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death of the compact disc?
more like putting it out to pasture...
by erik schreiber

While I don't consider myself "old", I am one of those who grew up with the LP as the highest form of mass produced music technology, the 8 track being next most viable mass media. Then as I got older, cassette design matured and grew into it's own, marking the end of the good 'ol 8 track. And I thought (is that all there is?) "that must be it, consumer audio has gone the full gambit"... Silly me.

Then in 1982, Sony releases the compact disc. Inspired by a European market demand for a more portable and robust medium, the engineers came up with an optically read disc. Complaints of "great, but we can't record to it" were silenced with the reply "you couldn't with an LP either".

My first real brush with the CD was when a friend came home from work with a CD player, "borrowed" to tinker with, make improvements/suggestions etc, as he was an electronics engineer at a high-end audio components manufacturer.Being a tech myself, I was curious as hell to find out how it worked. When he explained to me it was digital, and would be near "perfect" in comparison to analog audio, all kinds of warning bells went off in my head "that's only zeroes and ones! how is that going to sound good!?", "how are logical extremes going to replicate the soft middle parts?", and "it's going to sound like crap!" Again, silly me...

When my friend popped in a Steely Dan CD (Asia, i think) I couldn't help but agree to my own chagrin, that it sounded pretty damn good. Then as he cranked up the volume, I could hear tape hiss! "AHA!" I exclaimed "if this new tech is so hot, how come I can hear tape hiss!?" "Well," my buddy said, "that would be the hiss that exists on the master tape" "Oh...." I replied dumbfounded. Once again, silly me...

At that time, I had something like 300 plus LPs to my collection (my tastes touch on everything). I made the realization I was going to have to REBUY my entire collection on this new medium. Not a pleasant prospect, as discs were $15-$18
each at the time. With each year following however, more albums made it to the label's CD catalogue, and manufacturing technology had figured out how to produce more for cheaper.
As an aside, before the CD came along, I would by an LP and record it to cassette, and play only the cassette thereby saving the LP from undue wear (I was already on my fourth copy of Led Zeppelin 4), and the tape was more expendable as well as portable, not to mention the mass made tapes from the record labels were of cheap construction and had shorter life spans than some of my 8 tracks! (HEAR THAT RIAA? I WAS A BAD BOY!) but at least I would BUY the LP, and I didn't go into business selling home made tape versions of the LP.

So here we are in the next century, I now own over 1,000 discs and counting. I've long since quit recording to tape, as I can bring the disc(s) just as easy. Last month I heard on "Soundcheck" a show on NPR radio covering "The Death of the Compact Disc?". They go on to talk about how the record industry isn't doing as good as it was in the early days of the CD.
Several factors contribute to this, probably the biggest being most everyone (like me) has caught up their collection and no longer need to frantically seek out their next nostagial catch up target. The market has caught back up in price too, the sweetest days were when I could get a CD for $9 and change (with tax!) alas, all my old favorite haunts want to slam me $16 to $21....wa hoppon? I have to really want that new release now to validate the price. Pirating is high on the "reason"
list of the labels, folks ripping to MP3 and emailing to friends 'n family (ok, and share groups). Well, maybe if the prices weren't so damn high we'd be more inclined to make more "casual" purchases rather than cost decisions.

Now there's talk of leaving the CD for some "higher tech" version of medium. If I could be confident the motivation was purely progress oriented, I wouldn't give it a second thought. Just a few days ago I saw a digital jukebox at a bar, all it needed was power and cable, and any song in existence (theoretically) could be called upon and downloaded for play. That, I thought was an act of genius. But I must ask, how was the record industry doing in the years just before the advent of the compact disc? I would venture a guess it had plateaued for quite some time, being quite predictable and flat. One must realize the birth of the CD was the most exciting FINANCIAL as well as sonic event to come along in quite some time. A renewed demand for practically every item in the catalogue! Market Nirvana! (no pun intended)
However, if the major labels think I'm going to rebuy everything yet AGAIN, they've got another thing comin' (queue the Judas Priest)


Erik is an intelligent, creative individual approaching middle age with the all dignity of a 25 year old....

more about erik schreiber


tracey kelley
10.13.05 @ 5:09p

So you don't think downloading will eventually replace the compact disc?

robert melos
10.13.05 @ 7:58p

Personally I think the CD goes hand in hand with downloading. Not having an ipod, I download a great deal of music and then burn it to a CD to play in the car or to give to friends. My mixes are very eclectic.

Eventually everything will be replaced by a new form of storing data, but I don't see it happening in the near future.

erik schreiber
10.13.05 @ 11:13p

I believe going forward, a large percentage of music will be the pay-to-download kind. However, all my life I've been able to hold the "whatever" medium in my hands, it gives a sense of ownership, a solid secure feel. If I were to loose all my music because my hard drive crapped out I'd be one unhappy camper.

Plus, there will always be some folks that don't have internet to download from...

Perhaps one could go to the music "store", stick a memory device into the machine, make their selections and have them stored in the device. (we do the exact opposite for getting prints of our digital photos...)
The biggest obstacle I see will be the legal and logical control of "vapor tunes". All dependent on the greed factor of the record labels....

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