Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Saving the Music CD

I think I have figured it out. 

It came to me yesterday as I was thinking about writing a blog post about the CD. Why is this music format dying when it is certainly a better sounding product than MP3, and it’s something you can hold in your hand. It's something you can really own.

But is it special enough in a day and age when every song is at your fingertips on any device?

And why is the CD section at Walmart and Best Buy tiny, but the section for DVDs and BluRays is HUGE?

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Ask anyone what they think of CDs and you will get dozens of different answers. Here are just a few from a recent informal Facebook poll to people inside, and outside the music industry, professionals, semi-professionals, and plain old music lovers.

“I never buy them anymore and wish I didn't have to manufacture them, though reading lyrics in a paper booklet is more satisfying than reading them online.”

“I still like CDs, still use them and still buy them.  I'm a bit old school this way.  So much is online and digital nowadays, that I find it refreshing to have a tangible, physical product to handle."

“I think CDs should be made if the booklet and the cd art is worth it. If musicians take the time to produce something better than a cheap case with a thin cover insert, then it’s worth it.”

"I pretty much only buy a CD - signed if possible - at live performances. Then I stream or or rip the CD on my computer."

"I still like them because they are tangible and they sound better than mp3s. Plus the liner notes are still used in some."

"I'm one of those people who still like to hold something in their hand, read the liner notes, and look at (and sometimes critique) the artwork."

"I use Spotify as the “audition process”, and to keep up with what’s current. However, anything that is IMPORTANT to me, I buy a physical copy on disc for 1) quality and 2) liner notes. Same process with movies and DVD/BluRay."

"It’s not dead. Not everyone uses the internet for music. I am still designing CD packages for tons of clients. Many artists still need for merch at shows, and tangible product for release. In the personal realm of live bands I frequent with long time devoted fans, the fans love the digital downloads, but they also love the tangible merch, CDs, Vinyl, and box sets, etc. for collecting and for practical listening."

“Probably dead by 2020."

"I read that soon Apple will be phasing out direct download sales and doing only streaming."

If you read between the lines of these quotes (about a tenth of what I actually got), you can see some ways that the compact disc could be saved from oblivion.

People still like tangible things

People still want something tangible. In Japan, the CD business is still booming because their culture values the tangible as well as the intangible. Artists still must have a way to physically sell or give people their music at their concert or as an example of their work. Those CDs may be ripped and thrown away, but at least the artist makes something or achieves a fan because of it.

Downloads may go away

There are rumors that Apple is considering phasing out iTunes and download sales in favor of concentrating on streaming. We all know Apple's readiness to move on to new tech even though many still like the old tech (goodbye headphone jack!) But ther is data that says this could be in the future. After years of download outpacing physical sales, the tables are turning. Digital download sales are falling faster than physical sales.

This in itself may help the CD (and vinyl LP) continue to be useful in the future. And if there are only two ways you can get music (streaming or physical) then more people may choose CDs and vinyl.

Devices are still plentiful to listen to CDs

Sure, some cars may not have CD players anymore and pair easily with phones. But Playstations, Xboxes, BluRay Players, and more all still being made every year by the hundreds of thousands and STILL play the CD format. Plus, even in my 2015 car with Bluetooth tech, there was a CD player. And every car before that! Plus people still have use and buy stereos and boomboxes. Despite the overwhelming techie people I got responses from, not everyone is up on the latest technology. Don't forget about half of the people out there don't know or care what Spotify even is! They are going to have a way to play a CD and still buy these units (as well as even VCRs!!) at flea markets, thrift shops, etc.

DVDs and BluRays still sell by the truckload

If you’ve been to any Best Buy or Walmart you know that CDs occupy a very small section, but video titles are everywhere. I think there is a very big reason for this: You get more when you buy a video. Think about it. With a Blu-ray or DVD you not only get the disc (or two discs), you also usually get a free download of the movie, you get tons of extras like gag reels, deleted scenes, commentary on how they made the movie, behind the scenes features, games, and more.

So if you take all the reasons above, especially the last one, and add them together, there is a simple and elegant solution to how CDs can make a comeback.

Every CD needs to be a Special Edition

It used to be enough in the 80s and 90s to buy a CD because the sound was so significantly better than terrible cassettes, the radio, or our old scratched up LPs. But that is just not enough anymore. The very nature of the CD needs to change.

Just like DVDs and BluRays offer you more than you get if you watch the movie on Netflix or rent it somehow, CDs need to include extras that you can't get on Spotify or iTunes.

This isn't a new thing, but it needs to be a new standard! We need to have songs, and alternate mixes, and instrumental mixes that are only available on the CD.

Also, we should be giving away FREE downloads inside every CD. Not sure if it's a download card or code to CDBaby or a private code to Dropbox for the MP3s of each song. It doesn't matter because it's easy to rip the songs off the CD (and most people throw it away then.) And why not, they bought the physical version, they should have the digital easily for that purchase.

We need to make art for the CD (even the cover) that is different and unique from the art we use for digital sales and streaming. Unique art that people may want to keep because they can't get it anywhere else. Similar to how they like to keep LPs because they are unique art pieces. Maybe our CD packaging needs to change to something larger? Something that rivals the size of vinyl that can be displayed.

Maybe we also include a DVD with music or lyric videos (with links to downloads or YouTube links.) Yes it may be more expensive, but are we trying to sell a product that people want? Or just a physical version of what they can already get online without any extra effort or space or waste?

Folks, one of our main problems in this world is there is starting to be a lack of scarcity. At first it seems like a great thing to have anything you want anytime you want it. But if you do, then nothing is worth anything. But if something is scarce, and there are only 100-1000 copies of this unique thing you can't get on Spotify, iTunes, or any other digital service, THEN we have a special product that may be in demand again.

Not JUST a CD with the songs (that is exactly what you'd get from the service you already pay), but a different product you only get from buying the CD.

THAT is why people wait for the BluRay sometimes instead of even going to the theater!!

THAT is how your Special Edition CD that's only available at your shows, or at Amazon, or CDBaby, or your web site will sell and people will not just say "Nah, I can just stream it."

Starting Today...

Every CD project that comes out from Creative Soul Records, Creative Soul Jazz, or our other entities will be "Special Editions". They will include download links to every song. They will feature extra tunes, alternate mixes, and instrumentals that aren't released to digital service (either for a limited time or forever.) They will have unique cover art that is not released online to the digital services. They will be "special" and your fans will want them because they can't get these extras online.

I think this is the way we can save the CD format.

"The scarcity of the music not only makes the music itself enjoyable but it also gives the collector a strange sense of superiority." - Henry Rollins

Who's with me?

Have a great week!

Eric Copeland is president of Cre8iv Entertainment which includes Creative Soul Records, Creative Soul Jazz, Positive Spin Music, and more. Find out more at cre8iv.com


  1. I really like this post. I am also in the group of those who will go see a movie, or download a song then purchase the CD. I love to play what I call my old CD classics from collection, and still search for them online.

    1. I really think the answer is that the CD must become what the movie or BluRay or vinyl is: something different than what is online. There is a reason for the experience of it, because it brings something that can't be obtained online. It is a collector's item.

  2. I think tangible is wonderful. I went to the Hillsong concert last night and the "lines" at the Merch table were LONG... They along with other artist "Newsboys, Lauren Daigle, Merci Me and many others" I've seen this year ,still sell CD's! Immediate and now "in hand" is still what people ask for.

  3. I like this post. I sit with my 900+ CDs at home and, with few exceptions, I'm glad that I bought all of them and I can remember why I bought them. I'm sad to think that they would be consigned to history.