Let’s Talk About the CD

November 13, 2015. That was the last time I bought a physical copy of an album. I know it’s not that long ago, but considering the world that we live in today, buying a physical copy is something of the past. But when did it become the norm to stop buying CDs and to start digitally download or stream music? And why do artists still stick with the format of the album?

On August 17, 1982, the first compact disc was manufactured in a Philips factory in Germany. Philips soon joined forces with Sony to develop and perfect the compact disc. Later in the year, the first CDs and CD players were introduced to the masses in Japan with great interest. Two years later, the disc took Europe by storm, with roughly 25 million CDs being produced (“History of the CD” n.d.). With this new musical technology now open to the public, the vinyl was replaced placed on the back burner.

We all know what the CD looks like (or I hope we all do).It’s a polycarbonate plastic disc with a transparent layer only 1.2mm thick. And on that disc there is 80 minutes of playing time (Crawford n.d.). Think about it: with 80 minutes on a CD, that’s about an average of 12 songs per album. And it’s not like artists are releasing albums every six months. It takes time to write, create, and produce. So once an album does get released, loyal fans and consumers want to listen to it right away. The thought of having to go to the store to buy the album barely crosses our minds, especially those of Millennia and Generation Z. Why waste the energy of buying a physical copy when you could be digitally downloading the album and have it in seconds?

My focus is to research how our culture has shaped and re-shaped the way that the consumer has access to music. I will look into the affect the “album” has on not only the listener, but the artist as well. More specifically, I will dig into the digital distribution of music, the importance (or insignificance) of the track list, and the mixtape/playlist relationship. Who knows, maybe the CD will find a way to climb back up the charts with artists like Tyler the Creator and Kendrick Lamar perfecting the album-dependent listening experience.

Resources:

Crawford, Awyn. “The Rise of the Compact Disc.” Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences. Web. 13 Mar. 2016<http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/the80sareback/2011/02/the-rise-of-the-compact-disc/&gt;.

“History of the CD.” Philips Research. Web. 13 Mar. 2016<http://www.research.philips.com/technologies/projects/cd/&gt;.

3 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About the CD

  1. One additional aspect of how technology has changed the musical industry, and subsequently impacted the distribution of the CD, is that of the Pioneer CDJs. Initially Disc Jockeys, following from vinyl, would insert the CD into the CDJs in order to produce their intended sound. However with the introduction of USB, such equipment has adapted and voided that of the CD. Conclusively, like that of Spotify, USB equipment is also transitioning out due to WiFi (Rothlien, J. 2013).

    Rothlien, J. (2013) RA: Industry Standards: Pioneer CDJ, Residential Advisor, viewed 18.03.15

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  2. I really, really like this project Audrey. I am someone who is always fascinated by the way tech shapes media and vice versa. As someone who cares very deeply about well constructed albums as a whole artistic work, the current MP3 and streaming age has given me a lot to think about. I personally think Kendrick Lamar’s ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ is one of the most artistically well realized albums to come out in the past decade. But compare that 79 minute epic to something like ‘Peace in Space’ by Maddy Myers – a 3 song length EP by an amatuer musician and games journalist – and you can quickly understand that these new frontiers for music consumption allow for the distribution of well-crafted, smaller ideas. In the case of a CD, manufacturing a product that can hold approximately 80 mins of sound but only utilizing 10 minutes seems like a massive waste.
    (I wrote about Peace in Space a couple of years ago in more detail here: https://stormonbinnight.wordpress.com/2014/10/28/maddy-myers-peace-in-space/#respond )

    Another interesting example of album craftsmanship is the album ‘Lateralus’ by Tool. Because Tool like to be cryptic with meanings, the fanbase have looked at the different sorts of narrative that emerge from the entire album as a whole when you start ordering the tracks differently – resulting in multiple playlists of the album being shared with different interpretations.
    http://www.peteofthestreet.net/sayz/C1151806467/E1494764863/

    Also it might be interesting to look at other sorts of music tech that never quite took off, like Sony’s MiniDiscs.

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  3. I feel like I’m one of the few who still regularly buy physical copies of albums! I love going to the shops and looking through all of the stacks. I think there’s still something great about CD’s. It might be looking through the little booklet that comes with it, and little things like that but I also understand that it’s often difficult for newer artists to release physical copies of albums. It’s a lot cheaper for artists to release albums exclusively in the online world. While doing research for my own topic I came across this article http://www.engadget.com/2015/01/14/trevor-jackson-format/ about a British musician who released each song from his album on a different format. Other artists I listen to have also gone down the novelty path and released a limited number of cassette tapes for their fans to find and enjoy. This method seems to be growing in popularity the further society moves away from it, ironically.

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