Oh boy this one brings me back. The year was 2000; the turn of the century. I remember riding the school bus on my way to school with my edited version of Nelly’s Country Grammar bumping in my non-skip Sony Discman. No, my mom wouldn’t let me get the non-edited version and yes, you had to have a non-skip discman or else you would get skips in the song for each bump that the bus hit along the way. Britney hadn’t yet had her meltdown and Eminem had all the kids with their hair bleached blonde (embarrassingly myself included). Life was all about MTV and TLC spring breaks.
Those of us born in the mid 80s to mid 90s really had it great. The internet was in it’s early phases and music was still known as something you collect. In fact, you could tell a lot about a kid by the CD collection they had. Friendships were birthed on the simple act of burning a CD to share. A cassette tape was a thing your parents used and the simple thought of a vinyl record seemed like something Thomas Edison would have listened to.
With only a short shelf-life in the grand scheme of music’s history, there lies the question. What happened to CDs? Within this article I’m going to try my best to answer that question.
Where CDs began
CDs for short (as they’re known by the cool people) are also known as Compact Discs. Most of you probably know that already but for those of you just being born, I’m here to clarify. CD’s were small digital optical discs that stored music providing you the ability to play full albums on the go or through your stereo system. They were first engineered in 1982 by Phillips and Sony and soon took the replacement of the cassettes for the ultimate portable music format.
The CD created a more compact digital wavelength of music, which allowed you to fit a lot more sound onto a small disc. I’m not here to debate whether or not this is a good thing for sound quality, the battle between digital and analog, or that one form is better than the other.
Throughout the development of the CD, there were many interesting innovations. First of all, CD’s were being developed to be compatible with computers, therefore, as the computer was becoming more fine-tuned, as was the CD. It was easy to record on CD’s as an artist and it was also also easy to share your music with your friends.
You could upload your music onto your computer and easily produce dozens of copies of the same album to distribute to your peers. After all, new CDs were expensive! I recall paying upwards of $20 (early 2000s $) for a new release. It wasn’t uncommon to stop by a gas station and have a local artist pushing their latest music drops.
The Beginning of the Decline
You can’t even begin to talk about the fall of CDs without first talking about the rise of audio streaming services.
Originally launched in 1999 streaming services like Napster and LimeWire began catching on like wildfire. I don’t fully understand the mechanics of how these services were first developed but there was no stopping them once they began. Pretty much everyone I knew had downloaded LimeWire and was able to access an unlimited library of music at the click of a button.
Now I must say, at that time, the streaming process was not at all like it is today. We had dial-up internet (DSL if you were wealthy early on) and you had to share the cable line with the land line (phone). That meant that a 20 minute download of NSYNC’s latest release could easily be interrupted by a phone call from your uncle. The process was slow, tedious, and frustrating but…you could could have an entire “mix-tape” produced when it was all said and done!
Now I should say that these streaming services were borderline “sus” companies. It was common knowledge that at that time you were in jeopardy to “risk it for the Limp Bizkit”. In fact, parents were warned all across the country of people being sued for illegal downloads.
Everyone knew someone who was getting caught and sued. Whether it was folklore or not, the legends still remain.
With all this in mind, this still wasn’t the end for CDs. In fact, many would say that LimeWire and Napster still kept CDs alive for a bit. It was CDs, after all, that this streamed music was ultimately being uploaded to. But then, as quickly as you can say onomatope; MP3 players were born.
MP3 players were all the rage. Initially you could only fit about 30 songs onto one, but that number was quickly growing to the thousands as new MP3 players were being produced. Now you could have an entire music library uploaded onto your computer and downloaded into your hand and all for free! CDs just couldn’t compete!
Of course it took a little savings or a birthday/Christmas for us to get one, but once we had an MP3 player, CDs were a thing of the past.
A Generation of Crooks (Personal Thoughts)
That’s a pretty bold headline, but in a lot of ways it’s true. We millennials lost touch with a lot of the aspects of music that make it great. The collectability that music had previously provided was gone. Artists had a difficult time creating music that could be monetized because it was quickly put up for free downloads.
Our over-consumption of free music media platforms is probably the number one contributor to the lack of aspirations to play an instrument today. I honestly think it’s a shame and I truly hope that the following generations are collectively more mindful of the impact they make. I think it’s already started to happen with the awesome resurgence of vinyl and I hope to see it continue in this direction. I love my record collection!
Although CDs are still around, they are clearly a shell of themselves. CD sales have, in fact, risen for the first time in 2 decades, but in my opinion, it is unlikely they will see a large resurge in popularity any time soon.
I still find them to be nostalgic, and for anyone who owns a car that pre-dates Bluetooth or auxiliary, I can still see a need for buying them. However, I will say that if you’re holding on to your CD collection with hopes of them making a “comeback” like vinyl records have, I wouldn’t hold your breath.
Much Love, Ian Drake – Diversity Consignment