Why Music CDs Have No Chance Of Making A Comeback

Do you remember when CDs were first released in the mid-198os? Do you remember having your mind blown when you first heard the sound quality of a CD? Nothing we had ever heard in our lives had sounded as good as CDs. Of course, from the start, many music fans argued vinyl LPs sounded better. In many cases, they were right. Not every CD sounded better than the vinyl album it covered. It all depended on how the record companies mastered the music to be placed on CD. Some record companies jumped on the CD craze quickly, looking to profit without any regard for the quality of the sound of the CD. We are talking about major record companies that did those. Look what Atlantic Records did with the initial Led Zeppelin CDs they released. They sounded horrible. MCA did the same thing with Elton John’s catalog. Elton John albums always sounded great on vinyl, Yet the original MCA Elton John CD catalog was unlistenable.

Eventually, the record companies got it right and worked on remastering many of these legendary artist catalogs. However, the record companies’ initial mistakes helped fuel the backlash against CDs that many music fans never got over. Nonetheless, CD sales would explode from the mid-1980s into the 1990s, making it one of the most successful music formats ever developed.

When a record company got it right with their CD mastering process, nothing sounded better for the consumer. Yes, there was the DAT format, a digital audio tape in a small cassette tape package with a better frequency range than the CD. Yet that format never took off in the consumer market because the players were too expensive, and the major record companies never got behind it. DAT would become a preferred mix-down format for music studios.

When a CD was released with the proper mastering, the results were phenomenal. In the 1980s, new music labels came into existence with the sole objective of releasing superior-sounding CDs. Many older labels adjusted their release strategy to focus almost entirely on the CD format because of its sonic possibilities. Many of these labels were in the jazz genre, such as the GRP Label, founded by Dave Grusin and Larry Rosen in 1978.

The success of the CD format was not just based on the quality of sound but also the format’s ability to hold between 70 and 80 minutes of music on one CD. Double albums were able to be released on a single CD. However, the record companies soon discovered that music fans would buy the same album they had already purchased on vinyl and then on CD, a third time if they included a bonus track on a new release version. Music fans found themselves buying the same album over and over again. This was a goldmine for record companies. What’s funny is that even with the CD format almost dead in 2024, new releases of old albums are still being released on CD for fans that have no problem buying the Beatles Sgt. Pepper for the tenth time. Bonus tracks, remixes, outtakes, demos, alternate mixes, etc.. can still entice the hardcore fans to buy the album that means so much to them over and over again.

The term hardcore fan is key here because, in 2o24, that’s about the only person who still buys CDs. The format’s failure to survive became doomed in the late 1990s when the rise of the mp3 format began its spread on the internet, which was only a few years old itself, at least for the general population. The birth of Napster in 1999 created all sorts of problems as people discovered that they could download music for free. We all know the rest of the story as legal battles ensued over illegal file-sharing networks and sites like Limewire and more were shut down. Still, the mp3 would survive thanks to the company known as Apple and a device called the iPod.

What CDs had done to vinyl sales, Apple and its iPod would do to CD sales. It wasn’t just Apple, as many other players jumped into the spread and profits of digital downloads. While the CD format tried to hold its own, major retail companies like Best Buy started phasing CDs out of their stores. We used to joke about going to a record store and finding no records but CDs. Now, the CDs were gone, having been replaced by electronics.

CD collecting has taken another hit in the past few years, as many car manufacturers have produced cars without CD players. This has been frustrating for many people with large CD collections who now have to burn their CDs to a USB disk to play them in their cars. Remember how much fun buying a CD in a store was, ripping it open, and playing it instantly in your vehicle? Those days are gone.

Will the record companies ever bring back the CD?  Well, one of the biggest problems is that we are in the second or third generation of music fans who have grown up without ever purchasing a CD. They don’t know anything about CDs, so they are not interested in obtaining them. The older generation in their teens or even twenties when CDs exploded, are now in their 50s, 60s and beyond. It’s an age that is not usually shopping heavily for music anyway, except for the die-hard music collectors. In the end, there is just no demand for CDs among the general population.

Those who collect music, especially those below the age of 40, are either buying downloads or using plans like Apple Music or Spotify, in which they can borrow as much music as they want a month for about ten or fifteen dollars a month. Think of that: for an average price of around 15 dollars, music fans can download as many albums as their storage capabilities can handle for the same price it used to cost us to buy a brand new CD at retail prices. Think about how much money we spent on CDs during the course of our lives and ours sons or daughters can actually collect the same amount of music for a fraction of a fraction of the price we paid for ours.

Sure, Apple and Spotify don’t have everything, but if they don’t, YouTube probably does. It’s a nightmare for musical artists because they get paid little.

Sure, we have seen the resurgence of vinyl in the past 10 years. However, that resurgence was first based on the fact that vinyl collecting became a fad among young female teenagers who first discovered it being sold in teen clothing stores. For some, they discovered the joy we all experienced when we became record collectors, but for most, it was just a fad. Of course, the record companies didn’t help by charging 30 to 50 dollars for a new sealed vinyl album.

In the end, because the older generation who used to buy CDs is no longer in the market, the 20 -to 40-somethings have never bought CDs in the first place, because no one is supporting CD players in cars or homes, there is pretty much no chance that the golden child of the music business, the CD, will ever make a comeback. The vinyl comeback is interesting, but it’s limited and has no chance of becoming the standard it used to be; Apple Music will see to that. Regarding the CD, it’s deader than your old 8-track and reel-to-reel tapes up in your attic next to your old close and play record player.

Why Music CDs Have No Chance Of Making A Comeback article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2024

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