The CD is dead - long live the CD

(February 11, 2010)

Fine, no problem, the CD is dead. However, it's worth recording (pun intended) that this passing is not the first so called ‘musical death’ I've lived through.

I recall the demise of the 78 (yes I am that old), the vinyl single, the LP, the 8-track, the cassette and now the CD. It seems only yesterday that we were all stamping on this new gleaming circular device and skimming it Frisbee-like across the floor to prove that whatever you subjected it to it would still play. (Until we discovered that such folklore claims were a touch exaggerated.) No matter, this was bomb-proof music. No more the antiseptically clean environment required for the vinyl LP, no more screams of terror if someone so much as deposited a sticky finger on the spotless glossy surface, no longer the reverence with which it was placed on the turntable. And no more the disappointing barrage of crackles generated by even the most virgin, chaste and untouched of albums.

However, despite its advantages I'm told the CD is now dead. The inexorable tide of technological development has swamped it. The download is the new god and all else shall fall before it. The repository of this online advance, the mp3 player (or whatever else) shall forever remain welded to our ears. Until of course the next result of a nerdy inventor’s mind throws out a new generation of techniques for delivering recorded music.

 The death of the mass-market CD may be inevitable but there is already a mini-industry approach that’s waiting in the wings – in fact it’s no longer waiting, it’s out there. In the same way that vinyl-only stores persist in the unfrequented, un-modernised recesses of our towns, the CD is set to linger on. Indeed, it shows every sign of flourishing – but in slightly reduced circumstances. The CD is bucking the predicted death throes and emerging transformed into another life.

Have you noticed the ever increasing number of record companies, bands and individual artists putting out CDs wrapped in the most startling and intriguing covers and cases?

The limited-edition approach is nothing new - to the CD or any other form of media for that matter. The traditional limited edition is however usually employed to market old, re-mastered tracks or to incentivise sales by adding a rarity factor.  The larger studios are prone to creating special editions to extend or boost sales. Even so these specials still run to the hundreds of thousands.

However, in their current guise the increasing quantity of CDs thus produced are actually extremely short-run, hand-made and really are 'limited editions'. Their very construction and the choice of material makes it so. Today, most artists can put out a pretty good CD. The technology is readily available and easy to use. Once you have the CD, and recognising that you will not sell millions you can then apply your own rarity factor by creating a unique package.

Variations on a theme are clearly endless. There are handmade hardback linen-wrapped lyric books with the CD in the front or back cover. There are loose and hinge-top wooden boxes with CD and photographs. I’ve seen ingenious cardboard-engineered mazes of folds and pop ups. And of course the vinyl LP ‘look-and-feel-a-likes’ even down to multiple gatefold designs that mimic old album covers. Many of these sources of wonderment are classed as a ‘handmade-limited-editions’; most have to be. And certainly there is often a large amount of hand-assembly required to create them.

Of course, not every artist or band has the ability to create such masterpieces. They either lack the funds, the desire or the required dexterity to create the gems. There is nothing wrong with the slip case or the jewel case, and printing insets is well within the capabilities of anyone with a laptop and a printer.

I can’t help thinking that given the size of album runs in the folk world we could be at the start of a limited edition bonanza.

So if you wrap your music in carefully crafted short-run packaging then tell me about it. Tell me why, what motivated you, how did you decide on design, what was the run, and above all – was it a success?

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