FEATURE: NO CD: Have We Lost a Love of Physical Music?






Have We Lost a Love of Physical Music?


THERE is something sad about the decline...

 PHOTO CREDIT: @crew/Unsplash

of physical music and how seldom we are actually buying albums anymore. I have mentioned the rise and continuation of vinyl: here is a form of music that is not as popular as it was decades ago but is not in any real danger of disappearing. I guess, given the fact vinyl is doing okay and more music shops are stocking them; can we really say we are unwilling to buy music?! Vinyl has been growing over the past twenty-five years and I think last year was the only one where sales stagnated. That is not much of a worry because there has not been a decline as such – maybe we have come to a point in time when the ease and low cost of streaming means buying records is a bit of an extravagance. I am one of those people who will always go out and buy records and C.D.s but fewer of us are. We are being told unemployment figures are low and we do not necessarily have less money in our pockets than we did years ago. I guess, with chains like HMV being threatened, we have less visibility on the high-street and there are fewer outlets one can buy physical music. Sites like Amazon are always around so I feel that excuse does not hold much water. The reason I bring this up is as a reaction to a report that says C.D. sales are dropping.


 IMAGE CREDIT: Nick Veasey/Getty Images

The BBC have presented the facts and figures:

Sales of CDs plummeted by 23% last year, as consumers flocked to streaming services for their music.

Just 32 million CDs were sold in 2018 - almost 100 million fewer than in 2008; and a drop of 9.6 million year-on-year.

The growth of vinyl also began to plateau, with 4.2 million records sold, a rise of just 1.6%, said the BPI.

Shrinking shelf space in supermarkets contributed to the slowdown, but HMV's troubles suggest we are increasingly uninterested in owning our music.

The CDs that did sell in large quantities tended to appeal to older, non-traditional music buyers - with six of the year's top 10 albums either film soundtracks or Now compilations”.

It is interesting looking at these statistics. I do love the fact compilation albums are popular and the true way of listening to these is on C.D. I always gravitate towards the Now That’s What I Call Music! I have been buying that series since the 1990s and it is great to collect them and see how music has changed since the series started back in 1983. I can understand why older listeners would not want to abandon the C.D. and vinyl format. We have been raised on this form of listening and the sentimental and physical value cannot be replaced by streaming. I do feel a lot of younger, new listeners are instantly going online and prefer the more streamlined version of music.

 IN THIS IMAGE: Over seventy percent of those who own George Ezra’s new album either bought in on C.D. on vinyl (as opposed to streaming)/IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

I can understand why the physical side of music might appear a bit clunky and old-fashioned. Records are great and have that weight to them but they can take up a lot of space and time. Listening to vinyl is a time commitment and you cannot skip through tracks and listen on the go. The same is true of C.D.s. Now that portable players have been phased out and there is no real portable manner of experiencing these albums; many are constricted and either listen at home on a laptop or in the car. I do wonder whether C.D. sales would pick back up if we brought back into circulation C.D. players and ways to play away from a laptop – almost taking music back to the roots. I think we all so conditioned to use laptops and Smartphones now that the notion of detaching music from these devices seems foreign and counter-intuitive. The BBC article spoke to various figures about the slump of C.D. sales and what this meant. A segment caught my eye that we all need to remember:

Jon Tolley, who runs the independent record shop Banquet Records argues that streaming can co-exist with vinyl and CDs.

"I don't buy it that physical music is necessarily competing with streams. We all access music and film on the internet, and that's fine and healthy and valid, but you wouldn't look at the Mona Lisa on your phone and think it's the same thing as going to see it in a gallery."

"The reason vinyl sales are at a 25-year high is because people are rejecting this part of modern society where everything is immediate and nothing means anything"


IN THIS PHOTO: Jack White/PHOTO CREDIT: Rosalind O’Connor  

Jack White recently gave an interview with Rolling Stone and said that the C.D. was on its way out. He feels the new dynamic will be streaming music on the move and listening to vinyl when at home. That sounds like a good balance and fair compromise but it does leave the C.D. out of the party. I think a couple of issues come up when we think of C.D.s. The fact there is a lot of plastic in the casing means it seems jarring at a time when we are opening our eyes to the amount of plastic waste. Companies are being told to reduce the amount of plastic they use – so how will music react? You can use cardboard instead but one wonders how rigid and durable this sort of packing is. Another drawback is the lack of players and devices specifically for C.D.s. It is a lot easier to stream music and listen on a laptop. If we can do that then why unpack a C.D. and pop it in a tray (on a laptop) and do it that way? A lot of laptops do not have a drive for C.D.s so it is getting harder and harder to actually play them. Whereas records are large and you seem to get a lot of bang for your buck; C.D.s are smaller and there is less visual pleasure. I think the biggest gulf we see is what sort of albums people are streaming compared to downloading.

 IN THIS IMAGE: The cover of Anne-Marie’s 2018 album, Speak Your Mind/IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

The BBC article shows how strong the streaming market is:

A total of 91 billion songs were played on Spotify, Apple Music and their competitors last year - the equivalent of 1,300 songs per person in the UK - and streaming now accounts for nearly two thirds (63.6%) of all music consumption in the UK.

The popularity of on-demand music was enough to compensate for the slump in CD sales and downloads; giving the industry its fourth consecutive year of growth.

A total of 142.9 million albums were either streamed, purchased or downloaded, with an estimated retail value of £1.33 billion, said trade body the BPI.

However, it was a poor year for new talent. Anne-Marie's Speak Your Mind was the year's biggest-selling debut album, shifting 160,000 copies - but no other debut sold more than 60,000, the threshold for a silver disc”.

If streaming is a bit more balanced regarding the old and new; most of the top-ten vinyl records bought last year were from older acts. Aside from Arctic Monkeys, George Ezra and The Greatest Showman’s soundtrack; the remainder of the top-ten were albums from older artists. It makes me wonder whether this is the type of people buying vinyl. Do younger listeners, in general, have the money or appreciation of vinyl? It may seems troubling for new artists when they realise the most popular vinyl are the older ones but streaming is booming and they need not worry.


 IN THIS IMAGE: Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours was the third-biggest-selling vinyl of 2018/IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Image

I do not think physical sales will end anytime soon – even if vinyl sales have not risen in the last year – but it is concerning to see C.D.s tumbling in value. I, for one, love a C.D. and keep tonnes of them in my car. For me, they are a link to my childhood and I like the fact I am paying for music. How much of that cost goes to the artist is hard to say but I’d like to think it is more than if I streamed that album. It would be easy to discontinue C.D.s but there are many established artists who rely on the revenue; smaller labels and artists who need that merchandise pull and ensure their artists are visible. Streaming is great but it is easy to get buried and lost in the sea of digital options. The thrill of seeing your album on the shelves, in C.D. form, is huge and I would not like to see that go away. I do worry about the decline and think the lure of free music means people are not bothering to go out and buy albums. So many people say they do not pay to download music and that troubles me. The older generations and established listeners will always buy vinyl and C.D.s but, as their numbers dwindle and the dominance of streaming takes over...where does that leave us?

 PHOTO CREDIT: @florenciaviadana/Unsplash

We need to ensure music can be streamed online but the culture of buying albums and interacting with people needs to survive alongside it. This tricky relationship always makes the news and I do not want to live to see a day when all physical music has been replaced. I think vinyl is great but I love the portability of C.D.s and the fact I can easily play them in the car or on the laptop. It is vital we buy music and compensate artists but, with streaming allowing free passes it is making it harder to achieve a perfect state. Physical music is a way of seeing money go to the artist and I feel there should be a way of making everyone who uses sites like Spotify to pay a small fee each year. Maybe the slide is inevitable but I do not feel we will completely abandon the love of physical music. Whether it is the Now That’s What I Call Music! series or some older record, people somewhere will grab a C.D. or vinyl and prefer that method. Whatever way we look at the new figures; it signals a lacking affection for C.D.s and, for a brief spell at least, no addition love of vinyl. I do hope 2019 sees chains like HMV survive and vinyl sales pick up. Even if physical music is still alive and influential, it seems the days of people going out and buying C.D.s...

 PHOTO CREDIT: @usefulcollective/Unsplash

ARE numbered.