Feature Article


 

Lloyd Barde 
Owner/Founder of Backroads Music

 


AV would like to thank Lloyd for giving us permission to reprint this article on the AV website.

Music Directions: Trends for 2001  
by Lloyd Barde
2000

No portion of this article may be reprinted without prior permssion.

 

It's a challenge these days not to feel overwhelmed when deciding which CD titles to stock. Sometimes it feels as if a periscope would come in handy, submerged as we are in a veritable sea of choices. In the deluge of radio charts, promoters' hype, and customer feedback, it's nearly impossible to keep up without a little outside guidance. Hopefully, that's where I can help.

Open Mind, Open Ears, Open Cash Register

One valuable lesson I learned years ago is that I don't have to carry every music title I personally like. There is a distinction between personal and business preferences. I happen to love reggae music, and once thought about starting a subsidiary of Backroads Music--called "Back Roots"--to offer independent reggae CDs. Turns out the name was the best part of the idea, and it never happened. But it was a good lesson in determining the balance between what I liked and wanted to share with others and what I could realistically offer through my business.

It's a given that if you offer different kinds of music, you will appeal to more types of customers. With appropriate listening-bar availability and systematic implementation and organizing, your clientele will begin to count on you for the latest and most essential titles in different categories, and word will spread quickly. Trying out new titles for yourself and your staff and having a greater library of demos from which to draw makes you better able to make recommendations and to "up-sell" beyond a customer's specific request, a friend's suggestion, or a special order item.

I've found the 12 below to be useful categories, all of which have proven appeal for "New Age" listeners. In considering them, let's look at some recent trends and at which categories are expanding their reach or diminishing in significance.

Chants & Vocals Massage & Healing World Contemporary 

World Traditional Nu Ambient/Electronica Ambient/Space Music

Celtic Native American Guitar

Piano Classical Contemporary Instrumental

 

Take the Chants 

The biggest news of last year musically may have been the emergence of the chant-style vocal, where repetitive phrases (often mantras) are sung over and over, usually in English, Sanskrit, Native, or African tongues. For years Robert Gass was the main Chant artist; then Nada Shakti. Now Deva Premal, Rasa, Krishna Das, and many others are taking it to a whole new level, artistically and musically. Vocals in general have shown lots of growth in market share, and quality, level of acceptance and critical acclaim are all on the rise. Last year there was Miriam Stockley, the "voice" of Adiemus, with her own release. This year I think Suzanne Sterling's Bhakti will have great appeal for the chant audience. Singer-songwriters with staying power include Sophia, Patrick Bernhardt, Steve McDonald, Kathy Zavada, Kirtana, Joanne Shenandoah, and Sheila Chandra, many of whom are currently producing the finest music of their careers.

Where in the World? 

World music cross-cultural hybrids are also growing as a market share in the retail world. Broad mainstream success by the Buena Vista Social Club, B-Tribe, and The Gipsy Kings has made it all more visible and easier for the average listener to relate to. The world cracked open by Jai Uttal, Sheila Chandra, Mickey Hart, James Asher, Nomad, and labels like Putumayo and Real World has pulsed its way into countless collections, with Festivals like WOMAD bringing it live to enthusiastic audiences. Current trend-setters in World music include Zap Mama, Cheb I Sabbah, Lucia Hwong, Professor Trance, Steve Roach & Byron Metcalf, and Afro-Celt Sound System, as well as vocal groups like Vas, Axiom of Choice, and Third World.The African continent also continues to show great strength as a source for pleasing, salable world music. Oliver Mtukudtzi, Vieux Diop, Geoffrey Oryema, Salif Keita, Ayub Ogada, and Henri Dikongue are just a few of the silky-voiced, pop-influenced artists who have released top-notch CDs in the last year or so.

Always Room For More Space

The area that I see with the greatest potential for adding titles is Space Music, now more commonly called Ambient. Typically, store owners have shied away from Space Music, for reasons ranging from "it's too quiet for in-store play" to preconceptions about the music being too floaty, weird, and "spaced out."

I believe that sales would be stronger if both distributors and retailers would set aside some of those biases. Listening stations address the concerns about in-store play. Even without headphones, simply offering the main artists and bestsellers in this important area would probably result in more new sales than you'd expect.

Some of the most innovative and influential artists in our niche are purveyors of Space Music. Consider the music of Constance Demby, Jonn Serrie, Michael Stearns, Steve Roach, David Parsons, Giles Reaves, and Robert Rich--just to name a few. Collectively, their body of work comprises some of the most enduring, timeless, moving, and deep music produced. At Backroads, Space Music remains one of our core offerings, and consistently ranks as one of our top three genres in sales.

The Latest Lifestyle Trend: Health & Wellness 

Closely related musically is the fast-growing realm of massage and healing music. It's on the cover of national magazines, and products are even showing up in supermarkets as yoga, Reiki, and even Pilates are becoming ever more widely practiced. Though some of this music falls into the "concept-only" or "lifestyle" trend, there are artists who turn out really fine music, designed specifically for use within the healing arts. We consult with massage practitioners regularly to help them expand their music library, with great results. New artists or groups like Liquid Mind, Weave, Kip Mazuy, Mercury Max, Xumantra, Brian Caldwell, and Deborah Martin are perfect suggestions, and provide equal satisfaction as relaxing yet inspired listening. Classic titles such as those by Robert Haig Coxon, Anugama, Raphael, Bruce BecVar, 2002, Deuter, Michael Hoppe, and Klaus Wiese's El Hadra are now considered essential recordings for these healing environments and nurturing settings.

A Rose by Any Other Name

It's funny how the artists who were opposed to being referred to as "New Age" are generally happy to be called "Ambient," and that Ambient used to be defined as "no rhythm" a la Brian Eno and his seminal Ambient 1: Music for Airports. About five years ago, Ambient began to mean "lots of rhythm," and I now refer to it as "Nu Ambient," though many stores group it together with "Electronica" (usually referring to more techno/rave groups like The Chemical Bros., Orbital, BT, etc.). The Waveform label, founded by Musical Starstreams host Forest, has been instrumental in developing this area, from the ground-breaking series of One A.D., Two A. D., and Three A. D. to recent hits like those from Sounds from the Ground or Zero One. Other key titles like John Stanford's Deep Space (which should be called "Deep Rhythms"!), and artists like The Starseeds, Global Spirit, Banco de Gaia, Makyo, Monica Ramos, and Aria have followed on the road first paved by Enigma, Deep Forest, Delerium, and Sacred Spirits.

Make Your Own Recipe

Create a mixed bag of old and new titles in each category to maximize your ability to serve music lovers, casual browsers, and impulse buyers alike. Many customers are only now discovering these emerging musical styles, and the essential back-catalog titles are very important. Other shoppers are right up to date, so having the "latest and greatest" is essential, too. If you can envision a mix of 1/3 older titles, 1/3 recent titles (from the last year-and-a-half), and 1/3 new releases, that would be a good starting point.

Part of the beauty of this music is that it's not built on hits, and does not ride pop music's steep bell-curve. If you look at the bestseller lists from retail outlets and distributors, you'll always see a healthy dose of Carlos Nakai, Shaina Noll, Dave & Steve Gordon, Anugama, Enya, Steven Halpern, Loreena McKennitt, Robert Gass, Gabrielle Roth, etc. And the earlier titles of these veteran artists often sell as well as or better than their latest efforts.

Tried and True

Other areas to include are the "staples"--ongoing styles of music that will always be available and viable. They appeal, for the most part, to the safer middle ground of music buyers, and are starting points where customers can begin their musical shopping experience with you before branching out into some of the other styles already mentioned.

First there is Celtic music, and what a ride this has been! The Celtic wave of the past 3-4 years has exceeded all predictions, but it finally seems to be ebbing. Burst open by the worldwide success of Enya and Loreena McKennitt and the Riverdance craze that followed, this market has posted major sales figures of late, whether from such traditionally oriented artists as Davey Spillane, Clannad, and Phil Coulter; collections like the Celtic Twilight series; or hybrid offshoots like Dagda, Ceredwyn, or the Afro-Celt Sound System.

You will also find that sections for Guitar, Piano, Contemporary Instrumental, and Classical music will serve your goals and the needs of your customers. The first three are all holding steady, while Classical music seems to be on the rise, evidenced by the Sound Health series, the Mozart collections, and new or older works by Anugama, Peter Davison, and Daniel Kobialka selling as well as ever. Such titles add to your selection, credibility, and atmosphere when given a certain proportion of your in-store play.

Awash in a World of Hits 

If you choose to offer Andrea Bocelli, Charlotte Church, Buena Vista Social Club, Luciano Pavarotti, Jim Brickman, and Yanni, I will agree that it serves your customers to some degree. But it also takes up space at a margin and return considerably lower than the norm. It's difficult to compete with the online outlets that are low-balling prices and getting thousands of "hits" on the hits, and I sincerely doubt that your customers will find them to be the "distinctive" aspect of your music department. This is no knock against these mega-platinum artists; it's just that they are available literally everywhere--and often at lower prices. Concentrate on the uniqueness of your music section, and it will result in greater rewards, higher profits, and increased job satisfaction for you and your staff. It's a reliable way to build a deeper foundation of appeal for the customers who are in the process of discovering your store's personality and establishing their own relationship to it.


 

Lloyd's Picks: 21 for 2001 

Ambient/Space

Constance Demby Faces of the Christ (Sound Currents'). A welcome return to recording for one of Space music's masters.

David Parsons "Parikrama" (Celestial Harmonies). A true space music virtuoso returns with a 2-CD travelogue evoking the high reaches of Tibet through a series of musical tone-poems with far-reaching impact and depth.

Steve Roach "The Serpent's Lair" (Projekt). A pulsating journey into the depths beyond the doorway to the underworld; with Jorge Reyes, Jim Cole, Vidna Obmana, and others.

Michael Stearns and Ron Sunsinger "Sorcerer "(Spotted Peccary). A tribute to Carlos Castaneda: intense music with shamanic elements and conjured images underlaid with space music elements.

Chants and Vocals

Jonathan Goldman "The Lost Chord" (Etherean). Follow-up to the popular Chacra Chants--wonderful music for meditation or deep listening.

Suzanne Sterling "Bhakti" (Bhakti). Chant/world music with original songs sung in English. Suzanne's sensational voice and the tremendous supporting cast made this my #1 vocal pick of 2000.

Zingaia "Dancers of Twilight" (Sequoia). Another great combination of exotic vocals and engaging world music takes Zingaia to a whole new level.

Contemporary Instrumental

Janie Campbell "A Gift from Janie" (Metaxy'). Piano music of pure unadulterated spaciousness, this is a relaxed, introspective, and emotional debut.

James Wilkinson "From a Distant Shore" (White Cloud). Guitar music extraordinaire; Wilkinson sounds like the second coming of Michael Hedges.

Massage/Healing

Anugama "Shamanic Dream II" (Open Sky Music). One of the finest examples of healing music to date. A near-perfect CD with every detail in place, ideal for bodywork or movement.

Nu Ambient/Electronica

Bella Sonus "Enamoured" (Neurodisc). Like an inspired combination of the best of B-Tribe and Enigma all rolled into one. Great cover, too!

EJ Cryan "Transformations" (Inspiring Snow). Debut of the year, with appeal to fans of Delerium: Nu Ambient grooves, whispery vocals, and sheer creativity--pure art!

Delerium "Poem" (Nettwerk) Opens up a new direction for this pioneering project from Canada.

Karunesh "Global Spirit" (Etherean). A new style, blending global/ambient/world elements with exotic vocals and carefully constructed, compelling beats.

Sacred Spirit "Sacred Spirit II" (Higher Octave). Five years later, the sequel is here, with the same power and reach of the ground-breaking first Sacred Spirit.

Soulfood "Wingmakers: Chambers 11-17" (Soulfood). The latest CD from Soulfood is another A+ effort with great rhythms and melody lines.

World/Contemporary

Dolphina "The Goddess Workout" (Sea Siren). The ultimate belly dance music/World music workout, with Greg Ellis from Vas and John Bilezikjian, the world's most renowned oud player.

Lorenza Ponce "Lorenza Ponce" (LMP). Known for her touring with Kitaro and others, this extraordinary violinist has recorded a fantastic world music CD complete with sensual vocals and ace sidemen in support.

M Path "Meeting Rivers" (Triloka) Top-notch World music with some of the finest musicians from India participating in a true East-meets-West project .

Suzanne Teng "Mystic Journey" (Mystic Journey). This solo debut is a beautiful World music release with a great cast of musicians.

World/Traditional

Irshad Khan "Awakenings" (UAM). Virtuoso performance on sitar with many Western influences. Some of the tracks are beautiful beyond belief.