Updated: Oct 13
Compact discs were the result of a 1982 collaborative effort by Philips and Sony. The intent was to introduce a new way to listen to music, and the “CD” or Digital Audio Compact Disc did not fail to impress for over two decades. However, the popularity of CD’s has steadily declined since the mid to late 2000’s when digital audio devices such as the iPod, streaming applications like Napster, and many other digital media platforms were pioneered for the avid listener.
CD sales are a mere 10% of what they were in the late 1990’s according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Like any other form of technology, the way music is delivered to its audience simply evolved. That evolution has fundamentally changed the landscape and relationship between the artist and their fans. Music streaming services now account for over 85% of the US recorded music market.
Here are five reasons why the Compact Disc should make a comeback:
1. The Artists are the reason we have music to listen to. Aside from endorsements and live performances, artists primarily make their income from royalties paid to them for units sold, distributed, used in media, or monetized in any way. Those royalties are then split between the songwriters, publishers, record labels, and of course the recording artists themselves. Those are a lot of hands in the cookie jar. Deservingly so because it takes a good team to produce a winning album. Most streaming services pay under a penny per stream of the artist’s content. Successful YouTubers can make considerably more than that per view of their videos. Time and time again fans are complaining that their favorite indie artists stopped making music, but they don’t stop to realize that they may not be able to afford to do so anymore. An indie artist who sells their CD’s online or at their shows can make almost all profit from a CD they sell minus the cost of manufacturing. A signed recording artist can still pull 6-7% of retail value of the Compact Disc after everyone has taken their cut which is still significantly more than they can make from all the streaming services combined.
If you love an artist and enjoy their music, purchasing their Compact Disc is not only a great way to support them fiscally but also to own a physical piece of their work that you can enjoy with or without WIFI.
2. The Nostalgia weighs in greatly when it comes to Compact Discs. If you were born in the late 80’s, Compact Discs is how you listened to music. Whether you had an Aiwa sound system or the freshest Discman, you knew your way of listening and you loved it. I could not tell you about the countless times I waited in line for a new release on a Tuesday morning or browsed for new titles at my local Wherehouse Music.
A classic music shop emanates a sense of nostalgia. I think often of the moments that I would walk into such shops and see the vintage music posters on the walls, smell the scent of Nag Champa incense, and look at the rows upon rows of CD’s and Vinyl records just waiting to be discovered. In this writer's humble opinion, this is an experience that should not be denied to future generations.
Now, the most important reason music has a direct relationship with nostalgia is a study that has been explored by many. When a person listens to a particular song from their past it could trigger an implicit memory, which are memories stored deep in your unconscious mind, but can still be retrieved. Music tends to excite parts of the brain that evoke emotion, so it’s reasonable to assume that music can have incredible benefits to people who just want to take a stroll down memory lane or actually help those who have trouble remembering experiences from their early lives.
3. The Sound quality of Compact Discs is still very well received and respected amongst even the most demanding of audio purists. Many vinyl collectors will contend that the quality of a vinyl pressing from the 70’s or a high quality re-mastered pressing will almost always be superior to the CD. However, with the recent cult following that vinyl has caused over the past several years, the prices of the albums have skyrocketed to profit from the demand. CD’s are much less fragile than vinyl records. They are harder to scratch and they do not warp easily. You can get a much more consistent sound from a Compact Disc; you are just missing the ceremony that is attached to listening to vinyl. Compact Discs offer a wider dynamic range and more bass response than vinyl, so unless you are a huge fan of the warmth of the analog sound or the slight imperfections that the character of the vinyl sound provides, the CD is superior in sound to that format.
Many will tout that the new hi-res music available to stream from Tidal (MQA), Quobuz and Amazon HD are superior to Compact Discs. However, matching a quality CD transport with a proper high-end DAC (Digital to Audio Converter) in some instances can far exceed the sound experience provided by those streaming services.
Always trust your ears. If you are happy with streaming, then that should be the listening platform for you.
4. The Legendary CD Mix which took the place of the timeless mixtape. can still be found on the media storage racks or bookshelves of many Gen Xers and even in some storage units or closets owned by older millennials. My good friend still has a Case Logic binder filled with pages and pages of CD’s she had burned in her high school days; mixes crushes had given her as well as road trip mixes when it was time to hit the road and listen to her favorite tunes.
I understand the technology and advancements have afforded us the convenience of playlists among all the music streaming platforms. However, digital playlists will likely never have the impact that handing someone a mixtape or CD with the emotion and intent behind the gesture had for those generations.
5. The Opportunity that lies ahead is clear and present. The music industry needs an influx of revenue, artists need to make more from their hard work and the youth of our nation could use a bit of variety in their daily music consumption. Imagine if CD’s had the same resonance as Vinyl is having with collectors today? It would be a feeding frenzy to find vintage titles from the 80’s and 90’s. Artists would be able to make music again knowing people would be enticed to buy their Compact Disc because it could very well be a collector’s item someday.
There would be an opportunity for graphic designers and visual artists to design the inserts and cover art. The artwork behind our current offerings of music streaming has become a bit of an afterthought. I reminisce on leafing and reading through the CD booklet while the music of my newly purchased CD streamed through my headphones.
It would create an opportunity for Mom-and-Pop stores to thrive and even start opening more brick-and-mortar music shops. It could mean the return of juggernauts like Sam Goody, FYE, and Wherehouse Music to every shopping mall.
This venture could also benefit HiFi Companies who may be reluctant to make high end CD Players and CD Transports because of the uncertain fate of physical media. However, with the comeback of CD’s, those Audio companies would not be able to make CD Players and DAC’s fast enough to quench the thirst of the mighty collector.
In closing, only interest and time will tell if the CD just remains a relic of the past or if there is a new adventure that awaits this beloved and forgotten form of media.
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