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When I met legendary rocker Neil Young recently, he was pretty disparaging about iTunes. It’s like all new digital media technologies, he said: great for convenience, but the sound quality sucks (since I have a tin ear when it comes to music, I’ll leave others to judge the validity of that comment. But Peter Gabriel, another musician who’s been working on new ideas for distributing digital music, certainly agrees.)

Young let slip that he is now talking to record companies about licensing an alternative digital platform that he has been working on – something , he claimed, of far higher quality that could provide an alternative to the privacy-prone download world, and perhaps even a new business model for music.

The technology behind this was first shown off last month at Sun’s JavaOne conference (we blogged about it here.) Young, who is something of a techie, has spent 15 years experimenting with different technologies to assemble a complete archive of his career. He is now finally ready to release the first multi-media instalment. It will come out on Blu-ray discs, with the capability of adding extra content in future through downloads.

Bemoaning the fact that he can never keep a secret, Young told me he was now trying to promote this as a broader media platform:

We’re in discussions right now about developing our own media platform based on that. Something record companies can sell their artists’ works on. Something that can’t be downloaded, something that’s got much more depth.

It has every media component you could want, and they’re all married together in a platform. That means other artists could use it, other record companies could use it and gain the knowledge of our 15-year development curve.

This needn’t be limited to music, according to Young.

How about the history of the Civil War? How about the British Empire? If you have a career spanning 40 years, maybe it’s George Washington’s life. It could be a lot of things.

There’s so much to this that we can’t tell, that you can’t see in one sitting. Maybe there’s a structure there that could save the music business – a new thing, where it is creating new products.

When it comes to convenience, speed and low cost, though, iTunes (and piracy) take a lot of beating.

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