Technology moves ahead relentlessly, carrying us all forward regardless of personal preferences, desire to change, or basic need. I mean, we may really, really want that new tablet that keeps shining enticingly every time we see it on that store display, but do we need it? Probably not. Doesn´t matter, though, because it´ll soon be replacing your laptop as your primary computing accessory. Don´t own a laptop? Still use an abacus to count your beans? Don´t worry, there´s an abacus app you can download for the tablet that works just as well as the real thing for only $4.99.
The technology progress has dragged the music world kicking and screaming along with it many times during the history of the recording industry. From the resistance to go to the easy portability of the cassette tape from the vinyl LP to the extreme lack of desire to change the industry standard to Sony´s new digital CD format instead of the now easy-to-produce analog tapes, the music business has always been slow to adopt a new standard due to entrenched investment in the technology they´re currently using. They spend years figuring out the ways to squeeze every dollar from the current system and you want them to come along and endorse a brand-new, untested format? No thank you. Well, thanks to the great Napster incident in the 90´s, the recording industry was forced to come to the realization that the world of music was changing with the power of the internet and the mp3 format. Despite the industries insistence at copy-protected digital rights management (DRM) formats inserted into the early licensed digital versions of songs, it didn´t take long until the customer complaints grew to where someone was going to get rid of the copy protection and sell unrestricted music to the masses. Thanks to Amazon, who kick-started the DRM-free movement by offering the license-free mp3 format, and finally Apple who removed the copy protection from their aac format, people could finally put their music on whatever device or computer they wanted, just like they can with a CD, and not have to worry about having an internet connection to check the licensing of each song being played.
Does that mean the CD is a dead animal just waiting to be slaughtered? Well, probably 80% of the music I purchase these days is through an mp3 store like Amazon, either buying individual songs or entire albums. When I buy a CD, it´s often times by a band that just blows me away and I like owning the media to store on my shelf (after ripping the songs down to my hard drive) and sometimes play in the car. Most often, I just listen to a collection of music at random from mp3´s stored on a flash drive or an mp3 player of some kind, but sometimes, I like listening to an album laid out in the way the artist wanted me to hear it, and for that, I´ll listen to the CD. I know I could just listen to the mp3´s in track/album order and get the same thing, but for some reason, it´s not the same thing to me.
Now, there are a good many reasons why mp3´s and other digital music formats are superior to CD´s. For instance, portability: You can load a song onto a flash drive to play in your car, onto an mp3 player or iPod to jam out to on the go, onto your computer´s hard drive to listen to at work or home, or even in the cloud to listen to wherever you have a Wi-Fi or a 3G connection. There is also the quality: Back in the days, mp3´s were considered inferior in sound quality to a CD because they were compressed too much. These days though, many of the mp3´s you buy are better than CD quality in the bitrate and can sound sometimes noticeably better than a CD (although they make for pretty huge files that way). The mp3´s we sell of our music on our website are all double CD quality in bit rate and can sound better than their CD counterparts (particularly our newer album songs).
So, why even bother with CD´s at all, if the digital music is that much better? Some of it is compatibility. The vast majority of the people in the country don´t have car stereos with a USB port or an iPod connector on them, so shy of burning a music CD on their computer from songs they purchase online, they listen to the CD´s they buy from the store or borrow from their friends/family and never bring back (like a pirate). Some of it is the nostalgia, too, of people liking the music format they´ve used and loved for years and don´t want to let go of. Kind of like those that refuse to give up their vinyl records or 8-tracks. There´s also the issue of backups. Most people just stash their music on their hard drive after purchasing it and never back it up. If their drive craters on them and they don´t have a backup, that music is lost forever and they´ll have to go back and buy it again from the online music dealer. If you have the CD, though, you can always rip the songs back to your hard drive and enjoy the sounds of your favorite bands again.
Then there´s the primary reason that small independent bands like us still produce our albums on CD´s as well as digitally. We sell the majority of our music at our shows. Oh we´re on Amazon and iTunes and the majority of the digital music slinger sites out there, but far and away most of our sales are at our shows where people see us in action and are inspired to pick up some of the music that made them smile. (It could have also been the incessant peddling of our wares from the stage coupled with the guilt people feel when our sales staff looks at them with puppy dog eyes, but I prefer to think the show inspired the purchase) Most people like to have something to look at before they buy it and our CD´s with the goofy album covers and song titles listed on the back are major points in getting people to talk themselves into a purchase. A full-color CD cover is much nicer to look at than a black USB stick with the album title on it. There´s also the whole instant gratification thing. Even if they have a new car stereo with all the bells and whistles on it, you can bet that stereo still has a CD player in it and they can listen to their new CD all the way home from the show. (Hopefully not having a wreck when they hear any of the bonus tracks). In a small way, the CD is more appealing in that the band can actually sign a CD cover as opposed to putting our initials or something on a flash drive. One other factor is also the cost as CD´s are still much cheaper to produce than flash drives and that still makes them better on the bottom line. Sure, they´re not as cheap as going all digital, but we can´t stand on stage at a show and tell everyone to be sure and download our songs when they get back home. We gotta get that sale right then, when the customer is in the right frame of mind and are thinking about it. Granted, I have seen the occasional person pull out their iPhone and download songs of ours right there at our concert from the iTunes store (talk about instant gratification), but it´s still a small percentage of the world out there that thinks along those lines even if they have the technology and a large enough data plan for their phone.
Now, we will continue to offer our complete music collection flash drives at shows for those looking for everything we do and have done as it´s a great way to offer our back catalog of music including our out-of-print albums, and we're exploring offering our new album on flash drives as well, but CD´s are still the king for small bands that don´t have the traditional advertising push that record labels use to drive you the digital stores. We have to make the sales at our shows and CD´s are still the favored way to do it. Even though we offer the digital downloads on our Pirate Music Box, CD Baby, iTunes, Amazon and others, they´re more of a convenient nice-to-have to reach people that can´t make it to our appearances. So, the CD may be on a slow downward trend out of our lives, but until we´re all carrying around devices jacked into the cloud and can download whatever we want, when we want, they´re still the best way to sell at a show. Of course, once we reach that point, people won´t even be watching us when they´re at a show; they´ll be watching the live broadcast of our show on the ´net using their virtual reality goggles.
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