Roundtable Question, April 2009

April 18th, 2009 | Category: Interviews

Compact Disc of DoomWith the slow demise of the compact disc, the music industry’s last physical organizing principle, I thought it appropriate to ask some people inside and on the margins of that industry how the CD’s death was affecting their conception of recorded music. In ironic honor of Record Store Day, this month’s roundtable question is How has the decline of the compact disc affected the way you approach the idea of recording music? I asked producers, musicians, emcees, DJs, and label folks. Here are the responses:

Jim Rondinelli

Funny you ask.  I stopped making records full-time in 1999. I love the craft, but knew that the propagation of bandwidth in the consumer marketplace would one way or another disrupt the industry. If I cold ship sessions over an ISDN line, what would happen when we got cable modems?

I moved over to the tech side, working at MP3.com, running Global Digital for Warner/Chappell, and am now on the management team of Slacker.

If I were still working, the smaller budgets would almost certainly have forced me to move some if not all stages to digital workstations like ProTools.  Already in 1999, I was doing a lot of overdubs in workstations. It often made recording about as fun as word processing. No one wanted to play. Everyone wanted to edit. Pitch correct. Quantize. It was gross.

While I think that great things happened with the democratization of access to recording equipment, there is no doubt in my mind that the art has suffered as well.

Alaska

The effect of the decline of the cd has effected my approach to making music differently at different times. When I was in Hangar 18, I saw it as a way we could get new material out immediately. Whenever we went on tour we tried to release a new song, or single.  We also saw it as a way to more quickly release new music that was getting a good response in the live show. We were no longer tied to the costs and production time of creating a physical product. The downside was that we also weren’t looking at creating an album top to bottom.  We wanted to create a lot of songs that would tackle a lot of different sounds and styles. I think this really affected our last album.

As a solo artist I have a totally different approach. I find it very freeing creatively.  I am making the music I want and saying the things I want to say. There is no thought going towards, well this is what people are digging, or if we do this type of song it might get some buzz and we will get more label push, etc. I kind of assume that nobody pays for music anymore, I know I don’t. So when you are free of the idea of costs and profits it is easier to record music that reflects your
mood and attitudes of the time. Whether it is going through a period of horrible depression which is what the Woke Up This Morning EP was, or the anger, frustration, alienation, disenfranchisement, and sense of impending doom that comes with being an American in the post-Bush era.

I actually really like the decline of the CD and hopefully the idea of recording music for a quick profit. I love that the major labels are dying. Unfortunately, it is harder for smaller labels to turn a profit, but I think if they are run smartly and use the new technology, they can develop artists at a fraction of the cost. I feel that music is at a better place now than it has been since the early 90s. This format gives the power back to artists and fans.  Radio is dead, the major label is dead, and the idea of getting rich quick off music is dead. These are all great developments.

Duane Pitre

I like to have something in my hands, I am not very found of MP3s as a final product as sound quality is compromised and you have to interact with a computer. Also there is no artwork to gaze at, no booklet to flip through, etc. Music used to be about an “escape” of sorts for me (still is sometimes) and being locked onto computer is by no means an escape in my eyes. But anyhow back to the ways to release… I am very found of vinyl releases with free MP3 download coupons. I think that is the best of both worlds, very interested in that route.

Ian McKaye

I don’t think the “decline of the compact disc” has affected the way I approach the idea of recording music. We just press fewer CDs, more vinyl, and make it available online.

If anything, I reckon the fact that so many people are listening to music on the earbuds/headphones that come with PLDs (personal listening devices) has made me think more about the recording process. I don’t listen to music that way, and wonder if my aesthetic still “works” when shot directly into the ears. Having said that, I don’t have any intention of doing anything differently.

MC Paul Barman

Funny you should ask. Moments ago I asked for a customer’s mailing address because he has dial-up and was having trouble downloading my online mixtape Buck Moon Kaboom, from mcpaulbarman.com. So I’m sending him a CD.

The decline in CDs is most significant in its correlation to the general habit of listening to albums. As far as the important things, innovation, honesty, point of view — there is no difference.

Calvin Johnson

On a conscious level, the decline of the compact disc has had no affect on how I record music. On the subconscious level, it has filled me with glee.

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How has the dissolution of the CD changed your ideas about recording music or buying recorded music?

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