How I remembered to love the CD.

This article was originally posted in the RadiobillyFM magazine which you can get a hold of over here: The second issue is on the way and I’ve just submitted another article.

How I remembered to love the CD.

I grew up in the late 1970s and 1980s. At the time, I do not think that I ever realised what a ruthless and materialistic period that those decades were becoming. I suppose that it is inevitable. As individuals it is nigh impossible to look at the time that we are in and compare it to anything. We have no reference point. What I did realise is that I loved “stuff” and “stuff” was purchased with my well-appreciated, if not as a child at least, hard-earned pounds. Well, actually, back then fifty English pence was still quite a significant amount for a ten year old. One of my earliest memories is cycling to the nearest town to where I lived and going to buy a single or two. I think the first was by the doo-wop band from the 1970s, The Darts and the song was Duke of Earl. My dad had the most amazing stereo at that time. It had a cassette recorder, a record player and an FM tuner. The vinyl media players were still called record players at that time; this was before the record deck came into the vernacular. This was an exciting time because I knew that I could start collecting singles and actually dub them onto cassette tapes in the order that I wanted to hear them and to make my first mix-tapes. As I soon discovered there were other fun aspects to this whole process. The uncontainable excitement started building during the week at primary school. I think, looking back on it, we were quite a music-savvy bunch of kids. There would be in-depth conversations about Adam & The Ants and Bow Wow Wow’s appearance on the “Top of the Pops” television show and there was the inevitable deconstruction of BBC Radio 1’s “The Official Top 40”. We would all tune in to it on Sundays, sit with our trigger fingers on the “Rec” and “Play” buttons or using pause if one was a very technical kid, and quickly try to grab the songs we liked. There was a sweet spot between cutting out the banal chatter of the DJ and not missing too much of the introduction of your favourite song. However, if I decided that I really liked the song then I would start planning to buy the single, count my allowance and get ready for the 5-mile bike ride to town at the weekend. I am sure that I am looking back on this with the naivety of youth and the rose-tinted filter of childhood pleasure but it was a magical time.

My love affair with record collecting continued through my teens and college years. I remember that my student mates considered me a freak when I moved into my college dorm because I took with me a few hundred records. It was a mammoth task to move because I lived in the east of England and the three-hour drive to the Leicester in the East Midlands was pain in the ass. Those records weigh a lot, as any collector can testify. The reason why I took them? Well, it is because I seriously felt that I could not live without them. Those records had become a kind of diary of my development. They were the ones that I felt were relevant to that period of my life. It was also a fantastic chat-up tactic. Inviting a girl back to my place to see part of my record collection was on a par with the old Victorian “come up to see my etchings”. The result was usually the same record put on repeat for a few hours whilst we got on with … other things. If I was lucky. This was around the start of the 1990s and this was the blossoming of the compact disc era. I still had not purchased a CD player and I did not have any CDs as of yet.

I did not actually get into compact disc buying until the mid to late 1990s. When I did, it was really because of practical reasons rather than anything else. Around this time record shops seemed to begin the inevitable shift from equal stocks of vinyl and compact discs to a 2-to-1 emphasis on those little silicon disc. It became harder to get the music I wanted to listen to on vinyl without travelling to specialist shops. I still did though, but an increasing amount of music started to find its way into my collection as CDs. Later, whilst living in London at the time that it involved a significant amount of stress to find what you want to buy and actually get to the shop whilst dodging the eight million others who were trying to do the same thing. If you were living there on a daily basis and not simply visiting for the week, you tended to stick to your own manor as much as possible to reduce the unique hassle of travelling anywhere.  There were no specialist shops near to where I lived so I would grab the compact discs at the local shop if they had them and that became a habit. Purchasing vinyl tended to be reserved for records that I really wanted or from artists that of which I already had a significant amount. This was for purely aesthetic reasons because I wanted my collection to be neat, tidy and, not least, impressive. A key point here is that I meant impressive to myself, not just to others.
I am definitely no Luddite. I have always been very involved in technology and especially computers. Around this time, I had started experimenting with my own home studio and spent a significant amount of time learning about recording music. Added to that I was a DJ. When MP3s first entered my world, it was a revolution. I could carry around MP3s, usually burnt to a compact disc, everywhere and that meant hundreds of them. From the very start, I realised that there was something wrong with the sound. It was those high frequencies. High hats were noticeably flanging or oscillating. I will not get into the technical aspects of this here because it is both boring for the non-musician and I want to come back to this in a more technical article later. The practical aspect made MP3s attractive and, later, when the market for portable MP3 players came, the evolution of the digital revolution took another leap forward. When it became possible for us to buy MP3s, immediately online music stopped being a product and became a media service. My relationship with music changed.

MP3s are throwaway. We can easily move, copy and delete MP3 files on a whim with a single click or key-press. I feel that we cannot be surprised that the generation who are growing up with music as a service rather than a physical product or piece of art feel that it has no worth. I know because my relationship with music also changed and music became something that I consumed. It was not something that I had a relationship to, just sound. Compressed digital media has positive aspects like ease of distribution outside of the record label structure, immediacy, interoperability with web content, and portability. The problem is that when this is the only method of delivery that exists for the new generation there is no artistic worth. It is just something that they can get anywhere, often free. I cannot change the current situation for others, other than set an example with my radio show. This is something that I do regularly and is, with articles like this one, my attempt to give another viewpoint.

Around six-months ago, I decided to stop buying music online. I just purchase physical music, have them delivered and then I rip them to audio files for ease-of-use. I still take the CDs with me in the car and play them on my sound system because of the higher quality. I have noticed several different things since I started doing this. The first is that I give records a chance. With MP3s, I would tend to listen once and if the record did not grab me the first time, I would archive it and move on. Now I will listen to records repeatedly, just as I used to, and in many cases, grow to love them as I hear different aspects over time. This appeals to me as I feel that I have started digging deeper into music again. I also go back into artists’ back catalogue. With MP3s, I would often only have the last album by a band. Now I am more likely to collect earlier work and get a better understanding from where their work is coming from. I get to know more about the band as I spend time reading the sleeve notes, cross-referencing musicians using the web and do so whilst I am actually listening to the music. In that way, listening to music has become an event in itself, not simply just a form of background noise. I have a sense of ownership of the music too. I have invested in something that I love and I have something to show for it. Look, over there. I like that band. Do you see? I have everything that they have recorded. Buying music and having it delivered has also caused me to have some excitement about receiving the package. I look forward to checking the post and when I get a package I immediately set off an hour of my time to listen through the CD I have received. Again, it has become an event.

Well, I think that I am on the right track, at least for myself. I do think that MP3s themselves are an excellent medium and have many positive aspects to them. I just feel that with each advance in technology, we do not necessarily have to give up on what has come before. Just because something is shiny and new, it does not mean that old way of doing things was wrong. Now, I am just going to hit the Raucous Records website before I log off my PC.