As regular readers know I have serious issues with Kickstarter, in large part because the site/service can so easily be exploited for nefarious purposes. As RPS finally (and to my mind belatedly) made clear after flogging the site endlessly, when you’re giving money to a Kickstarter project you’re not buying anything. Instead, you’re investing in something that may or may not happen, which means the people you’re investing in need to have a great reputation to go along with their great idea.
I’m genuinely glad there’s a way for independent artists and creators to bypass gatekeepers and raise money for small projects, and from time to time I’ve considered the possible utility of the site myself. That I’ve never backed a Kickstarter project before is less a sign of where my heart is than where my brain is, because I know my brain would be angry with me if I put scarce personal equity into something that never materialized. (I do that enough on my own.) Having said that, today I backed my first project on Kickstarter for reasons that have nothing to do with Kickstarter, and I think the project I’m helping to fund is something you might want to consider as well.
For years Neil Young has been griping about the quality of music in the digital age. It’s a complaint I’m not only sympathetic to, at some point in the recent past I noticed that I had simply stopped listening to music for enjoyment for close to a decade. When I tried to figure out why it became obvious that my enjoyment of music ceased when the MP3 file became the playback standard. To bring music back into my life I tried using iTunes, but that proved to be just as bad, in large part because (unbeknownst to me at the time) Apple’s default sampling rate for ripped CD’s was less than lossless. Only when I discovered FLAC and Foobar2000 and was able to get CD sound out of my digital library did I once again start hearing sounds that had gone missing.
I want to stress here that I’m not an audiophile or a purist. I don’t need an oscilloscope to know what I’m hearing. Instead, I feel it, and all I can tell you is that digital music has generally left me cold. Not cold enough to go back to the hisses and pops and turntable maintenance of vinyl, but cold nonetheless. So when I first heard that Neil Young was pushing for a new standard for digital music I was all for it. Unfortunately, if memory serves, that was also a decade ago. (Or at least it seems like it.)
Well, that day is here. Sort of. As I understand it the PonoPlayer is ready to go and Kickstarter is being used as much to sell/reserve initial/limited copies of the device as it is to raise money for future development of the accompanying service. Still, if you believe in high-quality music and supporting the artists who make it, I think it’s worth considering what Pono is about and whether you want to chip in. At the very least you can help demonstrate demand is there which might encourage the big-money people to get off their stuffed wallets and buy in as well.
As for the risks involved, I’m confident that Neil Young isn’t going to take my contribution and blow it on a new couch, or something worse. Although he might be tempted to sink it into an all-electric Lincoln Continental. (I jest.) Currently, on day one, the campaign is halfway to its initial $800,000 goal. Given that it looks like the 30-day campaign will be fully funded in a day or two, and that it’s backed by people who have reputations to protect, I think the risk of the project falling apart are pretty low. Not zero, but close enough for me.
– Mark Barrett