy an original for yourself.

Now you can have a perfect digital copy for free. Why buy it?

Anonymous Coward says:

I dont think using Steve Jobs’ name in this instance to be that thought out considering under his management, apple still to this day promotes a closed eco system, exclusive rights to as much media as they can get a hold off, and using lawyers to interupt other competitors to their own products

As much as i can respect the revitilization (not invention) apple have done to the phone and tablet markets, at heart there a bunch of douches, for the above reasons, and i would never think them as supporters for “piracy” or the nature of the internet

Rich Fiscus (profile) says:

On one hand, as an audiophile I’m sympathetic to Young’s complaints. At the same time, his track record on providing high quality audio is a business model disaster. I consider that a shame since I happen to be a big Neil Young fan, especially his Crazy Horse releases.

He has already begun releasing his back catalog on Blu-ray to maximize sound quality, but there’s no chance I could (or would) pay $35 per album or $300 for a 10 disc set. Especially when he seems to have made a point of leaving some songs out.

That’s a ripoff even compared to HDtracks, where I can buy FLAC downloads which aren’t infested with DRM. With most albums costing $18 ($23 for a double album), I still consider their prices too high. But at least they are trying to make their product more compelling. You can even spend an equally ridiculous $2.50 to buy most tracks individually if that’s what you prefer.

The bottom line is this. Neil Young really only pays lip service to expanding the popularity of high quality formats. Considering most people can’t tell the difference, making it more expensive and generally less accessible has exactly no chance of doing that.

MooreCowbell says:

Senility is kicking in

Neil Young doesn’t realize that most music now is being played through crappy stock iPod/iPhone headphones and even crappier computer speakers. You have to be a serious audiophile that has invested some serious bank to hear a difference in a higher quality digital recording and an mp3.

Besides Neil is nearly deaf (years of standing next to gigantic sound speakers will do that) from what I understand, so he wouldn’t be able to tell the difference from a high quality digital recording and an mp3 anyway.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Senility is kicking in

“Define “higher quality”. I can’t hear an appreciable difference between 128kb/s and 320kb/s, let alone FLAC or WAV, in anything from $4.99 headphones to a $70 speaker and sub-woofer set”

I can’t either, but I think we have to assume that that is us, not everyone.
Someone I knew, did not notice colour flashing playing a film from a vhs tape that had been copied direct tape from macrovision protected tape.
I still don’t know how someone wouldn’t even notice, but he genuinely didn’t.

Bengie says:

Re: Re: Re: Senility is kicking in

I’ve had a few songs that when compressed with 128kb MP3, it would literally hurt my ears. It would feel like there was a pressure against my ear drums, which turns into an ear ache, and then I would shortly get a headache. The mild pain actually persists for quite a while.

Raising it to 320kb got rid of it and even low bitrate ogg/vorbis didn’t have the issue. Why I love ogg/vorbis for compressed audio.

I can hear the compression artifacts from sub 256kb MP3, quite annoying.

My ears are sensitive to distortions as many cause actual physical discomfort. Because of this, I think I’ve taught myself to pick-up on the distortions.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Have you heard of Ingrid Michaelson? Her album “Human Again” was #1 on iTunes overall for three days. As of this writing, she’s #23 overall. Oh, and she’s unsigned.

Or how about Jonathan Coulton? Two years ago, his income was $500,000 which he made from digital downloads, merchandise (which includes CDs and T-shirts) and live shows. Oh, he licenses all the music he wrote (which the exception of the music in the Portal and Portal 2 video games) with a CC: BY-NC license.

Also, Bandcamp makes independent artists a collective total of $1,000,000 every month.

The Major Labels alone do not make “The Music Industry” per se.

Karl (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

defund an entire industry so almost no new artist can break in to it or even pay for gas money

This is nonsense for two reasons.

First, major labels never helped new artists “break in to it.” In order to get signed, you had to have already been successful, either on your own or (more likely) on an underground label. Either that, or your family was already working for a label, and you got signed due to nepotism (hello, Lily Allen!).

Second, artists are making more money than they were twenty years ago. People are spending more money on music than they were in the 90’s, and more of that money is going directly to artists themselves (B2B, merch, live, even digital sales).

So, if you’re an artist who isn’t making money now, there’s no way in hell you would have made any in the 90’s, either.

Cyan says:


My collection of Drum&Bass/Dubstep/Garage is mostly 320 and some FLAC/WAV I can’t even hear the difference between the two.
Itunes is a weak player…I’d recommend foobar or MediaMonkey for the real music collectors.

Most people stream their music nowadays and don’t mind the low bit rate of their hip hop or rock. Those who listen to the bass music usually care more about sound quality.

Music can be pirated/bough in any possible format (private trackers, DDL forums) from WAV, FLAC, 320, 256.. so explain what “Higher Quality” is.

Techderp says:

The MP3

The German company Fraunhofer-Gesellshaft developed MP3 technology and now licenses the patent rights to the audio compression technology – United States Patent 5,579,430 for a “digital encoding process”. The inventors named on the MP3 patent are Bernhard Grill, Karl-Heinz Brandenburg, Thomas Sporer, Bernd Kurten, and Ernst Eberlein.
In 1987, the prestigious Fraunhofer Institut Integrierte Schaltungen research center (part of Fraunhofer Gesellschaft) began researching high quality, low bit-rate audio coding, a project named EUREKA project EU147, Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB).

Dave P says:

Digital all bad?

Surely it’s not just the fact that stuff is digital that makes current recordings sound so horrendously bad? I would suggest the lousy sound is more due to the hideous amounts of audio processing and compression that’s applied these days to try and make the sound “punchier”. So-called re-mastering appears to just add compression, whereas, in my opinion, it should really be more akin to the original master tape. I have open-reel (look it up!) tape copies of old 45 rpm vinyl singles and comparing them with modern re-issues on an editing program like Audacity shows the modern version to be as flat as a pancake. Same as radio. Dreadful sound nowadays, with some stations (including DAB here in the UK) audibly “pumping”. Awful.

Mr. Bald says:

FLACs and hi res mp3s

I think the problem is the amplifier used. most people only play their 192kbs mp3s through their dumb phone or ipod… and that’s fine if you have low expectations or are on the go. But when I play 320kbs mp3s on my ipod, plugged into my stereo system, with proper eq and amplification: all sounds pretty f’n good. I also find FLAC rips of vinyl to be almost always superior to the crappy “remasters” on CD these days… convert those FLACs to 320 mp3 for mobility and I’m good to go.

Asicaster (user link) says:

positivity of it all

Hi there, I understand the downsides to pirating music, but Neil is right when he says it’s the new radio, and I think it’s an improvement on the radio in many ways. Take this local band for instance, I think they’re sick but they play instrumental dance stuff, and their name is Fat As Fuck for god’s sake, but they would never have gotten recognition from a big time radio site, but now they can just get their own shit together and it has a chance to reach some people that it wouldn’t have in the radio days.

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