Neil Young Archives signal a shift in the music streaming business

Neil Young has made his entire catalogue free for streaming, at least at first. Does this signal a change in how artists control their legacy?
Neil Young performs during 2017 Farm Aid. (Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)

In early December Neil Young released an online archive of his music, including everything he had recorded since the early 1960's. The archive will be accessible for free until June of 2018. After that there will be, what the archive describes as a "modest subscription fee".

The archive is representative of Neil Young's long fight to provide high quality digital music files. Rather than using compressed MP3s, the site streams in full studio quality.

Steve Knopper is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone magazine and author of Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age
Steve Knopper is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone and author of Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age. He says that this archive may be a new business model for streaming music.

"Neil Young is someone who has very devoted fans and there are a lot of them," Steve says. "So if you can tap into that pool, even if it is a niche, and you're talking about getting them to pay, and you're talking about getting them to pay... five or ten dollars a month, if you can get that many people paying that amount then you have yourself a revenue stream." 


Streaming services like Spotify and Apple music have offered the music industry a make money outside of record stores. "Streaming has really created this incredible revenue stream," Steve says, "and has brought hundreds of millions of dollars back into the industry that didn't really exist before, especially during the piracy-plagued era. That's been something that has created incredible growth in the industry."

IDinesh Paliwal, left, and Neil Young discuss bringing the PonoMusic catalog and HD quality audio into vehicles during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. (Camilla Sjodin/HARMAN via AP Images)
While Neil Young's archive is attracting fans to a new way to listen to his music, a dedicated streaming services for a single artist isn't likely to be a universally successful model.

"Neil is of course a special case," Steve says. "You could name a few artists, Springsteen, Tom Waits, a few others, U2 maybe, who has these very deep and rich archives with rare and interesting material you want to listen to in a special way, outside your typical listening experience." 

Like with other experiments in digital music, Neil Young is acting as a forerunner, while others are waiting to see what happens next before jumping in after him. 

"It sort of depends on how successful this is," Steven says. "If Neil Young comes out with a statement after he does his fee and released the paid version of this. And says, 'One million listeners have signed up... for ten bucks a month', now we're talking about real money and then absolutely all these artists are going to their best to follow this model. But I have a feeling the numbers aren't going to be as robust as that."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?