Home > Letter from the Editor's Desk: September 2006
Internet Killed the CD Star
If we were to take a poll of our US audience, I would bet that almost all of you own at least one MP3 player. I’ve got a few Apple iPods in my house. They are incredibly convenient, holding hundreds of songs at a time on the smaller-capacity models, and my daily exercise routine wouldn’t be the same without one. But as much as I can’t live without my iPod, I also hate what MP3s have done to music in general.
The MP3 file format, and the Internet, collectively revolutionized the music industry, providing direct-to-consumer marketing of unsigned artists’ music at little to no expense. For that, I’m grateful. I can produce my own music and get it into the hands of fans on a worldwide basis without the involvement of a record label. But the problem is that MP3s do not sound nearly as good as traditional audio CDs. We’ve created a generation of new music listeners who have come to accept mediocre audio quality without even realizing it!
Even as a teenager in the 80’s, I wanted high quality sounding music. I remember lusting over stereo rack systems with discrete components instead of the all-in-one units that were popular at the time with most. When the CD player became affordable, the leap in audio quality from cassettes was staggering, and I was one of the first kids I knew to embrace the new medium.
But now, audio quality has taken a huge step backwards. The typical MP3 music file is encoded with settings (typically 128kbps) that really don’t rival the quality of an audio CD. Because of file size limitations, I can’t share higher-resolution MP3s with listeners on MySpace.com. If my band wrote three-minute songs, perhaps, but for songs that run four minutes or longer, forget it!
At least with the purchase of music from Apple’s iTunes music store, downloads are provided in Apple’s MP4 AAC format – an audio format that provides higher-quality audio than your typical MP3, but it’s still not as good as pure red book CD audio.
With CD sales dropping year after year, the industry is of course struggling to find compelling reasons to get consumers to purchase their product. Once again, though, the industry is doing all the wrong things. Companies like Sony introduced Super-Audio CD, a higher-resolution product that is superior to red book CD audio (the standard for your typical audio CD), and many companies are trying to take advantage of DVDs for supplying multi-channel audio and higher quality. So what’s wrong? It’s the price, of course!
We’ve had CDs for twenty-five years. They cost pennies to manufacture. And yet the major record companies are still releasing new titles with prices of $14.99 and higher! Rather than lower the prices – the CD was supposed to bring with it lower prices once manufacturing ramped up years ago – the record label folks were probably thinking, “I know! We’ll improve the sound quality, and this way we can justify charging $15 per album.” How many more bankrupt record labels and music retailers will it take to convince them that fans don’t want to pay a lot for their music?
So we have three challenges. The first is to get artists to release quality music, recorded by professionals with an ear for sonic excellence. The second is to demonstrate to music fans just how much better music can sound if they buy real audio CDs. And last, we need to find some way to convince record labels that the answer to their declining sales is to price all new releases at a more palatable price like $8.99.
In the meantime, I’ll rip most of my personal CD collection at 160kbps in AAC and just fit a few less songs in my iPod. And I’ll get back in the habit of creating red book audio mix CDs for my car, where I do most of my listening.
What do you think? Let us know in our general discussion forum.
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