SXSW in Review: Neil Young Launches Pono Music


Photo Credit: John Carrico

The normal business hours at SXSW are well, sort of for business. And while I usually find all things related to venture capitalism repulsive, Neil Young was on the program. Neil has always been pro-music, so my guess was this his talk was going to be more about music than business.

I was right. I might’ve shown up 10 minutes late, but Neil was already in the middle of his presentation about Pono, the new music player that he is helping to promote. According to Neil, the player provides listeners with what the music is supposed to sound like, i.e., exactly the way artists and producers intended it to sound. Young promises that the Pono device will “bring you the reality [of the music] and allow you to understand what the artist is doing in the studio.” Young’s vision is to create a new standard—a much higher standard—for what listeners hold to be high-quality audio.

With the oversaturation of the music player market, Young won’t sweat it if the Pono device fails. “If this is a success or if it isn’t a success, music wins,” he said, preempting questions over whether or not the device would sell. Nevertheless, he said he is “deeply shocked that the venture capitalist community” hadn’t beat him to the punch. Turning low-quality recordings into high-quality ones ought to be a cash cow, he said, since everyone purports to be an audiophile.

Part of the presentation included the Kickstarter video that Neil and his partners produced to help finance the device’s production. Testimonials included Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins from Foo Fighters, Bruce Springsteen, Emmylou Harris, members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kid Rock and others.

At $400 on Kickstarter, consumers can select limited-edition artist-engraved Pono devices—Tom Petty, Crosby Stills & Nash, and Arcade Fire are options; Neil’s own model is already sold out. (The Pono Kickstarter campaign launched yesterday and has already far exceeded its goal.) 

At the end of the presentation, Young joked that he’d be running for president after the Kickstarter campaign concluded. After a chuckle, he recanted his offer. Still, this note’s for you, Neil Young: American Canadian badass.