Neil Young says record labels killed Pono

The musician's digital media player and music download service shut down in 2016

Neil Young has blamed record labels for the collapse of his portable digital media player and music download service, Pono.

Pono was launched in 2014, after Young raised $6.2million through a Kickstarter campaign. It released a music-download service, a digital-to-analog conversion technology and a line of portable players.

Despite Young launching the service to “save the sound of music,” Pono didn’t quite take off as he had hoped amid complaints that the company was too niche and PONO’s storefront shutdown in July 2016.


Young has now spoken out about the failure of the venture, blaming record labels for charging too much.

“The record labels killed it…. They killed it by insisting on charging two to three times as much for the high-res files as for MP3s,” he told the Tribune. “Why would anybody pay three times as much?”

“It’s my feeling that all music should cost the same,” he said. “The [high-resolution] file doesn’t cost any more to transfer. And today with streaming, you don’t have the problem [of unauthorized file sharing]. Who wants to copy something if you can stream it?

“The record companies, by charging three times as much for hi-res music as they charge for regular music, they’ve killed hi-res music,” he said. “It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen.” You can read the full interview here.

Young made efforts to relaunch the site last year – under the name XStream. Teaming up with Singapore firm Orastream, Young wanted to create “an adaptive streaming service that changes with available bandwidth” for “complete high-resolution playback.”


Writing on PONO’s community page, Young said; “I’m still trying to make the case for bringing you the best music possible, at a reasonable price, the same message we brought to you five years ago. I don’t know whether we will succeed, but it’s still as important to us as it ever was.”

“We began work with another company to build the same download store. But the more we worked on it, the more we realized how difficult it would be to recreate what we had and how costly it was to run it,” Young wrote.

Young goes on to explained that ‘just bringing back the store was not enough,’ and that although there was a “dedicated audience” for PONO, he couldn’t justify the high costs. “When it comes to high-res, the record industry is still broken.”