At least they're still pretty. (Photo: Mónica Guzmán)
At least they’re still pretty. (Photo: Mónica Guzmán)

I was going to save the old CDs from the destructive clutches of my toddler.

Then I thought, why?

They’d been stuffed in the driver’s side door pocket of the car my husband drove in college up until that morning, when I gave the 13-year-old Honda a long overdue scrub. Caseless and scratched, I’d set the stack on the end table until dad came home.

When he did, they were all over the floor, except for one by a group called The Virgins. Our son, under mom’s careful supervision, was shaking it up and down like a rattle.

My husband shrugged and got on with his day.

The compact disc is as old as I am — 30 going on 31 — and its birthday is next week. Though CD sales in the first six months of the year were down 14.2 percent from the same time last year, they still make up 55 percent of all album sales, according to the Nielsen and Billboard mid-year music industry report.

In my house, they may as well be what my toddler thinks they are — flat round things that turn colors in the light. As far as he knows, music comes from two places: speakers and smartphones.

The first six months of this year saw 51 billion audio and video streams, a year-over-year increase of 24 percent. It’s no secret to anyone anymore: If you’re looking for growth in the music business, there it is.

Swell, an app that launched this summer, is Pandora for talk and news radio.
Swell, an app that launched this summer, is Pandora for talk and news radio.

We’re signed up to paid streaming services from Sirius XM Satellite Radio and Rdio, with Pandora and a recent discovery, Pandora-for-news-and-talk-radio Swell, filling in the gaps. Two wireless Sonos speakers in separate rooms make our phones remotes. With a few taps sound comes from somewhere. Recently on rotation: Tracks from Lorde’s Love Club LP, Sirius’ 90s on 9, the “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” Pandora station (my all-time favorite) and “Roar,” ’cause our son will occasionally imitate Katy Perry’s title wail in staccato, and it’s effing cute.

I haven’t tried the new iTunes Radio yet, but it can’t be long now. (Editor’s Note: See Blair Hanley Frank’s review on GeekWire: Whose tunes? How iTunes Radio stacks up against the competition)

Apple knows what it’s doing. It changed everything when iTunes spearheaded digital music sales, but the writing’s on that mid-year report: digital album sales are up 6 percent, but digital track sales? They’re down — believe it or not — by 2 percent.

Music video streaming is the new habit that feels most different. But like everything pop, I don’t know how much of the change is due to technology and how much to the shifting priorities of age. Watching MTV’s Total Request Live felt like a must in high school. Prep for chatter around the cafeteria table. Now I watch videos piecemeal, divorced from the context of pop culture conversation, but bound even more directly to a sense of what’s big.

Last week I played catch-up. I turned on the Apple TV, went to Vevo, and moved left to right, hot music video after hot music video. I saw Lorde’s “Royals” twice, skipped Selena Gomez “Come and Get It,” loved every minute of “Roar,” felt older and wiser watching One Direction’s “Best Song Ever” and turned to my phone to check out Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball,” because it was easier than figuring out how to tell Apple TV that I’m a grown up, and putting naked women in videos is apparently normal.

It’s one of the things that makes me feel oldest, realizing how much things have changed since I was a teen. I used to take my saved-up cash allowance to the CD store at the mall; I didn’t get a debit card ’til college. Lorde, who’s playing the Showbox at the Market on Saturday as part of the Decibel Festival (oh yeah, it’s sold out), said something in a SPIN interview that made me stop. She’s 16, her hit “Royals” is a statement against the allure of wealth, and she released The Love Club LP for free on Soundcloud, she said, because she doesn’t have a credit card and she doesn’t like the idea of other teens needing one to buy her music.

New artist Lorde gave away her music online because she doesn't like that teens need credit cards to buy digital music.
New artist Lorde gave away her music online because she doesn’t like that teens need credit cards to buy digital music.

A car CD player was a gift from my parents when I was young. Today, the car I drive doesn’t have one and I don’t miss it. That 13-year-old Honda’s got a tape deck hack that lets me play Sirius radio and hook up my iPhone for music. All I want is more battery life.

As for CDs, they’ll probably stick around a good while longer, and maybe even make a comeback. One of the more surprising stats from that mid-year music report is about vinyl. Yeah, vinyl. Vinyl records make up a small fraction of the physical and digital album market, but their sales are up a whopping 33.5 percent. The best-selling one of the first half of the year? Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. Thirty-two thousand of 614,000 total albums sold were the big plastic kind.

A few years ago I bought four Billy Joel records so I could frame the covers. Then we got a record player, ’cause why not? The other night, my husband played an Aretha Franklin album we bought from a neighbor’s lawn.

I haven’t tried playing those old CDs on the end table. After the car and baby treatments, I’m pretty sure they’re past the point of resale.

Comments

  • Paul_Owen

    Nice piece of writing. Vinyl, cassettes, CDs, mp3 or streaming: I don’t care. I’m nostalgic for nothing except my youth.

    • http://moniguzman.com Monica Guzman

      It is a lot about that – youth. A couple years ago my husband’s younger cousin, then 16, was hanging out with us in Texas. He asked us what we thought about Mumford & Sons, and when we said we’d never heard of them, that we don’t follow music as closely as we used to, he freaked. He really couldn’t believe that it wasn’t as essential to us as it was to him and all his friends. It was like something in his worldview changed in that moment. And I realized how much I’d grown.

  • tsupasat

    CDs have sound quality. And there’s something to be said about listening to an album instead of just random tracks.

  • http://www.semilshah.com/ Semil Shah

    My two places for music discovery are still Pandora and SoundCloud. Pandora recommendations are better than recommendations from a friend, and I used to be a music writer and have gone to hundreds of shows. SoundCloud contains more up and coming experimental stuff.

  • arkay

    Streaming music is like singing to infants: Here now, gone momentarily. Want to hear it again? Repeat only if you can remember how. As an adult, having a physical record, tape, CD, DVD lets you blend and anchor the emotional with the musical. The only trick is to keep the device that plays the music operational. The music stored on computers, phones, tablets, clouds lasts only as long as the device it is stored on, exists. It takes work to pour a cup of data from one failing receptacle to the next one and it is much easier to erase. Preserving the media and the device physically is needed to jostle and reignite your old age memories, whenever they occur.

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