Many of you may not know that mass marketed popular music existed prior to music being sonically recorded. Before the invention of various sound reproduction systems, musical compositions, i.e. the pop songs of the day, made their way across America in the form of "sheet music." That's right, you couldn't listen to it, but back in those days (roughly 1850 - 1930) many households had some form of a piano and people would by the sheet music to their favorite songs and sit around singing them with family and friends.
Such a scene seems truly ancient in these modern times, but sheet music was big business and many thought it would be around forever as the popular form of music distribution. But, sound recordings didn't take long after their invention to dwarf sheet music as the top form of selling songs. Of course, sound recordings have undergone their own evolution. In my lifetime alone, we've had 8-track tapes, cassettes, 45s, 331/3 albums, and the compact disc. The compact disc brought a sea of change to the industry. By the end of last century, only the truest of aficionados collected vinyl, cassettes were mostly relegated to truck stops and bargain bins and the 8-track was obsolete.
Although invented just before the millennium, the mp3 audio file has come into it's own here in the 21st Century. Given the previous evolution of sound recordings, the mp3's dominance naturally begs the question of whether cds will go the way of vinyl and 8-tracks. Current news stories seem to foretell the possible end for the compact disc. Tower Records, the once go -to retail chain for cds, announced it will be closing its doors. As reported, Tower was a key player in cd sales. But with cd sales stagnating, it is no surprise the once retail giant is no more. With less places to sell cds, at some point record labels will begin to seriously question the inevitable decision on whether to continue making them in large numbers.
While I myself enjoy the artwork and really do read the liner notes on cds, the younger set doesn't seem to mind missing out on the fun of first opening the package for a look inside. Indeed, a recent industry survey reveals that nearly 80% of teens have some sort of portable mp3 device and iTunes and other digital sellers are steadily growing their sales figures. You already have one significant record label releasing only mp3s for its acts. And, when you consider that mobile delivery is still in its infancy and is set for a major expansion, things look even more bleak for the compact disc. Given the sonic superiority of the compact disc to the mp3 and the difficulty in purchasing legal mp3s for teens, I don't think that cds will completely go the way of the dinosaur. But, compact disc manufacturers and the large retailers who are still standing will no doubt have to find creative ways to stay in business as we move further into the digital age. Look for more "bonus content" and other add ons to keep the disc alive. For now, at least.