Neil Young’s PonoMusic goes against all trends, but is wildly successful on Kickstarter

pono players 300wVirality isn’t always logical.

PonoMusic, conceived and fronted by iconic musician Neil Young, fixes what he regards as a quality problem with existing music players. The quality problem is that compressed file formats like MP3 eliminate essential audio characteristics — or, to put it bluntly, they sound bad.

PonoMusic is a high-fidelity, portable-music ecosystem that comprises a handheld player (PonoPlayer) and a music store which stocks only “lossless” music formats — that is, uncompressed files that represent what the musicians created in the studio.

“We offer PonoMusic customers the highest resolution digital music available. PonoMusic is more than just a high-resolution music store and player; it is a grassroots movement to keep the heart of music beating. PonoMusic aims to preserve the feeling, spirit, and emotion that the artists put in their original studio recordings.”

In development since before September, 2012, when Neil Young appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman with a prototype player, PonoMusic was officially launched yesterday at the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, TX. Correspondingly, a Kickstarter campaign was launched to finance the business. Within hours, the $800,000 Kickstarter goal was smashed. As of this post, about $1.5-million has been pledged. Thirty backers pledged $5,000 or more to the project.

PonoMusic goes against three major trends:

  • High-fidelity music. The MP3 revolution, coupled with mobile listening, has spawned a generation of consumers who happily sacrifice high audio quality for convenience and access to many millions of songs.
  • Collecting files. The market is smack in the middle of a migration curve from ownership of music to access. Free and subscription streaming provides that access, and all major research points to its growth in popularity in growth and reach. As download sales wither at iTunes Music Store, PonoMusic seeks to replicate that model with niche-appeal high-quality files.
  • Dedicated portable music players. This isn’t the iPod era anymore. The mobile-listening revolution is driven by smartphones, as Apple’s iPod drifts toward irrelevancy. Asking users to carry an extra device for their music is a big request.

Our misgivings notwithstanding, PonoMusic is, at least, a huge Kickstarter hit.

Brad Hill