In my article on Iron Maiden, which I wrote about two weeks ago, I mentioned just how anticipated their new album The Book of Souls is. Well in the weeks since it’s continuing to build up more and more hype, in one way being pre-orders. On Amazon UK the album had debuted at Number 1 (and in Germany too) on the bestsellers list. It debuted at number 9 in the US. This is for physical copies, mind you- nowadays, people seem to be more geared towards MP3 towards Mp3 than going out and actually buying CDs. And streaming seems to be a huge factor as far as music goes too; Swedish music streaming service Spotify has exploded in popularity since its debut in 2008, and Apple Music has also launched just recently. Basically, a good comparison would be Netflix and Shomi as well as Crave.ca and so forth. And services like these have ultimately made it easier for people to discover new tastes in music, and for some, it may even be a source of possession as far as music goes. Some people may rely on these services for a source of a music library, as bizarre as it may sounds.
Because of the huge increase of MP3 downloads and the like, there’s been this bizarre urban legend that has been floating around since the early 2010s that people won’t be buying CDs anymore, and that physical music is likely to become extinct. Now, while I think this claim is mostly bullshit (and by mostly I mean about 90% bullshit), there is some unignorable truth; CD stores are becoming less and less fashionable as far as buying music goes- to name, a few years back, some HMV shops in the UK closed down, and the world-famous Oxford Street HMV in London moved. Torrent downloads have become a way for people to have instant access to an artist’s discography, and a lot of people sometimes go so far as to release their music directly to iTunes and other online music purchase services rather than sell it in physical form. Now these are 3 big truths; with that in mind, why do I think it’s bullshit?
Let’s get an obvious example out of the way: vinyl. Vinyl is often considered to be the most sacred form of music there is. It’s been around since the late 1800s. And sure, when CDs came to be in the late 1980s, people bought vinyl considerably less and less. One of the sexiest aspects of vinyl was how big it allowed the cover artwork to be. Most people who owned a copy of Somewhere in Time by Iron Maiden will tell you what a thrill it was picking out all the little details in the front and back covers. I myself even have a copy of it on vinyl. In a sense, it’s also carried over to the disc itself- picture discs are a certain kind of vinyl which feature a picture underneath the disc (as its name suggests, natch). Aside from the artwork, the deep grooves of a vinyl disc allow for some seriously earthy sound, which is why people consider it to be the best there is as a far as sound quality goes. CD, on the other hand, can sound good, but never reaches the sheer excellence of the sound quality that vinyl has to offer. In fact, when CD came onboard the game in 1987, most complained because it wasn’t as deep or earthy sounding as vinyl. Yet people continued to embrace it and at one point, it rendered vinyl obsolete, at least as far as the mainstream goes. Vinyl continued to live on in specialty shops around the world- but starting in at least as far back as 2005, people began to notice vinyl more and more. It took until at least 2010 for vinyl to fully come back and be a regular thing in the mainstream- nowadays, almost every music store you go to has a section exclusively for vinyl.
So with that in mind, while it may seem a bit unfair for compact disc to be held on the same pedestal as vinyl, especially compared to MP3 downloads, it is definitely a realistic comparison considering that, in the same way that CDs didn’t completely replace vinyl, MP3 and other forms of digital music won’t completely replace physical music.
In fact, one thing that came to mind recently is how much detail and attention bands still put into packaging and artwork nowadays. Vinyl has always allowed for bigger artwork, but lots of bands have been releasing hardback book packages, and for Iron Maiden, their new album has an entire hardcover book limited editon. The Final Frontier back in 2010 had the “Mission Edition” with a metal tin case that had a plastic window with the booklet visible. Muse’s latest album Drones had a section of the booklet with a seperate piece of artwork for each song. In addition, you’re greeted with a badass drawing when you open the gatefold! And let’s not forget other cases, such as Rammstein’s Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da coming with a box of dildos modeled after the band members’ penises, every single vinyl copy of Godspeed You Emperor!’s F# A# (Infinity), the hidden booklet underneath the disc tray with Radiohead’s Kid A, and even the “Magazine” editions that came out in 2012, with extended interviews and what not. And in addition, a lot of albums still have the practice of having bonus computer content or a DVD/blu-ray that has a short documentary or live footage or something of the like. So that’s another reason that physical music can’t be ruled out- those little perks for spending just a bit more money.
In addition, the reason vinyl has done so well in the modern day and age is not just the artwork (which, as I mentioned, at least half of that can be attributed to picture disc), but the sheer satisfaction of atually having an album in some physical form. Alice Cooper recently said that this is because people are tired of paying money for thin air, and this is definitely highly likely. There’s not much satisfaction in paying money for mere files on your computer. Almost everyone does that for free via torrenting and illegal downloading. Sure, you get a digital copy of the CD booklet with this, but it’s nowhere near as exciting as tearing off the encasing cellophane holding the package and looking at all the cool artwork decking every square inch of the whole thing. Obviously this has a greater impact with vinyl, but people can get a similar effect with CDs (just not on as grandiose a scale). With vinyl, as mentioned above, the sound quality is basically unparallelled. It costs more, but people do expect quality over quantity nowadays.
In short people have been fortelling the death of physical music for quite some time now, and while it may eventually die off completely, that won’t be for at least another 100 years. Yes, with all the streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music booming in popularity, there’s something to be said for a music format that allows for more instant gratification, but there are a suprising amount of people out there that aren’t satisfied with that method of listening to music. And to many, nothing beats the satisfaction of just simply sitting down and listening to the album. As long as there’s vinyl and CDs, people who like actually buying the albums at the store, have nothing to worry about.