In the age of music streaming, CDs are making a comeback. Gen Z is flocking to thrift stores and record shops to find their favorite albums in physical form.
Vinyl records have been popular with younger generations since the mid-2010s, with artists even offering colored vinyl as merch for their new releases. Vinyl can range anywhere from $20 to upwards of $100, though – not exactly cost-effective for college students looking to collect their Spotify playlists.
That’s where CDs come in. A brand-new CD hardly ever costs more than $20. Plus, the CD section at thrift stores is a treasure trove of oldies and hidden gems alike.
Leah Thompson is a second-year at Western Washington University and she’s been collecting CDs since her sophomore year of high school. She said she appreciates the convenience of music streaming, but values the experience of listening to an album all the way through.
“To me, CDs are timeless,” Thompson said. “I love having physical copies of my favorite artists and listening to the entirety of an album gets me out of my comfort zone.”
Thompson said she can expand her music tastes with CDs. The low price point of second-hand CDs makes her more inclined to buy the music of artists she’s never heard before.
She noted that the trend shift from vinyl to CDs somewhat mirrors the shift from Polaroid cameras to digital cameras in the last two years.
“The newer trends are generally cheaper, which is great because it makes them accessible to more people,” Thompson said.
Nico Sanchez is the founder and CEO of Black Noise Records, an independent record label and record shop in Bellingham. Sanchez said the interest in collecting physical media may be linked to a feeling of scarcity.
“I think people gravitate towards physical media because, in this day and age, so many forms of entertainment are non-tangible and digital,” Sanchez said via email. “Not to mention, used records, tapes and CDs are a nonrenewable resource. Older pressings of things are just getting older and more scarce day by day.”
Sanchez also said owning a physical copy of a piece of media can strengthen the connection a person has with the media itself.
“I think collecting these things is a way for people to connect with the source of its conception, and grow closer to the things they love,” Sanchez said. “Not to mention, buying physical media is one of the only impactful ways to support artists these days.”
Buying physical media is a great way to support local businesses, too.
Ritual Records is a music store in downtown Bellingham that recently expanded its CD inventory to keep up with the increase in demand.
Cory Blackwood, the current owner of Ritual Records, said around a year and a half ago he thought he would slowly phase out their CD inventory to make room for more vinyl.
But customer demand suggested he do otherwise.
“I quickly realized that we’re one of the only places downtown that sells CDs and that they have become incredibly popular in the last year,” Blackwood said. “We’ve really been working on beefing up our CD selection across all genres.”
Blackwood said he thinks college students may be drawn to CDs' ease of use. With vinyl, there’s turntable upkeep and storage to worry about, not to mention the amount of space everything takes up.
“CDs are a lot more space-saving and cost-effective,” Blackwood said. “It’s also easier to take a risk on a $5 CD than a $20 record.”
Whatever people’s motivations may be, CDs are back in a big way. While they may never reach the same height of popularity they once did, CDs are here to play – so sit back, relax and pop in your favorite album.
Aubrey Black (she/they) is a second-year news-ed major at Western. She enjoys making Spotify playlists and perusing used bookstores.
You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.