The Vinyl Revival is a well-known phenomenon by this point; by the mid-2000s, vinyl, an antiquated medium, had been all but entirely shirked by new formats such as CD and digital.
Its fate was sealed and people had moved on. But then they changed their minds and, collectively, started to return to it in their droves – what started as a novel counterculture can now, quite reasonably, be considered to be just culture. So, are the appeals of vinyl collecting transferable to CD collection? Will the next generation of freshers trying to impress each other be doing so with raids on Oxfam’s music collection and their early-2000s, antique CD players?
Breaking the success of vinyl down, and placing it in today’s context, it emerges as the antidote to our time. Online music streaming is, at present, the most efficient means of discovering and playing new music – vinyl, by its nature, is inherently not. But the qualities that make it a less practical form of media make it a more enjoyable hobby; it’s bulky and cumbersome so it’s better to display, it’s got a lower-fidelity, warmer sound but it’s distinct to each pressing, and it’s harder to come by so it gives rise to hidden gems. In this vein, could CDs satisfy a present generation?
I’m going to start by saying no. CDs are too much of a halfway house; they were a viable substitute before the advent of digital music but they’re not a timeless medium. The improvements posed by CDs over vinyl have all been achieved, and bettered, by digital streaming. In this respect, if one were to start collecting CDs in the way one collects vinyl, it’d be a step backwards. The fidelity that comes with CDs is comparable to the quality of most streaming services and it doesn’t bring a unique sound in the way that vinyl does. The album art is printed on thin paper and is harder to display. CDs were a pragmatic step but they are neither aesthetic nor efficient enough to have lasting appeal.
However, I think this is to see the phenomenon of music collection too calculatedly. People like what others don’t have; I am not afraid to admit (I am a little bit) that there is a major attraction to owning vinyl. The tangibility of an album and having it to hold is simply quite cool and many people admire it. Putting something on/in a clunky bit of machinery like a turntable or outdated CD player has a novel appeal to it and this is true of both mediums. Vinyl went into decline when it did because it had been bettered by the CD, but it returned because it had become fringe; the appeal of what is ‘underground’ will persist for very many people for a very long time.
So, in this vein, as physical media sales continue to decline and a generation begins to emerge who have only ever known music streaming, the laws of the cultural universe will dictate that CD ownership will begin to become increasingly underground – and thus, attractive. Imagine the status CDs will attain in 10/15 years time. They’ll be relics of a different relationship to music; they’ll be remembered through old films and dusty attics just as vinyl was 10 years ago. Put this alongside the mass flows of CD collections into charity shops shelves that we’re going to see in the coming years and we could be at the cusp of a renaissance of rediscovering an old media format. I would add that I don’t think new CD sales will rocket in quite the same way that they have with vinyl, it’s still too impersonal a format, but all the benefits of crate-digging are transferable.
I think when you’ve contextualised the idea, a boom in CD collection is not an unrealistic prospect. CDs and vinyl are not comparable forms in this regard and for that reason, the revival of their collections will not be born out of the same interests but it’s distinctly possible that CDs will pose to the next generation what vinyl currently does to us. Imagine how weird that’d be, having nostalgia for compact disk players. Until it happens, why not continue enjoying vinyl?