Melbourne-based writer and journalist. Purveyor of finally crafted radio plays. A Muppet of a man.
I’ve finally taken the step of throwing all my CDs away. It was during a house move and I couldn’t stand the idea of carting them to the new place just to let them sit in a box and gather dust.
I resisted the urge to pick through the collection for the few treasured items and instead looked at it as cleansing. The Best of Sting, a strangely complete collection of Lionel Richie and a rogue, rarely listened to album by Chumbawamba were among a couple of hundred CDs that were unceremoniously binned.
I’ll admit I hesitated before I did this. Not because I listen to CDs regularly; quite the opposite. I’ve been in the habit of buying them, ripping them to a computer and letting them gather dust on a shelf. Like many, I have been relying on digital music for years.
But in its own way, it was the end of the era. Music is now rarely a tangible ”thing” I hold in my hands. To hold an album, leaf through a booklet, read a cover or even wear a band’s T-shirt or put their sticker in your car – they’re dying aspects of appreciating music.
A decade from now we’ll send a music file to our children to try to share music. It isn’t the same as handing them an album. CDs were the final connection to this, an outdated mode of technology that had continued through the demise of the cassette and, before that, the marginalisation of vinyl records.
Before the early 1950s, music charts were based on the measure of sheet music sales. The popularity of a song was based on sales to professional musicians and keen amateurs, rather than a music-consuming public looking for the recording of the performance.
As vinyl caught on with consumers, the concept of the album came with it. The medium allowed bands to flourish – what was previously just ”songs” became ”albums”.
Now this trend is regressing. Having a popular song in the charts is quite different from having a popular ”album”.
Digital music sales reflect a change in our tastes – we rarely listen to albums but instead prefer songs. We have our favourites and they exist on a playlist – let’s just say that these days, Chumbawamba would be reduced to doing some tubthumping and be done with it.
With digital music comes issues of quality and storage. The default format is MP3, but the option of lossless formats is the choice of music purists. Although four times the file size of a normal MP3, FLAC is easily converted and doesn’t suffer data loss. The affordable cost of solid-state drives makes storage accessible and the decision easier.
If you buy a song from a service such as iTunes, you receive nothing tangible and that’s changing how we listen. Consumers don’t value music as much as they used to and it’s a change that has the industry concerned. Music becomes much more disposable and we’re now met with people who won’t have that connection to music.
Playlists are one thing but they take nowhere near as much attention and care to assemble as the now lost art of the humble ”mix tape”.
While it’s true I’m using CDs less, I’m still buying physical music. On some level, I still need to be able to hold music in my hands and appreciate its weight as well as the sound. It’s much harder to assign the same value to a file you store on a computer.
Now the proud owner of ample shelf space and a hefty digital music library, I find myself listening to my record collection a lot more. A variety of ’70s music and current niche indies, it represents an interesting mix as the humble LP becomes more fashionable as a music medium.
I had no qualms about throwing my CDs away. Easily damaged, fiddly and impersonal, I felt I spent more time cleaning them than listening to them. They always seemed like a transitional format anyway, a bridge between vinyl and digital.
I’d say I’m not the only one with a shelf full of CDs that are no longer listened to.
Although the music lives on, the technology has long since ceased to be useful.