State of the Ambient Union (2014) - Blake Gibson
On the Importance of Physical Product:
As we look ahead to the rest of 2014 and the years ahead, we
may wonder about what the coming changes to the 'mainstream' music industry
will mean to the ambient community. Much has been said about the demise
of physical formats and distribution, much has been said about legal and
illegal downloads, and lately, very much has been said about music streaming,
causing some to claim that 'the future of music' (and all entertainment) is
streaming. This type of thinking is short sighted. When Cassettes
and Compact Disc's came to prominence, many 'experts' claimed Vinyl was dead,
when downloads became the main way listeners enjoyed their music, these same
experts claimed that CD's are dead. Now that streaming is starting to
pick up steam, they are now claiming that downloads are dead.
This simply isn't true, and it never will be. Vinyl is in
the middle of a huge resurgence, and an ambient artist I know recently sold
out of his entire print run of a cassette release! Sure, streaming will become
a preferred way for some to listen to their music, especially if that person
listens exclusively to the cold, manufactured, overly disposable ringtone-pop
that passes for popular music these days. But for those that truly
appreciate, and wish to support real artists, this will never be an
Music streaming, and to a certain extent, downloads from
certain distributors (iTunes, etc...) means 'no ownership' for the listener.
That's right, it's not yours, you have no rights. You can't listen
if it's de-listed, can't listen in the first place if it doesn't pass the
spotify gatekeepers, and even if the experimental artist you want to hear does
in fact make it onto your streaming service of choice, they will hardly get
paid. People aren't stupid, most non-musicians I talk to about the
subject understand the consequences of adopting a streaming-only music
environment, and they reject it for the reasons stated above. Most of the
people I talk to have already been burned by movie and television show
streaming services like Netflix, where they start getting into a show, and
halfway through say, season 3, the show gets delisted for any number of
reasons, licensing, politics, or lack of perceived popularity.
Streaming isn't ownership. Streaming isn't forever.
Streaming is just a way for large corporate entities to control what you
listen to, when you listen to it, and how you listen to it. It is no
different than what major record labels have been doing since they started, and
it's the reason they are dying. People all over the world, not just
musician, are rediscovering real ownership, without control or limits. I
have a dear friend, named Horatio. Horatio is 17 years old. Horatio, has
never once bought music in a physical format, not a CD, cassette tape, Vinyl
Record, nothing, as is typical of his generation, he's never seen the
point, why would you when iTunes is so convenient, and torrent sites are so
easy? Recently Horatio was hanging out in my newly renovated living room,
where I now display all of my CD and video game collection. I wish you
could have seen how his mind was blown away by what he saw. He never
before appreciated the work and care that goes into artwork and special
packaging, to him, album artwork has always been a tiny jpeg on the screen of
his iPhone. His experience in my living room, getting fingerprints all my
CD's and records, appreciating how integral art and packaging is to the
experience of enjoying music, and finally realizing how permanent, how real
that physical object he held in his hands was, is likely (hopefully) being
played out in living rooms all across the world.
As any ambient musician that bothers to produce a physical
product will tell you, if you build it (in this case print it), they will come.
I create, ultra-niche, very un-mainstream ambient and drone
music. I sell everything through my Bandcamp site, I am tied to no traditional
business model record label. Guess what my ratio of Downloads to CD sales in
2013 was... 50/50? 70/30?
The reason? That CD I send in the mail, is forever.
Unless you burn it, abuse it, fire it into low earth orbit or lose it, it
will always play in a CD player, wherever you have a cd player. You can rip it
onto an iPod or other device. You don't have to worry about losing it in
a computer crash, or if you don't have internet where you are at the moment. That
CD I send in the mail, came from me personally, from my apartment, where I
created the music, it came with a note thanking the listener for their support,
that CD represents a relationship I now have with that person, there's a real,
physical, tangible connection between artist and listener that cannot be
replicated by a faceless streaming service. This is the future, community
between artists and listeners alike is what matters. Not a cold, mechanical
interaction between someone and their computer, or huge corporate entity.
On The Importance of Ambient Music:
Many of my contemporaries are currently in a funk, musicians
love more than anything, to complain on the current state of music.
"Nobody's buying music, everybody steals
"Nobody appreciates art anymore!"
"Modern Music Sucks!"
"Ambient is under appreciated"
Maybe... but that's changing.
Right now is a great time to be an ambient musician. Sure,
only a few of us are lucky enough to be able to do what we do on a full time
basis, without need for a day job, and even fewer are able to do so and eat
well at the same time. But I've noticed a change in the last few years,
people are tired of 'normal' music, they aren't satisfied by shallow, easily
digestible ear worms anymore. When I think back to when I first heard,
and got really interested in ambient music, it was because I was burned out on
what the western idea of music is, I was searching for something that meant
more, something to not only challenge my sensibilities, but to satisfy me in a
way that corporate radio couldn't. Nobody handed me an ambient album and
said "Prepare thyself for the mind blowing!", I stumbled upon it by
accident. So many others are having the same experience, stumbling across
what we do by accident, and the reaction I get from new fans is always
incredible, "I didn't even know this kind of music was possible! I love
it!" and "Ambient music is all I listen to now!" are reactions I
It's what people are looking for, they need it, on a
spiritual level, they hunger for it. They might just not know it yet.
Ambient and drone music is well on it's way to becoming a
movement, and you, either artist or listener, are a part of it.
Enjoy it, I have a feeling, this is only beginning...
About: Mix an unnatural obsession with 2001: A Space Odyssey and a
need to communicate without resorting to words and you find yourself in the
aural spaces created by Broken Harbour. Canadian musician Blake Gibson takes
his sounds from sources as diverse as worn-out cassette tapes, scratchy CDs,
vast synthesizer constructs and mellotrons, then filters them through
influences ranging from Debussy and Holst to vidnaObmana and Stars of the Lid.
The outcome is a new sound unfettered by convention or expectation, interested
only in the purity of expression. "It's not really a choice or a decision
to create," Gibson says. "The music has to come through. You just
have to be listening."
Listen to Broken Harbour.
-John Shanahan - September 2011