Monday, June 18, 2018

In defence of compact discs

Streaming rules the roost, the vinyl revival is in full swing and cassette culture is back (in the underground, at least). But what of the fall guy of the format wars? In an article for the Quietus, James Toth has offered an excellent defence of "unfashionable, unsexy" CDs, arguing that the supposed reasons for their obsolescence are very much exaggerated and that in many ways they represent the best of all worlds.

While acknowledging that CDs are unlikely ever to acquire the collectability of vinyl and also lack the same level of visual and aesthetic appeal, Toth notes that they're more practical, portable and cheaper than records, and also flags up the fact that having whole albums on one side (rather than having to find somewhere to insert a side break - often impossible to do without being intrusive) can be a definite advantage.

Compared to streaming, meanwhile, CDs are largely of identical sound quality but also allow old-school materialists like me the opportunity to physically possess the music they love. As Toth astutely observes, those who are keen to kill off physical formats, such as Apple, are "counting on it not occurring to you that if you purchase a CD or record, you own it forever; if you're willing to pay for monthly access to it, you're paying for it forever".

And the benefits of CDs aren't only for the listener. The cost and time consumed by the process of pressing vinyl copies has prompted some musicians to return to releasing material on cassettes. CDs, too, are quick and easy to reproduce.

I'll admit that part of my appreciation for Toth's piece is that I was one of those who, like him, "came of age as consumers alongside the rise of the format". I've never been a vinyl junkie and use streaming services with a degree of self-loathing. While I have a sizeable cassette collection (which has been slowly degrading over the years), CDs have always been my primary means of consuming music and, unlike (it seems) everyone else, I've never stopped buying them. If the CD does indeed come back from the (near-)dead, then for once I can claim to have been ahead of the curve.


skif said...

Must admit I'm one of those that have fallen out of love with CDs - once I burned them all off - it felt like they were just clutter. Thus most of mine have disappeared via Discogs.

Becoming a bit of a vinyl junkie of late makes me value 'the album' rather than just play-listing my favourite tracks. Especially as I'm far less inclined to go to gigs than I was* - the collecting instinct has shifted to flipping through LPs in second hand shops.

That's just me though, I'm certainly not a snob about it - the end of the day it's still just a love of music manifesting itself.

*That said, much as I can't be arsed most of the time these days, I am nonetheless doing a coach based round trip to the Brudenell Social Club to see Low tonight. Great band, great venue - worth the horrors of the night coach home.

Ben said...

I can definitely see myself as a vinyl junkie, if I had been born a few years earlier or had more disposable cash now. Would make me even less popular around the house, though, given that records take up even more room than CDs...