R.I.P. CDs


I bought a CD last night. (Rock guitar instrumentalist Joe Satriani’s latest release, if you must know. But I digress already.)

I bought it because even though I listen to tons of music digitally (streaming, and in my 15-year-old iTunes library), I just like having a real, physical copy of my music. It’s tactile. Reliable. I don’t have to worry about syncing up my phone’s Bluetooth, wondering if I’m over my data limit, figuring out which streaming service to use, etc.

The irony for me is that, for all its supposed simplicity,  digital music delivery is, well, complicated. A CD? I just put it in my car’s stereo, and it plays. Easy, peasy, right?

Well, yeah, whatever, buddy. The metaphorical meteor of digital music hit years ago, and only a few of us old, old-school dinosaurs still prefer such archaic delivery methods.

There are apparently so few of us, in fact, that Best Buy announced this week that it’ll soon cease selling CDs altogether.  July 1 will be the last day you can buy one at the chain. Meanwhile, Target has demanded that music labels essentially treat their CDs as being on consignment: If they don’t sell, Target ships them back and makes the labels eat the cost, instead of the store itself.

CD sales, of course, have been slipping for most of this millennium. First it was illegal downloads eating into the numbers. (Napster, anyone?). Then legal streaming.

Now, a whole generation is arriving that may never actually own or pay for any music at all. It’s a foreign concept to them. Because once you give something away, it’s very difficult to convince people that they need to pay for it ever again.

Music formats, of course, have changed almost since records arrived. We went from 78s to 45s, to “long play” albums (that’s what the album synonym LP stands for, by the way), to 8-tracks, to cassettes, to CDS to our current digital platforms. At any point in music history, one format has almost always been on the way in, another heading toward the door. (AM radio is currently in similar death throes, with FM not far behind it in some places.)

Still, I can’t help but feel a bit sad about the CD’s continuing implosion. I like the nostalgia of actually owning my music, and its associated album covers and liner notes. It feels … real.

Streaming? It doesn’t feel real. It feels virtual. Transitory. Unimportant.

Apart from my nostalgia, though, what are the practical implications of this ongoing shift?

I think the biggest one is that the transition to the seamless streaming of digital music anywhere, anytime makes it more challenging for parents, especially, to know what their kids are listening to. Once upon a time, we at least had those album covers and lyrics to look at. You had some idea of what your tween or teen might be listening to because, well, the CD jewel case was right there.

Now? That stuff’s all virtual. (Well, except for the unlikely resurgence of vinyl among those who’ve rediscovered how much better real records actually sound. But that is another column for another day.)

What that means for parents is that if you want to know what your children are into, musically speaking, you’re going to have cultivate a relationship with them to find out. You’re going to have to enter into their world and ask them, What are you listening to? Who are you into these days? And given the vast panoply of music floating out there in the digital ether, there’s a pretty good chance you won’t have heard of most of the artists they might mention.

I’m nostalgic by nature, and I’ll quietly mourn the passing of this medium a bit. (And I might frequent independent record stores a bit more on those occasional days when I want an honest-to-goodness copy of the new Joe Satriani CD.) But as far as my kids are concerned, it’s a whole new world … and one that I’m going to have to engage with very intentionally as they get older.

Who wrote this?

Adam R. Holz is a senior associate editor for Plugged In. He also writes for Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine and has been a Boundless contributor. In his free time (which there is sometimes precious little of) Adam enjoys playing guitar and constructing LEGO kits with his son. Adam and his wife, Jennifer, are the proud parents, in fact, of three children, one boy and two girls.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

GeorgiaMan42 More than 1 year ago
I love being able to get virtually (no pun intended) any song or album I want in the matter of a few seconds (for a song) or minutes (for an album) any time I want. I also enjoy not having to find a place to store the CD's or vinyls. On the plus side, since mine and my son's music accounts are linked he can't download a song without me knowing it. Plus, the newer songs also provide the lyrics so I can read them if there's something questionable BEFORE confronting my son about inappropriate lyrics.

That being said, I do agree that CD's and vinyls sound better and the fact that something else from my childhood is going the way of the dinosaur, rotary phone, and "rabbit ears" is just another way to remind me I'm getting older. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The thing I like about a streaming service is the ability to share what I'm listening to with friends. I like hard copies too and right now the thrift stores have plenty of em 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Forgive this slippery slope, but I feel like I'll live to see the day in which nearly EVERYTHING goes virtual. Virtual holidays. (Wow! Never knew how great the beach was! I can almost feel the sand under my feet!) Virtual jobs. Virtual schools. Virtual friends. Virtual parents. Virtual clothes. (Alexa, I want to wear Gucci and Michael Kors today.) Virtual food? ...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Completely agree!  I'm the same with video games and books as well.  I want something to put on a shelf.  You know?  Those wooden things with the slots on it?  I also detest the digipacks (cardboard cases) that are used instead of the traditional jewel CD cases.
Roger Chaplin More than 1 year ago
Besides the "realness" of having the physical media (which I, too, like) there are quality issues with streaming. Even my own CD collection, ripped to FLAC, uploaded to Google, and streamed through their music player, sound muffled and distorted. For listening in the car it's okay, but I listen through a good pair of headphones while working and I just can't tolerate the awful sound quality I get from streaming.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Is Joe Satriani the best?  Thanks for the news of his new CD, download, stream?  LOL!
Andrew Gilbertson More than 1 year ago
As another physical-media 'dinosaur,' I continue to lament this; especially as a sci-fi fan, the list of lost things (the third Stargate SG-1 movie and Atlantis movie, HD Remastering of Star Treks Deep Space Nine and Voyager, the decline and slow extinction of behind the scenes features and other in-depth bonus material, etc.) that have been axed due to the 'physical media is dead' mentality continues to grow; perhaps it will begin to extend into the music industry now, too. I wonder how much more we will miss out on due to this ongoing shift?

I agree completely that 'I like the nostalgia of actually owning my music, and its associated album covers and liner notes. It feels … real.

Streaming? It doesn’t feel real. It feels virtual. Transitory. Unimportant.'

For me, that captures it exactly. Not to mention the dozens of niche scores and albums that I own that don't stream anywhere, the excitement of popping in a newly-purchased album, the joy of experiencing a collection in-order and as the makers crafted it instead of as isolated tracks in a randomized playlist... and the pleasure of knowing it's mine perpetually, and not subject to internet outages or streaming-service-rights-expirations.
E Hayes More than 1 year ago
I couldn't afford CDs as a teenagers, so even though I'm a millenial I feel like the fact I can finally buy some of the ones I wanted kind of makes me feel like I've "made it" in society.  
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Some see this as a good thing, if  stores like Walmart and Best Buy  don't get CD early, then the CD's don't leak and get online early. I am a little sad however, as I like getting CDs and agree with Adam's sentiments. 
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Last year I got a free two month subscription to SiriusXM when I purchased a new car. The sound quality was so poor I cancelled the next day. Literally worse than FM or a poorly encoded MP3. 

The only thing it has going for it is the variety, but I can easily listen to anything I want at much higher quality via Spotify or Apple Music.