Requiem for the Compact Disc

cdChet Flippo comes not to praise the compact disc, but to bury it and dance upon its grave:

Well, it is time to write an obituary for the compact disc. It’s trying to hang on, but the poor critter has just plain outlived its usefulness. Although just how useful it turned out to be is open to debate…

On a personal level, I will not miss CD. From the onset, I didn’t like the packaging or the more compressed sound or the increasing lack of liner notes and album art. And, I especially didn’t like the price. An $18.98 or so list price for 10 or 12 songs (especially when many of those were dross surrounding singles) never struck me as a fair deal.

Flippo goes on to praise vinyl records and the possibilities of having entire label catalogs available for download.

I’ve long since switched to downloading new music, though I still purchase used CDs often and receive most promotional music in that format as well. I think Flippo misses out on some of the amazing advantages that came with the CD. The continuity of an entire album not split up into sides, the convenience for listening to music in the car, and the ability to store large amounts of music in a smaller space are just a few advantages brought by the CD.

When I think about it, I don’t know of a way that I could have transferred all of my music on to an iPod so easily if it hadn’t all been on CD in the first place. So while I’m leaving the CD behind,  I don’t share Flippo’s hostility for the format.

What do you think about compact discs – thank you and good night, or goodbye and good riddance?


  1. While I definitely enjoy the advantages of digital music and have pretty much switched over to it, with the exception of promotional albums and gifts, I say “Thank you and goodnight”, as you put it. There’s still something to be said about having the hard copy and if it wasn’t for space, pricing and instant gratification, I’d have stuck with that form. As it is, I only got into digital music within the last year. There are times when I still wish I was collecting CDs, but the convenience of digital is too enticing.

  2. The so called “death of the CD” would be the death of the album as an art form…I’m not as convinced as Flippo that it’s demise is inevitibible. I think he is HOPING his prediction is true, he seems to want his statement to become a self-fullfilling prophecy and wants to hasten the CD’s demise.

    Granted, liner notes are smaller than vinyl, but do downloads have any liner notes at all?

    I have read statements by some of my favorite recording artists decrying the trend towards downloading as threatening the integrity of the album as a cohesive whole, and it’s existence as an artform. Some artists are well known for concientiously putting together album masterpieces with no filler, and focusing on thematic unity of their collections of 10 to 18 songs per disc. It would be a crime, for example, to pick apart and cannibalize Patty’s Mountain Soul, or Kathy Mattea’s Coal.

    As for the annoyance of the plastic jewel cases, why not go with the cardboard containers that have only a single plastic tray for the disc inside? These are convenient and easy to open, and more and more artists and labels seem to be using them..

    A future without CDs (or even cassettes or vinyl LPs for that matter) would be a future where only those with access to computers, or only those with computer literacy and proficiency would be able to enjoy the ownership of music…It would be undemocratic.

    Why not keep both avenues, downloading AND CDs ?! Music should be available to ALL, not just the technical elites.

  3. I’m not sure how I triple posted here, Kevin, could you delete the first two? I apologize, I think something happened when I was trying to edit…I clicked on the “X” to top the loading so I could add comments…but something went wrong. Again, my apologies.

  4. @ Steve from Boston:

    I totally agree with all your points. When an artist comes out with an album/CD, I want to hear the whole thing cover to cover. One of these days, I might get into downloading–but for me, that day isn’t here yet.

    And I also don’t buy into the idea that a CD is just ten or twelve songs that serve as filler to hit singles. I believe in looking past the hits to other songs on the album and finding hidden gems, especially when the artist has a proven track record. For instance, when I did my Favorite Songs By Favorite Artists segment on Linda Ronstadt last month, of the 25 songs of hers that I chose, twelve of them were album tracks. If you’re enterprising enough a listener, and I think the vast majority of us are, then you go beyond just what the record company or some radio programmer wants you to hear. You trust the artist.

  5. Excellent points Erik, trust the artist, and Linda Ronstadt is another example of a great album artist.

  6. I download most of my music nowadays, but I still buy the CDs if it works out to be cheaper that way, especially with older releases. I miss the physical CD sometimes, but the convenience of downloading is too hard to resist. I have two iPod docking stations at home, so I pretty much listen to all my music that way. It’s so much more convenient than storing the CDs and then trying to find the one you want. I get to listen to a much wider variety of music now that everything is right at my fingertips.

    I found it somewhat bizarre that Mr. Flippo was simulataneousy arguing that compressed MP3 files are inferior to CDs, but that CDs sound inferior to vinyl. I don’t understand the whole vinyl resurgence thing; I would never want to go back to listening to music that way.

    Steve, sometimes digital albums do come wtih digital liner notes. iTunes sometimes offers them. I’ve gotten into the habit of checking to see if iTunes has the liner notes for an album before deciding whether I’ll buy it from them or from Amazon. I don’t know why it isn’t standard practice, because the loss of liner notes is the single biggest drawback to downloading music.

  7. I certainly don’t hate CDs like Flippo seems to, but I gotta say that I’ve never liked them as much as vinyl albums – you just lose something in sound quality and overall experience, plus I really do hate jewel cases. I do take my iPod everywhere, though, and as soon as I figure out how to make the old family car iPod-compatible, I suspect I’ll stop using CDs altogether.

    So I guess what I’m saying is that I’d support a vinyl + downloads business model, which is actually what a number of independent artists have starting doing (though no one has done away with CDs completely yet – but usually, if you buy the album in vinyl, it comes with some way for you to get digital copies of the songs so you don’t have the buy the album twice).

    I suspect it’s going to be some time before the CD really leaves, though. CD-burning is so convenient that I suspect people will keep doing it until a comparable alternative becomes popular.

  8. I sometimes suspect that in this day and age, and probably for the last 15-20 years or so, record companies have seemed like they want their roster of artists to record nothing but songs that are made-to-order for radio airplay, and that’s what has driven this criticism of CDs by Chet Flippo and others. I, of course, can’t prove this outright; but if it is even slightly true, then it’s no wonder that people are downloading individual tracks off of their computers.

    I think compact discs and downloading could probably co-exist quite easily, but it all must start with the artist in the studio making the best possible recording that he/she/they can make. They shouldn’t be forced to think just about commercial considerations; they need to trust their own instincts, and then trust the intelligence of their audience.

  9. Yes, it’s just so much easier for me to quickly find what I want to listen to now that my music is digital rather than having to search through the actual CDs. I’ve actually taken most of my physical CDs and turned them into digital mp3s as well as what I’ve downloaded. I have a ridiculous amount of music, so this has turned out to be the best way for me. I have all of my music backed up on a 320 gig external hard drive that is very portable. So, I can take it anywhere I go. Of course, I just put my favorite stuff or something that I have to listen to for an upcoming review on my ipod.

  10. Dan,
    We just had an ipod compatible stereo put into our car. It was probably the best purchase we made last year, besides our house, of course. I think, even with labor, it was less than $200 to do it.

  11. Thanks for taking care of that, Leeann…and Razor, thanks for the info regarding i-Tunes liner notes.

  12. Yea Dan. Alpine makes excellent car stereos. I just plug the iPod in through the glovebox and can control the songs from the front of the stereo. Despite my iPod though, I still purchase CD’s.

  13. Yup, Russ, that’s what our ipod ready car stereo does too. It’s also an mp3 player, not that that is necessary with the ipod capability though. It makes road trips much more bearable, without having to cart a lot of CDs around for variety.

  14. I don’t have the iPod control through the glovebox but my car (a 2006 Chevy HHR) came equipped with a simple jack on the front of the unit which I plug into my ipod headphone jack. I would’ve preferred having what Russ and Leeann have but it works great for me.

    As for CDs, I still love them and going to buy them but I also don’t mind digital downloads at all. I have bought downloads and then months later found the CD in the used stores and bought it again, for like 3$ or something as to have the physical copy. If I don’t do this, I make physical CD copies to protect against hard disk and external disk crashes (they’ve happened to me two times where the iPod saved me but I’m extra careful now).

  15. For me, digital downloads are soley for an artists song that I like but I’m not a huge fan. But if I’m a fan then I will definatly get the cd to show my support. I think the death of the cd will eventually come, but I hope not in my lifetime. Having a physical copy of an album with artwork and linear notes inside, too me, is apart of the aspect of an album.

    So all in all my moto is “True fan’s buy cd’s!”

  16. I still buy CDs, and I download music. My “philosophy” on this is, if I like the artist well enough, I’ll buy the CD. If I don’t know the artist’s material very well, I’ll just pick and choose from iTunes.

  17. I’m with Razor X here. I’m not a big fan of vinyl. I limit my purchases to things that are hopelessly out of print and never likely to be made available digitally. I hate the sound of the needle in the record and the white noise accompanying it.

    In my perfect world, everything would be digitally remastered and eternally in print. The digital age makes that world a legitimate possibility, too.

  18. Kevin,

    You know, these labels could really make a ton of money if they put ALL of their catalog of stuff out digitally (Chet made this point in the article, I believe). It doesn’t even have to be remastered all that much. They should actually release stuff anything that they can legally do so (stuff that’s not written-off, etc). It would entice fans and also would give labels additional revenue they might not have had otherwise.

  19. I love digital remastering when it’s done well. So many times it’s not. I wish there could be some kind of standard procedure for it, though obviously that’s not possible.

  20. I think both CDs and mp3 players have their advantages. Mp3 players are useful for bringing an entire library of music in a compact form, which is especially useful for travel. But CDs can be stuck into CD players or DVD players to be cranked up on surround sound stereos.

  21. Matt B,

    I agree. I should’ve been more explicit when making the original post, but I actually grew up with the tail-end of vinyl. I remember buying 45’s and albums all the time, then moving to cassette, and then in eighth grade, making the switch over to CD. I was well into college before burning CDs was a reality, and I resisted the iPod thing until I finally tried it. Now I’m hooked!

  22. I almost always buy CDs, mostly because I feel like my computer could crash at any minute. Since I don’t have my own back-up drive, I’ll probably wait until then to switch to all-download buying.

  23. “You know, these labels could really make a ton of money if they put ALL of their catalog of stuff out digitally (Chet made this point in the article, I believe). It doesn’t even have to be remastered all that much. They should actually release stuff anything that they can legally do so (stuff that’s not written-off, etc). It would entice fans and also would give labels additional revenue they might not have had otherwise.”

    I have often thought the same thing. I don’t know why the labels haven’t figured this out yet because it would be easy money for them. There’s a lot of old stuff that I’d love to be able to get either on CD or as MP3s.

    I usually download entire albums unless it’s an artist that I’m not a huge fan of, but just like a couple of their songs. Or sometimes I’ll download a hits package and then buy a couple of favorites that weren’t included individually. I always burn a CD copy and print out the artwork and put everything into a slim jewel case.

    I also recently subscribed to a service called Carbonite — . For $50 a year, which is a very reasonable fee, they back up your entire hard drive so you can retrieve your files in the event of a hard disk crash. It backs up automatically every day. That should alleviate fears about MP3 files being lost. In fact, it’s a good idea to do it for other files on your hard drive besides just music. Just something to think about.

  24. I still usually buy entire digital albums too…unless there’s no way I’ll like enough songs to make it worth it. Razor, I’m going to look into that program.

  25. I prefer CDs to downloads, even tho the record companies seem to be pushing us to leave the CD behind. For instance, you get bonus cuts if you download the latest Patty Loveless or Kristin Chenoweth album, but if you buy the CD, you don’t get those songs. And with one of them, I couldn’t just download the two songs I wanted, I had to buy the whole album again. A smart record company that doesn’t want to alienate the buyers would make the bonus songs available free to those who buy the physical CD. Yeproc Records does this.

    I still haven’t seen those massive label catalogs available for download yet either. Maybe the artists and albums I am waiting for are too obscure.

    I don’t find CD sound to be compressed, but I always had trouble keeping an LP sounding good. I actually wore out three copies of Heart Like a Wheel. I’ve not worn out a CD yet… but I have lost mp3s to a hard drive crash.

  26. You have me re-thinking my stance on vinyl, Partridge. I’ve never had a record wear out on me yet, but I can only imagine how annoying it must be to have to buy the same one again.

    The more I think about it, the more I think I wouldn’t mind CDs as much if everyone just had the good taste to release their stuff in digipaks!

  27. Sigh. Digipaks. They look so nice, but they miss the beautiful virtues of the jewel case – fully replaceable and much more waterproof. I’m a bit of a spiller and a dropper, so I like having my CD booklets protected by that plastic!

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