Exactly 35 years ago the world’s first compact disc was produced at a Philips factory in Germany, sparking a global music revolution.
My father keeps a collection of vinyl records of his favorite bands, from The Beatles first album “Please, Please Me” to The Eagles’ compact disk albums. He even has versions of these albums in cassette tapes.
When I was a kid, I loved them. But for the wrong reason.
Innocent, naive and playful, I just fancied those circular thingies and thought they were frisbee discs.
The vinyl records were my favorite, they were geee-normous. The compact discs come second. They’re shiny!
But I hated the tapes. They’re cumbersome when uncoiled!
Imagine my horror when my father found out I threw them around. You can’t blame me, I was a kid; kid has got to have fun, right?!
Eventually, I learned to appreciate them almost as much as my father loves them. I started collecting CD albums of my favorite bands, too.
And I still do.
And this is the reason why I would never ditch my MacBook Pro for the newer ones; mine still has a CD player, the newer ones don’t.
Folks say, “Just get your music from iTunes.”
Oh, I do.
It’s just that there’s something to the physicality of the disc that makes me want it more than digital copies. It’s almost akin to my fetishism towards books with actual pages, pages you can touch, smell, and flip.
Am I the only one fond of CDs?
Statistics says, no, I’m not.
There is an elephant in the room of modern music.
Launched in 1982, compact discs became the warhorse of the music industry as labels reached their commercial zenith.
Vinyl was phased out, cassette never really became the format it promised it would, and the era of the compact disc heralded undreamed of profits – in 1998 the label system reached its titanic bulk, its absolute zenith.
When Napster was launched in 1999, the music industry’s easy-living 90s fell in one swoop. Profits dropped, panic set in, and a whole series of entertainment companies struggled, and often failed entirely, to adapt. Authorities were finally able to shut Napster down. Too late, the industry suffered a major set back.
The CD, though, sat through it all – before streaming became viable, or even before iTunes became the norm, it was sometimes the only thing that kept the music industry afloat, like water wings on a particularly nervous toddler that has somehow made its way to the deep end of the pool.
Vinyl almost disappeared entirely, becoming the occupation of hoarders and record nerds before its resurgence took hold in 2007. The cassette, too, has fallen drastically, with Sony halting production of its iconic Walkman player back in 2010.
The compact disc, though, is still there, still bringing in results. Sold everywhere from niche record shops to Sainsbury’s, it’s ringing in cash registers across the land – even with an 11% drop, 47 million units in 12 months is an imposing figure.
And it’s also a key element of the underground. CD-Rs are easy to smash out, meaning that certain facets of the electronic, noise and DIY indie scenes are based around the compact disc. It doesn’t take much to make the presentation special, and it’s almost always worth your while – check this out for example:
‘No Grace’ CD’s in our store now!
— PAWS (@wehavepaws) January 2, 2017
Old school? No, just classic.
It was Mark Twain who said a “classic” is a ‘book people praise, but don’t read’. The compact disc is a classic in that sense as well, but it’s something people still patronize but don’t praise.
In 2015, over 50 million CD units were sold. Yet, the CD was rarely – if ever – mentioned. Of course, we trumpet how many song catalogs are there on iTunes, or how download marks have been set.
Fine, the humble CD may have recorded an 11% year-on-year drop. Fine. But I urge you to look at it this way: despite virtually no media attention, despite technology overtaking it, despite record shops remaining out-of-the-way places, the compact disc ratcheted up 56.6 million sold units. That’s a lot of music that nobody talks about.
Yes, the CD is here to stay.
Digital sales only eclipsed CDs for the first time in 2014, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI). That year, global sales of physical music (most of which are CDs) totaled $6.82 billion, which was down about 8 percent from the year before.
Billboard reported in July of 2015 that in the first half of the year, CD sales were, in fact, down from the last half of 2014, but still totaled 56.6 million units.
In spite of the fact that digital options are widely available for music procurement, CDs are still being sold by the tens of millions.
In fact, according to a February 2016 report provided by media and technology analysis company Media Insights & Decision In Action (MIDiA), “CD buyers are the largest single group of recorded music consumers with 32 percent penetration compared to 28 percent for concert goers, 25 percent of music downloaders and 10 percent for subscribers.”
We owe this to two things: One, the compact disc itself is an inherently great format. Did you know that files ‘burned’ on CDs cannot be corrupted (you now by a virus or a malware)? The only means to destroy data on a CD is to physically compromise the integrity of the CD itself. I mean, break it, scratch it, literally burn it. But if you are concerned about passing data from one person to another and worried that it might get corrupted along the chain, put it on a CD.
And two, it’s small enough to fit into your hand – depending if you have long fingers – but large enough to feel concrete, to reflect the fetishism of the physical object. We love things we can touch. We are fond of being tactile.
Are you still using CDs? What do you love about them? Tell me in the comment section below.
BBC News UK (2017). BBC NEWS | Technology | Compact disc hits 25th birthday. [online] Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/6950845.stm [Accessed 17 Aug. 2017].
CDM Create Digital Music. (2017). The first generation of CDs is already rotting and dying – CDM Create Digital Music. [online] Available at: http://cdm.link/2017/02/a-generation-of-cds-is-already-rotting-and-dying/ [Accessed 17 Aug. 2017].
History of Information (2017). The Compact Disc (CD) is Developed (1976 – 1983) : HistoryofInformation.com. [online] Available at: http://www.historyofinformation.com/expanded.php?id=1189 [Accessed 17 Aug. 2017].
BBC News. (2017). UK vinyl sales reach 25-year high – BBC News. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-38487837 [Accessed 17 Aug. 2017].