A random look at the life and times of Jim Rising recovering radio addict and newspaper columnist.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

R.I.P. CD's

In my lifetime I have seen recorded music go through some pretty big changes, not all for the better.
45’s were my introduction to commercial recorded music. I bought them, played them to death on the family Hi-Fi and I thought they were just fine.
I would continue to play 45 RPM records for many years as a radio announcer. The biggest problem with 45’s on the radio was “cue-burn.”
When you ready a record for play on the air you rotate it until you hear the beginning on a “cue speaker” (off the air). Do this a few hundred times and you heard a hiss like sound at the beginning of the record. We used to joke that the reason for jingles was to hide the cue burn.
Lp’s were of course around and when I could afford them were added to the collection.
When I turned 16 and could drive the first thing I bought was an 8 track player. It was a miserable way to hear music. The tapes were bad quality and jammed frequently-there was no fast forward and there was the annoying “track change.” A small foil sensed when it was time to change to the next tracks. 8 tracks referred to the fact that there were 4 “programs” in stereo on a tape. The manufacturers would only put 15 minutes or so of tape on the cartridges so the foil would tell the playback heads to move to pick up the next part of the recording. Usually in the middle of “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”
The progression of recorded commercial music can be tracked at flea markets and yard sales. You don’t see many boxes of 8 tracks anymore. For some odd reason you do see LP’s and 45’s. Maybe because they were around for more years

Next came cassettes, a vast improvement over 8 tracks but they still sucked. At least you could fast forward and rewind. But the thin tape easily got fouled up and wore out pretty quickly. The quality sounded ok but the tape speed of 1 7/8 inches per second left a lot to be desired. And they were HISSY. If you spent money on a good system the hiss really became annoying. You see lots of cassettes at flea markets.

CD’s came into their own in the early 80’s. I installed the first CD player in the radio station control room (it’s cost $800 bucks!) and we made a big deal about it. The very first song we played (“Something about you”-Level 42) skipped. But CD’s were a big improvement over any other format. The frequency response seemed to be better and they were not susceptible to “cue burn!” Of course now we know that the early CD’s were really not that great-some even were made by using LP records as the masters. And now there is a “retro” movement back to vinyl with some purists vowing that LP’s sound better.

I write this little elementary examination on recorded music in my lifetime to make a point. The wheel has turned once again and it’s my judgment that soon CD’s will as obsolete as 8 tracks.

Here’s some support data: The Nielsen Soundscan shows that CD sales from January to June 2008 declined 16.3%. It’s still healthy at 172 million but digital is up 35% in the same time frame.

Digital music is worse than cassettes but no one cares. We have now a generation of music listeners who were weaned on I pods and other crappy MP3 type players. The sound is NOT as good as CD's but when you are listening on cheap computer speakers or shitty ear buds you wouldn’t know it.

Aftermarket stereo systems for cars are all but history. The new listener’s plug the I pod into the dash and think the factory system sounds fine. Why pay more?

But here is the real reason I think CD’s are toast.

On vacation last week the new Rick Springfield CD came out. He’s on a major label (Universal) again. The long suffering wife has been a fan since Rick sang “Speak to the sky” so of course we had to get it.

I could have downloaded it for 9.99 on I-tunes but she wanted the artwork.

So we shopped.

We went to Kmart and found the music department but couldn’t find it. Never mind that, we couldn’t find ANY CD’s. Asked a clerk who said “Well they used to be over here.”

Went to Borders. They had one copy (we needed two) for $16.99.

Next door was a Best Buy. They had loads (In an end aisle display yet) for $11.99.
We returned the Borders copy.

My point here is this. If one of the world’s largest retailers, K-Mart, has 86’d CD’s how long before Wal-Mart and the rest follow suit?

And would Mr. Average consumer have stopped at three places for what is after all a luxury digressionary income type purchase? And why the wide swing in stock and price? Rick Springfield is not a huge artist anymore I know but he has a huge and active fan base and is on the daytime soap “General Hospital” so you would think maybe he could sell a few, would you not? And the buyers of CD’s are now almost all my age (and the long suffering wife’s age) and don’t want to download it. We want to buy CD’s! Why is it so hard?

Digital music will be the norm in the coming years. It reminds me of the old saw: “You can have it cheap, good or fast-Pick 2. Fast and good, it won’t be cheap. Cheap and good, it won’t be fast. Cheap and fast it won’t be any good.”

Cheap and fast is what prerecorded music (read: the record companies) has chosen.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting blog! I too, had to comb various record stores for the new Rick Springfield CD. Some stores said they had it in stock but did not even have the CD out on display when I arrived to buy it. Best Buy should know better. Others must have underestimated the numbers of Rick's current fanbase and the aggressive promotion on part of Rick for this new release.

I always prefer the actual CD versus itunes because I like the artwork etc, even though it is not as large as when records were the norm. I also downloaded itunes for one 'bonus' song titled 'Pretty Little Mess'. Of course, I had to download the whole CD just to get this one song, but I am a big enough fan of Rick and his music that I happily spent another $10.00 if it meant it would help him chart and more people could hear and enjoy his music.


Anonymous said...

It's true you can't really get or
play 8 tracks anymore. I just HAD
to have on in my car, too. Hated it after. Geeks of the day
opened them up to fix them, even splice them together to save a buck! I'm like your wife. I LIKE the artwork and details of who worked on an album, individual song. So if albums become all digital? Tell me, will my grankids
in their 40's be able to play my
music from my old iPod? I still have a few cherished 78 rpm vinyl
albums from my grandfather and my
dad's youth days. I don't mind the
"cue" hiss and pops either so long as a lyric doesn't skip! My hope is that someone remembers to archive, preserve and make available the vast library of music out there digital makes possible. Crappy sound aside.