Subsisting in a Post-CD World

What to buy...and where to store it all?

Neil Peart on why Rush is no longer an album-per-year band:

I know that the mechanism that brought us up doesn’t exist anymore. For instance, a perfect example of how reversed it is, in those days we made no money touring for a long time, even into the successful years. You counted on record sales and songwriting to make your living. And touring was a way to publicize that. Suddenly, in the last 10, 15 years all that turned around and our income is entirely from touring, and recording is an indulgence. In a band like Rush, no one’s going to pay us to make a record. It’s going to be an indulgence. Even Snakes and Arrows basically paid for itself and that’s it, and if we want to make a living beyond that we have to go on the road and tour.

Somewhere between the lines is an assumption that the transition from store-bought CDs to downloadable MP3s had more than just a little to do with it. And it makes sense: If you’re a non-Bieber hard rock / heavy metal band and you decide to put out an album, who’s going to carry it? Walmart? Target? Barnes & Noble, maybe—and even then, only if you’re Rush, and even then only a few copies tucked out of the way on the Rock shelf.

I used to have to take two buses home from school. The connection wasn’t great, but it wasn’t too bad either—twenty minutes between buses, and the stop was right out in front of a Circuit City. I passed the time by ducking inside and browsing the music section. That’s where I discovered most of what I listen to today. That’s where, an album a week (it took me that long to recharge my jar of pennies), I acquired Alan Parsons’ entire discography, ten bucks a pop. And Hanson. Yes, goddammit: Hanson.

That was a good fifteen to (holy fuck!) twenty years ago. A lot has changed. Circuit City doesn’t exist anymore. Tower slit its throat in 2006. Borders? Terminal cancer. Virgin Megastore? Pills. All those shopping mall CD shops? Starbucks. My first instinct on walking into a modern-day Wal-Mart is to lament the death of the CD and of “better days.” There’s a narrow aisle of boy-girl pop discs wedged between the audio/video department and the video game displays. I want to cry. But then I remember: as good as they sounded, I kind of hated CDs. I hated having to store them, hated how easily they scratched. I hated only being able to fit a handful into my backpack during any given road trip (lest I sacrifice toothbrush or extra-pair-of-underwear space for that copy of The Moody Blues’ Time Traveller).

No, I don’t miss CDs. I miss the experience. Much as the older kids missed vinyl once CDs came along and transformed the lavish album format into a 4.7-inch-sized disc pressed into a jewel case, I’ve come to miss walking up and down the sprawling, labyrinthine music aisles of yore now that brick-and-mortar music stores have basically become the music section of The old ways—that’s how my love affair with David Arkenstone’s music began. I walked into Tower’s New Age section looking for something that sounded funny, there was David with his poofy hair and outdated clothes and bad-ass multi-instrumentalist abilities. Mission friggin’ accomplished. Amazon has great discoverability, don’t get me wrong. I find new and fabulous music—Anathema, Metric, Nightwish, Pendragon, Tycho—all the time while browsing their site. It’s not that music-buying has become harder or less rewarding. It’s just…a little less glorious clicking a “buy now” button and instantly downloading something onto my MP3 player. I love the fuck out of the convenience, I love being able to carry around my entire music collection on my laptop—so why do I have that empty calorie feeling?

My theory is this: buying music has become too easy, and even though that’s a good thing, my archaic upbringing yearns for the thrill of the hunt, the glory of the kill. It’s the part of me that imagines how awesome it would be for my employer to switch from humdrum paychecks and / or direct deposits to bags filled with gold and silver (who am I kidding—nickels, dimes, and a few quarters). So much more substantial than plain, boring direct deposit…although I guess I’d have to pawn or Cash4Gold my earnings, then deposit them at the bank before I could spend anything at And then I’d have to store or recycle all the empty money bags afterward—

—whatever. My theory’s air-tight. Music tasted better back when you had to hunt and kill it yourself. Today’s kids don’t appreciate the value of a dollar. Get off my lawn. And so forth.