Compact disc

Rock On! The compact disc celebrates its 30th anniversary


Highlights of history

  • On October 1, 1982, Billy Joel’s “52nd Street” was released commercially on CD
  • CDs did not overtake cassettes in popularity until the late 1980s.
  • CDs remain popular but lose ground to MP3s and music streaming
  • Whether the audio quality of CDs is superior to that of vinyl remains a hotly debated topic.

On October 1, 1982, the first commercial compact disc, “52nd Street” by Billy Joel, was released in Japan. Over the past 30 years, hundreds of billions of CDs have been sold, Joel has stopped recording pop music, and the music industry has moved on to the next hot medium.

When the first CD player came out the same day, it was described as a “new digital record player, using laser beams” by United Press International. Coming from Philips’ much less efficient laser disc technology (remember that?), The CD is the result of the combination of their strengths between Philips and Sony.

The compact disc was actually invented several years earlier. The first test CD was “Eine Alpensinfonie” by Richard Strauss, and the first CD actually pressed in a factory was “The Visitors” by ABBA, but this disc was not released until later.

Mass adoption did not happen immediately – CDs did not overtake cassettes until the late 1980s. The first album to sell 1 million copies in CD format and to exceed its vinyl version was Dire Straits’ “Brothers in Arms”, released in 1985.

As with most new technologies, one of the reasons for the slow diffusion of CDs was their high price. The Sony CDP-101 player sold for the equivalent of $ 730 when it first hit Japanese shelves in 1982. Factoring in inflation, that’s about $ 1,750 today. The audio CDs themselves cost $ 15, or $ 35 in 2012 dollars.

Since buying a new player and replacing an entire music collection were expensive, audio manufacturers were savvy enough to market the first CD players to classical music fans, who were more likely to care about the sound. sound quality and have additional disposable income.

Upon arrival, the CDs were praised for their pristine sound. But whether the audio quality of CDs is superior to that of vinyl remains a hotly debated topic among hi-fi enthusiasts.

“For most people who weren’t audiophiles, the switch to CDs was a revolution. It took out all the audio noise,” said Mark Katz, professor of music at the University of North Carolina and author of “Capturing Sound: How Technology Has Changed Music.”

Young listeners choose to stream their music rather than own their own music

Some will still say that records sound better than CDs, but this is only plausible when people take meticulous care of their albums, listening to them in conditions without scratching, cracking or noise. Most people don’t consume music in a vacuum. Even today, the average music fan will listen to music on inexpensive headphones in an environment filled with background noise, and is probably unable to tell the difference between a CD and an MP3, Katz explains.

The compact disc changed technology and continued to be used for data and video storage, evolving into rewritable media and Blu-Ray DVDs.

The shiny little platter also changed the way people interacted with their music.

“The format change usually has a bigger impact on the way people listen to, consume and stream music, but it also has an impact on the creative side,” Katz said.

Early compact discs could hold up to 74 minutes of music (rumor has it that the length of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony set this standard) or at least several songs longer than a vinyl LP. This longer length allowed composers to write longer works without worrying about side pauses – where listeners would have to flip a record or cassette.

Convenience was another huge change. The discs were small, only 4.5 inches in diameter, and could be transported much more easily than the discs. Listening to music on a CD was easier – there was no standing to turn the record or cassette over, less time spent searching for the song you wanted to hear immediately. Some CD players even let you program which songs were played or not, and in what order.

Three decades later, it may come as a surprise to some that CD sales and Billy Joel’s career are still alive. Although their market share is plummeting, CDs still account for the majority of album sales in the United States In the first half of 2012, 61% of all albums sold were CDs, according to the Nielsen Company and Billboard.

Even so, CDs are gradually being overtaken by digital files. In the beginning, MP3s were burned from CDs on computers, traded over peer-to-peer networks such as Napster and the back alleys of the Internet. Then Apple launched the iPod and its iTunes store turned digital music files into a legitimate business. Now, popular services like Spotify and Pandora allow users to stream music from anywhere, and Amazon and Apple are encouraging people to store their digital libraries in the cloud.

Like CDs before them, this new format is changing both the creation and consumption of music. Musicians no longer have to wait until an album is finished to release tracks – they can sell them one at a time. The length of a song is not a problem, just the size of the file. Listeners have more flexibility than ever before, with unlimited mix-and-match options. And more and more, they choose to download individual songs rather than albums.

And in an age when computer users can conjure up almost any song they want with a few taps or clicks of the mouse, music stores themselves are disappearing.

Katz doesn’t think CDs and the physical storage of music will ever go away completely. People love tangible things and form meaningful relationships with objects they can hold and look at – more than strings of ones and zeros. This explains why vinyl sales are on the rise, often among young hipster types who weren’t even alive when vinyl was the dominant medium.

“There is the fundamental human fact of connecting with physical objects, which will not change,” Katz said.

Compact discs are unlikely to evoke the nostalgia many people feel for vinyl records, with their spiraling black groove and sometimes trippy sleeves. And for people born in this century, they are already becoming a retro curiosity.

Streaming debate touches music fans

But a generation of music fans grew up with them – Nirvana, Public Enemy, Billy Joel and all.