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Can CDs Make A Comeback? Reevaluating The CD At 40

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Can CDs Make A Comeback? Reevaluating The CD At 40

The CD was first commercially released 40 years ago and may be having a whole new coming-of-age. With sales on the rise and collectors showcasing their pride across social media, the format might rewind to its glory years.

GRAMMYs/Jun 13, 2022 - 04:10 pm

For decades, a CD was something you could hold in your hand or carry with you in a semi-sleek binder that might move from your home to your car. Once you got past the surprisingly difficult shrink wrap, you proudly displayed your collection with the spines facing out. And when your favorite CD got scratched, it was the worst day ever.

"I know you just ripped the packaging off your CD/If you like me, you reading the credits right now," says Jay-Z on "Hova Song," the intro from his 1999 album Vol. 3 The Life and Times of S. Carter. The activities Jay-Z refers to may be foreign to most music fans in 2022.

To think that there was a period of time where artists routinely sold millions of albums on compact disc is almost unbelievable in 2022. Today, No. 1 album sales are generally the result of streams, only a small portion of physical sales accounting for hits.

Although CDs have primarily been replaced by all-you-can-consume music streaming services, something interesting happened in 2021:  CD sales rose for the first time in almost two decades, driving over $580 million in revenue for the music industry. While that pales in comparison to the $12.3 billion earned from streaming, the figure is still significant.

"We've been pleasantly surprised to see there is still a CD customer at this store," says George Flanagan, who manages the popular New York City record store Rough Trade. “It's less than 10 percent of our business, but that's very much in line with the smaller selection we carry."

The music industry has its biggest stars to thank for last year's bump in CD sales. Notable releases by superstar artists such as BTS, Taylor Swift, Olivia Rodrigo and Adele had passionate fans buying up CD versions of their new releases. Adele's 2021 album, 30, sold over 5 million copies worldwide in its first year — 880,000 of those sales were in the form of physical CDs.

But who is still buying CDs, spurring the format's first growth year since *NSYNC was still topping charts. The surprising answer is Gen Z — those born in the mid to late 1990s through early 2000s, when CD players were about to be rendered nearly obsolete with thedebut of Apple's iPod in October 2001.  That same generation has been gobbling up new releases in the CD format, taking TikTok todisplay their collections proudly.

And CDs aren’t the only physical music format from the past that are sparking renewed interest. In 2021, vinyl record sales grew for the 15th consecutive year to $1 billion in revenue. Cassette sales had their highest sales numbers since 2003, selling 200,000 units, a 20 percent increase over 2020.

“What I've been struck with lately is that some younger customers seem to give the same reverence to CDs as they do with vinyl," notes Flanagan. "I think this stems from the fact that they've come of age in a world where music consumption is all digital, so any physical format potentially holds an equal level of mystique."

As younger generations rediscover compact discs, and sales of the format begin to generate notable revenue for the music industry, it begs the question: Can CDs make a real comeback?

A Love Affair With CDs

To answer this question, one must go back to what made CDs revolutionary in the first place. The compact disc was invented in 1979 and the first commercially released CD (Billy Joel's 52nd Street) was released in Japan on Oct. 1, 1982. Following the cassette tape era that debuted in the '60s and peaked in 1989, CDs brought significantly more convenience for the music consumer.  CDs allowed listeners to skip directly to songs with ease, held more data,  and allowed for additional creativity with customized artwork on the actual disk.

From the red lipstick kiss on Aerosmith’s Honkin on Bobo cover to the cartoon Vicodin pill on Eminem's groundbreaking debut, The Slim Shady LP, CDs became a canvas for artistic expression and allowed fans to delve into an entire body of work — which had arguably been missing since vinyl LPs went out of style.

Over 940 million CD units were shipped in the US in 2000  — an industry peak. That year's staggering sales numbers were a confluence of pop culture phenomenon, due in part to <em>NSYNC's No Strings Attached (which sold over 9 million units, highlighting the boy band craze) and Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP* (over 7 million units). MTV’s "Total Request Live" — a music video countdown show shot above New York City'’s Times Square — averaged 780,000 viewers per episode that year, and was a must-visit for the pop stars of the day to talk about their new releases, furthering album sales.

"The CD was a total boom for the music industry — people purchased 17,18, 19-track albums to listen to one or two songs repeatedly," says Brian Zisook, SVP Operations at music streaming service Audiomack. "[But] it wasn't ideal for the cash-strapped consumer."

At an average of $15 (or the equivalent of $25 today), the economics of purchasing an entire album on CD to hear a handful of songs was hard to justify in 2000. But the one thing the CD era offered, which is challenging in the streaming era, is tangible value.

There was something special about driving to the mall and going to your favorite record store, sometimes waiting excitedly in line for a hot new release on a Tuesday morning. Because of their relatively high cost, buying a CD was something special, and consumers had to be discriminatory with their album purchases, potentially giving them more sentimental value. Today, outlets like California's popular Amoeba Records carry significant new and used CD stock, while CDs remain the format of choice in Japan.

"CDs remain a core element of Amoeba's sales and identity, as our second most popular format behind only Vinyl LPs,"  Jim Henderson, co-owner of Amoeba Music, tells GRAMMY.com. "They travel well, and sound great, and the small booklets, though not as powerful or attractive as LP jacket liner notes and full scale artwork, are compelling, and easy to flip through and enjoy."

It's not just the physical attachment to the music that has been lost in the streaming era. In some ways, streaming has made the playlist more valuable than the music itself. Clicking like on a song provides significantly less emotional attachment for a consumer than buying and holding a CD, cassette or vinyl record. In the physical format era, fans invested in their favorite artists.

"I think because vinyl, CDs and cassettes are tangible products, die-hard fans will continue to buy them," says Navjosh Singh, GRAMMY member and Founder and Editor of HipHop-N-More.com. "If not to play, then more like a collectible item."

The Uphill Battle For The CD Comeback 

But challenges remain for the CD format to have a proper regeneration, including the fact that CD players are more difficult than ever to find.

A lack of new CD players on the market may stall the format's return, notes Zisook. "They have been removed from laptop computers and cars. In particular, I don't see record labels believing the juice is worth the squeeze," he continues. "Limited manufacturing is much more expensive and would likely only be a discussion among the highest-earning acts on a roster."

Even for artists from the golden era of CD sales, a return to the format's glory days seems unlikely. Buckshot, a legendary rap artist known for fronting groups like Black Moon and Boot Camp Clik, doesn't see a proper comeback as tech evolves.

"CDs had their moment," Buckshot tells GRAMMY.com. "Due to tech, we advance every two years. Somewhere a kid is thinking of new tech to give us a better user experience with music. Mp3s killed CDs, streaming killed the mp3, and now the blockchain will and is killing streaming due to ownership."

The impacts of blockchain and NFTs on the music industry remain to be seen, but one thing that can't be disputed is the convenience of streaming. Who can forget needing to carry CD booklets with you or in your car? Or the pain you felt when you lent your disc to a sibling who scratched it, rendering the album unplayable?  Or how about losing your CD booklet and a large portion of your collection? Streaming makes listening to music seamless and easy. And in a world where people are already stretched for time, that's tough to beat.

"It's tough to add value to a CD because ultimately, it's a lot of effort to put it to use," says Singh. "Versus streaming which you can have ready anytime, anywhere without other things to carry and worry about. It's millions of songs in your palm. "

Amoeba's Henderson remains hopeful that CDs will become embraced by the masses once again. "I can envision a time where the CD market rebounds to former glory and the merits of the format are once again widely celebrated," he continues. "Artists like Tyler, The Creator and Frank Ocean have released CDs long before or in lieu of vinyl, examples of contemporary powerhouses helping keep CDs relevant."

It seems unlikely that music will return to the days of trips to the mall for the latest CD releases and record store listening booths, but 2021 sales data shows us that music fans still hunger for an emotional and physical attachment to their favorite music and artists. Once the most widely consumed physical music artifact, CDs have returned to being something special, cherished and celebrated amongst the most passionate music fans.

"The one thing they offered was the ability to play music without a need for the internet," says Buckshot. "It's never bad to keep a stash because you never know."

Long live the disc, man. 

From "Sounds" To Millions Of Streams: How TikTok Became A Major Player In The Musical Ecosystem

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Ladies Antebellum And Gaga, Jeff Beck, David Frost, John Legend Win Three GRAMMYs Each

Arcade Fire wins Album Of The Year; Esperanza Spalding wins Best New Artist

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

(To view a list of 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards winners, click here.)

The evening began with a tribute to the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, but by the time the last of the 53rd Annual GRAMMY Awards was handed out on Feb. 13, several other singers and bands looked something like royalty. Foremost among them was Lady Antebellum, who walked away with three trophies while the group members earned two more each for songwriting categories.

Lady Antebellum at the GRAMMYs

 

During a show memorable for its range of fully fueled performances, the country superstars sang a pitch-perfect medley of tunes that ended with a quiet rendition of the song that launched them, "Need You Now," and shortly afterward collected the Song Of The Year GRAMMY for it (along with co-writer Josh Kear, with whom they also took Best Country Song). But there was plenty more to come for the trio. They also took home the GRAMMY for Best Country Album for Need You Now. Accepting that award, lead singer Charles Kelley said, "This song has completely flipped our world upside down." By the time Lady Antebellum stood up to collect a trophy for Record Of The Year for "Need You Now," they were in disbelief, and possibly discombobulated: "Oh my gosh, we're so stunned we started walking the wrong direction," said singer Hillary Scott breathlessly.

Also racking up awards was Lady Gaga, who claimed three: Best Pop Vocal Album for The Fame Monster, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Short Form Music Video for "Bad Romance." Never one to miss the chance to make an entrance, she hatched herself onstage from a giant opaque egg. That was a riff on her new single, "Born This Way," and perhaps her bared shoulders, which sprouted a pair of pointy elbows, were too. Her dancers and outfit gave off a Cleopatra vibe, but Gaga can't be stopped from seeming ultra-modern, and her performance of "Born This Way" reflected that; it was a warp-speed whirlwind.

Lady Gaga at the GRAMMYs



 

In keeping with that same modernist — or maybe futurist — spirit, she accepted her award for Best Pop Vocal Album in black body armor. But Gaga also proved she can be an old-fashioned girl with a soft side. In an emotional acceptance speech for that award, she surprised the audience by thanking Whitney Houston: "I imagined she was singing…because I wasn't secure enough in myself to imagine I was a superstar. Whitney, I imagined you."

Leading the nominees with 10 nods revolving around Recovery, an album that detailed his struggles with addiction but also reestablished him as a rap force to be reckoned with, Eminem took home trophies for Best Rap Album — a triumph over rivals including Jay-Z, Drake and B.o.B — and Best Rap Solo Performance for "Not Afraid." Onstage, his swagger proved undiminished.

A flame-haired Rihanna opened Eminem's performance with a searching rendition of their duet "Love The Way You Lie," but it was Slim Shady who came out blazing, spitting the lyrics to that song before raging into "I Need A Doctor" with Dr. Dre and singer Skylar Grey; Adam Levine from Maroon 5 handled piano duty.

Closing the show and likely lifting the Sunday-night spirits of indie kids everywhere was the Canadian collective Arcade Fire, who won the Album Of The Year GRAMMY for The Suburbs and, before the night's final performance, turned in a frothy and fierce rendition of the rocking "Month Of May."

Arcade Fire at the GRAMMYs

 

Other multiple winners for the evening included classical music producer David Frost, legendary rock guitarist Jeff Beck and R&B artist John Legend, who each earned three awards. Among those who won two each were alternative rock band the Black Keys, jazz giant Herbie Hancock, Jay-Z, Alicia Keys, urban/alternative group the Roots, Keith Urban, and gospel singer BeBe Winans.

And in a bit of surprise, jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding won Best New Artist over teen phenom Justin Bieber, as well Canadian rapper Drake, and adventurist rock outfits Florence & The Machine and Mumford & Sons.

Esperanza Spalding at the GRAMMYs

 

The show also featured a few firsts, including a first-time ever GRAMMY performance by Rolling Stone frontman Mick Jagger, who helped pay tribute to fallen R&B singer Solomon Burke.

But if there was also a constant, it was the annual, high-profile celebration of music that the GRAMMYs represent, and the 53rd GRAMMYs fit the bill once again, with performances, pairings and awards presentations that were full of pleasant musical surprises.
 

Click below for more GRAMMY content:

GRAMMY  liveblog
GRAMMY quotebook
GRAMMY Week photos
GRAMMY Week videos

 

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Pop Shines With 55th GRAMMY Nominations

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

This year's GRAMMY nominations are an eclectic, all-inclusive ensemble of nominees perfectly reflecting the wide variety of musical genres, tastes and trends that The Recording Academy celebrates.

Pop made a strong impact in the coveted General Field categories with nominations for Kelly Clarkson (Record Of The Year for "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You"), Taylor Swift (Record Of The Year for her pop-tinged "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together") and Carly Rea Jepsen (Song Of The Year for "Call Me Maybe").

The nominations also marked a milestone for Fun., who received six nominations, including Record and Song Of The Year and Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for "We Are Young" featuring Janelle Monáe, and Album Of The Year and Best Pop Vocal Album for Some Nights. The Brooklyn, N.Y., trio also received a Best New Artist nomination.

"It feels good, very good," lead singer Nate Ruess said backstage at "The GRAMMY Nominations Concert Live!!" in Nashville on Dec. 5.

"American Idol" alum Clarkson is among the top female nominees with three nominations, including Best Pop Vocal Album for Stronger. Pink received a deserving nod in the Best Pop Vocal Album category for The Truth About Love, which hopefully opens the door to a performance during February's GRAMMY Awards telecast. (Side note: Pink's album features "Just Give Me A Reason," a duet with Ruess.)

It was a big night for British superstar Ed Sheeran, who grabbed a Song Of The Year nomination for "The A Team." Sheeran was overjoyed with the honor, tweeting, "I can't describe how happy I am."

GRAMMY winners Maroon 5 had a strong night with nominations for Overexposed, the group's self-proclaimed "most diverse and poppiest album yet," in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Best Pop Vocal Album categories.

RedFoo and Sky Blu of LMFAO scooped up a Best Pop Duo/Group Performance nomination for their dance-pop confection "Sexy And I Know It," a deserving nomination for the world's most colorful party rockers.

Following a successful year for her GRAMMY-winning album 21, Adele's momentum is still going strong.  The proud new mom picked up a nomination for her live performance of "Set Fire To The Rain" in the Best Pop Solo Performance category. Adele was nominated alongside Clarkson, Rihanna ("Where Have You Been"), Katy Perry ("Wide Awake"), and Jepsen, the latter of whom was quick to tweet that she was "over the moon excited" with the honor.

With exciting pop newcomers and veteran pop artists nominated in the General and Pop Fields, the GRAMMY Awards telecast on Feb. 10 will without a doubt be Music's Biggest Night and a terrific night for pop.

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Wild At The GRAMMYs: It's Miller Time

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

David Wild has written for the GRAMMY Awards since 2001. He is a contributing editor to Rolling Stone, a blogger for Huffington Post and an Emmy-nominated TV writer. Wild's most recent book, He Is…I Say: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love Neil Diamond, is now in paperback. Follow him on Twitter.

The GRAMMY Awards broadcast is the biggest show on earth — or at least the biggest show on television. At least that's the way it looks from my admittedly subjective and sweaty point of view in the GRAMMY trenches.

Think about it for just a moment: There are more moving parts on the GRAMMY show than any other television event that I can think of. See, most of the big TV events are based around actors walking out on a stage in a theater and speaking, and then showing film or video clips. Other shows may feature a number of performances, but no show features more performances than the GRAMMYs. And in search of great GRAMMY moments, performers tend to push things to the limit on the GRAMMY stage, and sometimes slightly over the limit too.

Capturing all of those moving parts on camera in an artful and appropriate way is largely the job of the person in the truck calling all the shots for the camera operators attempting to cover all the musical action — namely, the director.

For the last 29 years, my friend Walter C. Miller has directed the GRAMMY Awards television show. That's not a typo — that's a fact: 29 years. That means every great GRAMMY moment most of us remember, we remember the way Walter wanted us to remember it. I've personally been there and witnessed him take every performance seriously, from Eminem and Elton John, to Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, and Prince and Beyoncé. "You get to be a part of a lot of musical history on the GRAMMYs," Walter told me recently. His historic track record is remarkable for any business, but much more so in an entertainment industry where survival is more often measured in intervals of 15 minutes than 30 years.

When GRAMMY Co-Executive Producer Ken Ehrlich first brought me in to help write the GRAMMY show a decade ago, he introduced me to Walter, who immediately insulted me in some witty yet somehow warm way. Being a lifelong Don Rickles fan, I liked the guy immediately. He is super sharp with a long lifetime of stories and a singular ability to tell them with fresh wit and the sting of truth. Just between us, Walter reminded me of my father. I remember seeing another director friend after meeting Walter and asking if he knew who Walter was. "Yes, David, Walter Miller basically invented live television,” he told me.

Having Walter on the GRAMMY team has meant the world to all of us lucky enough to work with him.

"I've learned so much from Walter," says Ken Ehrlich. "Wally had been and continues to be like a brother and a father to me. It's been like Butch and Sundance, and we're always ready to yell 'St' and jump off the mountain together."

"In his 30 years with the GRAMMY Awards, Walter Miller has not only created the look for our show, but for all other music award shows too," says GRAMMY Co-Executive Producer John Cossette. "He created the template for everyone else to follow."

In recent years, I’ve been lucky enough to find myself down in Nashville working as the writer for the Country Music Association Awards, another very big and distinguished show Walter executive produced and asked me to write after we first met at the GRAMMY Awards. One Sunday afternoon, the two of us had a few hours off in Music City, and decided to go see the new George Clooney movie Good Night And Good Luck. As we left the movie theater, I stupidly said something to Walter like, "Wow, can you imagine being in TV then." Walter looked at me, and said, "David, I was."

And so he was.

This year, Walter decided it was time for him to step back from directing the show, and he's been consulting on the show instead. Another legendary TV director, Louis J. Horvitz will be in the truck calling all those camera shots, and I have no doubt he'll do a great job. "Walter is the king of live television event directors," Louis told me the other day. "He's one of the founders of the whole form."

This year, Walter is also quite rightly receiving the Recording Academy's prestigious Trustees Award. He's earned it, because every time you look at the GRAMMYs for these past 30 years, you could rest assured that the great Walter C. Miller was there.

Walter C. Miller is still here, and thank God for that — and for him. The King lives. Long Live The King.

(Click here to read Wild's other GRAMMY blog installments.)

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Adele's 21 Becomes Best-Selling Digital Album

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Adele's 21 Becomes Best-Selling Digital Album
Adele
's 21 has surpassed Eminem's Recovery to become the best-selling digital album of all time, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The album, released on Feb. 22, became the second to sell more than 1 million downloads in the United States, the fastest set to achieve the feat, and the first by a female artist. Adele's 21 is also the year's best-selling album overall, with 2.6 million units sold to date. (7/15)