Monday, January 15, 2007

The Death of the CD?

Some friends are discussing the impending demise of the CD as a music format, and that inspired this posting:

I’ve got a lot of thoughts regarding the end of the CD:

  1. It is inevitable

Even though the final day is still fully a long way off, the format will eventually vanish. Music styles come and go, and in the same way, music formats, too. The CD was great while it lasted, and it will still last a while yet to come. But eventually, it will be replaced with something else.

  1. The return of the single

As the CD dies out, I think labels and artists will begin to recognize the value in releasing fewer songs at a time. Rather than sink many multiple thousands of dollars into recording 15 new songs, half of which are filler anyway, the big labels will more likely invest less money into two or three songs, and release them one at a time.

Indies, already strapped for cash, will release the songs as they have them done, rather than sitting on them until a complete CD is finished. This strategy will make for a more consistent marketing effort.

As a result, more and more singles will be released and purchased, rather than full collections.

  1. The final and complete death of album cover art

In the electronic world, the cover of the CD will be gone. Say what you will about little pictures appearing in my cell phone, the graphic representation of CD’s will die, possibly replaced by the graphic vision of the artist’s website. So, even though I long for the days of the great fold-out double albums in vinyl, I will bid it adieu.

  1. Ease v Quality

No matter how good the original mix is, an mp3 played over tiny speakers stuffed into your ears will not sound as good as music played through a large, full-spectrum system. Most people are OK with that, and are choosing convenience and portability over the audio quality. As a result, more and more of the original mixes are being geared toward that listening environment, and the result is a more compressed, less dynamic mix.

  1. The complete shifting of the music industry paradigm

In the past, new recording playback formats changed the way music was enjoyed, but didn’t really impact how it was created or delivered. With the looming death of the CD, we shift into an entirely new paradigm. No longer is music a tangible product. It is no longer a plastic thing we can hold in our hands. It is no longer ink on paper. It is now bits in a computer. And that means a total shift in the way it’s distributed. And that will make shifts in the way it’s created.

  1. Someone will have to win the format war

Ultimately, someone will have to come out on top and become the standard format for downloadable music. I predict it will be the iTunes mp4 format. But someone could well jump up and surprise me. But people won’t stand very long for formats that won’t play in all their devices.

  1. It opens up the field for indies, heaven help us.

For good or ill, this new paradigm opens up the field for indies with little or no financial backing. That means that there will be lots and lots more music available to the public. And when I say “lots”, I mean “Here comes the flood”. And that means that there will be lots more bad music than good. I’m fine with that. I say bring it all on. Someone will listen. The best music and the best promotions will ultimately come out on top.

  1. People listen to more variety

Ever look at someone’s iPod? I’m constantly amazed. Back in my day, you were defined by your tunes and what you listened to. You didn’t cross over, or at least not much.

Now, I see songs from all styles being mixed in together. One song’s rap, the next one’s retro, the next one’s rock, and-whoops-here’s a show tune! People are enjoying things more and more of a wider variety.

Think of it. You can now carry in your pocket more music than you can physically listen to in a couple of weeks. That’s, like, your whole collection, dude. So, why not stack it full of every mood you have? Why not shuffle it and mix it up?

And if you really like one song an artist does, but not another, you don’t have to buy them both…

Who knows what’s really going to happen? We’re all just guessing, here, anyway. It’ll sure be an interesting ride, though. That’s the one thing I can guarantee!

Mark Hansen


  1. Well thought out. Thanks Mark.

  2. This makes much sense! I agree with the variety of music we listen to now. Mom was strict in her two favorite genres, in our house there are two genres we *don't* listen to!

  3. I ripped all the CDs I thought I might want to listen to onto an external 100GB drive before I deployed. I was so disappointed to find that the giant stacks of CDs only took up about six gigs.

    It's the loss of cover art that bothers me most. What is Roger Dean to do?

    But perhaps with the new video mp3 players we'll actually get some cool music videos again. Of course that is someplace they could always put cover art.



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