In 1982, when the BBC’s prime-time tech show – The world of tomorrow – did a segment on a new music format called “Compact Disc”, the presenter skeptically asked “If there’s a market for it, remains to be seen”. We all know what happened next, but even in the early 80s the advantages of CDs should have been clear: high quality, non-degrading sound in a compact format. Oh, and you can even skip, shuffle and repeat tracks, which in a pre-digital world really felt like the future
The Compact Disc turns 40 this year, and there are already signs that the format is ready for a mini revival. For the first time in 17 years, CD sales have actually increased — and by almost 50%, according to the RIAA’s sales database.
We are still far from the top of the format. In 2021, 46.6 million CDs were shipped in the United States, up from nearly 1 billion in 2000. For context, that 46.6 million represents just 4% of total music revenue for the year. last. Vinyl albums, on the other hand, sold fewer units overall (39.7 million) but were more of a source of money for artists (seven percent of total revenue).
Some reports claim that the rise in CD sales is mainly due to mega-artists like Adele and BTS releasing new albums (the first 30 alone accounted for 2% of total CD sales). But there are also other potential – and more practical – contributing factors, including the pandemic.
“CD sales are surging again now that retail stores are reopening and artists are back on tour. And while CDs have yet to experience the same kind of renaissance as vinyl, the CD format remains a stable source of income for indie artists Rob Bach, COO of CD Baby told Engadget They should know this, as one of their services is the production and distribution of CDs for indie bands.
Kevin Breuner, senior vice president of artist engagement and education for the company, thinks there’s a growing appetite for CDs as keepsakes, rather than just a way to play music. . “Part of that is because streaming hasn’t replaced anything at the merchandising table…the appeal of a physical object like a CD is that it’s a live keepsake, something you You can get artists to sign it, likewise for artists there is no substitute when a fan returns to the merchandising table to buy a CD or a t-shirt, it’s always been that way.
There’s also the fact that what once felt restrictive for young listeners – having to own a song if you wanted to hear it – now presents a different way of enjoying music. A good album is not just a collection of songs, but a structured experience to be enjoyed from start to finish. You can, of course, do this with streaming, but a CD requires getting up to change, Spotify is usually just a click away.
The CDs were launched in Japan in October 1982. The format and the material to play it did not land in the United States and Europe until the following year. Adoption was relatively quick and just two years later, the million-selling debut CD album – Brothers in arms by Dire Straits – would cement the popularity of the brilliant record. By the early 1990s, aided by increasingly small, affordable and even portable players, the CD was the de facto way to listen to music. And for good reason.
In this new digital world, the CD format was consistent in a way that analog could never be. What became known as the “Red Book” standard—two-channel 16-bit PCM at 44.1 kHz—would be the dominant specification from then on. When someone used to say “it’s CD quality”, you’d assume that’s what they were referring to.
This standard is considered the minimum requirement to qualify as “lossless” by today’s streaming services. Of course, how or what you record in 16-bit/44.1 is really what matters, but that’s a whole other story.
More important than all of this, for labels and artists at least, is that the arrival of the CD meant that they could resell our entire collection of music to us in the new Wonder format. The 90s were a good time to be in the music business, at least until Sean and Shawn came along.
There were also other advantages to this new digital medium. And not just the aforementioned ability to skip/program/mix tracks. With CDs, you can hide bonus tracks in new ways that would otherwise be visible on a vinyl record or instantly found by anyone who left a tape spinning.
Even more exciting? Once PCs started to be a more common feature in homes, artists and labels realized you could bundle together entirely different bonus media like videos and karaoke releases – as found on some versions of American by The Offspring, for example.
Before showing you how to enjoy/rediscover the joys of compact discs, keep in mind that the experience was far from perfect.
Although it’s more durable than vinyl, it’s entirely possible to scratch a CD. When a record has a scratch, it’s almost charming. With CDs it’s more like walking slowly through hell as they carve up the streets. If your disk has been damaged, it may also work on some drives, which is frustrating, but not on others. Many hours were wasted cleaning up and putting a CD back in the hope that it would take.
Of course, many CD players only took one disc, so you’d swap them out frequently. If you knew someone who had all the CDs in the right case, it was often a sign that that person didn’t listen to their music enthusiastically or often enough (it’s possible they were just slightly organized, but where is the fun in that). This “which record is in which” problem got even worse when someone decided that CD singles – one song you wanted and a few not so good songs on one record – were a good idea.
Not to mention the fragility of the boxes they came in. Jewelry case hinges would crack just by looking at them, while the center hubs (the part that held the disc in place) would fall apart no matter how you handled things. Most often when moving or the aforementioned enthusiastic listening with friends.
Unlike other formats, the CD is unique in that it played a part in its own demise. With the advent of CD burners, you can easily copy your friends’ album collection, print album covers, and even print circular stickers with the CD cover on them. This is how music was stolen during the short time when CD burners and blank discs were affordable and online piracy had not taken hold. The CD was then effectively relegated to the role of external storage medium before falling quietly into oblivion. Until now, of course.
With those little challenges in mind, if you’re ready and willing to give the humble Compact Disc another, uh, ride, here are some recommendations, new and old, cheap and cheaper, for diving into the world of CD.