Originally published in issue #18 of Alphabet Pony – May, 2012
We’ve all read the writing on the wall proclaiming the death of the CD. It’s only inevitable, right – considering the format’s usurper (the mp3) is itself being usurped by the multitude of streaming services that are flooding our shores as we speak. With the music industry’s entire back pages available on demand, in your handbag/bum-bag/pocket, fumbling through piles of CDs seems as counter-intuitive as carrying a walkman and a handbag/bum-bag/pocket full of tapes. However, much like the vinyl record and Bill Murray before it, only once it disappears from the frontline of over-saturation can its real worth be finally measured. The compact disc will never truly die. There have been too many of these beautifully clunky things thrown out in the world for them to ever fade out of our lives.
CD FACT: The running time of a compact disc was chosen to fit a 1951 recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. Such lofty beginnings…
The sad decline of the CD has been in effect for sometime: it was inevitable, as all deaths are, and although the CD has shown way more resilience against Napster, mp3s, nu-metal and the Internet than most market analysts thought would be possible, it is still being ushered out the door at a depressing rate. CD singles are a thing of the past: as a music journalist who unfortunately gets sent every sound every made, the Born This Way single from Lady Gaga was the last properly-printed CD single I can recall receiving, and this was over a year ago. The ARIA singles chart splintered into two: the physical sales chart (comprising of actual CDs being sold over counters in ARIA-accredited stores), and the overall chart, which factored in digital downloads (read: the only way singles actually get bought). The physical chart wilted as surely as the format did, and digital album downloads are now, for the first time in history (history-ha!) set to surpass physical sales. The days of going into a record store and buying a CD seem to be behind us. JB Hi-Fi, the country’s biggest stockists of compact discs, recently launched their streaming service, NOW, with most of their floor space now taken up with DVDs.
CD FACT: The first album to be released on CD was Billy Joel’s 52nd Street.
So, with even the concept of downloading music set to be an archaic thing, what will happen to the humble compact disc? Well, nothing at all – at least not for decades. Before too long you won’t be able to nip down to your local record store to buy the latest album on CD – that much is certain. But those huge, unalphabetised (please!) collections we have all amassed aren’t going anywhere; those CDs are signifiers of who we are, and who we were. They are hundreds of diary entries that we have clutched at and studied and made our own. And while there are a lot of owners-but-not-lovers of music collections (those things pile up like dust, ya know?), kids coming of age in the next decade will be scooping these up for 50c a piece at Op Shops in small, scattered towns and discovering the glorious back catalogue of the world, much in the way the previous generation did through vinyl and videotape. CDs will become romantic. This is the most exciting thing that will happen, and it is quite possibly happening in small corners around the world as I type. Those set to come-of-age in the next decade will regard CDs as some blurry relic of the past: clunky and charming and cheap. The idea of storing music–or words for that matter–on stand-alone, physical formats will be rendered too irresistibly soaked in nostalgic for romantics to pass up. As the argument as to how to best monetise music without under-valuing continues to rage, there are stacks of worthless CDs sitting in storage, just waiting to come alive again once the dust settles and people realise that humans are hard-wired to want ‘things’, not ‘access to things.’
CD FACT: Over 200 billion compact discs have been sold worldwide.
As nostalgia surrounds us–even for things that happened as recently as the turn of the century–our generation will look back at cracked cases, at fold out booklets that never quite folded back in, at sun-warped cases, at lyrics scrawled with all the style of an ink-soaked spider running across a page, at indulgent thankyou notes – at all the minutia that can mean as much as the actual music itself. CDs will feel redundant, then quaint, then romantic, then vital. You cannot throw your arms around a memory, this is true – but at least these memories will be of something that was once tangible. At the end of the day we just wanna be surrounded by those that we love, and for millions of us, that includes a skyline of stacked, cracked, plastic monuments.