The Future of Recorded Music Media – Not So Fast CD

More than a year ago I made a promise to myself that I would stop buying CDs and only buy vinyl and downloads. Since no independent record shops exist in Chicago’s western suburbs (I hope to change that someday soon), this promise has been difficult to keep. The only vinyl source close to my day job is Virgin Megastore, their selection is hit and miss and their prices are normal retail if not a few dollars higher. Other Music owner, Josh Madell, envisions recorded music’s future without CDs, with only downloads and vinyl LPs left. From Wired’s Listening Post:

WN: Do you think CDs and MP3s can co-exist peacefully, sort of like the way vinyl and CDs live in harmony at your store?

Madell: Hard to say. CDs in some ways seem outdated next to MP3s. But as hard drives and players become more powerful and smaller, and internet connections improve, I could imagine CDs becoming of less interest. I think the time is not too far off where some releases come out on vinyl and MP3 only — no CD. But who knows.

Vinyl and downloads of the same album is the perfect blend of ultimate consumer sound quality (vinyl; not to mention album sleeve art, liner notes and resale value) and compromised convenience (digital downloads without the restriction of DRM).

Independent record labels have been apologizing for vinyl’s inherent playback inconvenience with bonus digital treats for some time now. Shellac’s 1000 Hurts LP comes packed with a full album CD (the CD is completely blank, after I first brought the album home I was paranoid that the CD contained some digital “kill tone”). Bright Eyes‘ vinyl LPs contain a secret code to download the album from Saddle Creek’s website. These labels understand that as soon as you demand that your customer buy (or “license” with DRMed downloads) the same content more than once, you’re a dick, and sour resentment builds.

If we, music consumers, get lucky more record labels will follow suit, including bonus digital albums with LP purchases. I envision a turntable and digital music server as the only sources in hi-fi set ups in more than a few years. CD players will fall out of favor in the home like 8-tracks and cassettes.

So, why are we still buying CDs? I blame factory installed car sound systems and the expense of integrated iPod add-ons. If I want to listen to music of my choice in my car I’m limited to its six CD changer (actually, only four because two slots are taken up with my daughter’s Kindermusic albums which we have to listen to whenever we are heading toward our house). Six CDs is no choice at all versus my iPod’s 2000+ songs. Yet, I’ve only connected the iPod to the car’s stereo once due to the connection hassle and poor sound quality (I have a 2G iPod that can only connect to the stereo through a cassette deck adapter and a Firewire charger, no dock for me). So, we’re stuck with CDs until someone comes up with an easy and economical way to get our home music collection beamed to our car stereos (maybe Sling Media will figure it out).

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