Hot and cold running music

I understand the draw of the physical purchase. I dig the appeal of the sleeve notes. I totally get the joy of ownership. But I wonder — how much longer are you going to have to keep making CDs?

I’m not a fan of the CD format. I understand why other people appreciate its convenience, but for me, it’s a bucket in which to carry home the music. Once I get it there, I empty the bucket out into my computer, and then I’m left with a useless receptacle. Mostly, I hand the disc onto someone else, take it down the Oxfam or throw it away.

Let’s think about that bucket metaphor a bit longer. It’s as if there’s a well of music down in the village high street where I collect my music. I draw it up from the well, and take it home to use (actually, I tend not to buy CDs — a point I’ll return to — but for the sake of the analogy, let’s pretend).

Now that so many people have broadband plumbing, the bucket is less important than it once was. You can fill your own buckets (ie: burn your own CDs — see how this metaphor thing works?) to go and do things outside, but when you’re at home, they’re just taking up space.

But a lot of people like the bucket. They’ve invested so much in collecting them, it would be a major drama to switch entirely over to the internal plumbing and the 160GB USB external hot water cylinder.

I was lucky. I moved to the other side of the world a couple of years back, and that made it the perfect time to reappraise my attachment to the physical disc and its annoyingly breakable plastic case. As a matter of necessity, everything was transferred to hard drive and the CDs themselves were dispatched with.

I think for most consumers of music media, this will be a longer process. We’re starting to see it happen — as digital downloads increase, sales of CDs decrease — but there is naturally an emotional and conceptual attachment to the physical disc and its packaging.

But interestingly, vinyl is on the upswing. I know I buy vinyl whenever possible, and that’s not just because I’m old and nostalgic, and nor simply because I’m a DJ.

Vinyl is again becoming the format of choice for serious music collection and ‘full focus of attention’ music consumption. The rise in record sales is not being reflected particularly well in the international literature, because counting systems such as Soundscan don’t factor in the smaller independent record stores, where most of the vinyl is being purchased.

In fact, according to this article in the Billings Gazette, a growing number of labels are choosing to release as digital downloads for the general consumer and as vinyl records for the DJ and connoisseur. They’re starting to skip the CD all together.

Some people, though a diminishing amount, still insist on the compact disc as their preferred music entertainment platform, but its popularity is starting to wane in the face of the convenience of downloads and the richness of the physical experience and collectibility of vinyl.

Which, when you translate it back to the water analogy, is like acknowledging that people have plumbing for everyday drinking, washing, cooking and bathing, but sometimes they like to sit down and consume bottled sparkling mineral water.

Pretty much nobody’s using buckets from the well these days.

4 thoughts on “Hot and cold running music

  1. Jim says:

    a lot of truth in what you say as ever mr dubber, and kinda depressing reading too. i don’t care for CDs, buy them as a last resort and theres very few i feel much of an attachment for. mp3’s, particularly low quality ones, i feel even less for, it’s convenience gone mad and quality gone AWOL, but unavoidable.

    the vinyl is growing thing i don’t really believe, it was, but the massive use of serato scratch live has seriously seen that off. a little firm from nz in combination with a superlative dj mixer company has (unintentionally) probably done more to finish vinyl off than the combined efforts of the majors, in the days when cd was the new aggro kid on the block. it’s clever technology, though having used it extensively (and thankfully not relied on it fully) i can’t help but feel it’s like a vegetarian sausage, the best it can ever be is short of a real sausage, my records will still sound better no matter what bitrate. getting off topic but when they make that veggie sausage a GE one (ie you could have 3 virtual turntables on your laptop with fx etc running off two actual decks) it will be very hard to argue with.
    returning to the point… i was discussing this same thing a couple of days ago with a friend in the industry in the states, when i said download and vinyl seemed the smart combination he said thats exactly what a couple of major hiphop labels were looking at with heavilly invested releases that haven’t exactly fired up the street anticipation. it all seems very inevitable though much as i dislike the cd i don’t see a much healthier future this way either.

  2. thewalker says:

    first time i have really not agreed with your point dubber.

    1. cds still MASSIVELY out sell every other format.
    2. yes, the compression/quality is still pretty iffy.
    3. records just are not that durable (and i have thousands), and sometimes it can be a pain turning them over(other times its a joy….)
    4. mp3 etc quality can be a LOT worse more often than every other format.
    5. cds are the smallest durable format(for the time being..), they provide the ultimate backup.
    6. cds allow far easier hifi output. true stereo integration is a ling way away.
    7. broadband is no way near that common. yet

    there will be a change, someone will sell cds with lossless files ready to transfer incorporated,or universal memory sticks preloaded with music, or a kick arse stereo component with flexible input to futureproof digital sales,

    of course i should take into account that muchof the music i like/consume is far less throwaway than many peoples taste…..

  3. and some people will still buy bottled water, even when it comes out of the tap. Some people make a lot of money out of bottling tap water and selling it to people. But on the subject of cds and jewel cases, your packaging must be interesting, add value, worthwhile, whatever you call it, there should be lots of info to read, pictures, fold out bits, and you should make your cd and case as interesting as possible, and the right price, and your downloads could also be reasonably priced.perhaps you can stay in the game…..a short while longer…..oh yeah and posting cds to russia or indonesia or new zealand is cheaper by far than posting double gatefold vinyl….so again it depends on where your market is and also what they have access to. Not everyone has access to downloads and some people like to send cash by post as a swap for all sorts of cds…or things to pirate….and sell on….

  4. Steve Smith says:

    Andrew Dubber, the bucket comparison works only if the bucket is empty when you dump it into your computer. But it is not. What if the broad band plumbing goes out or what if your “cistern” you call a computer cracks and all the “musical water” you’ve collected seeps into the ground (or into thin air) if you tossed the bucket (which is still intact) you are going to have to go out and buy a new one and all the “water” you had in your computer. I am all for digital distribution. But I am never going to rely on it as a substitute for the bucket, my buckets are in safe keeping in my basement just incase of a drought.

    Even when I purchase online music I make a hard copy. For safe keeping. To me it is just as easy to buy a full bucket than to buy the water and have to make a bucket to keep it in for safe keeping.


    Blind Buckets , I mean Records