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Neil Young prepares a digital archive

SDE on Neil Young’s initiative + other artists successes & failures

Neil Young is preparing to put his entire audio archive online so that “every single track or album” he has produced since 1963 will be available to be streamed at up to ‘full resolution’.

He is developing a new NYA (Neil Young Archives) ‘timeline‘ feature on his website that will allow fans to browse the music and zoom in and out of particular eras to see more detail such as dates of recording sessions, album art, and credits. Alternatively, the archive can be accessed using the NYA ‘filing cabinet‘ interface, where the it is presented chronologically; stored on ‘info cards’ with associated credits, memorabilia, films or videos. Information is still being added to the NYA, which Young describes as a ‘living document’.

All released material is available with unreleased album art ‘pencilled in’ on the NYA timeline so fans can see where they will appear “once they are completed”.

NYA will use Xstream Music high resolution streaming by Orastream. Neil makes a point of saying that Xstream Music master recordings always use “pure uncompressed masters”. It’s an intelligent system that adapts to your current bandwidth to deliver the best audio quality possible, up to hi-res 192 (which requires 6000 kbps – kilobits per second). The little analog-style meter on the NYA interface (see image above) informs you what bandwidth and musical audio quality you are getting.

Neil Young confesses that he is “very interested in collecting and organization as well as mechanical things and old school record keeping.” He released a physical box set of volume one of his archives, back in 2009 which spanned the period 1963-1972. That box was available on CD, DVD and Blu-ray. The blu-ray edition featured BD-Live technology, which allowed Neil to add new content after the physical set was released, although only half a dozen or so previously unreleased tracks were ever issued this way and such content stopped in April 2010, less than a year after the Archives box came out.

It’s not clear whether this digital archive project signals the death knell for future physical box sets, although SDE suspects not. The forthcoming release of Hitchhiker on CD and vinyl indicates that Neil hasn’t abandoned physical releases, although he may have done so for hi-res audio. In in his ‘note’ on the Archives homepage Young makes no references to cost or any kind of subscription model for this new digital archive, so are we to assume that this will this be a free service?

More news on Neil Young Archives when we get it. Visit the NYA holding page.


SDE Sidebar: How have other artists fared with digital archives?

Hello Goodbye / Paul McCartney cancels premium membership on his website

Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney announced something similar to Neil’s digital archive back in 2010 – a collaboration with HP to “digitize and deliver” his library via a “private cloud”. Paul may or may not be using this digital platform internally at MPL, but from a fan point of view nothing has ever been delivered by this enterprise, despite Paul’s claims at the time – he said “I hope it will allow people who might be interested to access parts of our archives they might otherwise not be able to.” Paul continues to release his archive physically via his archive release series and when he does occasionally offer digital-only content it’s not very cutting edge. He delivered three Flowers in the Dirt demos (for free) on his website this year via standard clickable HMTL links (these downloaded low bit-rate MP3s).

SDE Summary: Failed to deliver.


The Rolling Stones

In late 2011 The Rolling Stones announced stonesarchive.com a site that “unlocked the door to their archive” and would allow fans to hear unheard music (concert recordings) such as 1973’s The Brussels Affair, via good value MP3 and FLAC downloads. The ‘Stones certainly hadn’t abandoned physical releases though, because a year later the same concert was as three limited edition box sets that started at $750, with the most expensive variant costing $1500! A visit to stonesarchive.com today shows a semi-moribund website. If you click on any link to buy any digital audio (e.g “Buy The Brussels Affair“) you are simply re-directed to generic Rolling Stones Shop which has exactly ZERO archive audio for sale.

SDE Summary: Good start, but no long-term commitment.


Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Bruce Springsteen

In 2014, Bruce Springsteen launched his own website devoted to delivering live performances both digitally and physically. All music can be purchased as MP3s, CD quality lossless (FLAC and Apple Lossless), and Hi-Res. Physical CDs can also be bought. Live Bruce Springsteen is still going strong and boasts a massive archive. The Boss has also used this platform to give away free downloads, such as in December 2015 when he offered a Christmas gift of an hour of previously unreleased live music from The River Tour in 1980.

SDE Summary: He’s not called ‘The Boss’ for nothing. Excellent job.

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27 responses to Neil Young prepares a digital archive

  1. Bill says:

    I wonder if this will go the same way as Pono, in other words another great idea not thought through properly with which he becomes bored. Agree with your assessment of the other sites – the Springsteen one is excellent and I would also commend the artwork that comes with the archive releases which I know is a small point but indicative of the attention to detail. Also, when people complained about the mix on the Rome 2012 concert, they remixed it. May I mention the Crimso website, dgmlive.com, which has tons of stuff?

  2. Eams says:

    Metallica seem to be up there with the Boss in my opinion. Pretty much every concert since 2004 has been recorded and released via http://www.livemetallica.com/catalog.aspx initially as download only but you can now purchase physical CDs as well. there is also an archive of lesser quality recordings available for free.

  3. truthsayer says:

    I love NY, I have `em all – CDs/LPs/Archives/DVD/Bluray but he can stick this digital fresh air up his arse.

    What happens when he gets bored in 12 months time and wants to move onto his next feckin` brain wave bollocks!?

  4. Hermen says:

    Gov’t Mule’s Muletracks does this for ages. Flacs or mp3’s of every concert.

  5. Peter Muscutt says:

    Does Prince’s output fall into this category, can anyone confirm? I know he had a subscription-only “music club” site a while back, but did that include previously released LPs or was it just for work-in-progresses, live stuff, demos, the odd new track he recorded etc.?

    With the long-established artists/bands listed above, can anyone see this becoming a standard for more bands in the future? i.e. yearly subscriptions to their ENTIRE back catalogues digitally (including live/demos/remixes/alternate versions)? Sort of like band-specific streaming but with no stone left unturned… (admittedly it would only work with those artists with a huge collection of work/archive to showcase!)

    • Rob says:

      Hey Peter. The first incarnation of Prince’s NPG Music Club was outstanding! The webpage was chock full of links and hotspots and the store allowed some 6 Unreleased albums for purchase via download, as well as the occasional free song Plus on Friday and Saturday nights his online “club” was open that played new and unreleased music as well as previously released stuff. Then it closed. YOu did have to pay a 50 dollar fee, but his club delivered in presale for concerts nabbing me a pair of tix to the front row on the Musicology tour

      His next attempt at a website was Lotusflower and that was awful. this was also a fee ( think 50) but with the exception of a view brief snippets of video and one free download it as horrible. It closed down pretty quick

  6. Rick from Connecticut says:

    “Neil Young confesses that he is ‘very interested in collecting and organization as well as mechanical things and old school record keeping.’ ”
    He sounds like those of us who buy Super Deluxe Editions not only for the pleasure of owning them, but also for the ability to fill gaps in our iTunes playlists…

  7. CJ Feeney says:

    Grateful Dead Archive Online , is unsurprisingly chock full of shows – they were a band that actively encouraged and facilitated fan recordings of their shows, Their online archive allows fans to contribute photos and recordings to the archive.

    https://www.gdao.org/about

    Neil Young was signed to a Geffen label wasn’t he? Geffen was notorious for ripping off his artists, and their is bound to be some legal wrangles around putting copyrighted material on a public website.

    • Gisabun says:

      Geffen is/was part of Warner. Also home to Parlophone. With the reduction in large labels after mergers, I doubt if there will be much of a problem unless it is an artist that went from Columbia to Warner or has been on plenty of small labels.

      • Larry Davis says:

        Used to be…but bought out by Universal in 1990 or so…I remember getting Sonic Youth’s major label “Goo” in 1990 and it was right before or after it switched to Universal/Interscope…who also moved to Universal from Warner’s/Atlantic…not sure who owns the rights to Neil Young’s Geffen catalogue…5 albums I believe and the “13” compilation…

    • Alan Blevin says:

      Neil reached a settlement with Geffen in the early 90’s.In turn for giving them a compilation album with some unreleased stuff on it(the excellent Lucky Thirteen)he regained full ownership of all material from this era.The Performance Series disc A Treasure comes from the Geffen years.
      I am a massive Neil fan and the Archives Vol 1 Bluray/DVD is my favourite box set of all time but I have little faith this will still be functioning in 20 years even if it starts up.I don’t think there will be any boxes like Volume 1 in the future.The already released stuff will appear in sets like the ORS Vols 5-8 and 8.5-12 which are coming out next week.The unreleased stuff will be in Special Release Series albums like Hitchhiker and Performance Series albums.The concert and other films will be released individually like Human Highway and Rust Never Sleeps were last year.Im OK with this providing he keeps them coming at the rate of 3-4 a year.Some people over at Steve Hoffman forums have itemised over 30 titles that should be covered as Special Release or Performance Series.
      It will be a pity if the only way to access the file boxes and timeline is by paid subscription but hopefully there will be some level of free access if you don’t want to stream music.

  8. Kauwgompie says:

    Wow, nice overview Paul. Excellent job!

  9. Gisabun says:

    I’ve picked up some stuff from Springsteen’s site and they’ve done a very good job.
    Also bought from The Who’s web site but they’re only so-so.
    Another very good site is Marillion’s digital shop at http://www.marillion.com/shop/search.php?phystype=Download
    All studio albums, Front Row Club [defunct physical bootlegs now digitally], most concerts since 2008, solo albums, live albums. etc. Mostly 320 kbps MP3s but has some FLACs. Most give artwork if you want to “convert” to an audio CD.

  10. Richard says:

    Hello Paul & Staff,

    NY should release 1973-1981 on Blu-Ray, etc. Please before he passes on. Keep up the great work. I check you several times a day. Can you tell me when you stop posting, E.S.T?
    Thanks and Cheers!

  11. Sezai Basar says:

    Hello Paul,

    Is it just me or the archives page doesn’t respond at all ?

    Thanks and cheers,

  12. DaveM says:

    Here was I hoping he’d spent his ‘year off’ preparing Archives 2 for a physical release LOL. Never mind, so long as the Official Release boxes appear on CD next week and then Hitchhiker in September, I will be more than happy.
    He can do what he likes online, until he’s bored with it, but hopefully we’ll get more physical ‘little gems’ from whatever is on there while it lasts.
    IMHO, I can’t see the online stuff being free for those that are interested.

  13. RJS says:

    It’s an interesting concept from Neil Young. No matter how much people who visit this site like their box sets, streaming is the future of music and I can see physical media becoming a very niche market once the vinyl revival dies out. Alongside mainstream “all you can eat” services, I can also see many artists doing what Young is attempting to do – you’ll still find their music on mainstream streaming services but die-hard fans will have the opportunity to subscribe to artist’s individual sites to stream HQ audio, videos, live recordings, archive photos, memrobilia etc. Imagine the uproar if The Beatles were to do this for deluxe editions of their back catalogue – you can stream it but you can’t “hold it in your hands” like you did with the recent Sgt Peppers box set!! Personally, apart form occassional releases which I still buy, I switched over to streaming a few months ago when I bought some Sonos speakers. I’m saving a fortune and don’t have the storage hassle but I can still listen to most new releases and old stuff that I would probably have bought on CD at some stage. I’m not an audiophile and find the sound quality more than acceptable over my wi-fi.

    • Larry Davis says:

      I can see the purpose of streaming, but as an old school collector, I need the physical product…however, if storage is an unavoidable problem, I need to have the actual files…streaming is fine to try stuff and skim thru, but you should be able to buy it for yourself permanently too…

  14. Doug Cawker says:

    I don’t know about all of you but although this sounds excellent in theory, I’d still love to have the high-res files available on my system to do what I want with them. I have a portable set-up that can handle 24-192 KHZ files and if I’m on the road, I love playing them where ever I want with no internet connection needed. Additionally, it also feels like I “own” the files, somehow paying to just stream music is another step away from the tactile sensation – not that having a bunch of flac files on my computer or carrying around the Blu-ray box is much better but streaming really feels like I don’t own the music I paid for anymore at all. Perhaps I’m old fashioned but I’d rather buy the Blu-rays or download the high bitrate files than stream the songs even if the sound is as good – and I’m hopeful that we’ll be given that choice.

  15. Will says:

    As someone who bought the NYA set but tried to download the BD-Live content too late, I’m in 2 minds about this. I can see large sums of money being required to subscribe (no way it’s going to be free), but no guarantee that it’ll stay up very long. Unless you can actually download, and not just stream, not sure I’m in.

  16. Tim-meh says:

    Anyone remember Billy Corgan’s Teargarden project which as well as new Smashing Pumpkins physical/digital releases also tried to incorporate a digital archive of demos etc..? Lasted about a month. One demo released into the archive, then gone, and that was that. I think NY does everything with integrity and so I’m not critical of this whatsoever but the Pumpkins folly demonstrates how quickly some get bored with a digital archive. Please note, BC went on to own a tea shop.

  17. Peter Muscutt says:

    I believe Billy Corgan also bought into a wrestling promotion as well, so it seems he has a wide range of hobbies to get bored with quite quickly!

  18. J says:

    It is great to see Neil swinging for the fences one more time. Never giving up is a virtue.

    Unfortunately the URL Xstreammusic.com is already owned by MRWFX INC. NY & his team will need to buy this for 1 or 2 K if they have not already done so. Planning is such a pain.

    Orastream via their web site offers a whopping 10 hi rez titles that you have never heard of & they have a Brio player & Brio software which is like a working man’s Jriver. Software cost is zero bucks for desktop but you have to pay if you are Going Mobile.

    & Tidal has announced that they are partnering with MQA (take that Neil) & can presently deliver 25 titles that you have heard of with “Master Quality Recording” for your desktop device. If U already pay the $20 per month fee you get it free. Yea!!! I checked the budget & I can afford free for sure.

    Best deal on a portable Hi Rez player is the Fiio X1 2nd gen (sorry Pono) for $99. Built like a tank with excellent blu tooth but sadly is not shaped like a Toberlone candy.

    Long may U run
    J

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