Neil Young is continuing his long, somewhat perplexing journey into the music tech business with the launch of a new high-definition streaming platform called Xstream. Young made a big splash with a crowdfunded project for Pono Music, an audio player and download store focused on audio quality, back in 2014. Since pulling in millions through multiple crowd-sourcing campaigns, Pono has stagnated somewhat. Young announced at the end of 2016 that he would translate Pono Music into a streaming service. Xstream appears to be the result of that plan and of some critique about the original product.
“I had to put up with lots of criticism for the high cost of music delivered in the way all music should be provided, at full resolution and not hollowed out,” Young wrote in a note to Pono Music members. “I had no control over the pricing, but I was the one that felt the criticism, because I was the face of it. And I pretty much agreed with the criticism.” He told members that the features he wanted to implement in Pono were expensive, especially in line with his initial goals of matching audio quality of the original master recording.
Young’s continual shifting and pivoting shows that, despite his claim of selling tens of thousands of the audio players, the business model may not fit the modern industry. Given the growing number of platforms now competing in the subscription music sector, Pono’s luxury niche may struggle to secure enough of an audience to stay afloat.