THE CD IS NOT DEAD DESPITE WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING

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It seems that every print publication, web publication or any other form of media that focuses on music has articles on the imminent death of the CD.  While I can’t honestly say I have read all of these, or any of these from start to finish I can say that I don’t think a) its totally accurate and b) I don’t think the writers have extended their research far enough to back up the big bold headlines that THE CD IS DEAD.

Cellar Live, the record label that I own, has a catalogue of forty plus records, and although we are not making millions, we are self-sustaining and having fun, while producing some great music.  Of course, we have some distinct advantages over other record labels, as most of our music is recorded live at The Cellar Restaurant / Jazz Club, a venue which I own, therefore we do not incur studio costs.  Perhaps the biggest advantage we have is the average sixty patrons per night who come through the club, look through the catalogue, and make purchases.  It is fair to assume that these people represent our niche market.  We cannot however simply ignore the changes that are occurring rapidly within the industry. I do not think for one minute, that our advantages exempt us from the reality facing the music industry, when it comes to music purchases.

The major increase in digital downloads combined with the continuous downsizing and / or closing of record stores, would lead one to easily conclude that the CD is dead.  Has anyone ever stopped and considered that smaller venues and small venue music such as jazz, folk etc. might just keep the CD alive and viable for many years to come?  I say small venue music, because it is in small venues that audiences have access to the artists. They can meet the artist, talk with them, get their picture taken with them, and most importantly buy a CD which they can have the artist autograph.

There is nothing that excites people more than being in the crowd during an awe inspiring live performance. In the heat of the moment, they will do whatever it takes to satisfy that hunger and to get their hands on the music while they are still fired up.  They want a CD and an autograph now!  This happens almost every night at The Cellar.  On many nights when guest artists such as David “Fathead” Newman, Winard Harper or Dr. Lonnie Smith, are performing, with a sharpie in hand and seeking autographs, people literally rush the stage during the set break.

How do you autograph a digital download?  Maybe instead of CDs musicians will start selling flash drives with the record on it. How do you sign that, proudly display it at home or show it to your friends?  Can you foresee a time when these musicians tell people to go home and buy the CD online? It has happened but artists are missing out on sales as well as making many new fans. Legendary tenor saxophonist Frank Wess played the club to a sold out house and those in attendance were disappointed that Mr. Wess did not have with him any CDs to sell.  I would bet money on the fact that not very many people, if any, went home and googled Frank Wess so they could purchase his CDs.  A similar thing happened with tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton.  It is not only the better known artists that get bombarded with CD and autograph requests, it happens to wonderful local musicians as well.

Frequently Cellar Live artists will purchase their own records from me to take on tour with them, only to have them to call, before the tour is over and request even more.  That occurs, because people hear the music live and they want the CD now!  In contrast, when you hear music on the radio, at the store or at a friend’s house, it is not as immediate.

For jazz more than any other genre, the liner notes are important.  There is a greater need to know who recorded the session, where it was recorded, what year it was recorded, who the sidemen were and to read a description of the music.  Does anyone care who is playing the triangle on a Madonna record or Sting record?

Do Sting, Madonna, or Herbie Hancock care if they have CDs to sell at a show? I suspect that they do not. They are big label folks and probably don’t have a whole lot of interest in whether they sell 10,000 or 10 million records. They are probably not interested in how people buy them.  You will likely never have any personal connection with any of the aforementioned artists so you are more likely to purchase a download of their music. When an opportunity for personal connection exists, quick chat and an autograph opportunity, the CD becomes more important.

A small anecdote; about a year ago I purchased online, two sets of Dave Douglas’ Live at The Jazz Standard.  Greenleaf Music is a great site and an innovator in the digital music movement.  They have seven nights of music that are available exclusively through downloading.  You can purchase single tunes, whole sets or the whole week!  I bought two sets and really enjoyed them. Three months later, I received an email that said the response for physical product had been so overwhelming, they were making a double CD available, and that they would send a free double CD to the folks who had already purchased two or more sets through downloading.

I am not saying that the CD will never die, because sadly I think it will, but I do not think that its death is as imminent as many people make it out to be.  It will remain a viable medium for at least the next ten years.

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