Music Industry

Are Your CDs Rotting? You Might Want to Check on Them.

I’m finishing up a major home office move that included transferring close to 10,000 CDs from upstairs to their new storage spot in the basement. Even though I’ve always taken very good care of my collection (cool, dark place, never jamming them together too tight, etc.), I noticed that some of them don’t seem to be feeling so well. Discs that used to play just fine in every machine take longer to load. Some won’t load at all, no matter how much I clean them.

Prerecorded discs are generally fine, though there are a few that don’t seem to cooperate anymore. And plenty of my old compilations–the ones I burned for the car–seem to have died.

Something’s wrong. Back in the day, CDs were advertised as “perfect sound forever.” Turns out that when it comes to compact discs, “forever” can be defined as about 30 years–plus or minus a decade.

We’re only now discovering exactly how CDs degrade, rot and die. This is from The Atlantic.

[Fenella France, chief of preservation research and testing at the Library of Congress] and her colleagues are trying to figure out how CDs age so that we can better understand how to save them. This is a tricky business, in large part because manufacturers have changed their processes over the years but won’t say how. And so: we know a CD’s basic composition—there’s a plastic polycarbonate layer, a metal reflective layer with all the data in it, and then the coating on top—but it’s impossible to tell just from looking at a disc how it will age.

“We’re trying to predict, in terms of collections, which of the types of CDs are the discs most at risk,” France said. “The problem is, different manufacturers have different formulations so it’s quite complex in trying to figure out what exactly is happening because they’ve changed the formulation along the way and it’s proprietary information.”

Even CDs made by the same company in the same year and wrapped in identical packaging might have totally different lifespans.

Uh-oh. Better keep reading.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

Alan Cross has 38165 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

One thought on “Are Your CDs Rotting? You Might Want to Check on Them.

  • I have a bunch of CDs from the mid-90s that were packaged in digipaks (cardboard sleeves with plastic trays glued into them; many CD singles) rather than the plastic jewel cases. In many cases, the glue has dissolved, so the tray no longer sticks to the sleeve. An unfortunate byproduct of this is the CDs are now coated with a sticky residue that rendered them unplayable. I’ve managed to clean the residue off with soap and water, but what a pain in the rear. Moral of the story: back up your digital media!


Let us know what you think!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.