Music Industry

RIP the compilation CD

Back in the 1990s, I was all about compilation CDs. I was always browsing through the “various artists” section looking for discs featuring collections of alt-rock singles to play during my retro 80s nights at clubs. Failing that, I sometimes found compilations of cool indie alt-rock from the UK for those club nights devoted to current music. I betcha I have 400 of these discs.

Other people relied on releases like Big Shiny Tunes, which alleviated the need to buy multiple CDs at $17.99 each–an especially in the later 90s when there seemed to be far too many alt-rock one-hit-wonders. They served as instant mixtapes. Brilliant and cost-effective, they were.

But then along came CD burners, the Internet, file-sharing and iTunes followed by streaming and the billions of playlists which are available with a couple of pokes at your phone. The need for compilation albums–well, at least those outside of special box sets–disappeared.

At this article at points out, the death of the compilation album is just one of the many ways music has changed in the last 20 years.

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 instalment coming this Summer, one has to wonder about what will happen to the compilation CD that we have been expecting every 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 instalment hit stores on June 22nd, one has to wonder what the future holds for the “mix CD” known as the compilation album.

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 38457 posts and counting. See all posts by Alan Cross

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