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The CD Side of Music

I've been meaning to follow up on my recent CD poll/post, but I've been too busy listening to some of the CDs that threaten to flood my house.

The poll -- inconclusive, as my polls seem fated to be -- showed that plenty of people are still buying CDs, and everyone is still listening. I encourage you to take a look at some of the listening suggestions posted in the comments. I, for one, am really curious about the poster who has chosen to focus on one single composer: which composer? My money is on Bach, but this gives rise to another question: if you were only going to listen to one composer, which composer would it be?

Some people still equate "classical recording" with "CD." There's no question that more and more things are being recorded. But does the medium matter? ArkivMusic, as I've said before, predicated its whole business model on the idea that classical music lovers are more conservative and want a physical object, but even they recently modified their CD-only model by adding downloads. Only 39% of my poll respondents so far indicated they still buy CDs at the same rate as ever -- more than any other category, but hardly a majority.

What prompted me to write this now was a recent post from Molly Sheridan (who's written a couple of very good pieces for the Washington Post), whose blog Mind the Gap addresses the contradictions of contemporary culture; she indicated that the actual physical object isn't all that important to her.

She also links to Jody Dalton's set of pieces on the current state of recording on New Music Box, which starts out by stating that contemporary classical recording is alive and well. I won't argue that zillions of CDs are coming out these days (you could check that figure), but he doesn't really address the question of whether anyone can make money off them, and how they continue to produce them if (or, rather, since) they can't.

Edited to add:
And while we're on the subject of listening, Norman Lebrecht today has posted such a lovely and sensitive meditation on finding the good in a mediocre performance of Mahler's 9th that I couldn't not link to it.

By Anne Midgette  |  July 21, 2009; 8:30 AM ET
Categories:  music on the Web , random musings  
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Economy aside, I find I buy fewer CDs than ever before. Once upon a time it was no big deal to walk into a Tower or FNAC or Virgin store and exit with $500 worth of CDs.

I have a "kinetic" memory and can (or used to be able to) know what was in my collection by the album/CD cover. Now, with all things online, there is no single "store" (although ArkivMusic seems to do a pretty good job), no way to "browse through" the "new" recordings, all the "piano" selections.

Thus, out of sight, out of mind. And unless I read a review that intrigues me or happen to notice an advertisement, I'm just about out of the buying phase.

I'm also loathe to pay $15++++ for an "old" technology which, by this time should be down to a couple of bucks. I now -- patience is a virtue come far too late to me -- wait a few weeks and buy the "used" (often brand new) from Amazon.

I especially miss vinyl because there was room for extensive liner notes, all gone missing in the .mp3 world and just about gone in the CD realm, as well.

I do miss the stores and if I'm any sort of indicator, the classical music market might have a mini revival if all that pent up demand could be unleashed once again at Tower, FNAC, the small stores I trolled in DC and every other city in the world.



Posted by: scottmp | July 21, 2009 12:13 PM | Report abuse

Anne: "(T)his gives rise to another question: if you were only going to listen to one composer, which composer would it be?"

In a word, Mozart. The depth and breadth of his compositions, from his youthful early (K. 100-ish) works, right up until the works at the high end of the Koechel catalog, never fails to captivate and amaze me. And the concertante works for solo instruments -- my goodness, name an instrument and WAM wrote something for it.

I mentioned in the related thread that I was ripping my CDs to an external terabyte drive for storage and future enjoyment. Without repeating repertoire, there is 28 hours' worth of Mozart on that drive, and I think I would never tire of it.

Second choice? A tossup between Tchaikovsky and Beethoven -- I am a sucker for old warhorses, albeit warhorses well performed. But that's not to say I have not explored or branched out into lesser name composers while engaged in the process of rebuilding my collection; just last week I acquired a two-disc set of symphonies, subtitled "The Four Seasons," by the composer Joachim Raff. The discovery of works proved a revelation to me; needless to say there will be more Raff being added to the extended collection in the near future!

Posted by: SportzNut21 | July 21, 2009 8:07 PM | Report abuse

I mostly download these days. My iPod has enough capacity that I can essentially carry my entire collection in my pocket. I buy CDs as much to rip them to the iPod as to listen directly. My ears are as old as the rest of me, and they don't really require top fidelity -- because they can't hear it anymore. So I'm basically a download person. I still have about a thousand CDs lying around in semi-indexed fashion. I'd give them to one of my children if either ever expressed any interest.

When I got to the one-composer question, my first thought was also Mozart. Well, maybe Beethoven: not as much quantity, but good grief -- what music! But what then of Mahler? Bach? Haydn? Thank goodness these are purely imaginary situations ... they are, aren't they.

And finally, a brief nod in Norman Lebrecht's direction. If you can't get something good out of even a mediocre performance, you're not paying attention. I'm not sure I'd pay to hear Mahler's Ninth on an orchestra of kazoos, but anything short of that is fine with me.

Posted by: BobL | July 22, 2009 7:33 AM | Report abuse

I primarily listen to music on my computer. A new CD arrives and I immediately save it. Thereafter I *might* occasionally listen to it in the car, but for the most part the CD itself is just taking up space and gathering dust. The only virtue to the physical CD is that in maybe 1 out of 5 there are some interesting liner notes.

My experience with downloading music is limited to Naxos, which I had access to up until about 2 years ago. The problem was that the sound quality was pretty bad. Maybe it has improved since.

I just can't imagine that people will still be buying CDs in 20 years. There's just no inherent need for the physical product.

Thanks Anne for providing the forum.


Posted by: shovetheplanet | July 22, 2009 8:56 AM | Report abuse

Mitch, when you purchase a new book from a local, independent bookstore, do you immediately go home and scan it and save it on your computer? Ever loaned a CD or an opera DVD to a niece or nephew - or a neighbour or grandparent - fairly new to classical music? Or donated your pesky and unwanted CDs and DVDs to a public library? ... Just wondering. Thanks.

Posted by: snaketime1 | July 23, 2009 11:00 AM | Report abuse

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