Tuesday, April 10, 2007

In Defense Of: Compact Discs

I’m not sure how to approach this without coming off as a stodgy old coot.

Many people have been claiming that the days of owning a tangible item upon which your music arrives are soon to end. You can purchase nearly any song you want via I-tunes or record labels themselves these days. They offer instant delivery and you can bring thousands of tracks with you wherever you want to go. And that is great. It’s progress. It’s the American Dream. You can bet that when I go to work every morning, I have my headphones on and am oft seen rockin’ out as I stride to the el. But all those songs are also sitting on shelves in my home, eagerly awaiting their next spin on the stereo.

I still remember the first time I purchased a CD. Actually, it was eight of them and they were shipped from Columbia House in Terre Haute, Indiana. I sure was excited for what can now only be considered an embarrassing slate of albums (including such artistic endeavors as AC/DC’s “The Razor’s Edge”, Aerosmith’s “Pump”, and for some bizarre reason, Bell Biv DeVoe's "Poison"). In fact, I don’t think I own any of those original eight anymore. But you have to start somewhere, right? Since then I’ve purchased hundreds upon hundreds more. There are no consumer goods that will thrill me more. Some people get excited to buy clothing or shoes or furniture, but CDs have always been my cultural currency of choice. Some are signed by the musicians, and others have random stories of how I ran across them. I can still regale you with tales of stumbling upon, say, a copy of Living Colour’s “Vivid” for six dollars during a high school excursion to Iowa City. The used record store was on the upstairs level of a house, and on first post of the banister, there was a scoop of spaghetti. No plate or nothin’ – it was just hanging out there. What I’m trying to say is that CDs have character. They’re an actual thing. mp3s may be convenient and have their purpose, but they’re not real, are they?
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a holier than thou kind of thing. If you want to download everything directly to your computer, stealing it, buying it, whatever – go for it. I just can’t do it. And it’s not about the artwork, although I certainly appreciate that aspect. My collective set of discs is easily my most prized possession, the one I have worked the hardest to attain. I show it off to people when they come over, and tell them the spaghetti story if they happen to look at a Living Colour album.

Part of the thrill is the hunt, of course. Examining row after row of jewel cases might seem exhausting or tedious, but when you find something you were seeking, or something you weren’t even looking for in the first place, it’s like digging up buried treasure. Or better yet, when you experience a band’s live show, then gleefully buy their album at the merch table – you make your way home, knowing it’s way past bedtime, but you have to listen to that new release at least once before you conk out. You just can’t get those feelings with a downloaded electronic file. If you read here regularly, you'll know I am awfully excited to crack open a new disc, but seriously, who isn’t?
I realize that it is likely inevitable that we will go to a solely electronic approach for our music, particularly as the quality and accessibility improves. I just don’t want you young whippersnappers to remove CDs from production. We’d all be missing out. Now where’s my mush? And my pills?

1 comment:

biz said...

The cds do sound better than mp3s too! mp3s are crap.

...Although you need to be listening on a decent stereo to hear the difference, not crappy little computer speakers or the mp3 player "earbuds" that everyone has. I think one of the main problems with people having their music collection on mp3s is that they often don't bother with a setup using good speakers. It becomes more of an accessory to the computer and less about listening on the sound system. I am currently guilty of this myself. I've been meaning to set up a computer as a "song server" and have other computers connect to it and have my stereo connected as well, but this is a bit of a project and I haven't gotten around to it. So now I just been listening on crappy computer speakers.

While we're getting nostalgic for the old days, why stop with cds? A lot of older albums also still sound best on Vinyl. Most Beatles albums, for example, just sound better on the original LPs. I think this has to do with mastering techniques as much as anything inherently better sounding about records. I think when cds originally came out there must have been a rush to get old titles released on cd and they weren't well-mastered. There are quite a few production choices that go into the way a cd is mastered. A digital recording can sound pretty "cold" and artificial if it is done badly. The best way to hear the intent of the artist is to listen to the original vinyl.

anyway, that's my 2cents.

-b