Even though CD has fallen out of favor in recent years, we’re totally convinced that there will be a “2nd Wave” for the compact disc format. So we tracked down The Audiophile Man, Mr. Paul Rigby, to help us sort out the finer detail of why CD is not only still viable, but how it’s getting better. Paul looks forward to the end of the “corporate CD business,” so the true innovators and refiners can get down to the real work of making CD the great format it was always meant to be. This is the final installment of our three-part chat.
At 360°Sound we like to talk about “CD’s 2nd Wave.” You mention in one of your videos that there are over 2 billion CDs in the world now. People are going to collect these things, right? It may not look exactly like the vinyl revival, but what might a CD revival look like? In terms of collecting. In terms of people being willing to buy CDs.
There’s the perspective of original-pressings. Back in the ’80s and ’90s — indie bands, early post-punk, synth bands, electronica and all the early dance stuff, and definitely hip-hop — they were only ever released on CD. There was never any vinyl; vinyl just wasn’t part of the release schedule. It never happened. There were no downloads then. There was never any streaming, of course. Vinyl was just too expensive; you had to go to major labels for that. Or you’d get cassette. Some people produced their work only on cassette, because they recorded it on portable studios and copied it on cassette and sold them on the street.
What happened with CD is that you’d get these — we call them boutique labels now — but they were just small record labels back in those days. The artist would be signed sure, but they’d be signed to some guy in his bedroom. That would be the label and he would get the CDs pressed. That’s how the group would only exist on CD. I have buckets of these things and they are now collectible, insomuch as there were only so many printed — once they were gone, they were gone. And then the band moved on to the next album, and the next; then they split up and that’s that. The chance that you’d even find them on streaming is comparatively rare.
You see services like Tidal tout that they’ve got 7 million tracks or albums or whatever. That’s a drop in the ocean compared to what was out there. That ain’t a lot at all. And in terms of the past, there’s an awful lot of music only on CD. There are rarities out there, there are gems, there are treasures that are worthwhile tracking down. And there are brand new CD versions from new bands, and they look a lot nicer than they used to. They’re not hiding behind this scratched up, misty, fogged up jewel case.
The jewel case is a packaging miscarriage. Whoever came up with that should be flogged. Terrible package. Just as brittle as the music sounded back then.
Yes! Absolutely! What a metaphor. I thoroughly agree. Now you’re getting digipaks which represent sleeve art. But also, they are in these gatefolds, so they open up into very compact 2 or 3 CD packs. So, you’re saving space. For collecting, space is always an issue, especially here in the UK.
Many of them also include very nice booklets, very informative essays have been produced. A lot of CDs are arriving in imaginative larger packages now. You’re getting better value now than you ever used to. For example, you’re getting a CD with perhaps a live CD with it. If you’re getting a reissue — like a rock album released in ‘75 — inside you’re getting a little booklet with an interview about how the band made the album, the issues they had, the time the guitarist nearly overdosed. All these stories and lots of rare images — poster art, pictures of old albums.
It becomes more of a package experience, the modern CD. Even new-release CDs, I’m finding people are putting their own art, they’re using their own imagery. CDs are more representative of who they are as an artist. There’s physical imagery in there. Sometimes you’ll get post cards included. Or you can have hand-created sleeves; you very rarely had them in the past. There are various special editions, like hard-back book editions. Are you familiar with the “art book” format? Wonderful presentation. Vinyl record size package, but with CDs.
Here’s a beef of mine on these reissues: They often include like all 17 demo takes of a track. Are people really putting on a vinyl record and listening to all that stuff? Even vinyl reissues, the vinyl should be the original record, and all the other bonus stuff should be on CD.
Yes. There’s a German company that’s putting out very classy, stylish reissues. Do you know Bear Family? Bear Family are producing, and I’ve been reviewing, these packages in which they’ll sell a 10” vinyl album. It’s an album because the tracks on them are so short that they can still put 15 or 16 tracks on a 10”. It’s some rock-n-roll guy — Eddie Cochran let’s say — so they have him on a 10” vinyl. And then they’ll include a CD with like twenty outtakes. So all the classic stuff is on the vinyl. And then there’s a CD of all his backing work included. Not too many people know that Eddie Cochran was a side man for a while, a backing guitarist for better-known artists at the time. So, it’s exactly what you’ve just said. It’s a great way to have the headline stuff on vinyl and the rarities on CD.
We love Bear Family! Are there other labels that you particularly like, either for new releases or reissues?
There’s Ace Records. They have a whole host of old rock-n-roll, deep soul, funk, ’70s and ’80s rock. And they’re CD-based. Jasmine — vintage music. Again, CD-based. In fact, I’ve just done a 10-CD listening review. I’ve got SPV, which is a big German label featuring lots of heavy rock, metal, death metal. Classic rock from the ’70s reissued. New, old. Big on CD. There’s Rock Star. Very much like Bear Family. Also in Germany. Again, vintage stuff. There’s Cherry Red in the UK. Cherry Red have all kinds of imprints. HNE is one. They’ve got a new Lynyrd Skynyrd box set. This is four albums, plus an EP, so a 5-disc box set. Clam shell case. And I think it’s like £14-15. That’s incredible value. Nice sleeves, nice art. You get a poster. It’s great stuff.
This is the thing of it, I get CDs from all over because of my music background. I still have contacts at the labels, so I get all this weird and wonderful stuff. The majority of it’s on CD. The majority of the time I’ve never heard of the artist, I’ve never heard of the label, but they’re all on CD. They’re using CD fully, because it’s the cheapest, best, the most efficient physical product out there. There is only so much capacity for vinyl production out there. It’s limited.
You mentioned punk earlier. Could CD be considered kind of punk rock now?
The notion of “punk” solidified when CD first appeared. In the UK, punk famously appeared in 1977. In the States, I suppose the bones of punk turned up in the very early ‘70s. In the UK it was ‘77. When CD appeared, there was a do-it-yourself ethic happening. Of course, cassette tapes were the big thing in those days; recording your own music on cassette. But now with CD you can do a nice little DIY package and you can sell it on your website. You can earn a nice little income. It’s a great way to do it, and it’s much cheaper than vinyl. It’s also easy to stock, it’s lower in cost in terms of postage, so on the economic side CDs are great for up-and-coming artists. The format allows a band that have no money to produce a physical format in a very presentable manner.
There are lots of little limited-edition packages knocking about in CD format. If you’re a debut artist, or you’re a cult band with a small fan base, and you want to produce a special physical edition, even if you’re only doing digital-only versions, but you want to do a bit of special bits here and there, CD is perfect because you don’t have to invest much into the format itself. You can do it at home, if you want to. Silver disc is better. I’d rather have a silver disc than a CDR. CDR tends to sound bright in my opinion. But in any case, having some CDs pressed is a cheaper way of producing a nice physical package for the fans. Many bands are selling direct from their websites now. Many bands are discovering a level of independence — in terms of marketing their art — and CD can be a key part of that.
What final bits of wisdom about the CD format would you like to bestow upon us?
The value of the CD is through the roof compared to what it used to be. The CD is no longer just constrained to the silver disc, the contents of the disc can be lifted and taken with you wherever you go. You can be imaginative now with CD, whereas that wasn’t happening before. As we’ve discussed, these beautiful presentational packages combined with vinyl and other stuff.
There’s lots of good stuff happening with CD, and it will only get better. CD will continue to sound better; I’m convinced of this. We are near — and I hope it’s soon — to the death of corporate CD business. And then I want to see the passionate, enthusiastic, technically-innovative people step in and say, ‘Now it begins.’
You can check out Paul on theaudiophileman.com, on his YouTube channel, as well as on all the usual social media platforms. He’s usually @theaudiophileman.