The dark roast of fresh coffee wafts in the air while the soft blues of Mississippi John Hurt envelops the room, just one of the many vinyl records lining the walls of Donkey Coffee and Espresso, 17 W. Washington St. Owner Chris Pyle’s studio offic, more closely resembles a record store than a work space.
Looking at Pyle’s office, one would never know physical CD sales have dropped from nearly 800 million down to 300 million since 2000, according to the Nielsen Soundscan. The decade’s drastic shift has led distributors to focus on digital sales and new online playlist builders.
Daniel Ek, founder of the billion dollar European company Spotify, said he anticipates the music industry will stop pressing CDs within 18 months because of online music sources including his own and competitor Pandora.
“CDs became a dead technology five years ago,” said David Alexander, or DJ Time Traveler of Dave Rave. “I feel like the CD has been dead for a while and so has the mix tape.”
Local musicians such as Hil Hackworth of local rap conglomerate The DysFunktional Family are already operating under this assumption because it is much easier to release a digital CD on Bandcamp than it is to press a physical copy.
The decline of CDs has also inspired innovation via social media and various distribution sites.
A large part of Spotify’s service is sharing playlists with friends through Facebook and Twitter. Other sites such as 8tracks and Songza generate playlists based on mood or specialized events including Valentine's Day or recovering from a hangover.
Ping Center uses The Logitech Squeezebox Radio, which streams music from commercial free online stations, Ping Center Director Hafedh Benhadj said.
He said everyone has different tastes, so Ping tries to stay diverse with its music choice and avoid foul language.
Other Athens establishments such as Donkey Coffee, have baristas choose music from Pyle’s extensive library, which is displayed on the café’s screen as well as on their website.
“It definitely connects us (to our customers) because it starts a conversation,” Pyle said. “I think what is missing is a face to face community, I like sitting around and arguing about records and talking about how great certain parts are.”
He added that making a good playlist is an art form, in selecting the perfect tune with the right transitions exemplified in the film, High Fidelity.
But Pyle thinks that CDs aren’t going anywhere soon, especially with the resurgence of vinyl records.
“I totally disagree with Spotify … (CDs) are not going to be as widely digested as when Springsteen released Born In The USA, but I think everybody I know, that’s really into music, still loves the album,” Pyle said.
According to Nielsen Soundscan, vinyl sales were up 16.3 percent last year and show little sign of going down, especially since most records now include a digital download code along with it.
Yet local artists still find it more affordable to release digitally, Hackworth said. Earlier this year he decided to forego making a physical copy of his solo project Hidden in Lyrics.
“People don’t really buy CDs, and anyway, (getting) the music to be sold easier is a good thing,” he said. “Anyone who says ‘CDs are going to be gone in a year or two,’ that’s crazy, they’re already gone.”