Neil Young has been recording his music in the high-resolution music format that the PonoMusic store will sell for quite some time, according to what he told SXSW attendees last night. Many other artists and labels, however, have not been doing this, which will render Pono’s catalog of high-resolution music fairly anemic relative to other digital music stores and services.
So, how does Pono expect to compete with Amazon and iTunes, not to mention the increasingly popular on-demand subscriptions services that offer tens of millions of songs for $10 per month? Who in their right mind would switch to Pono — especially when it costs $15-$25 per album and requires a special $400 player?
Nobody. And Pono itself has no delusions about that.
Instead, Pono seems to view itself as a sort of portable record player. The same people who listen to and discover music on the streaming services and then buy high-resolution vinyl records of their favorites, Pono hopes, will buy PonoMusic files in order to be able to carry high-resolution versions of that music around with them, implied the company’s CEO at yesterday’s “Is 2014 the Return of the Home Stereo?” panel (more on that here).
“Our context really is that it”s ‘different horses for different courses,’ and it’s the context of how you listen to music that matters,” said Pono CEO Jon Hamm. “I’m a Spotify user. I have a Sonos system. And I also obviously love Pono. It just really depends on what music you want, for when you’re listening.”
As such, Pono does not plan to be part of the music discovery process, and does not expect to be anyone’s only music service. Instead, Hamm sees it as another option people might choose if any of their very favorite albums happen to be available there.
“We’re going to let these guys take care of discovery and those kinds of things,” said Hamm, gesturing towards Spotify director of platform marketing Tim Grimsditch, “and I don’t think that’s our role in the industry. What our research says is that people love the music they love more than you would believe. Everyone probably has their desert island albums or songs even, that if forced to take a hundred songs, or ten albums with you for the rest of your life, you’d know how to put that list together… I met a guy the other day who has seven copies of Cat Stevens’ ‘Tea For The Tillerman’… We’re going to try to fill out catalogs of artists that really have incredible catalog following — The Rolling Stones, Neil Young — you know the names, people with more than 15 or 20 significant albums.”
There’s been a lot of debate about whether Pono will actually make music sound better. The company exceeded its $800K Kickstarter goal on the first day, indicating that at least some music fans have been willing to accept Pono’s premise. According to both Hamm and Pono founder Neil Young, one must hear the device in order to appreciate it; once the first units are slated to ship in October, music fans will have a chance to hear it for themselves, and decide.
Photo: Eliot Van Buskirk