Editor’s Note: As part of CMN’s ongoing music journalism program, we asked our team of music writers to research one invention that changed the history of music.
The compact disc, AKA the CD, revolutionized the way music was recorded, produced, and presented.
The CD was an evolution of the standard vinyl LP. They had the same circular shape, but technology allowed them to store more data, like songs and, eventually, videos. This made music portable, allowing listeners to slide their favorite discs into their pockets and backpacks, to take anywhere.
Consumers could even play music on the go with the Walkman, a portable CD player, which was an evolution of the same device that played cassettes. More data storage and smaller surface area meant longer songs and more tracks per album, which went over especially well with musicians and producers.
Lastly, radio stations were able to switch discs faster and feed new music to audiences quickly.
Businesses around world sold and still sell CDs in their stores.
Part of what made CDs an important invention for the music industry was that they were great promotional tools. New artists often hit the streets handing out free CDs or “demos” outside of concerts, music festivals, or areas with lots of foot traffic.
From a technical standpoint, discs were easy to record by simply popping a blank one into the computer, and downloading tracks. Many older vinyl albums were also converted to the CD format, giving older generations a chance to enjoy their music with the new technology. CDs were fast, reliable, and they sold quickly all over the world.
CDs were also artistic innovations. Artists could add customized album artwork to the disc itself and feature band art on the CD cases as well. This was a great way for artists to express themselves and stay on-brand and attract different fanbases.
Much like vinyl and cassettes, artists used CDs for limited edition releases. Many artists released some of their greatest hits on limited edition CDs to keep their fanbases wanting more. Limited editions, special editions, or special songs that are sold at a finite amount of copies which increased demand, and often, profits.
The compact disc was revolutionary for the music industry.
It gave consumers access to more music of a higher quality and it helped artists build their fanbases and become a successful part of the music industry. With CDs, artists were able to show us that music is more than notes and lyrics. Music became an artistic fusion that incorporated poetry, melody, illustrations, and more.
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