The Rise And Fall Of The Music Industry: The CD

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Liza Edwards is a journalism student at City University in London, as part of her course she was given an assignment on the music industry, which she asked us here at music.co.uk to contribute to. Her assigment was titled ‘The Rise And Fall Of The Music Industry’, and Liza chose to focus on the demise (or not) of the Compact Disc. We’re pleased to announced that Liza achieved a First (top marks) for her article, and has agreed to let us publish her work for all to see! We hope you all enjoy her excellent work!

Twenty-eight years ago this month, Philips launched its compact disc in the UK which was hailed “the most significant advance in recorded sound in the gramophone’s 100 year history”.  But that was when Margaret Thatcher won a landslide victory in the elections, Michael Jackson’s Thriller album was first broadcast and a pint of beer cost less than a pound.  The compact disc revolutionised the way we recorded and listened to music, but just like the calculator, watch, and the moonwalk, is it time to say goodbye to our dated friend and if so, what exactly is it being ousted by?

The internet has certainly revolutionised the music industry.  Downloads now account for 96 per cent of singles sales. The advent of streaming sites like Spotify, Pandora and Napster, which allow users to listen to music without downloading it, has removed the need for consumers to buy and store CDs. Philips now sells products that allow listeners to stream music from these sites straight into their Hi Fi system. But can these virtual solutions be any substitute for the classic compact disc?

Danny McMillan, Managing Director of Rivmixx, a music industry-based networking site, rarely buys CDs.  He said: “A lot of the time I would get home and think I’ve just spent £14.99 on this album and I only like two of the records.  If you go to ITunes, you can buy them for 99p and actually choose the ones you want.”

While single sales via download are increasing, Danny says the album market is damaged: “Artistry goes into the concept of an album, because they all have concepts. You have a theme and a running order. It’s really important, for a great album, to have the order in the right place, because that’s some of the magic as well, how the album builds, progresses, drops off again, and picks up again at the end.  It tells a story.  Story telling has gone, it’s in the hands of the consumer now.

“Music has moved to what’s called cloud technology. You don’t necessarily own it, you’re leasing it.  Technology is moving really, really fast and it’s getting a lot more interesting.  The middle ground seems to be finding the models like Spotify – it’s a compromise. This means people use peer to peer less [illegal file sharing]and go and stream legally. I know the music industry is on its knees, but that’s because for 100 years or so it’s been working on the same model.”

Danny believes, however, that consumers have more to gain when it comes to modern ways of engaging with the music scene. Sites like Twitter, for example, where fans can read their favourite artist’s daily musings, are closing the gap between the artist and their fan-base.

He said: “Last year the music industry changed their attitude towards Twitter, from ‘I’m just going to the toilet’ to ‘I’m going to use this as a marketing tool’.  Now you don’t get a physical product, you get a physical presence – the artist is the product itself.  The physical product is now the communication, with the music becoming a by-product of that.  It’s like you can suddenly touch the person now, whereas before it was mythical.  Instead of selling the music, you’re selling the essence of everything in and around the music itself.”

This may be so, but the exodus of CD purchasers has clearly had a detrimental affect on record shops.  The Entertainment Retailers Association, a UK-based trade organisation whose members include heavyweights like HMV and Amazon, has estimated that 1,600 music stores have closed in the UK during the last five years.  If trends continue, all record shops could close within the decade.  Despite these alarming figures, millions of CDs are still sold every day (albeit mostly online) and some fans remain fiercely loyal to their shiny disc collections.

Craig Jones, founder of Rock Links, a music company that promotes unsigned bands, believes CDs will “stay forever”.  He said: “Just look at the older vinyl and tapes that are still knocking round.  I personally do still buy CDs. When I download I always feel a little ripped off.  At least when you buy a CD you physically have something for your money”.

Lauren John, music journalist at music.co.uk, also still buys CDs.  “I like to buy compilations to read sleeve notes and look at the artwork.  If I really like the act I buy their album, if I like the odd song I buy a download.  I also think it’s useful to have a good quality, hard copy back-up of an album, so it’s always there, no matter what happens to your computer.  CDs have their place and I’d hate to see them die out,” she said.

Tina Withington, spokesperson for Philips UK, said: ‘Most of our range still includes CD playback, even the new Streamium products. We believe in offering consumer choice, but also, many of our consumers still have massive CD collections that they wish to play at home or in the car – even those that enjoy the benefits of ripping CDs to hard drive.  Therefore having a physical music collection is still important to many consumers who will ultimately decide the pace of change.”

CDs are not dead yet, but halting the high-speed train that is the technological revolution would be very difficult.  It may take a few generations, but if trends continue we will see less and less of the CD and it will quietly take its place in the nostalgic pages of our memory – like owning a black and white television, repairing an electrical appliance or developing photo film.

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