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Saturday morning quotes 2.46: The CD lives

April 5, 2013

broken_cdAs we wind down from the release of our new CD John Dowland: A Pilgrimes Solace, its time to reflect a bit on the viability of CDs as a format for experiencing recorded music.

While we fully embrace the convenience of digital downloads, and have no qualms about making our recordings available in this format, we have a slight problem with the deceptive sleight of hand with which the music industry has played the consumer – yet again.

“In our digital world you don’t own stuff, you just license it: Corporations and lawmakers have put us on course for a world where consumers do not own the things they buy…”

From an article by Dan Gillmour,  guardian.co.uk, Friday 5 April 2013

On a daily basis, we see the erosion of real content and quality on so many fronts, and it all has to do with the unpleasant imposition of a cynical business model upon every facet of our lives. In the case of the music industry, consumers have been duped into thinking that ‘possessing’ millions of MP3s is is better than sensibly building a library of carefully considered recordings.  They want you to think that all those digital ones and zeros that comprise an MP3 can be tucked away and retrieved in a way that streamlines one’s life.

And now it turns out that the consumer doesn’t even own MP3s.  They are merely licensed for limited use.

Here’s a radical idea:  We propose that the CD – or what is abstractly labeled ‘Physical Product’ in the industry – is not dead. MP3s are yet another indication confirming the ugly truth that we have all been had – yet again – by an aggressive music industry campaign aimed at giving the consumer less quality for more money while paying recording artists less for their work.  And now we learn that the consumer really doesn’t even own the digital product.

Managing information stored on your ipod, computer hard drive, or dwelling in the mythical ‘cloud‘not only dupes the unwitting consumer, but it also dehumanizes the act of mindfully experiencing music.  And messing about with MP3s actually takes more time from your life than simply picking up a CD, playing it, and returning it to its place when done. These are physical and organizational acts that do not require learning and recalling a specialized sequence of menus and commands; punching a series of tiny buttons or smearing a miniscule display screen with greasy thumbprints. Despite what we are told by digital purveyors, taking a CD off the shelf, handling it, using it, enjoying it, and putting it away does not represent a series of hurdles and onerous indignities to be avoided or delegated; these are normal acts of a modern human being.

Besides, at least someone in the music industry is actually still making a bit of money on the CD format.

“It’s arguable that the CD will ever go away completely — at least within the next decade or two. Even if CD revenue drops 20% a year, the format will still have $217 million of revenues in 2023.”                                                                                                                                                                           – Glenn Peoples, Billboard

It’s true that CDs are more cumbersome to store than MP3s, and much less attractive than the LPs they replaced so many years ago.  Sure, plastic jewel cases are a nuisance at best, if not a downright environmental catastrophe at worst.  But playing a CD allows the listener to have a physical interaction with they way he or she chooses to hear music. A CD will reveal the coherence of a recorded program that may represent a theme or may have grown from a concert production that features an unfolding progression of music. A CD will provide notes and background information for the listener to read, react to, and perhaps be informed by perusing.

And, in case you are wondering, we have CDs available.

10 Comments
  1. Couldn’t agree more. I find I usually end up listening to the music from my computer (ripped from the CD to a lossless file), but I don’t buy digital music. It’s well worth while to own the CD even if for the liner notes booklet alone. And a PDF just isn’t the same. I also listen to Japanese pop music and recently imported a CD from one of my favourite groups, not knowing what to expect. It came in a trifold paper case, with a little poster, a drawing, a sheet of stickers (!) in one side, the liner notes beautifully hand-written and illustrated on the other side. A little cornucupia of delightful design. You can’t duplicate that with a digital file!

    There’s a good reason museums collect physical artifacts instead of just pictures of them.

    Really looking forward to your new CD. Should arrive any day now!

  2. Well, I have loved listening to your recording on my iPad, with excellent fidelity headphones. But if you ever release it on vinyl, I’ll be first in the queue!

  3. Stephen Fryer permalink

    There are still a lot of people who don’t have the kind of internet access to be able to download music, whether a speed issue or a cost per megabyte issue.

  4. Leonard Williams permalink

    Since the introduction of CDs, I’ve felt they offer the best option after vinyl and tape: the former being delicate and the latter having no discernible tracks. But if technology ever takes a tumble, who can make musical sense out of a binary string? In vinyl recordings, one can actually see the wave forms. As for the cloud–who really wants to store anything of value in a vaporous vault?!

  5. Dan permalink

    Great Saturday posting. I never “access” cloud music except through direct links to samples such as yours. “MP3″ procedures & paraphernalia are still experientially unknown to this luddite caveman. They would have to be thrust into my cold, dead hands. Nor do I own a cell phone.

    The CD may not be dead, or in danger of total obsolescence, but its wings have been severely clipped; part of the reason for the demise of my last day job (Amoeba Berkeley, my old customers say it’s just a skeleton of its former self).

    I know one elderly gentleman, an original bohemian painter in Santa Fe, who upgraded his ancient & huge 78 rpm opera collection straight to CD- quite skipping over entirely the new-fangled “long-playing” 33 rpm vinyl fad.

  6. I am about to release a CD and digital files myself, so this subject is at the top of my mind at the moment. As an artist, my main beef with the CD is the running time. Most musicians feel compelled to put out albums that take up the majority of the length of a CD. There are some projects that need to be a bit longer and many more would benefit from being shorter. In the digital world, why can’t an “album” be just five or six lute pieces that really work together well? Or perhaps a single sonata by Weiss (which might run 30 minutes)? In traditional media, EP-type projects were seldom taken as seriously as the “real” full length album, but without the artificial measurement of playback medium, there is no need for this constriction.
    As for liner notes – they should definitely be made available as a digital booklet. Pop musicians do this, and they usually fill them with fan-type stuff, like photos of the artist.

  7. Dan permalink

    Chris- I hear you; have had similar thoughts. As a former CD/Record/DVD salesman, I can tell you-even in the Classical & Jazz genres a great many of my customers bought music “by the pound” -if a CD didn’t have a full 79 minutes on it, no matter the content, style, whatever- they felt unbearably ripped off, cheated. Even if it was a deeply discounted used CD. I used to take pleasure with such folks informing them that I once spent $19+ for a brand new CD just for a single 5 minute track. (Clemens non Papa, “Canticum Canticorum”, a Song of Solomon bit) because I loved the music!

    The most user friendly CD format for me (as a consumer) was the attempt by some Jazz distributer/producers to re-market only single LPs, one at a time, on CD- no overload; but a complete “record”- and one doesn’t have to turn it over! They would even reproduce the old vinyl cover; art and notes, very cutely miniature- (Reading glasses a must!). My favorite for is Wes Montgomery’s “Willow Weep for Me”

  8. Lautenist permalink

    I still love the old vinyl recordings – the sound has been more lively, many covers have been pieces of art and some booklets which has been shipped with the LP have been amazing. And they still are.
    I restrained from CDs for a while. The praised “clear” sound sounded (and still does) innatural to me. In the meantime I got used to it and even enjoy them as some special kind of performance – rather imitating a “real programm”.
    MP3 is out of the question for me. Occassionally I am copying some music to MP3 for use in my car. I consider MP3 as result of a certain consumer mentality: “Consume and forget”. This might work for some modern music. But if you really listen to music you’ll get a relation to the music. Who ever could come into a relationship with a MP3?
    The best option still is to attend a concert – that’s what our music is made for – be it in a small or big venue. The same program will sound very different at different places – which adds very much to the music. Also, I enjoy the tiny imperfections occuring in live performances – that’s the difference to the innatural perfection of a recording. (on a recording mistakes are a nuisance, though).
    As an option for the future I think multimedia could be interesting. Although I dislike Sting’s Dowland attempts I enjoyed the effort to produce videos which not just transport the music but the mood of the piece, too.

  9. I buy CDs and rip them as Apple lossless format and listen from my computer or IPhone with a separate headphone amp and audiophile headphones. It sounds marvelous and is convenient and portable! You can have your cake and eat it too!

    For “life soundtrack” music a high bitrate mp2/AAC file can sound pretty great if encoded properly. The ITunes Plus format from Apple sound indiscernible from a 16/44.1 wav file in almost all typical listening environments.

    IMHO learning to manage your digital media, photos, movies and music are in fact normal acts of the modern human being. (hang with college students for awhile) When CDs first came out, we all had to learn how to use them. Which side up, handle by the edges, how to clean fingerprints or deal with skipping, new controls on a new CD player, etc.

    In addition, while I am as suspicious of music corporations as the next dude, I don’t think the record companies are duping us re: mp3s. Look at the sales figures. Downloads sales exceed CD sales by quite a margin, yes? They are meeting customer demand. And you can buy CDs online as easily as a download.

    Internet service providers are the ones making the big bucks off downloads. it’s all about bandwidth baby!

    • Thanks for your insights, Will. As always, your perspective bridges the gap betwixt generations, styles and taste. But it’s your unique perspective as an insider in the biz and a lover of technology. There’s nothing wrong with either of those contributing factors but there are those of us who cling to the idea of an authentic life in which people do real things that relate to cause and effect – things that represent reality within the scope of human interaction.

      My perspective is this: I simply don’t have an interest in the multitude of digital formats and the various types of non-interactive hardware required to collect and listen to music in 2013. That’s really the point that arises from my assertion that people have been duped into caring about this crap that they don’t really own anyway. Yes, I care about music. No, I don’t care how people listen to it. But I would rather they listen to live acoustic music or make their own, and I lament the fact that so much energy is devoted to the choices of digital formats and so little energy is devoted to developing musical skills in human beings.

      We both know people who have created an entirely false public image based on deceptive PR and spreading a great deal of money around into the hands of techies who are more than happy to reinforce the lie through digital wizardry. I know my perspective is unusual and I’m sorry to come off as a grouch, but I have no use for such phoniness, and the more time I spend concentrating on the aesthetics of the past, the less time I have to devote to playing with electronic distractions of the present.

      And I know mine is not a popular opinion but, although I like hanging around young people, I don’t see them as the arbiters of taste and certainly not the keepers of wisdom. They are the primary targets of the marketing moguls. I know young people to be unformed human beings who need guidance and positive example as they learn real skills that will not leave them helpless and floundering when the internet is down or the electricity isn’t working.

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