Searching quickly on Google, I did not find any article about how the CD format might have influenced popular music, so I decided to jot down some observations, even tough they are quite self-evident.
One hypotheses: a particular kind of lame music that was massively popular in the nineties only was so popular in the first place because it was the apex of the CD era. I thinking about Kenny G, Michael Bolton, Celine Dion, The Lion King Soundtrack, Mariah Carey, Garth Brooks etc. This kind of bland thing would have had much less impact and success in the previous LP era or subsequent MP3 era.
Why would the CD technology be a relevant incentive to turn bland music in massive blockbusters? Let’s consider how distinct the CD is from its major predecessor, the LP, and how this translates into practical questions:
– The CD is easier to transport. You can simply toss a bunch of them in a bag and bring over to a friend’s house, picnic or barbecue. The vinyl of a LP collection requires much more care.
– The CD is easier to play in the car or subway (discman players were mainstream in the mid 90s) or yoga class or outdoor activities. Again, the LP works better in the living room or bedroom, which is a much narrower and less convenient way of use.
– The CD is also easier to purchase at supermarkets, Starbucks and gas stations. This type of convenience retail could not really work with bulkier vinyl, which was limited to a much smaller number of specialized stores.
– Speculative: because of the limitations of the LP mentioned above, people were more “careful” before buying a LP. The CD, being easier to hide or give away, encouraged more impulse purchases, even of forgettable, embarrassing music…
So, even if the CD and the LP have exactly the same music, they are different products, bought by different people in different channels and used in different situations. If the typical LP customer was a stoned teenager fan of Pink Floyd, the typical CD client could well be a soccer mom listening Wilson Philips while driving the kids to school…
Going a bit deeper. Sequencing a LP was a peculiar art. You have “just” 40 minutes to fill, in two sides (A/B) with distinct personalities. The first song of each side is much easier to find than the others and people hardly bother to skip tracks. The CD is a single side of up to 80 minutes, easier to skip and play at random. So, the ideal LP should be a 40 minute journey, with peaks and valleys distributed between two acts. The typical CD could be an hour or more of homogenous music. Very different creative skills required.
(There is a clear historical parallel: when the Beatles and the Beach Boys invented Album Rock, many bands great at making singles were left behind…)
Speculative: the organic and warm feel of the LP sound encourages earthier music for the “body”, while the crystalline artificiality of the CD rewards more brightness and sparkle for the “mind”… (In short: John Bonham out; Enya in)
Any other points worth mentioning?
My real question is how obvious these points really are. Did the music industry figured all this out long ago? A phenomenon like Kenny G was accidental or predicted?
Look at the career of uber uber producer Mutt Lange, the sound-obsessed guy who evolved from AC/DC and Def Leppard to Bryan Adams and Shania Twain. Did he knew this all along?