Neil Young Trademarks New Audio Format

Wishing Neil Young much success in this endeavor

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By Patrick Flanary
April 3, 2012 3:35 PM ET
They might sound like great song titles, but "21st Century Record Player," "Earth Storage" and "Thanks for Listening" aren't new Neil Young tunes. They're trademarks that the rocker recently filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Rolling Stone has found, and they indicate that Young is developing a high-resolution audio alternative to the MP3 format.

According to the filed documents, Young applied for six trademarks last June: Ivanhoe, 21st Century Record Player, Earth Storage, Storage Shed, Thanks for Listening and SQS (Studio Quality Sound). Included in the filing is a description of the trademarks: "Online and retail store services featuring music and artistic performances; high resolution music downloadable from the internet; high resolutions discs featuring music and video; audio and video recording storage and playback." The address on file corresponds to that of Vapor Records, Young's label. (Young's representatives declined Rolling Stone's request for comment.)

Young faces about a year of paperwork before the government will register his trademarks. Last week, they were approved for publication in a public journal for 30 days, a step that allows competitors to challenge Young if they find his registration harmful. The journal is set to be published later this month; if the trademarks face no opposition or snags, Young must then file documents detailing how he intends to use the trademarks, which the government could register as early as the holidays, according to the filing schedule.

A press release issued last September by Penguin Group imprint Blue Rider Press, which is publishing Young's upcoming memoir, may have revealed the working title of Young's entire project. In addition to the memoir, says the release, "Young is also personally spearheading the development of Pono, a revolutionary new audio music system presenting the highest digital resolution possible, the studio quality sound that artists and producers heard when they created their original recordings. Young wants consumers to be able to take full advantage of Pono's cloud-based libraries of recordings by their favorite artists and, with Pono, enjoy a convenient music listening experience that is superior in sound quality to anything ever presented."

Such a service would allow music fans to download audio files that sound like the studio recordings of the past, as opposed to the über-compressed song files that are currently available at MP3 stores like iTunes and Amazon. (When reached for comment, a Penguin Group representative directed Rolling Stone back to Young's publicist.)

Young has a history of paying close attention to audio quality. His 1968 debut LP was one of the first albums to be mixed with the short-lived Haeco-CSG technology, which improved the sound of stereo albums played on mono equipment. Young has also been heavily involved with the remixing and remastering of his catalog for years.

In the last year, the rocker has also been increasingly vocal about his frustration with the sound quality of digital music. On January 31st, during an appearance at the D: Dive into Media conference in California, Young proposed that "some rich guy" should create "a modern-day iPod for the 21st Century" featuring studio-quality resolution. "When I started making records, we had a hundred percent of the sound," said Young. "And then you listen to it as an MP3 at the same volume – people leave the room. It hurts...It's not that digital is bad or inferior. It's that the way it's being used is not sufficient to transfer the depth of the art." According to Young, a typical download contains only five percent of the data that an original analog recording master offers, and the average studio-quality audio file requires roughly 30 minutes to download because of its uncompressed size.

Young also said that he met with Apple CEO Steve Jobs before his death last fall, and that the two discussed the possibility of developing a device similar to an iPod that could store roughly 30 studio-quality albums. "We were working on it," said Young. "Steve Jobs was a pioneer of digital music. But when he went home, he listened to vinyl. And you've gotta believe that if he'd lived long enough, he would eventually have done what I'm trying to do."
Neil loves his money. Seems like he wants to be Steve Jobs.
Having spoken to him many year's ago he has always made it known of his feelings about how music sounds best to him. I applaud his commitment to high quality sound. He puts his money where his mouth is. Thanks for everything
I agree with your observations here. Neil Young cares about sound quality.
He doesn't care enough about sound IMO. I have bought several of the audiophile vinyl reissues of his (at a very premium price nonetheless) and have found the vinyl to be thin, flimsy, and not flat. I'm on my second copy of Harvest because the first one was so warped it wouldn't play. This copy is also badly warped but does play. Why should I pay $35 for this when most audiophile labels charge less money for much better quality? I would think that if Neil really cares about sound quality he would make sure that a copy of Harvest that a consumer has to pay $35 for would be on 180 or 200 gram vinyl and would be pressed at one of the more reputable plants.
I cannot comment on vinyl because my system is solid state. All I can say is that the Neil Young Greatest Hits CD has superb sound quality -- on a level with the other high quality remastered CDs in my collection.
I always wanted his Blu Ray of Archives, but the cost is wwwaaayyyy over priced!
I dont think I have ever read a review on the Blu Ray sound quality compared to the recently released CD's.
Very entrepreneurial for being so against "the establishment." Keep on rockin' in the free world. ..indeed.
I wonder what NY has up his sleeve in 2016?

Keep me posted & Happy Listening!
How does being "anti-establishment" preclude one from being entrepreneurial? Those are not diametrically opposed, are they?