Ten Commandments for CD Makers

Copyright © by Fred Flaxman, 1997.

I'm a CD junkie. I spend every free moment going through CD mail-order catalogs and every extra dollar feeding my habit. I love CDs. But I have some complaints... and some fantasies. In the most grandiose of my pipe dreams, I come down from the mountain of my mind with 10 commandments for compact disc manufacturers, and they actually listen to what I say:

1. Thou Shalt Not Record More Than One Composer Per Disc.

CDs are so small, they can serve as their own ready-made catalog cards. I like to file my classical discs in alphabetical order by composer and my popular discs by performer. That way I can retrieve them easily. The larger the collection, the more important this becomes. When CD makers mix two or more composers on a single disc, I have a problem deciding where to place it on my shelf, and often forget where I put it. My collection is now big enough so that I actually "lose" CDs this way.

Why does the Grieg piano concerto always have to be paired with the piano concerto by Schumann? Couldn't it be coupled with piano pieces or orchestral works by Grieg? Why must the Ravel String Quartet always be placed with that of Debussy? As a result of this inevitable pairing, I'm never sure which is which! Didn't Pachelbel write any other good music which could be coupled with his Canon?

2. Thou Shalt Charge for CDs by the Length of the Recordings.

Like books, some CDs are longer than others, and they cost different amounts to produce. Surely it's cheaper to pay the recording fees of an unknown piano soloist from Grants Pass than those of a 100-piece orchestra from L.A. If Pachelbel didn't write anything worth recording besides his Canon, why not put the Canon all by itself on a CD and charge much less for it?

There are various cost factors that go into making a compact disc in addition to the manufacture of the disc itself. And even the price for making an individual disc varies, depending on the quantity struck. Large original oil paintings often cost more than smaller paintings by the same artist. I think the same should be true of different time lengths on CDs.

3. Thou Shalt Charge Less for Analog Re-recordings than for All-Digital Releases.

It's not fair to ask the same amount of money for a re-release of an analog recording made many years ago, and previously issued on LP and cassette, as for a brand-new, state-of-the-art, digitally mastered compact disc. In recent years several manufacturers have been adhering to this commandment by creating budget lines for their re-releases.

4. Thou Shalt Clearly Indicate and Distinguish All-Digital Records from those Mastered on Analog Equipment.

Some manufacturers are better at living up to this commandment than others. But it is sometimes impossible to tell in catalogs and advertisements which CDs are digitally recorded and which are not. Some labels don't even put this information on the CDs themselves. Others hide it some place inside the brochure. This makes it hard for people like me who want to replace their analog LPs with digital CDs.

5. Thou Shalt Use the Second Side of the CD to Complete a Work Too Long to Fit on Side One.

Surely if we can send men to the moon, we can record on both sides of a CD. Rather than put long Mahler symphonies on two CDs, it would be much more convenient to have them on one. Jewel boxes with two CDs are awkward to open, close and store. Two sides of one CD should hold up to two hours 20 minutes of music. Anything longer than that would be improved by editing out the boring parts!

6. Thou Shalt Include a Proper Brochure of Program Notes in Each Jewel Box.

Every once in a while a CD maker tries to get away with a single sheet with small print folded into the form of a brochure. These are unreadable by people whose eyesight isn't what it used to be. Furthermore they generally can fit only a few paragraphs, each of which is then repeated in French, German, Spanish, Italian and what looks to me like Outer Mongolian. Good program notes are one of the advantages of buying CDs over taping performances from the radio. All manufacturers should realize this.

7. Thou Shalt Package Each CD in a Standard Jewel Box.

One of the many advantages of CDs over the old LPs is the package they come in. They are almost always made of high quality clear plastic, which is bound to last much longer than the cardboard jackets of their predecessors. The sidebands are wide and clearly printed, enabling listeners to pick out CDs from their storage systems with ease. But, in an effort to cut the high costs of CDs, some manufacturers have experimented with cardboard wallets. I, for one, would rather pay a bit more to have all my CDs in uniform jewel boxes.

8. Thou Shalt Adopt a Consistent System for Printing Sidebands.

CD makers would do well to encourage people's collecting instincts by agreeing to uniform sidebands as well as common jewel boxes. For classical recordings, I suggest placing the composers name on the left, followed by a colon, followed by the name of the composition(s) in English, with the CD label and number on the far right (i.e., FETTUCCINI: Symphony No. 6 ("The Pasta Roll") / FRS CD-2076). Popular recordings or collections where the artist is the most important element would substitute the performer's name for the composer in capital letters on the left (i.e., SCHMALOWITZ: The First and Last Performance / SRF CD-6702). This would make it easier for CDs to serve as their own catalog cards, and much quicker to retrieve and replace them in storage.

9. Thou Shalt Seek Maximum Diversification of the CD Catalog.

Instead of supplying the 124th CD of Berlioz' Symphonie fantastique, couldn't a company put out a first CD of another Berlioz work, or something by someone else not yet found on CD? Here again, I have noticed progress in recent years, thanks especially to Marco Polo ("the label of discovery") with its recordings by the Hong Kong Philharmonic (no kidding! The Orchestra of Outer Mongolia will be next!).

10. Thou Shalt Send a Copy of Each CD Issued to the Author of This Article.

This, of course, is a CD junkie's ultimate fantasy. Perhaps it would come true if I mailed each CD maker a change of address card for the Library of Congress Copyright Office, substituting my address for theirs.

The Internet may not be a superhighway, but it can be a two-way street! Please take a moment to send your e-mail reaction to this piece to the author at


Back to the Compact Discoveries table of contents

back to Fred Flaxman's Home Page

  2009 Compact Discoveries