The CD is Dead, Long Live the CD

I firmly agree, with most current commentators, that the CD is dead. Electronic delivery of music is now the overwhelming choice of consumers. Old news, I know.

However, there are two aspects of the current (and future) state of music retailing that intrigues me.

First, there’s the aspect of musical quality, which I blogged about a few weeks ago. There are simply things in the compression of sound that get lost. I firmly believe it. As Buddy Miller put it in No Depression, when you listen to a great CD, it can “make your heart hurt”; a similarly great mp3 often just lacks that certain something, the certain center, warm mid-range that Neil Young would love. T-Bone Burnett, producer of the amazing (and amazing sounding) Raising Sand, similarly grouses against the sound quality of iPod music. (BTW, I own a iPod and LOVE being able to take my music anywhere.) He and some colleagues are brainstorming new e-delivery formats that will enhance the quality of music, but there’s nothing in production yet.

Second, there’s the idea of the CD as “artifact”, as a piece of visual art, a piece of cultural “swag”. Frankly, I think there’s still life here. Granted it is not “mainstream market” life. It becomes “niched” life, where it will be purchased by audiophiles, artists and musicians who want to read liner notes, see who played on what, and engage the visual artistic direction of the CD’s author.

So I think we are at a very interesting time in the life of music commerce. I believe in the “economics of free”, that electronic music (content) will be increasingly freely accessible to people, who will pass the good stuff around, and delete the bad stuff. iTunes will continue to dominate the retail business, and CDs will continue to shrink as a percentage of music sales.

Simultaneously, however, I think CD sales will increasingly become appealing to the niche of people who want to hear the highest quality (note: I am not debating the quality of vinyl versus CDs here; they are different media with different tonal qualities and characteristics) they can get, AND can also possess the “artifact”.

In short, I think the most successful selling CDs in the near-term are going to be (a) really great sounding, and (b) really great looking. Iconic. Compelling. Something that makes that certain group of people true fans, maybe?) say, “I’ll buy the music on iTunes, but I want to OWN that THING, that piece of physical, visual art.”

The CD as music retail is dead; long live the CD as art.

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At 10:40 AM , Blogger grex said...

very timely post for me. yesterday was a day of buying music. 3 records from i-tunes, 4 CDs, and 2 LPs. i forgot how great it feels to walk into a record store and peruse. gotta love the dank smell of old carpet and smokey dudes, too busy to help you find "discount jazz vinyl."


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