Exclusive: To Sync, or Not to Sync: Is 2012 the Apocalyptic End of the CD?
5th May, 2012
The countdown to the demise of the Compact Disk has begun, and 2012 seems to be the key year forecast by authorities in the music industry as its doomsday, quivering under the dominating force of the digital download world. As digital sales soar above the likes of high street music stores, the question remains of whether or not to let the statistics override the people’s voice.
Look around you. The world as we know it is slowly emerging into the futuristic cyber-world of digital technology: now there’s a sentence to scare our grandparents away! Even just a bus ride home can open your eyes to the army of Apple disciples whatsapp-ing away, the throng of 3G worshippers and the new generation who consider their mobile a life support machine. It’s true, digital is now more than just an alternative to talking to your friends in person, or lugging a CD or cassette walkman around, or even getting your camera film developed: digital is now a new way of life. The development of the music industry and digital creations such as the wondrous iPod/iPad/iPhone/iWhatever else, has answered the human race’s ever-growing demand for instant results and constant entertainment. New generations value the simplicity, convenience and choice that digital offers, enabling you to pick and choose tracks to suit you, without having to get out of bed. The ease of accessing software such as iTunes and Spotify has contributed to the increase of 17% in global downloads of singles and albums; an estimated 3.6 billion downloads in 2011, according to the IFPI Digital Music Report 2012. Not to forget, digital music omits the costs in transport, distribution and packaging, so where you pay pounds for a single in store, you pay pence for the same track online.
Where the common myth states CD sales are diminishing by approximately 20% each year, the figures of Nielsen SoundScan declare that in September 2011, CD album sales rose by 3.3% from the preceding year. It appears there is still a strong desire for the physical product, whether it be for old times’ sake, or for the novelty of the unique sleeves. “There will be a viable market for CDs for quite a while to come,” says HMV spokesman, Gennaro Castlado, confident in the public’s interest in maintaining a proper CD/record collection, and not just a digital music library. However, we could identify these CD consumers in terms of age, and genre. John Dyer, the director of Dominos Records stated that Susan Boyle’s sales amount to 0.5% digitally: the other 99.5% being bought in CD form. With all due respect to the golden oldies, Susan Boyle’s target audience tends to be the mature listener, evidently more comfortable with the familiar CD format and slightly intimidated by modern technology. Classical recordings, country and rock n' roll music are just about safe in CD sales, as the fans of those genres are generally among the CD-buying generation. This seems to reinforce the idea that digital music is the future, as it appeals to the youth of the world, harvesting the potential of the music industry.
A digitalised music industry seems all the more relevant to the 21st century as it harbours the ability to function in several aspects of our lives, one of the most innovative being social networking. The collaboration of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Spotify’s Daniel Ek kick-started the sharing of music with friends on a international scale, thus spreading the digital love, and contributing to a growth of 65% in global paying subscribers to music services such as these in 2011. On discovering Spotify, Zuckerberg announced Ek “has built a really cool music product and also understands how you can integrate social things in it.” Evidently the slickness of the digital world and its capacity to combine its products smoothly; almost renders the physical CD irrelevant due to its incompatibility with modern demands. Digital spoils music artists with its limitless opportunities for promotion and success, appealing to the videogame industry (with the undeniable triumph of Rock Band, Guitar Hero and Sing Star, for example); advertising (remember Feist’s little debut number of 1,2,3,4
on the iPod Nano advert?); or even websites such as Youtube that allow nobodies to become somebodies overnight (believe it or not, Bieber-fever was born on Youtube, God help us). Bands constantly have to renovate their approach in the music industry, as demonstrated by Yorkshire rockers the Kaiser Chiefs, with their surprisingly original album The Future is Medieval
released last year. The Leeds lads handed the power over to the fans, allowing them to produce their own version of the album, choosing from a selection of 20 tracks. Perhaps the Kaisers are only the beginning of this new interactive experience of music buying, fully endorsed by digital technology.
But surely we aren’t all going to abandon our CD and vinyl collections in the near future and convert completely to the digital lifestyle? It’s worth pointing out that VHS tapes and cassettes, to this day, are still not entirely phased out. Whether they are seen as a nostalgic, retro pieces of fashion; or collecting dust in someone’s backroom, dead technology still remains. It saddens me to see so-called Disc-Jockeys playing a set with a laptop, rather than an actual Disc! Vinyl and CD are still in production for good reason, as proved every single holiday. Last year, Michael Bublé’s Christmas sold 10,610 physical copies in Ireland, as opposed to 654 in digital, highlighting the inadequacy of receiving a plastic gift card or a voucher code to redeem your music digitally.
Although I must admit that the first thing I do when I get a new CD is rip it into iTunes, it is unfair to say the CD format is exhausted. Many music enthusiasts appreciate the excellence of the CD; the straightforward, old-people-friendly way of listening that some would argue shows a true dedication to the artist. But the relentless evolution of technology waits for nothing: reducing album art to thumbnails and replacing AAA batteries with USB ports. So maybe 2012 won’t see the end of the CD completely; but an unfortunate lull in popularity, destined to a life of car boot sales and charity shops. Meanwhile, the digital download reigns on.
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