Love At First Listen: Falling out of love with CDs

David Carroll

On a recent visit to the mall, I thought I’d visit an old, familiar CD/DVD store. I had spent most of my freshman and sophomore years of high school in this store whenever bouts of procrastination struck, when I was bored, or when I wanted to purge my wallet of whatever change I had hastily scrounged up before heading out to buy a random CD.

These trips were, to a young music fan, more than simply going to the mall. I began to learn every aspect of the store’s collection. I knew where I was likely to find misplaced items, which artists always ended up grouped in the wrong genres, and how to find the best deals on used CDs, which, in purchasing, were always a good choice.

I’d buy music with my lunch money and go hungry through the next day at school with no regrets. I’d spend my study halls with my head down, listening to albums I had recently purchased, reliving the experiences of buying them, however mundane they were. I developed a strong relationship with myself through those nights I spent furiously scavenging music in the back corner of a store that resided in the back corner of the mall.

But on this recent visit, I couldn’t help but feel an air of detachment while walking into the store. It was a corporate chain to begin with; it always lacked the charm of an independent record store, but the disposable employees were always helpful and their nationwide deals on used CDs still helped me build an expansive library of music. It had been quite a while since I had last gone to this store and bought something, so I figured this night I would change that.

I started with the new releases, but immediately realized there was nothing worth the price tag. I veered left and began to peruse the Hip-Hop section; one of the overlooked aspects of this particular store. As a young high-schooler, much of my taste in rap was sculpted by the albums and artists I had access to in the rows of plastic cases which held plastic discs that stretched before me.

I began my usual scanning of the artist name markers to see if anything in particular stood out. Nothing did. Nor did the rock section. Or electronic. I looked through their basket of clearance CDs. Nothing good there, either. In a fit of defeat, I sulked out of the store. I couldn’t tell what it was keeping me from wanting to dig further through their music, and try to discover a used CD I could get a satisfying discount on, or why nothing at all seemed appealing.

I headed home, when it suddenly became clear; the music in the store hadn’t changed, nor had their prices. I was the variable. In the time since the height of my shopping at that store, I had lost the value I once found in the store. Moreover, I realized I have lost the value I once held in CDs. I simply don’t buy them anymore. In the age where music has become such a commodity, buying physical music seems trivial.

Not long ago, I sat on the complete opposite side of this debate. I lived for the moments of walking in a record store and letting the week’s new releases define how good of a week I would have, and for the small talk with the cashiers about upcoming albums and concerts. It was what got me through the stress-filled days of being a high-school student. That was all before Louisville lost its largest independent record store.

Now that I have no hub of musical expansion, I’ve been forced online. In an instant, I can know everything about any type of music, any artists, any album, anything. And nine times out of ten I can immediately find access to this music for free, with the emergence of streaming radio stations and the all-inclusive YouTube. As convenient as this can be, the joy of the search and the feeling of discovery have been sublimed for an overload of information.

As I walked out of the store in the mall, I didn’t know it, but I was accepting defeat. I knew I could go home and stream any of those albums I looked at and knew there was no purpose in me spending the kind of money I would have without thinking twice as a Freshman. I had decided to let go of those bonds I once had with physical music.

The problem wasn’t that I couldn’t find anything I wanted to buy, it was that I can’t tell if I’m okay with comfortably accepting this paradigm shift in the way music is marketed.