Stop, Hey, What’s That Sound?

Stop, Hey, What’s That Sound?

Written by Steven Bryan Bieler

In Issue 125, I told you about my war on LPs and my search for an alternative. After a lengthy affair with cassettes, I switched to CDs. The CD gave me everything I had been looking for in pre-recorded music: small size, no trouble finding songs, portable, easy to shelve, and all the album art and liner notes from the LP release.

But living the CD life is challenging. CD jewel cases crack and break. CD players are disappearing from cars. Recycling CDs is not simple. And when people hear about my CD library, they think I’m nuts. Even Fivethirtyeight questioned my behavior, and that was back in 2014.

The astute reader will note that I have yet to write a word about sound quality. I am not about to claim that music on a CD is superior to music on an LP – not in a high-end audio magazine, I’m not! I share the pages of Copper with connoisseurs – our esteemed editor, for one. When he was younger, he could hear frequencies that only dolphins care about. Intellectually, I know that the LP sounds better than the CD. But to me, the CD is good enough.

You could better understand that last statement if I had graduated from something extra loud, like artillery school. But no, there’s nothing wrong with my hearing. I’m just a guy who’s been loving CDs too long to stop now. I’ve been streaming music since I discovered in 1999, but I also love albums as objects. After some trial and error, “objects” came to mean CDs.

The Thrill of the Hunt

Twenty years ago, the CD was king – and expensive. To find CDs an impoverished writer could afford, I turned to

At, you could buy CDs at half the original price. That was a great deal, given that new CD releases often went for $15 back then, or about $750 in today’s money. But then eBay bought Half and set prices free. That was even better for buyers: the price of rarities rose, but most prices sank. At the bottom of this Mariana Trench were the salvagers who bought orphaned CDs by the pound and sold them for 75 cents each or even a penny. (I’m not sure I ever found an album for a penny, but if I did, it was something like Rossini’s Awesome Overtures or Mozart’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 13.)

Half never changed: they sold books, CDs, VHS tapes, and games when they launched in 1999 and they sold books, CDs, VHS tapes, and games when they closed in 2017. (The last album I bought on Half was Elvis Costello’s Get Happy!!) After Half’s closure, I had one avenue left for dirt-cheap CDs: garage and estate sales.


It seems like everyone is getting rid of their physical music these days…except for me and the people I compete with at these events. Before the pandemic, I could spend a happy Saturday morning going from house to house, browsing the CDs set out on a card table or on a blanket on the lawn. This is, of course, a totally random way to buy music, as opposed to searching for specific titles on eBay, Half Price Books, etc., but that’s part of the fun.

You never know what you’ll find when people start decluttering their lives, although I can tell you from experience that most of the music on offer will fall into these categories:

  • Country
  • Christian
  • Classical
  • Celtic
  • Mannheim Steamroller

If these are your categories, you’re in luck. If they’re not, be patient, and keep an open mind. You’ll most likely have to replace the jewel cases, but you might find a jewel you never knew existed.

A Torrent of Data

I once had an assignment at a bank where I was not allowed to bring in my CDs – you can’t bring foreign media into a bank. The head of IT opened a rift in their firewall so I could log in to, but he was puzzled. Why didn’t I just use an iPod? He had one in his shirt pocket. He had downloaded thousands of songs, but in our conversations I learned that he forgotten most of what he had downloaded. He had never had the time to listen to it all.

Why collect and listen to CDs? Maybe it’s a way of organizing the world, stopping down the torrent of data to something manageable. Or, in my case, maybe I’m haunted by a dusty warehouse and massive stacks of vinyl.

I hope all those Chicago VI’s I hauled around in the summer of 1974 made people happy. If I see this title at a yard sale, even if it’s on CD, I will walk on by.

The editor doesn’t have a copy of Chicago VI either.

Header image courtesy of Fakhouri Filho.

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