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Rarely does such a classification term provoke as much controversy as that of "New Age". Some respected musicians, such as Ray Lynch, positively baulk at the very notion of their recordings being categorised in this way, whilst others embrace it with open arms or at least tolerate it, believing that it is the music itself that is important, not its label. Regardless of the terminology used, there can be few that would argue with the fact that these are testing times for the genre, and indeed music sales in general.

 

How times have changed. Back in the late 1970s, the formal classification of New Age was being coined. Certainly, the style of music associated with the genre was around before this date, but most of it remained either uncategorised or lumped in with the nearest alternative. People's perceptions of New Age music were about to change. Ask the average punter on the street and they would describe their stereotypical image of a genre that consisted entirely of bells, chants and the like.

 

The birth of the Windham Hill record label, founded by Will Ackerman (another who dislikes the term New Age) in 1976, was very influential in altering people's pre-conceived ideas and, indeed, their listening habits. Initially focusing on guitar work, Windham Hill began to expand at the end of the decade, and the signing of pianist George Winston to the label with the release of the legendary "Autumn", was the start of a long and highly successful period for the company. Listeners were captivated by the relaxing, melodic output emanating from Winston's piano. Sales were good, and it was not long before other pianists were added to the roster (W.A. Mathieu, Liz Story, Philip Aaberg, etc.) Another record label, Narada, soon got in on the act, with legendary Michael Jones's Pianoscapes (1983) being the first release on the label that also went on to enjoy considerable success with high calibre pianists such as Wayne Gratz, Michael Gettel, David Lanz, Kostia and Spencer Brewer.

 

Guitarists and pianists were initially the main type of musician on the labels. Gradually, the genre lost its narrow focus, and branched out into other instrumental music as well- although, by today's standards, the typical output was still very focused and specific. Certainly, at this stage of the genre's history, "New Age" was instrumental music. Typically, it would be melodic, accessible and relaxing. People were lapping up this music in great numbers, with some musicians going on to great success, such as Vangelis and Yanni. It is fair to say that this was fashionable music. Perhaps the term "New Age" gave it a modern, trendy feel. The birth of the CD did nothing to harm sales either, as listeners threw away their worn cassettes and replaced them with discs offering unprecedented quality.

 

Something, somewhere along the line went wrong. Perhaps it was a case of too much of a good thing. Or maybe the style just began to fall out of fashion. Sales started to decrease. The introduction of the Internet which, in theory, should have opened up the genre to the world was definitely a mixed-blessing. Yes, a wider audience was reached, but the birth of online shopping began to spell the end for music shops on the high-street. Online shopping was a God-send to many, but a nightmare for high-street retailers. Customers could listen to samples before any purchase was made, acquire the music from anywhere in the world, and pay a price that could not be matched by the high-street shops which had high overheads to consider when deciding upon the cost of CDs. In addition, the Internet meant access to vast amounts of music far greater than could be stocked in even the largest of stores. And all this from the comfort of one's home. The high-street stores didn't stand a chance.

 

However, the nail in the coffin was yet to come. File-sharing has cost the industry dearly. Customers would electronically copy entire CDs for their friends and, in doing so, deprive both the artists themselves and (for those not yet independent) their record companies of every penny. The labels were struggling. Fewer risks were being taken, making it more difficult than ever for talented newcomers to get their break. Established big-sellers were fine for now, but there was no place for those whose sales were less than impressive.

 

The labels responded by widening their portfolios in an attempt to make their catalogue appeal more to the masses and generate higher sales. Windham Hill's top seller, Jim Brickman, moved into more mainstream music which included vocal performances. "New Age" was having to change. Narada moved in a different direction as well. Its music included jazz, vocal performances and what could be best described as "World" music. New releases were fewer in number, and in 2006, Windham Hill ceased releasing new music; its future is both uncertain and unclear. Narada followed an almost identical path shortly afterwards.

 

Today, few well-known labels survive, having stood the test of time. Real Music is one such label. Their typical output has changed considerably of late. Most releases today consist of material aimed at Spas and other such retreats. New labels are still being formed- relative newcomers to the music scene include Gemini Sun Records (Nicholas Gunn, Mars Laser, et al) and New Land Music (currently focusing on guitarists). New Age music retains its popularity in places such as Korea, and some American and Canadian artists go on comparatively lucrative tours there on a regular basis (Kevin Kern, Michael Hoppé. etc.) Most of the label stalwarts (Michael Jones, Wayne Gratz, etc) have gone on to release their music through their own companies- their reputations enough to generate interest from their existing fan-base. The challenge is greater for newcomers, but some do it very successfully- perhaps through hiring the services of a trusted producer such as Will Ackerman (Karen Marie Garrett, Fiona Joy Hawkins) which helps generate extra publicity for their outstanding music.

 

So, what (if anything) can be done to save the genre? Publicity is the key. If the music is heard by the right people, it will sell. The problem with independent artists selling their music solely on the Internet is that the customer has to know specifically what they are looking for; it is rare to stumble across an artist's site accidentally. Musicians need to get their music into the public domain- radio, soundtracks, commercials, etc. If it is good, people will sit up, take notice and purchase the music. Artists need to work much harder without the support of a label. This offers greater artistic freedom and more independence, but comes at a price. Musicians need to hire studio time or invest heavily in their own recording equipment. Most have to supplement what they do with other jobs, and this loss of focus can be detrimental to their music-making.

 

The listener has never played a more important part in the future of the genre and the musicians whose music they enjoy, than they do today. Spread the word, play the music, introduce it to friends, write reviews, publicise it in any way possible- request it on the radio, send samples to media companies, etc. Above all, buy the music!

 

And that is the purpose of this web-site. It is the writer's hope that Piano-Heaven (and other sites such as Mainly Piano) will introduce music lovers to new compositions which they will go out and buy, thus securing the future of a genre that produces some of the most beautiful, relaxing music that the world has to offer.

 

Stephen Cairns

April 2008

 

Do you have any thoughts about how the genre might survive and prosper? Whether you're an established artist, an aspiring musician or someone who just enjoys listening to the music, your thoughts are welcomed and shall be added here, along with your name. Please e-mail fjtt@aol.com

 

Mark writes, "I am a newcomer to the genre, have been mostly into smooth jazz, but it's not that far from smooth jazz to this genre...I found this type of music by listening to the weather channel forecast on the 8's music...was intrigued by some of the different sounds, stumbled upon Bradley Joesph, and from there have gone on to David Lanz and Philip Aaberg...by reading the comments I came upon your name and site...as you said in your musings section, which I agree with totally, have been trying to let friends and family know about this type of music and site...most people don't have a clue that this type of music exists, but they are starved for good quality music...I don't know enough yet to comment, except to say that there is a huge pent up demand for quality, listenable music-the demand is certainly there, a way to let people know about the genre is the missing link...have very recently discovered the super music of secret garden-I already have all their music, and David Lanz, if you know of someone with similar music and style I would appreciate the info...my favourite Lanz albums are East of The Moon, and Finding Paradise...all of the secret garden are heavenly...if you have an e-mail list for new info I would like to be added-if not, I will check the site often...appreciate your site, and any information you can pass on...thanks, and best of luck to you and the genre...Mark."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Since music is the only language with the contradictory attributes of being at once intelligible and untranslatable, the musical creator is a being comparable to the gods, and music itself the supreme mystery of the science of man."

Claude Lévi-Strauss

 

 

"The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes- ah, that is where the art resides."

Artur Schnabel

 

 

"Of all noises, I think music is the least disagreeable."

Samuel Johnson

 

 

"Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent."

Victor Hugo 

 

 

"Remember: Information is not knowledge; knowledge is not wisdom; wisdom is not truth; truth is not beauty; beauty is not love; love is not music; music is the best."

Frank Zappa