CD collector Travis Müller’s musical taste is eclectic, to say the least. He’s always been a lover of anything considered “pop,” from avant-garde artists like Kate Bush and Björk to more dance-oriented acts like Madonna and Robyn. He loves rockers Bruce Springsteen and Huey Lewis and rappers Missy Elliott and Lil’ Kim. Müller is also passionate about classic vocal jazz, so it’s not uncommon for Dean Martin or June Christy to be playing on his CD player. As of late, he’s been gravitating to bebop, country, and Japanese city pop.
“I try not to be somebody who says that they like all genres and then adds a bunch of caveats,” Müller told 360°Sound. “I just like anything that can create its own atmosphere or vibe and then build upon it. So, there’s a little bit of every genre in there, from cast recordings to industrial metal, Spice Girls to The Clash.”
360°: How old are you and where are you based?
Travis Müller: I’m in my thirties. I have a bit of a complicated and mixed background. I was born into an African-American family on my mother’s side and an Italian- and German-American family on my father’s. I’m also a dual national of the United States and Italy, but I’m resident in Germany, so I’m lucky to say that I’m a bit caught between worlds in the best way possible.
My upbringing had a strong influence on the music that I listen to now. My parents have always loved music, and I had some aunts and uncles who were musicians and singers and others who had large record collections and always had music on. My cousin and I were (and still are) dancers, so spending money on music was never considered a waste. As a kid, I was surrounded by a fun mix—Sergio Mendes and Brasil ‘66, Tears for Fears, Trisha Yearwood, Engelbert Humperdinck, Men at Work, Luther Vandross, and The Doors.
How long have you been collecting CDs? Do you remember the first CD you ever bought?
I can’t remember there ever being a conscious decision to start collecting. I think I just sort of fell into it. When I was a kid, my mother would put her Walkman on, put the headphones over my ears, and have me listen to her tapes—stuff like Phil Collins and Queen—and that would keep me pacified and happy in my stroller pretty much all day.
I also have this distinct memory of my father and I hanging out when I was a very small child, and he cut all the lights in the living room and loaded up the stereo with music. Listening to “Riders on the Storm” in pitch-black darkness as a four-year-old definitely does something to you!
And we were always going to yard sales and flea markets as a sort of family activity, and I would run around crate-digging for CDs, records, and tapes. It started there, although I wouldn’t say that my collection took shape until high school when I started collecting stuff from certain artists like Björk and Madonna.
I’m fairly certain the first CD that I was allowed to call my own was Journey’s Greatest Hits, which I still maintain is the most perfect collection of singles ever put out by any act ever. They really understood the assignment of what a “greatest hits” release should be. Every song on it works and reflects some stage of their evolution as a band during the Perry era. If anything, its only flaw is that they couldn’t squeeze a few more songs on it.
My mother and I shared CDs a lot, so it’s hard to remember exactly which ones were mine and which ones were hers. Eventually, when she adopted MP3 players, and especially now that she listens to music on her phone, they all became mine in the end.
What do you love most about the CD format?
There are two things that I love about CD: First, it is, by and large, the most reliable of all the physical formats. In all my years of collecting, I’ve never had a CD simply fail on me. And whether it was mastered poorly or impeccably, you’re never going to be in for any surprises. Second, and the thing that I really like the most about it, is that it is a very accessible format. It reached a high level of quality very early on in its existence and maintained that quality level during its peak as a consumer format.
Anybody can get into CD today, regardless of their income. You really don’t need more than $20 to $30 to get a decent machine, a stack of used CDs, and, if you’re lucky, some speakers from the thrift store. I see collectors today using everything from cheap DVD players to original PlayStations to listen to their music, and those devices are going to give you the same sound quality that any of the big-name options will. And that accessibility has also allowed friends in my music-collecting circle to easily share new stuff, even across borders.
Entering the world of vinyl, by comparison, means wading through an ocean of snake oil followed by a minefield of, if I’m being frank, shameless price-gouging. In the early 2000s, most common records weren’t worth more than a few bucks at most. Now, many sellers are getting brave and charging $50 for a damaged copy of Rumours as though there weren’t millions of copies floating around today.
CD isn’t like that. I’ve got nothing against vinyl overall; it’s just not the best entry point if you want high fidelity at a reasonable price without doing a lot of research and hunting beforehand. With CD, you only have to worry about the laser, the engineering and mastering of the disc, and potentially a few scratches here and there.
How do you feel about the future of the CD?
I don’t think CD is truly going to go anywhere. People like to talk about how irrelevant the medium has become, but I’ve been hearing those criticisms since the rise of the smartphone, and yet, here we are. As a point of comparison, blank MiniDiscs and cassettes are still being produced today. If those continue to occupy a space in the market, regardless of how slight, then there will always be room for CD.
It’s also worth noting that CD is still somewhat of a baseline for new releases. Digital-only releases, and this is only my opinion, tend to get lost in a way that those pressed to CD or to vinyl do not. When I have to buy an album digitally due to geographic limitation or simply because it’s not available physically, I put it on a MiniDisc and add it to my shelf.
But I know that there are artists out there who either don’t get the label support for a CD release, or they have concerns over the impact CD production has on the environment, and I could see that having some influence over the format’s future. Though it’s kind of rich to hear stuff like that coming from acts who tour the world in private jets and sell plastic water bottles as part of their merch.
I think we’re already in the middle of that revival. Other collectors and music enthusiasts have been prophesying for years that the return of the CD is imminent. But to be honest, I don’t see a full-blown comeback the way we saw with vinyl. What we’re seeing today seems to be a symptom of the ’90s revival. And I think that the minor renewed interest in CD we’re seeing right now can be linked to the rise of K-Pop in the Western market. East Asian labels and acts give their fans the works when it comes to packaging, likely due to how much more expensive albums tend to be in South Korea and Japan.
On Instagram, I used to get ads for a CD player that was very clearly targeting K-Pop fans, and their marketing copy was something to the effect of “Have you ever listened to your CDs in a CD player?” I thought that was kind of funny, but then I realized that the question was earnest. It then clicked in my head that a lot of younger consumers only buy CDs to support their favorite acts and get the extra goodies that come in the packaging. It’s not a sign that they will use the discs for their intended purpose. I have no idea how good that CD player was, but I hope they sold a lot of units. Outside of that, I don’t know that I see a substantial CD revival on the horizon. Once the ’90s trend ebbs again, I’m sure the interest in CD will ebb with it.
Müller routinely posts CDs from his collection on his Instagram account. Follow him @per.discum.