Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Music 2.0 and the Future of the CD

Has the era of the compact disc come to an end? That's what some have said in recent years and a year or so ago I might have agreed with them. In many of my recent blog posts and even reviews, I've felt quite comfortable in expressing my growing dissatisfaction with the quality of downloadable music. Has the quality gotten worse? No...on the contrary, the major outlets have actually increased the quality of the music offered. Be that as it may, most of the downloadable formats are still lacking when compared to their physical iterations.

For that spry demographic locked down to a parentally-distributed-weekly-allowance, it makes perfect sense to try to get as much of their favorite music as cheaply as possible. Downloading music is perfect for them and, of course, it's super-convenient and tailors well to our tendency for impulse purchases. For the iPod-generation, iTunes, Yahoo music, Wal Mart, Amazon and the gobs of other outlets, have become their primary means of getting the music they want...and however much I'd like to lump myself into that "younger" generation in any way possible, I have to face the fact that (perhaps) I'm not just not. Wait let me say that properly, "I am so not."

I don't even own a pure mp3 player. I listen to music in my car, on my PC, from my laptop, or on my home theater. Ok...so my blackberry plays music as does my PSP, but that isn't the primary reason for owning either of them. When I listen to music...I want CD quality, at the very least. Now my journey to dissatisfaction began, the first time I burned a CD compiled from mp3s and then played it my car or home theater.

The sound quality of downloaded music, more often than not, just doesn't hold up, especially if I have just listened to a proper compact disc just prior to this newly-created-one. While it isn't as irritating like the old days of going from listening to music on FM radio stations to AM (for you kids out there...those are two different bandwiths on this thing called a "radio" pronounced ray-dee-oh) but I start to experience the same feelings of general disgust and revulsion that the FM/AM transition used to cause in me.

I know the question popping into your brain right now, "So what's the big deal?" The big deal is that if I pay $7.00 or $10.00 for my music, regardless whether its a digital-download or physical product...I want to be able play as loudly as I like on whatever over-priced piece of electronics I so choose...sans the drop outs and other fidelity faux pas inherent to digitally crushing the music down to as few megabytes as possible. Such quality might suffice for the teen with subpar, earbuds plugged into his tiny little player hidden somewhere in his backpack or jacket pocket, but for those of us who listen to music on those big, noise-canceling, mongo earmuffs or through our 7.1 surround sound setups, 192 kbps just isn't going to fly.

So, I say that the future of the CD isn't as bleak as some, or even you, might believe. I see a world full of possibilities for the good old digital compact disc. Perhaps dvd-audio will thrive or perhaps hd-dvd-audio is on the horizon. Or maybe the bog standard compact disc will see a resurgence. If you are a fan of film or game music or a collector, then rejoice because that is where some of the most fertile ground still resides for discs. Just take the LORD OF THE RINGS COMPLETE RECORDINGS series as an example. In that series we get great packaging, great liner notes, high resolution audio...oh and tons of previously unreleased music! Well worth the $60. Grabbing a hold of this potential market we now have a STAR WARS: 30TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION and PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN COLLECTORS EDITION on the horizon. Each with heftier-than-average price tags...but again, probably well worth it for hardcore fans and collectors.

This is the future of the CD. Adding premium value into compact disc releases is how I see the CD remaining viable in terms of sales. Not only will we be able to get higher sound quality, but we can expect more interesting packaging, additional facts and information regarding the music, and other digitally collectible items. Sure. For the iPod-generation, all of this may seem worthless, if not completely out of their price range. The CD still has life left in it...perhaps not as prevelant as it was at the turn of the century, but there is still a gleam of hope reflecting off of these little shiny discs.

Long live the CD!

Christopher Coleman

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