Records

The Death of the Compilation CD: How the Industry Has Changed Since 1996

I’m sure all of us can remember where we were when we either purchased, or were given from a friend, one of the annual Warped Tour compilation soundtracks. It signified the beginning of the Summer concert season, and another year to look forward to the annual Warped Tour. Now that the Warped Tour is on its last legs, with its final installment coming this Summer, one has to wonder about what will happen to the compilation CD that we have been expecting ever year since 1996.

The history of the compilation CD is a complicated one, much like the changing music industry over the past three decades. During the CD “boom” of the 90’s, it seemed like a ton of music buyers were looking for inexpensive ways to find out about new bands, or to sample tracks from their favorite artists’ upcoming album. The compilation CD was a great way to not only save money by not investing fully in a ton of individual albums, but also to discover artists that you may not have ever considered checking out otherwise.

In the punk rock band scene there were several key record labels and versions of the compilation disc that forever changed the way we thought about consuming music. For example, Fat Wreck Chords was instrumental in getting their Rock Against Bush compilation into multiple big box stores such as Best Buy, Target and the late Tower Records at a very reasonable price to the consumer. Additional worthy mentions of key punk rock compilations were: Epitaph’s Punk-O-Rama series that lasted from 1994-2005 and Side One Dummy’s long-lasting (1996-2018) Vans Warped Tour Compilation. Other recent compilations such as Fearless Records’ Punk Goes… series have seen some success with their brand of compiling “scene” artists doing creative covers.

Now that the Warped Tour compilation is likely seeing its final installment hit stores on June 22nd, one has to wonder what the future holds for the “mix CD” known as the compilation album. The way that people consume music today is tremendously different than back in the pre-Napster days of 1996, and thus fewer and fewer labels are devoting money and resources into these discs. With the multitude of ways for the average music fan to stream or download, one has to wonder why some labels still even bother to press their compilations onto a compact disc, if for no other reason than to give away with one of their other prominent artists’ releases for free.

Instead, a complimentary download is becoming much more commonplace for labels who want to reward their customers for purchasing a release from their web store. Another key factor in this “death” is the fact that CDs are losing more shelf space in stores as each day passes. For example, Best Buy announced that they would no longer be selling any CDs in their brick and mortar stores as of July 1, 2018. Instead, Best Buy will devote more space for high profit items such as televisions, computers and stereo equipment, with other space devoted to vinyl records, rather than CDs.

Another interesting development in the CD format is the lack of support for the technology in cars. For example, Ford recently announced they are doing away with the standard CD-supported radios, in favor of the future of streaming music. This is simply another sign of the times, as more and more consumers are relying on streaming their music or plugging in an AUX cord in order to get the tunes flowing on their commutes.

Whether or not other famous compilation CDs such as Top-40 Now! That’s What I Call Music series and movie soundtracks will follow suit with dropping the CD medium as a viable format moving forward remains to be seen. However, the lack of retail space for these CDs, lack of support for the dying technology, and lack of consumer interest in the discs all point the obvious sign that the death of the compilation is imminent. Until that day comes, let me spin this Vans Warped Tour compilation one last time on the 22nd of June.

Adam Grundy Adam Grundy is a contributor at chorus.fm. He can also be found at @paythetab on Twitter and on Facebook.