AV Editor's Voice
Music has been a large part of my life over the last 56 years and it would be difficult to imagine my life not being filled with a variety of music from what seems like an infinite creative fountain that has flowed from musicians and composers since music was born thousands of years ago. Having worked in a record store for a number of years when I was younger the experience instilled within me how diverse music was beyond the top 40 that gets played on radio the most. This exposure to the dazzling diversity of music has been a part of me ever since. Eventually when the universe was ready the internet was born and finding out about music and the wide range of genres that could be sampled and enjoyed by people like me was nothing less than a cosmic revelation.
It was also during this revelation that I discovered music without words. Classical and jazz music had been with me since my days working in the record stores back in the 70's and 80's but it took the birth of the internet for me to find and become enamoured of the new music without words. Of course I'm referring to ambient, new age, electronic and a variety of other music genres that opened my mind and my heart to an ever expanding palette of instrumental music that never seems to get old. Often we divide up popular music into the decades that they were released and the music lives in a box in our hearts and minds labeled the past. Oldies. Classic rock. Or even just a label of the decade that the music was popular like the 60's or the 70's. The music will always sound just as good to our ears and stir within us memories of the time and place we first heard it but there is a sense of it belonging to a certain time and place in our linear existence and not a feeling of it belonging in the present.
I must say that one of the things I like most about ambient, new age and electronic music is the timelessness that seems to push it outside of our normal linear existence and allow it to always exist in the present and not so much be anchored in the past. What do I mean by that? Well, I've been listening to these genres of music since the early 90's and I never feel like I am listening to oldies or "classic" ambient. My mind knows when the music was originally released but as I listen to the music I never really think to myself, "Oh this is 90's music" like I would with most pop and rock genres. I feel like this new music without words exists outside the flow of linear time. The music has the power to stir emotions without those emotions being anchored in a particular time or place. In other words I can listen to a piece of ambient music released in the 90's and it will stir emotions, feelings and insights but they won't be from the past they will be centered in the here and now. The music will be just as fresh and just as new as when I first heard it. Of course, there may be associations with when and how you first came into contact with a particular release but for me that's not how I perceive ambient and new age music.
The internet and my love of this new "music without words" genre was instrumental (pun intended) in leading me to create Ambient Visions in 1998 to offer up to others like myself a source of information about this wonderful new music. Twenty five years later I still find that the music that I started to listen to in the early 90's continues to be a part of my life as much as the latest releases that continue to pour forth from talented musicians the world over. I might listen to Steve Roach's Dreamtime Return right after I just listened to Tom Eaton's latest release called Weathering but both exist in the here and now for me. I don't place Steve's album into a cubby hole in my mind that relegates it to a point in my past but instead it's just as fresh and vital as it was to me when I first listened to it.
Is there a line in the sand for the type of musical genres to be featured on AV?
I wanted to touch base on this topic in regards to AV because as I listen to the new music that is constantly pouring into AV on a weekly basis I find myself wondering whether this or that new release is appropriate for the mission that Ambient Visions was created for. Obviously it is easy to know that pop music or heavy metal or country music is not what readers come to Ambient Visions to find but not all music is that easily discerned as to what fits and what doesn't. There was a time in the past when I probably would have had a much clearer idea as to what I wanted to feature on AV but those days are gone and have been replaced by a vast sea of choices that are always causing me to have to shift the line and include new instrumental and vocal expressions expanding what AV is all about.
With the addition of the playlist on Ambient Visions to spotlight a wide variety of music that falls under the AV umbrella it has become apparent that the old lines have blurred or been washed away completely by the rising tide of music that has found a home on the Ambient Visions website and social media pages. Of course some of the music submissions to AV comes from artists who did not bother to look over the webpage or the social media pages to find out what it was that AV was all about and the genres of music that are covered on a regular basis on the site. Those submissions are simply ignored and discarded becausse it tells me that the artist submits to any music website regardless of what the website actually covers. It is an easy thing to do with digital files but I still get CD's in that same way that will never be listened to because the music bears no resemblance to what we feature on AV. Yet there are many gray areas in regards to what music will be featured on the website and the playlists.
As readers of Ambient Visions what are your expectations as to what AV does and does not cover? Where does ambient or instrumental end and jazz begin? What constitutes new age or instrumental piano music from modern classical music? Does vocal music have a place on AV and is there a distinction between vocals acting as an instrument (wordless) and vocals with lyrics? I find myself crossing many of the lines myself but I wanted to hear back from those who read AV or peruse it in search of new music to add to their collections. In the age of digital do these distinctions still matter since readers can simply pull the album up on Spotify and listen to some of it to get a good feel of what the music is all about? Many websites focus on a very tight field of music such as solo piano or new age or world so they are never beset with such ponderings as these but on AV where the boundaries are rather wide is there a point where they become too inclusive?
Let me know what you think either on the Ambient Visions Facebook page located here or pop on by my personal Facebook page located here and let me know your thoughts are on how you see this all playing out.
More Thoughts About Playlists
I read an article about how playlists were going to be the downfall of albums and even though I just wrote about playlists in my last blog post I wanted to share my feelings about the idea that was floated in this article which appeared on Hypebot recently. The name of the article was ďWill Playlists Kill Off Albums?Ē which was a question that I felt deserved an answer from the perspective of a long term ambient listener.
There was a time in my past, say around the early 1990ís, that I was just discovering the joys of ambient, new age and the delicious music that Forest played on his radio show called Musical Starstreams that marked the beginning of my exploration of my musical boundaries. He referred to the music he played as ďexotic electronicaĒ and to someone who was born and raised on rock and roll from about the age of 12 it was a huge leap of understanding that rock was not the be all end all of the music that would consume my life.
At that point in time there were no streaming services like Spotify for me to explore new music through and record stores rarely carried these genres or if they did they were confined to a tiny little space that included Enya and Vangelis a smattering of titles that usually represented anyone in a similar category who had made the Billboard charts or who had sold well before. We had no playlists to guide us and to help us make decisions about what we might want to listen to. But around 1995 I discovered an album called Path: An Ambient Journey from Windham Hill (thanks Will) and it became the beginning of my search for the albums that were represented there.
In the early days we did not have playlists but we did have the next best thingÖcompilation albums that gave us a taste of the best that certain labels had to offer. In other words these compilation albums became our playlists and our guides as to what was yet to be discovered in terms of ambient and new age music. Windham Hill had a whole series of these compilations over the years as did Narada Records and it was these compilations that always spurred me on to find and buy those albums represented on these CD playlists.
I discovered Musical Starstreams around 1996 and that added electronica and chill out music to my knowledge base and those influences have been with me ever since. Those were my playlists in a time before playlists and they did not kill off my desire for albums but rather enhanced that desire by allowing me to get a taste of the album before actually purchasing it. To me the compilation albums from days gone past and the playlists that currently dot the Spotify landscape are signposts that give direction to discerning listeners as to what artists they should be exploring in more depth and rather than destroy album sales or streams they point the way as to particular artists to focus on.
I will be the first to say that with Spotify and other streaming services the musically landscape has become filled to overflowing with new titles pouring out on Fridays each week and many just appearing as soon as they are completed by the artist regardless of the day of week. With such an influx of music to sift through each week and knowing that there will be more next week listeners can be overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of titles that are available. No one wants to miss a new release by a favorite artist or miss out on discovering a new favorite artist because they didnít have time to find them amidst the flood of music.
I think that playlists in the ambient, electronic, new age and electronica communities will bring to light those artists classic or new whose music is important to our community out into the spotlight so they can be rediscovered or found for the very first time by listeners around the globe. I think that ambient and associated genres of music have a dedicated fan base who support their favorite artistís releases and that playlists act as a guide not as competition to those albums. When I hear a song by an artist on a playlist that I really love my first action after that is to find that artist and listen to their catalog more in depth and see if their music as a whole would be something that would find a place in the music that fills my life.
I think that the fans of the music that Ambient Visions has covered for the last 18 years are not your typical pop music churn and burn fans who are only interested in that one song on an album that they can intensely consume on an MP3 on their phones for a few weeks before moving on to find the next big thing. I have been listening to that same Path Windham Hill release for the last 23 years and will probably be listening to it on my death bed. I searched out every album on that Windham Hill release and acquired it one by one and that is still my modus operandi with playlists to this day. They are my guide but they are not the end of the journey. I hope that the readers of Ambient Visions share this sentiment with me and will always listen deeply to artists that they find interesting on the playlists they consume whether it is the Ambient Visions weekly playlist or one of the other fine playlists that are scattered over the internet on various services.
Streaming services are great but not as great as having the music at your beck and call via having a CD copy in your collection or having downloaded the album itself in both MP3 and a higher definition format. Several thousand CDs later and downloads enough to fill a few TB drives Iím going to have to say that playlists donít kill ambient album sales they multiply them. Drop me a line and let me know what you think or pop into the AV Twitter account to weigh in on this topic. The past, the present and the future of ambient/new age genres is for me like living in the Nexus and living in pure joy. See you next time.
Playlists, just how important are they to an artist's success?
There was a time before digital when record stores were the place to go to learn about new releases and to pick the brains of knowledgeable salespeople who were well versed in what was worth listening to and what to stay away from. Having worked in this environment for quite a number of years I know that I was able to open up the minds of a lot of my customers to new music that they didn't know they loved until I showed them why they should love it. I worked at a department store called Swallens in Cincinnati, OH during my training before taking on a record department of my own at a store closer to where I lived. There were music charts in Billboard magazine to give you a clue as to what was generally popular but the true revelations of musical gems came from the employees themselves who knew the music and shared that knowledge one on one with customers. We were the playlists that customers depended on in an age before digital and streaming.
Of course we all thought that once everyone had access to all the new releases online there would be no need for a curator to help you find that perfect music because everyone would do that for themselves by simply surfing the net and finding the song and making up their own minds by listening to the music. Yet I find that once the floodgates of music opened on a global scale discovering and listening to just the right music had become almost impossibly challenging for the average listener because of the tremendous amount of listening choices that they now had to make for themselves. For those of us who had once worked in the music industry or who continue to work in it on the internet it became harder to keep up with new releases because of how many new albums became available each and every week. Many worthy titles were lost in the deluge which meant that many talented artists who should have been seen and heard by listeners here and around the world simply go unnoticed and fade away without being heard.
While playlists are not the be all end all for making sure an artist gets noticed by their fans/potential fans it is another tool that those of us who try to keep up with the music use to make sure that great new releases get to be heard and donít simply disappear shortly after they come out. Making it onto certain playlists is a boost to many artistsí visibility and allows them to be heard by those who might not otherwise have been aware of who the artist was or the style of music that they played. It also depends on how well known the playlist curator is and how many listeners depend on his/her tastes in music to help guide them to music that they will like. It is a way for artists to rise above the massive amount of new releases that become available each week and to make impressions on those who may well become big fans of the artist once they are exposed to the music and find that it was just what they were looking for.
There are also many fine radio programs who also serve this same function in the ambient music world such as Night Tides, Secret Music, Galactic Travels and Starís End who have endeavored to play a wide variety of music over the years so that their listeners can hear some of the great music that perhaps slipped through the cracks when they were first released. Traditional radio has always served this purpose no matter the format but the mainstream radio shows have become more homogenized and restricted over the years as big record labels and superstar releases seem to dominate what is played on these corporate stations. Ambient and electronic music is a small niche in the overall music industry and will probably never find itself at the mercy of large record labels or corporate radio playlists but will continue to spotlight quality new releases instead of being forced to play superstar releases in heavy rotation.
Playlists have become the outreach for those of us who do not have the resources or the time to become podcasters or radio programmers but who do have access to much insight into the latest new releases and the tracks that will be attractive to those who are searching for nuggets in a rushing stream of music that only becomes larger as each new release adds to the flow. Ambient Visions only recently started to offer a playlist that will spotlight some of the new releases that I run across but is limited to those releases that are available on Spotify and as we know not all artists want their music to be on Spotify. In the coming weeks perhaps AV will branch into offering a playlist of great new songs that are available on Bandcamp or other alternative sources of new music on the web. Any way you look at it playlists have become the latest tool that will help listeners find the music that they are searching for and connect artists with the fans who might very well become supporters of their music by purchasing it from them instead of just streaming it online.
I've been thinking (look out...) about why musicians are always held to being innovative in the sense that they always have to be breaking through new frontiers with their music. I know that technology always makes things easier and allows an artist to experiment more but is that necessary? What's wrong with a little different but the same? I could still listen to the music of Narada and Windham Hill (I still do actually) but with slight variations and new songs but breaking new ground, why is that so important as an ultimate goal? I don't think the ground that was being farmed by those artists on those labels and many others was ever completely drained of its creativity and resources to the point where fans would have stopped supporting it. Steve Roach has always worked the same ground but working it in new ways and bringing out the nuances of that ground in new and innovative ways but Steve Roach's music will always be the same but different. Not a bad thing mind you.
I realize that it is the artist who eventually decides that they can no longer work a piece of ground anymore and they abandon it completely in search of something different that they feel will fulfill them as they begin work on their next phase. As a listener I have mixed feelings about when an artist that I really enjoy abandons the style of music that first attracted me to them and goes off in search of new pastures. I might still listen to their music but the magic of that first love will not be as strong for subsequent releases. I know that this is an issue that mainstream artists face as well. When Taylor Swift gave up country and started doing pop did all her country fans follow her over into her new phase? Or when Robert Plant had a country phase in the recent past do you think that his fans from his Zeppelin days or his solo career followed him to this new exploration? Maybe, but it was just too strange for me so I didn't.
Not everyone will feel that way I'm sure. It would be like Will Ackerman suddenly giving up his style of guitar playing that I have enjoyed for many, many years and started to play pop music with vocals. It would still be Will's music but the very thing that attracted me to his music in the first place would be gone and so would my interest. I would also suppose that it would depend on how far the artist veered from their original musical path as to the negative impact it would have on their fan base. Using Will's music as an example again if he chose to start playing classical music or even composing new classical music it would be relatively close to what he did before and might not cause a ripple among his fans. If he started to play guitar oriented jazz music ala Lee Ritenour or Larry Carlton it would be a slightly harder turn than classical and hard core fans of his Windham Hill material may or may not follow. Windham Hill and Narada both began adding a more jazz tinged release schedule over the years and so again it depends on the fans themselves as to whether or not they would stick with the musical evolutions of the artists that they follow.
Now if Will put out a pop music album or a hard rock album or even a metal album I think it might garner just a bit of curiosity but I'm almost certain that Will's fans would certainly not follow him there. Perhaps you might remember Pat Boone's strange sojourn into heavy metal back in 1997 with an album called In a Metal Mood where he donned leather, a dog collar and covered an AC/DC song among others. So there is a balance between fan expectations and artist's musical evolution or growth that comes into play in the musical careers of any given musician or composer. Some musicians/composers have been just fine with the whole idea of living within those fan expectations and experimenting within a certain framework so that the music is the same but different. Variations on a theme that permeates an artist's catalog for their entire career. So let me hear from some artists out there about balancing fan expectations and artistic evolution when it comes to the music you compose.
How do you approach this whole idea of living within this framework or do you even try? Superstar mainstream artists will spend the rest of their lives playing their "hits" because that is what their fans want to hear. While they are still experimenting in a realtively narrow spectrum does that limit creativity or does that force the artist to be even more creative to continue to be original within that framework? If I get few good responses I may publish them on AV as a reply to this blog piece. Give me your thoughts as Mr. Spock might say. Or My Mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts. Drop me an e-mail at Michael at Ambient Visions dot com and let me know what you think.
Iíve been pretty quiet here on Ambient Visions as of late to the point where some have even expressed the thought to me that they thought the site was no longer active. Iíve always done some updating on the charts and playlists page, tried to keep the new releases page pointing out what you should be looking for and keeping the standout releases posted to the front page of the site so that you will know what titles should be on your purchase or must listen to list. With Spotify and Bandcamp there is very little reason that fans of ambient music should be completely unaware of what a particular artist sounds like and in many instances it offers fans a chance to hear their latest releases on the day they come out. I wonít go into the whole debate about whether streaming is giving enough back to the artists to allow them to continue their musical pursuits but I think that it will be the topic of discussions here on AV as they are within any other musical community discussing the future of the musical arts.
If you are on Facebook you might also have noticed that the Ambient Visions page as well as my own personal page have disappeared from the platform. Short story is that I could no longer tolerate their cavalier handling of millions of peopleís personal information including my own to the point that I decided that I was no longer going to be a part of their social ecosystem anymore. This is a choice everyone makes for themselves and I do not tout my view as being the way everyone should approach this issue. I just wanted to let everyone know here on the website that if you are still looking for information about Ambient Visions in the social sphere you can find me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AmbientVisions and be sure to use or check the hashtag #ambientvisions where the posts will collect and you can peruse them all at once. While I am sure that Twitter is not pure as the driven snow when it comes to the use of my personal information I do not intend to fill this account with anything except my interest in music and in particular ambient and related genres.
Facebook became a repository of information about our views on a wide range of subjects and personal information which is a gold mine for those involved in targeting marketing ads or influential political ads at particular segments of the population in order to sway people to a particular viewpoint. The AV twitter account is going to be about music. Not about my personal feelings and not about all the horrors going on in this country or the world. Just about music. I figure we all need a place of refuge from those things that bombard us from the minute we awake to the end of the day before we fall asleep in hopes that our minds can find some tranquility in the hours spent unconscious every night in our beds.For many music goes beyond the concept of simply being entertaining and crosses over into the realm of being therapeutic in how it allows us to destress and detoxify ourselves after being exposed to the concentrated levels of extreme emotions that flow around us through the airwaves, through our phones, through our computers and through social media. Ambient Visions is about the music and whether you have been with AV from the beginning or are just joining us here in 2018 you will find a welcoming place that will offer you some of the best music that is being made on the planet in the months and years to come.
I just want to let the readers of Ambient Visions know that I have no intention of abandoning my post here on the ambient musical frontier because I still believe that there is great music being created every day in the many genres associated with ambient music and that these compositions deserve a place that will give them a voice so that others may come to know what this music is all about. AV has stood here on the frontier for almost 20 years and I expect that it will be standing until I pass from this earth. So join me on Twitter or just stop by the website on a regular basis and find out what is happening in the world of ambient music. I promise I will continue to speak out and share with you the best of what I find in these genres here on AV and together we can make sure that artists will always have a platform from which to share their talent and their music from.
I was doing some clean up in the links section of Ambient Visions yesterday afternoon specifically on the record labels link page and it really hit me about the attrition rate of labels that were no longer active and websites that have disappeared over the years. I used to leave checks like this to link checking software but basically the software is just looking to see if the link goes somewhere and if it does the link is ok. Unfortunately, many of the links were still active but really were nothing related to the record label sites that used to be there. Some were offers to sell the domain, others were completely unrelated sites and one actually downloaded something to my computer which I immediately deleted from my hard drive. The end result was that about half the links on the page were dead ends, page not founds or offers to sell the domain name to me and that was just a little bit sad for me as I realized that all of those labels which had released good music in the past had vanished. I guess that is why AV is still standing after 17 years because I just can't imagine the hole that it would leave in my life and maybe in the lives of others who would be sad to see it go.
It also made me feel grateful that after 17 years of running AV and 8 years prior to that of listening to ambient/new age/electronica music, which I first discovered via Forest's weekly online program called Musical Starstreams, that I still love the music that regularly appears on the site week after week. There are many things in my life that have changed after 25 years but the music that I found over 2 decades ago is not one of those things. The music has morphed and changed over the intervening years but it has never lost its flavor to me. So even though I feel sad for those labels that are no longer with us I am glad that AV is still here along with all those readers who have been with me for many years now and of course the other supporters of ambient/new age music whose sites still shine as beacons in an age that seems to have forgotten the art that is inherent in music.
I've got lots of work ahead of me as I take to other areas of AV and begin to look through the links and the pages making sure that they all point to something that is helpful to readers of Ambient Visions. In the meanwhile, there will be new interviews, new reviews and links pointing to offsite material that you might like as well. The new review this week was of a second effort from Shoshana Michel whose album called Dancing on the Wind was reviewed this past week. Well worth the listen. Check out her page on Bandcamp to hear the whole thing and then pick up your own copy. I'm working out the details with a fellow reviewer, Michael Diamond, whose in depth looks at new albums are more than just reviews and I will shortly begin to reprint them on Ambient Visions so that the readers of AV will find even more to come back for week to week. Of course, I will be linking back to Michael's site so that you might check out even more of his great writing and his music too.
This is part of walking the talk that I wrote about a week or so about making AV into a place that acts like a hub to finding out information about ambient/new age music and will be pointing to other sites who are fighting the good fight to make sure this music is exposed far and wide on the internet. I think there is more than enough room for all of the sites and I don't think that we are in competition with each other. On the contrary we are a band of likeminded music lovers who only want to help the artists to gain the exposure they need to keep on making their music. Purely selfish motives because it means that we also will always have a supply of fresh, newly created music to listen to. I hope that others will point back to Ambient Visions as a source of info about ambient/new age music but that has never been my motive for pointing to sources outside of AV. The music is the thing now and the music will be the thing as long as AV exists. Monday is dead ahead so enjoy the rest of your Sunday, listen to some good music, do some shopping if that is the sort of thing that relaxes you and I will talk to you again soon.
Coming down the home stretch for 2016 as we begin our march towards December 31 and a brand new year of music in 2017 for all of us to enjoy. Of course there is a little holiday in between here and there called Christmas that we will have to pass through first but I'm sure we will all do just fine. Just go online and buy everyone on your Christmas list a variety of ambient/new age releases and spread the joy that you have all year long as you listen to your favorite ambient artists from January through December. With the days getting colder here on the East Coast of the U.S. I anticipate spending a lot more time inside with a pair of headphones on catching up with some great music that I may have missed in recent months. The first few albums that I listened to were fantastic so I am eagerly looking forward to devouring many of the new titles that have shown up in my e-mail box and my PO Box during that time.
With albums by Dean De Benedictus, Tom Eaton, Matthew Stewart, Rudy Adrian and Philip Wesley to start the ball rolling I was pleased to see that there were five winners right off the top. Of course to use the term "winners" implies that there are losers which is not a term I like to use when referring to artists and their work so how about I say I started off with five great albums and I am looking forward to seeing what else has shown up since I last delved into the promo pile. Of course now even the term "promo" pile does not apply quite like it used to. For most of the albums that I mentioned above I used Spotify to listen to them and get a good idea of what the music was all about. I still get a mixture of actual physical CD's in the mail here at AV but often these days a promo will also mean that I received a download code from the artist or the label letting me download a copy from their own server or from Bandcamp.
I find that my enjoyment of the artist's work is not diminished by listening to it in a digital format as opposed to hearing it from a physical CD. I'm sure there are other listeners out there who would find listening to a digital file or streaming the music from an online service like Spotify to be a last resort for listening to their favorite music and that is fine. To each their own is what I say. But I would be curious to hear back from my readers as to their preferences for listening to their favorite ambient/new age music and why they choose to listen to it that way. Whether there is some flexibility there or if they are adamant that there are only certain ways that they will truly enjoy their favorite music at home. Drop me a line at michael at ambientvisions dot com and let me know.
Not to change the subject but are there any writers out there who don't have their own blog to share their musical musings on? Or who might want to share an occasional piece on AV to help promote their writings on their own blog? Be sure to drop me a line and let me know and I'm sure we can work something out. AV used to have reviewers from all over the country writing for it back in its heyday but people have moved on to other pursuits, life became too busy for some to keep writing, with the advent of blogging many simply write for themselves and some have even passed away over the years. I'm of the mind that there are still ambient/new age music writers out there who would like to get their writings to reach a wider audience and AV would be a perfect symbiosis. I need writers to help supply the readers of AV with a steady stream of new material including articles, reviews and even interviews as I have received on occasion and.perhaps you are a writer looking for an audience but knowing that it would take time to build up a steady group of people who would read your words. Artists need their music reviewed. Readers need to know what is out that is worth the money they want to spend. Writers need to find their voice and their audience too. Sounds like a match to me. Drop me an e-mail at michael at ambientvisions dot com and let's start a dialogue.
I've decided that my blogging or my editor's corner or whatever this might be called is going to become a little less formal and not every post will concern some earth shaking event in the ambient/new age community that needs some serious discussion. Perhaps it is time to simply let Ambient Visions just be fun as we all share in the extraordinary music that seems to be released on a weekly basis around the country and around the world. It is a fabulous time to be into music these days because of the endless variety that seems to be released each week. We just need to make sure that while we are enjoying the cornucopia of music that musicians are getting some money for their efforts so they can keep on making more music. Anyway I just want to help people find great new music through Ambient Visions same as I have done for the past 17 years and the same as I did when I worked in the record stores before the net. It isn't just me talking to you with pronouncements from mount AV but more of a conversation about what is good and what others should know about. So...let the conversations begin. (That means you talk to me too)
We need ambient evangelists. I know. That sounds strange but it doesn't mean what you think. The visual that comes to mind is a preacher at a pulpit and instead of spiritual things they are talking about getting more ambient music into your life so that you can resist the temptation to fall back into that bad heavy metal crowd. Sounds like a great church where the organist would play Steve Roach while the members meditated on the differences between ambient, space and new age music. That is not exactly what I had in mind though. Here is a definition from Wikipedia about what a technology evangelist is so that you get an idea of where I am coming from.
"A technology evangelist is a person who builds a critical mass of support for a given technology, and then establishes it as a technical standard in a market that is subject to network effects. An evangelist promotes the use of a particular product or technology through talks, articles, blogging, user demonstrations, recorded demonstrations, or the creation of sample projects. The word evangelism is taken from the context of religious evangelism due to the similarity of relaying information about a particular set of beliefs with the intention of converting the recipient. There is some element of this although most would argue it's more of showcasing the potential of a technology to lead someone to want to adopt it for themselves."
So as you can see the word "evangelist" does derive from the spiritual concept of its usage but it has been taken out of that context and serves a wider purpose as someone who is a proponent of a particular product or technology or even a particular genre of music and of course that is where ambient music comes into the picture. An ambient evangelist would be a person who is always out there pushing ambient music through articles, blogs, reviews and through any other means that would present itself to the evangelist. This goes beyond the casual one time recommendation of some ambient music you might have tried to interest your friend in and into the realm where everyday you are posting, writing or finding other ways to promote ambient music to your friends, to strangers, or to the whole world. It would require a mindset that started to look for ways to "get the message out" to everyone. Of course you have to be careful that you don't become a fundamentalist ambient music evangenlist that can't see any other genre except ambient as being worth your time but instead stay open to all the many sub genres such as electronica, space, new age, and the wide variety of instrumental genres that exist in the world today.
Perhaps websites like Ambient Visions could become informational hubs where people can come to find out what ambient music is all about and to find links to sample a wide variety of styles within the many genres that fall under the umbrella of ambient music. With introductory articles about ambient music and the history of the genres collected in one place on AV then perhaps there would be a place to send people to who have expressed an interest in ambient music but did not know where to start the journey. The point is that if the genre is ever to garner any more attention it will have to be because those who currently listen are contstantly out there trying to push the boundaries of who listens to ambient music and gaining the attention of those who have yet to discover what lies beyond the great wall of rock, pop and hip hop that has surrounded them since they first started to listen to music.
The other thing that must be noted at this point is that no one person is suited to handle the job of being an evangelist for all the sub genres of ambient and electronic music which is why many evangelists are needed to push this music out beyond the borders of the ambient encampment into the wider world of instrumental music. The problem isn't that people wouldn't like it but that they don't even know what it is. When someone asks me what kind of music I listen to or they ask me what Ambient Visions is all about I proudly reply that I listen ambient music and that is what AV is all about covering. Cue the crickets and the deer in the headlight gaze from whoever it is that I am talking to as they say "What? What is this ambient music you speak of?" Even if you don't listen to jazz you basically have an idea as to what it is. If you were to say that you listen to classical music most would be able to conjure up a few pieces that they have heard during their lifetimes and know basically what it is that you are talking about. But once you cross that musical boundary and say that you listen to ambient or electronic music it is like you are suddenly speaking greek and no one can understand what you are saying anymore.
Music is a common language in this modern world of ours and crosses the many regional dialects quite easily but if your language of choice has not received enough attention it makes it difficult to "talk" to someone about something they have never heard of before. No common reference points. No previous knowledge of the musical language. Ambient music has not made it out into the wider pool of music so that people know what I mean when I say I listen to ambient music. I could toss out the biggest names in ambient music that I listen to on a regular basis and I would still get that blank stare of total incomprehension because penetration of ambient music into the larger ocean of the music industry in general has been to such a minimal degree as to be completely inconsequential. So perhaps the first step in being an ambient evangelist is to educate the public and the industry in general as to what ambient or electronic music is with some audio examples so that the point is very clearly made and light bulbs will begin to go on above heads as the education takes hold.
So what we need is ambient evangelists. When do we need them? Now! Who needs to be one? Everyone! Who needs to get educated? Everybody! Finding ways to reach beyond the circles and groups that we normally promote to will be the hard part. If I simply join an ambient music group and post information about ambient music there I am simply preaching to the choir as the old saying goes. I am not moving beyond the existing barriers but simply working inside the barriers talking to those who already know the music of which I speak. And since there are no maps beyond the ambient barriers other than the traditional "Here there be dragons" notations and an ominous skull and cross bones at the point where you sail off the edge of the world it will all be discovered through trial and error. Plot a course, set your sails, check your compass and then cast off. Hopefully the digital natives will be friendly on those distant shores where we are headed and they don't have a penchant for collecting heads. Smooth sailing.
I have a playlist on Spotify called classic ambient and the songs contained on this playlist are the songs that first piqued my interest in ambient, space and electronica music back in 1991 when I first started to listen to these genres. To me those years were special ones that introduced me to many artists and styles of music that up until that point I was completely unaware. I was a typical listener for that time period that had come up through the decades listening to rock and roll, punk, new wave, pop and even a little jazz and classical. As with most things in life there is always a desire or a drive to find and explore new realms associated with things that interest us and music is no exception. It was about that time that I ran across a CD called Path Ė An Ambient Journey from Windham Hill and that one album introduced me to music that has been a part of my listening routine for the last 25 years. I still find it hard to believe that a single album would be able to make such a change in my listening habits but the music contained on Path was eye opening and life altering.
Part II by Mark Isham 4:54
The music on Path was an interesting collection of songs that exposed me to several styles of ambient/new age music and was enough to turn a switch on in my brain that said I should really investigate further. There were nature sounds there were chants and there were expansive soundscapes that I have never tired of listening to even to this day. In my mind Riding Windhorse by Heavenly Music Corporation and 12:18 by Global Communication should always be listened to in that order and back to back. They make for a perfect 20 minute peaceful journey that allows a person to sit back and contemplate the world a little bit or perhaps not to contemplate anything for that same length of time. The point is that the music allowed me to see that music could be much more to my life than the next 3 minute ditty that talked about the top 40 topics of the day which would always seem to include love, relationships, partying or heartaches.
The music on Path had awakened me to the concept of music for purposes other than simply entertainment and it changed the way I thought about music from then on. Michael Brant DeMaria spoke of his discovery that music in our culture has been viewed strictly as entertainment but deep in our history in our ancestral roots music was about healing, community building and connection to that which is greater than we as individuals. Having grown up in that same culture I can attest to the fact that music to me was about entertainment. Perhaps that is why I opened myself to the concept of music as more than entertainment when I came across the Path collection from Windham Hill. Deep down I knew that what I was listening to was something that could function as more than simply a way to entertain myself for a short amount of time before I was off to my next distraction.
As Robert Frost once wrote, ďTwo roads diverged in a wood and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.Ē The ambient road was certainly the less traveled road but it has indeed made all the difference in the role that music has played in my life ever since. Music is no longer just entertainment to me. Music is an act of self-healing that I perform for myself as the scars of each day are covered over with the soothing ointment created by musicians out there who perhaps have felt the same things that I have but they were able to translate those feelings into music and even better into a remedy for those feelings. Music is a time of contemplation. Some ambient/new age music simply allows you to better access those deeper parts of your mind and lets you let free those things that need to be considered in your life. Music is spiritual. Regardless of the spiritual path that you may find yourself on music can help you achieve a deeper connection to those aspects of yourself that we tend to hide away from the world and it allows us to clear away the clutter of each day so that we have an open heart when it comes to communing with our deity or with our own hearts.
I realize that not everyone uses music in the same way and thatís fine because that is how it should be. I think that the reason musicians donít like to explain their songs too much is simply because meaning is in the ear of the beholder. It will work differently for each person who hears it because each person has a unique set of circumstances for the music to interact with. There is a timelessness about ambient music that I donít find with pop, rock or lyric based songs created simply to entertain. I still listen to Path even after 2 decades of playing and I find it to be just as fresh and relevant as the first time that I heard it. The thing is that most of the music that I call my favorites fall into that same timeless category. Structures from Silence by Steve Roach, Vostock by Craig Padilla, Consciousness 3 by Heavenly Music Corporation or 76:14 by Global Communication are all albums that I can listen to over and over again and they will never be perceived as dated or tired. So for me the ambient road less traveled has brought me great musical joy and will continue to be a source of healing and inspiration in my life until the very end. Many thanks to all of the artists out there who continue to create such life changing compositions and then share them with the rest of us.
I'm going to take the time to post this to Ambient Visions' page just to see if we can get this down to system so that new releases can be give their time in the sun on the AV page. I have set up a new e-mail address on AV to handle just new release announcements that might find their way to me. The address to send to now is newreleases at ambientvisions dot com. I realize that spammers will probably still pick up this address but no sense making it any
easier by making it an active e-mail
link. Now what do I want sent to this address. Good question and I'm glad that you asked.
As much as I think that I am aware of the passage of time in my life the new year always sneaks up and surprises me every year. Maybe as I get older this seems to happen more than in my younger days but again 2013 seems to have flown by and here we stand taking our first step into the new year. I will be the first to say that 2013 was a rough year for me as my wife and I left Ohio and moved to Pennsylvania at the end of 2012 making 2013 the first full year that we spent at our new home in Bucks County Pennsylvania. 2013 was a struggle so perhaps that was why it seemed to disappear in a flash but all in all I can say that it ended better than it had begun. For those of you who visited Ambient Visions between the end of October 2013 and about the 3rd week in December you might have noticed that the site was not there. I was not sure that it was going to be coming back but around the 2nd week of December things finally stabilized and I was able to bring the site back from the brink of permanent death.
So 2014 starts off with Ambient Visions restored to its rightful place on the internet helping people to find all the great music that the ambient/new age community has to offer. With Twitter, Facebook, Google + and the Ambient Visions Blog to help me spread the word I'm sure that if you stop by you will find something good to listen to before you leave. My resolution for 2014 in regards to Ambient Visions is to try and keep a constant stream of information flowing to my readers about the latest releases, videos, music samples and downloads. While there will always be some Bandcamp music and some videos to be found on the Ambient Visions front page I am going to try to keep most of the videos and music samples out on the Blog which is attached to Ambient Visions.
I am going to keep the music and the videos here because it is easier to post them on the blog and easier to simply head over there and check out the latest music or videos that I have posted. You might also check the Facebook feeds on my personal page or on the Ambient Visions Facebook fan page for other videos or music that I have found on my travels around the internet. It would also be nice if when you see something that I might like that you find a way to put the link into my hands. So many ways to reach me it isn't all that hard to do. E-mail me the link. Post it on your own Facebook feed and let me know about it. Or post it on the Ambient Visions fan page and I will share and post it to my other social media outlets from there. Don't forget you can also tweet me a music or video address as well either directly in a message or by mentioning me @mrf1114 in your tweet.
And if you haven't friended me on Facebook, liked the Ambient Visions fan page on Facebook, connected with me on Twitter or added me on Google+ I'm going to start thinking that you really don't like me that much. :( There are so many social ways to spread the word about the great music that is out there that there is no excuse for listeners not to find each and every release that they are looking for in a format that they will be happy with. Ambient Visions is simply a guide to help listeners narrow down the incredible amount of music that is released each year to the point where they can find the specific artist and album that will make them happy. Not to mention how happy it will make the artist when they are able to sell this person a copy of their latest release.
So help me get 2014 off to a good start by sharing with me all of the releases that really made your day in 2013, that you are looking forward to in 2014 or simply timeless music that still brightens your day after listening to it for 30 years. I can't help direct my readers to great new releases if I don't know that they have been released so let me know about what's cooking out there in the ambient/new age and related genres. In many companies despite having e-mail, chat, shared drives, and numerous other ways to communicate the big problem is still effective communication between people working towards a common goal. Why don't you make a resolution right now to communicate more with members of the ambient community (that includes me) in regards to the latest releases from your favorite artists that are shaking up your musical world. We have all of this technology at our fingertips to talk to one another so why not use it?
May your 2014 be a prosperous year and a year in which you discover just how much ambient/new age music is out there that you haven't heard just yet. You really might be surprised if you go looking. Happy New Year from Ambient Visions.
This posting it to let you know that there is a donate button on the front page of AV and to ask that if AV is something that you enjoy to visit for information or entertainment now would be the time to show a little support. I am coming up on the very real possibility that the site will have to come down until I am able to afford to put it back up. Unlike Facebook or Twitter or Wordpress it does take money to keep a website on the web. Up until now I have been able to do that without asking for help from anyone else. The situation that I find myself in is not typical since it has not happened during the 13 year run of AV but it is critical. There will not be a penny to spare to put towards keeping AV on the web.
If the site comes down it doesnít mean that it will be gone forever. It will be down only as long as it takes to stabilize my finances but we all know what happens to visitors when they hit the ďsite not foundĒ message on the internet. AV may come back in a few months but the traffic may not. If you are an artist or label you might contact me about doing a banner on the front page of AV if you really donít like the idea of simply donating. I can work out something to sell you banner space for a week or a month or some other time period for a set fee.
Of course the Facebook pages will still be here and I will keep a non-domain related blog on the web which will be located here:http://ambientvisionsmusic.wordpress.com/ and the Twitter account will still be open as well so there are plenty of ways to get in touch with me. What wonít be available will be my firstname.lastname@example.org e-mail address, the blog attached to the domain name and the website itself. So please bear that in mind if you send an e-mail to my editor at ambientvisions.com address and it bounces. At that point you can contact me through Facebook or Twitter and I will give you an e-mail at which you may reach me.
I have also considered that the idea of the survival of the fittest theory might also apply and that if AV doesnít survive then that is what was meant to be. If the website no longer serves a purpose within the community then perhaps it is best if it does fade away to make room for those who will come after. I donít say that in a bitter way just as a matter of fact. I am biased about AV and perhaps I have seen it as a website that is better than it really is. In the end that is not for me to say. That is for the readers of AV to say. Lots of people donating a buck or two goes a long way towards keeping the site open for business but I would like to close with a rhyme that usually floats around at Christmas but I think it applies to many situations other than Christmas.
Please put a penny in the old manís hat
I hope to continue to have AV on the web for you in a week or two but I will wait and see the judgment of those who frequent the site. The button on the front page of AV up in the left hand corner is how you let me know what you think of the site. One way or the other Iíll get the message. Thanks for reading AV over the years and for listening to the music as well.
Michael Foster, editor
Ambient Visions has been on the web since 1999 when it first incarnated on GeoCities before it even had its own domain name. The music was what compelled me to create the site in the first place it has been a motivating force in keeping the site on the web ever since. I have seen many changes in the music industry since I first worked in the retail end of things way back in 1976. Of course I have had a love affair with music that dates back to my early teens in the 60ís when I first started to form my own musical opinions and chose to listen to the music that made me happy instead of simply following the crowd. But in 1976 I began a journey into what made the music industry tick and how the music that I loved came to exist in the first place. It was a time of learning the business and distribution side of what made it possible for me to put a record album on my turntable and listen to music that ran the gamut from the sublime to the outrageous but always interesting, always pleasurable.
Working in the business side of music and hearing the vast selection that was available out there instilled in me a desire to be a part of the industry as much as I could since I was not really a musician and probably couldnít carry a note in a bucket as the saying goes. What I could do was to use my knowledge and love of music to try and help artists to reach as many fans and listeners as possible. While I still worked in the music stores I could recommend great music and I could play music in store that would raise the awareness of those who were looking for the next thing to add to their collection. As the digital age exploded upon us in the early 80ís with the introduction of the compact disc it was not completely apparent as to where this might all lead. In 2013 with 20/20 hindsight it is now easy to see that the cascade of events that flowed from that compact disc were inevitable and the only thing that might have been done differently was how the record labels chose to deal with it.
I am still that same guy I used to be in the record store except now I use my website to help point people towards the new music that I find on my own or that is brought to my attention through PR companies or the artists themselves. Ambient Visions has changed over the years and I hope that it has changed for the better but that would be a subjective call on my part since I am slightly prejudiced in that regard. While I started the site with the objective of promoting ambient and new age music I am finding that the genres that I listen to and the music that I have grown to love no longer can be categorized in those narrow definitions. The digital age has changed the very fabric of what the music industry used to be but the goal is still the sameÖartists creating music, listeners discovering and buying that music. The Internet has made the musical discovery part very simple if you know what you are looking for. If you donít know what you are looking for it has made it a little harder to find that next great album.
Now why would I say that it has made it harder to discover new music when Google indexes all the information you could ever dream of, Spotify has millions of songs at your fingertips, BandCamp and Soundcloud have samples and whole albums waiting for you to listen to? Maybe you can see the dilemma right there. In the old days you had a Billboard Top 200 albums to choose from and that seemed like a lot of music to sort through to find an album that you wanted to spend your money on and that was before you could sample it all on the web. Now there are millions of tracks and thousands of artists to sift through to find those that knock your socks off and let us remember that there are only 24 hours still in a day minus the time we have to sleep and work. Ambient Visions and sites like AV are the new guides that help you to at least get in the right neighborhood when it comes to finding new music.
I recognize that Ambient Visions as a name doesnít really reflect what it is that I listen to or the music that I cover on the site anymore. But it would be very hard to put Ambient-New Age-World-EDM-Techno-DJ onto a logo with Visions. J Nevertheless that is what has happened. What started with a very narrow focus has expanded to include many of the other genres that are closely related to the core of what Ambient Visions was all about in the beginning. And frankly I feel a sense of responsibility to help as many of those genres individually or collectively to reach out to as many listeners as I can through my website.
If you are an artist or a PR person for several artists then
please contact me via e-mail to discuss how we can help each other achieve the
goal of helping these genres that we love so well to reach out and touch new
listeners thereby creating new fans and new buyers of your music. The new
models within the music industry may be different than what they were in the
past but they can still be made to work for the benefit of all when it comes to
music. If I canít be reached via editor at ambientvisions.com then
please try m.r.foster at outlook.com Thanks for reading this far and I hope
that we can work together in the future to the benefit of both AV and the
Almost the end of July and it has been a hot one here at Ambient Visions for the past few weeks with temps in the mid 90's and humidity high enough to make it feel like you are swimming when you go outside. My last post was written as the year turned and I was welcoming in 2013 and I'm sure that I was thinking to myself it will sure be nice when the weather warms up. Guess I'm never happy when it comes to the weather except maybe those exceptional days in the spring or fall when the temp is cool but not cold and the skies above are a brilliant blue. It is a joy to be outside on a day like that just walking around taking it all in.
I've been taking the time while I am hiding out inside seeking the cool breezes of my air conditioner to start one of those tasks that always seems to get put off when the weather outside is inviting rather than forbidding. The task I am referring to is to take a close look at the links on AV and figure out which ones are still active and which ones are simply grave markers of websites that have long since died. There are programs that will take a quick look at the links on your web pages and give you some idea as to which ones lead nowhere anymore but they are not always accurate. Many times the program will declare that a link is no longer valid and when I follow behind it checking the links that it has delcared to be DOA I find that the link takes a little while to load but the site is still there. Unfortunately this leaves me with the task of checking hundreds of links to see if they should still be included on Ambient Visions.
I have put this off for some time now and so the percentage of bad links to good is a little higher than it should be but surprisingly there are a lot of sites out there who have been around as long as I have on the web. It makes me feel good that artists and others like myself have chosen to stick it out even though they have other jobs during the day to help pay the bills and feed their families. They make music and art in their spare time because of the joy it gives them as an artist and the joy it gives those listeners who purchase the music and make it a part of their own lives. As I work my way through the link lists I realize just who these dedicated artists are and why I enjoy their music so much.
The links need to be updated in other ways in these times of social media and more open contact with the artists that we listen to. Much of the links that I have on Ambient Visions are were simply a home page and sometimes a MySpace page for music samples. As we all know now that is a very simplistic way of looking at the kind of links that would really be helpful in finding and enjoying artists in our hyper connected society. I am weeding out the MySpace pages and I am adding links to Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp and Soundcloud instead so that when you come to the Ambient Visions artist links page you will find up to date links that will allow you to explore an artist and their music. Not only will you be able to read about them but through sites like Bandcamp, Soundcloud or YouTube you will also have a very good idea of what these artists sound like as well. There was a time when I had to go out of my way to find an e-mail address that would put me in touch with an artist and allow me to make contact with them. That seems quaint to me now as I can go to an artists Facebook page or their Twitter account and drop them an e-mail as casually as I would any other friend I might have on the internet.
There are times that I feel that Ambient Visions might be viewed as quaint because I have not moved into doing video interviews or Skype chats with artists that eventually get posted on the website for people to click on and watch or listen to. I guess I still believe in the printed word even though that word is now read on a computer screen on a website. What came to mind was Samuel T. Cogley attorney at law from an episode of the original Star Trek series called Court Martial. Cogley has a collection of books in a time when everything is available as digitized data on hand held tablets (sound familiar?) and insists that to understand the law or other philosophical concepts then the printed word was the best way to go about it. So words are what I put on Ambient Visions and words will probably be there until such time as AV finally disappears into the ether after I am no longer able to keep it on the web.
The text links that I am working on are part of those words that link to other words and to art in the form of music. I enjoy point my readers to places where they can learn about their favorite artists and connect with the art that they create. Oftentimes you can even connect with the artist themselves as long as you are not talking about Lady Gaga or Madonna. That is why I take the time to work on the links even though I have sometimes procrastinated doing so because it tends to be just a little repettitive looking up all the links and seeing whether the artists that I have spent years listening to are still out there on the web or if they have hung up their microphones and keyboards because they could no longer afford to do what they loved the most in life. Links are important so that others can see what I think are important places to go to and it is important to artists as well so that they will constantly have new listeners discovering their music. You have to ask yourself a simple question... can I have too much great music in my life? If your answer is no then links pages like the one on Ambient Visions is the place you should be. Follow them, enjoy them and if you are really involved with ambient music then suggest new ones to me that might not already be on my page.
As we stand on the cusp of a new year it is a good time to pause for a second or two and bid farewell to 2012 and to welcome the possibilities that 2013 might hold for all of us. I use the term ďpossibilitiesĒ here in a very positive sense as it would be a horrible way to greet 2013 if we had nothing but negative thoughts and emotions in our hearts and minds. 2013 is a blank canvas at this point filled with potential and it can be filled with whatever we want to create on it whether that creation is positive or negative depends on what fills your heart and mind. Every year has its highs and lows as did 2012 but we shouldnít carry over the negativity that occurred in 2012 and allow that to contaminate what still could be a very positive year in 2013. The point is if you go into 2013 expecting the worst that can possibly happen to you then in all likelihood you will find negative things manifesting all about you. The year will unfold in the way it was meant to and it is always best to hope for the good and face the bad when it crops up.
2012 was filled with change here at Ambient Visions and though not all of it was exactly how I had hoped it would be I am filled with anticipation in hopes that 2013 will be a year that sees a cornucopia of new music and new artists creating compositions that will continue to shine the light on what independent artists can do without the benefit of large corporate record labels. It seems that each year that goes by I think to myself that I have seen or heard it all and that nothing will come out that will equal what I have heard the previous year but each year I am delightfully surprised when I do indeed hear new music that is as good as and in many cases better than what came out last year. It is a wonderful cycle to be caught in where expectations are met and exceeded with each new release that comes out.
All of this great music is not produced by large corporations pouring millions of dollars into studio time and paying for very expensive production teams but rather they are releases that show what a positive attitude and talent can do. Most of the ambient/new age and electronic musicians that I listen to every year are out there on their own creating music for the sheer joy of it and then release it themselves to share with their friends, family and fans so that we too can be a part of what they created. I filled out an application a long time ago to work at a multiplex theater and during the interview I was asked how long I had wanted to be in show business. It took me by surprise because I had never really considered working at a movie theater to be a part of show business. That was where I was wrong.
The actors and the studios are only a part of the picture of what show business is all about. If it wasnít for the theaters where the films show the stars would not be the stars that they are. Maybe in the digital age that might not be totally true but you get the idea. The manager of the theater felt as much a part of show business as the Hollywood studios that produced the films. They were just in a different part of show business. Over the years I feel like I too am a part of the music business even though no one would want to hear me sing or certainly not play an instrument. Ambient Visions was created to help spread the word about the independent musicians and the music that they create. It is part of a loose coalition that distributes reviews and promotes ambient/new age and electronic music to the general public.
I am proud to be a part of this coalition and feel as much a part of the ambient music business as the next person. I look back on 2012 and see some great artists releasing spectacular albums and I look forward to 2013 in hopes that I will see even more. 2012 was a contentious year in politics and ended with the tragedy in Newtown. Life can only be lived moving forward so we need to take to heart the very hard lessons of 2012 and then embrace 2013 while hoping for the best scenarios to play out during this upcoming year. To live any other way is to waste the present by languishing in the past. I for one am old enough that the present is exactly where I want to stay and I want to accomplish as much as I can in the years that I have left.
So on this New Yearís Eve celebrate the passing of the old year with all the good and bad that it contained and joyously welcome the hope that is 2013. To those who have supported Ambient Visions in 2012 I say many thanks and I look forward to working with you in 2013 to make it a great one for your music. To those who have found ambient music to be uplifting and enjoyable then please be sure that you support your favorite artists by buying their music directly from them or through some other legal venue. If they canít support themselves then they canít make more new music. And if you like Ambient Visions be sure to support us as well as another link in the chain that helps you to discover the new music that becomes the soundtrack to your life. From me here at Ambient Visions I wish you a Happy New Year in 2013. May you find what you are looking for in even greater quantities than you needed. See you next year!!!
Hello everyone. I've been a little preoccupied for the last few months trying to get myself moved to my new apartment in Pennsylvania and as you might expect I have had little time to write much of anything for Ambient Visions. The good news is that for the most part the move is done and the only thing left to do is find everything that has been packed into boxes for months now. Living out of boxes and suitcases is not a great way to live and I will be glad when everything is completely back to normal around the house. For any artists out there who might have been considering sending me a physical CD for review please note that the snail mail address has now changed and you will find that updated address on the Contact page. Another great aspect of living in PA is that I am living in an urban area now and Verizon FIOS is available as my broadband provider. Large music files that would have choked my download connection back in Ohio don't bother my new connection at all so if you have flacs or wavs for potential review feel free to drop the links by way. Fiber to the curb is a great window to the world.
I have been making some minor updates to the website during this long, stressful ordeal of moving across states but nothing of significance. I hope to get back to doing the artist interviews and doing music reviews on a regular basis in the coming months. AV is coming up on its 14th year on the web in 2013 and I would like to see it become even stronger as a voice for the ambient/new age/electronic genres and help to allow even more people to find and enjoy these styles of music. As record labels and artists and PR folks I do hope that you are with me as we begin this push into the new year and I hope that 2013 can become a new starting point for Ambient Visions and the readers who have been coming here for over a decade.
I am going to ask something from the readers, the artists, the labels and the PR people that have been a part of the AV family for many years now. I'm not going to beg for money or try to play upon sympathies that would portray AV as a poor needy website that needs your help to stay alive but I am going to say that we are in a symbiotic relationship that requires give and take from both sides so that everyone survives. There are some artists/labels who see AV as an ally in promoting their music and getting the attention of the greater ambient/new age community when they have something to say about their musical offerings. All I am going to say is that I support those who help support me and keep AV on the web. I love to receive the latest releases but none of that really helps to keep the lights on at AV so to speak. When I hear new music that I really love I share it on AV because that is what I need to do to make sure that those artists can continue to make music. By the same token if labels/artists feel I have done something to help them reach their listeners it would be nice to feel supported as well.
AV does take donations to help pay the costs of keeping it on the web and other things associated with making AV work. Given enough support I might even consider adding a writer or two but that would require steady support from those out there who think AV is worthwhile and deserves to be around for a few more years. When it comes to reviews and interviews and any other help I can give through AV the first people that come to my mind are those who have worked side by side with AV over the years and even those who have given finanancial aid to the site on occasion. I don't write reviews for money and I wouldn't write a good review of a bad album for money but at the top of my list to at least listen and evaluate are those who think of AV as worthy of their support. Maybe this seems a tad commercial for your tastes but it really isn't. It is simply a matter of working together to make sure that we all survive and prosper using the gifts that each of us possess to help other achieve their goals.
I put the donation button up ages ago and a few kind souls responded and to them I say a hearty thanks. You know who you are. To everyone else I want to invite you to become a part of the AV family and so that AV can become part of yours. 2013 is only a couple of weeks away so it seems like a good time to start new things and to revitalize things that may have been sitting idle too long. Looking forward to working with all the artists/labels and PR people out there who want to work with AV to raise the awareness of ambient/new age/electronic music across the web. Have a safe and happy Christmas holiday and may the new year bring renewal to everything that stirs your soul and makes living more of an adventure rather than just another day of breathing air above ground.
The Streaming Savior?
Welcome to November AV readers. I hope that you are ready for the onslaught of the holidays and of course the cold, snowy weather that is right around the corner for a large portion of the United States. Of course there are millions on the east coast who don't need to be reminded about the change in seasons as they were blasted with an unexpected fall snowstorm that took out the power to large swaths of the storm's footprint. I hope that power has been restored to most of them at this point because it is miserable and dangerous spending extended periods of time without power during the cold that accompanies these storms. It certainly is a depressing way to start this portion of the year since if it is starting in late October then what in the world do we have to look forward to for the rest of the winter months.
In regards to my last blog I wanted to thank the two brave souls who responded to my request and offered support and assistance to help Ambient Visions stay on the web. Your thoughtfulness is very much appreciated. The other side of this coin is that there was a deafening silence from the majority of the readers of AV. I'm just going to take that as a mandate that we are all on our own and it is the survival of the fittest out here on the web so if AV doesn't survive then that is what is meant to be. I can accept that. I still believe that the future has not been written yet and our actions in the here and now can still alter what is to be. I will continue to "kick against the darkness until it bleeds daylight" and hopefully AV will still be around to celebrate those brighter days.
On to other subjects. I have been noticing a growing discontent from artists who feel that the streaming services are really just exploiting their music for pennies a play while companies like Pandora, Rhapsody, Spotify again reap the majority of the benefits from their deals with advertisers and with the labels that they acquire the music from. There are also some ideas that those artists who are signed by large labels are getting very little of the streaming revenue while the labels themselves continue to set themselves up to receive the lions share ahead of anyone else. That has always been their business model though so I'm not sure why anyone would be surprised by this. They are doing what every other large corporation in America is doing which is looking out for their bottom line, their investors and the salaries of the CEOs before they even consider the artists or the general public.
I have heard some rumblings about this topic from smaller indie artists as well so I'm not sure if the same situation exists for them as well or not. How does it affect sales of titles when it can be streamed? Does it return enough money to make it worthwhile? For some reason I thought I would be very happy when people began to finally switch over from illegal downloading to some sort of legal streaming format so that artists were going to be fairly compensated for their work but now it appears that even this silver lining may have darker clouds lurking just behind it. I worry that artists will eventually give up their creative pursuits because they can no longer afford to release their music. Or the only music that will be released will be from those who wish to give away their music because they have a day job that allows them to do it. That is ok for those who want to make music simply for the joy of it and share it for free with others but there are many artists out there who are actually trying to make a living like any other person who has a skillset that others find useful or entertaining.
I'm not sure if the downloaders who don't pay for this music realize what will happen once the artists start to quit. All the variety and all the unique voices and music that we are so used to having with us each and every day begins to dwindle away. All we will be left with is music that is created by corporate money designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator and that will be it. All the other indie artists will have faded away and gone back to day jobs that have nothing to do with music. I for one would find such a world lifeless, dull and monotonic with all the musical life sucked right out of it by corporate labels and corporate radio that played only the music that was top 40.
I hope that the even as Scrooge asked of the ghost of Christmas Yet to Come "Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?" that we will realize that we can change the future by acting differently in the here and now. Streaming is legal from many services now but artists still need your help to continue on the career path that they are walking which is one that we want to keep them on. If you like an album from your favorite artist or a new artist that you discovered via a streaming service then think about helping them by buying the album or the tracks straight from the artist. Cut out the middlemen and put the money straight into the hands of the artist who created it. Just like the trickle down economy has not worked for any of us no matter what the politicians or the corporations would have us to think so the trickle down of streaming pennies will probably not be enough for artists to survive on. The more you cut out the corporate middlemen such as iTunes, Amazon or any of the other services that take a slice of the pie the more money that will be funneled to the artists directly. If they have buy buttons on their websites use that instead of heading off to a corporate site. Listen indie and buy indie. Keep musicians making music.
The Future is Not Yet Written
The cooler winds of October have been blowing for awhile now and Thanksgiving and Christmas are looming directly ahead. The outdoor work of summer is giving way to spending time inside sitting by the fire reading, catching up with social connections that may have been pushed aside while trying to keep up with outside work and of course catching up with the latest music or videos that did not seem so pressing while the sun was shining in the windows during the spring and summer.
Much has transpired during 2011 and I wanted to bring up something that I have never done before and that is how Ambient Visions manages to pay its fees for hosting and for domain name renewals. Ambient Visions has always been something that I did out of the love for the music and a desire to help those who make this music to find an audience large enough so that they can continue to make that music in the coming years. Ambient Visions has never done advertising or banner ads other than what I decide to put up there to help artists gain some recognition. Any fees or hosting charges I have been more than happy to take care of over the past 12 years but in June of 2011 I was let go from my day job and have yet to find another job. To make matters worse my wife was just laid off from her job last week so we have gone from a stable income to nothing in a matter of a few months.
I've never been one to make my problems public because I figured that no one really wanted to be bothered by hearing someone else's sad story on a website that was meant for talking about music. I decided to do something subtle which was to add the following statement to my page, "Have you enjoyed Ambient Visions these last 12 years? Help support AV by clicking here" and the clicking here was a link to a PayPal donation page to help make sure that I had the money to host the domain and to pay for domain renewals as they came up. I'm assuming that this statement was too subtle because nothing came through on that at all. I just wanted to be a little more direct about the whole thing by writing this blog piece.
I've made appeals in the past to those who might like to write for Ambient Visions or for feedback from the community about certain issues or trends facing the ambient/new age community and for the most part never heard a word back. I've actually heard this from others over the years that the ambient/new age community is not the most vocal community when it comes to interacting with each other about the music that we love. Ambient Visions has been doing more traffic year over year for quite some time now and doesn't show signs of letting up. I would hate for this website to have to disappear because I had to make a choice about putting food on the table or gas in the car or paying for hosting fees and domain registrations.
I am not going to drag this out at all and I won't repeat it in future blogs. I wanted to plainly ask the community to help support Ambient Visions as AV has supported the music over the past 12 years. I would like to see the site continue for another 12 years or more but I need your help to do that. Please consider donating to Ambient Visions via the link on the front page or the link on the left of this page just under my picture. Star's End and other public radio shows hold fund raisers each year to help offset their costs and this is the same as that. If you have found AV to be helpful over the years then please help it survive into the future. End of request. I'm not much for asking for help and I won't do it again. Once is enough. The rest is up to you. Think about it. Oh and if anyone would like to write articles or reviews for AV I'm more than open to that as well. Figured I would get that in there while I had your attention. We now return you to the regular Ambient Visions website already in progress.
July 29, 2011
Social Networking and Musicians
I have talked to some artists over the last year or so and it started me wondering if social networks have made the lives of musicians easier or has it simply added one more thing that needs to be done to the business end of being a public figure. There was a time in prehistoric times somewhere back in the 1970′s, 1980′s and a little bit into the 1990′s when musicians and performers were rather elusive creatures that you only spotted when they were out touring, when they were promoting a new album or if they popped up as a news item in Billboard or Rolling Stone magazine. They lived a rather reclusive life and were pretty much aloof from their fans and the press. They went about their business of making music, doing the obligatory press appearances and for the most part not interacting with their fans directly unless they signed a picture that got sent out by the PR person who took care of handling fan contacts.
Then along came the Internet and unless the artists were the Rolling Stones or some other super group they suddenly had a website and direct contact with their fans. Mostly through e-mail but it was a huge leap in that now fans could speak directly to an artist and get a direct answerÖsometimes. It also meant that artists could hear immediately what fans thought of their music shortly after it hit the streets or sometimes even before it hit the streetsÖdifferent story. That was a huge leap but it didnít end there. Then came MySpace. Then came Facebook. Then came Twitter. Then came Google + and those are just the major ones. There are other ways out there to connect with your favorite musician and spend time getting to know them like you could never know an artist in days gone by. Mostly this relationship worked both ways in that it allowed fans to get inside the minds of those who were creating the music that was a part of their lives and it gave artists a chance to cultivate new fans and to reward loyal fans with inside information about artist that they cared so much about.
What it also added to the mix was more responsibility to the artist
on top of what they already had to take care of to keep the business end
of their music moving forward and to have the time to be creative and
write new music. Now artists had to become adept at the new social
networks and get out there and update their pages or accounts on a
regular basis. This could be done via an assistant who was responsible
for updating all the pages or they could do it themselves. An assistant
costs money unless you can find someone to do it gratis and if they do
it themselves then they have to invest their valuable time in creating
this online presence instead of creating new music. Start to get the
picture as to why social
There is an expectation on the part of the fans that any given artist should have a presence in all of the major social networking sites and when they donít find them there they wonder why not. Since practically all of the ambient/new age artists are independents with only a few exceptions it is also critical that they take any avenue available to them to present their music to their fans and thereby getting some sales for their music as well. So the Internet has increased an artists visibility to extend for all practical purposes to the entire world or anywhere that has Internet access but it also has added more work to the artistís plate to make use of these platforms so that they can take advantage of these new market opportunities. So the indie artist has to handle the business side, the creative side, the social side and even the touring side if they go out and do live concerts. And since they are an indie artist this all has to be handled by them since they are pretty much a one person show in all of these regards. Oh and did I mention that since many of these artists donít make enough from their music to make a living at it they also have to hold down a full time job as well? I didnít so throw that on top of everything else.
So social networking is great for the fans since it allows us access to artists that we normally would not have ever had direct contact with but youíve got to wonder if the artists are just as happy to see more social networks pop up every year as we are. So the next time that you say that you wonder why a certain artist hasnít tweeted enough or you havenít seen any new posts on their Facebook page you might want to cut them just a little slack and remember what it takes to be an indie artist these days with no label support. Just some food for thought. See ya next time.
July 28, 2011
Has Music Lost Its Value?
We live in a time when the floodgates of music have been opened and there is a rising tide of music of all types and genres available at your fingertips day in and day out. We are plugged in via our smartphones, we carry huge libraries of music with us on our portable MP3 players and if we want satellite radio or USB plugs in our car stereo will keep up connected to music as much as we want. When we get home we can stream music through Pandora, Rhapsody, Spotify and hundreds of other podcasts and broadcasts both online and terrestrial radio stations. We can stream through our DVD players or game consoles and of course for us old timers we still have great sound systems set up in our homes that we can play good old fashioned CDís. I said old fashioned because at some point in time I think that we will see even these shiny discs disappear in favor of an all digital way of transporting and playing our music at home and in our cars. In fact it was just announced this week that Ford Motor Company plans to drop in dash CD players in their European cars for now but it wonít be long before that is the case here at home too.
At first I was very happy about this flood of music and I wallowed in
it like a pig inÖwell you know what pigs like to wallow in but as we go
Do I choose something that I have listened to for years because it is like eating comfort food and will bring me a feeling of stability in a world that is changing so rapidly as to defy us to keep up? Or do I feel adventurous and want to sample some new music by artists that I have never heard of before? How do I choose which of these new artists that I will give an hour of my time to? Time has become a precious commodity when there are so many options as to how it can be spent. The latest movies which can be streamed to my television set, online e-zines or blogs, news sites to keep up with the world, social networking pages to keep up with friends or maybe I just want to sit and read a book but even that is becoming harder because now I can choose from thousands of titles that are as close as my Kindle. Music is suddenly competing with a myriad of entertainment choices and everything is blending together in a fast paced blur that is daring us to figure out what to do on any given night.
I have noticed that many artists are opting to give away a song as a way of tempting listeners to stop by their site and check out their music. Some of the netlabels are pretty much giving away whole albums under the Creative Commons License which is great for exposure but are we setting up future followers of this type of music to expect not to have to pay for music because it has been given away so much? It is already difficult to find the time to listen to much of this music so if whole albums are being given away and you can download them with a click of the mouse does the music have the same value as it had when you paid good money for it and you held it in your hands? When I used to buy CDís it was a special thing to bring one home and break open the plastic and pop the disc into the player. Lack of money meant that I only bought one or two a week at the most so I had the time to devote to devouring it and really listening to it. There are weeks now that I have downloaded 10 or more albums without even taking into consideration that I can go online and stream other new releases through the one service that I pay for right now which is Rhapsody.
The very fact that we have tons of music to choose from now is the
very thing that is making music less valuable than what it was before.
There was a lyric from a great little song called Very Busy People by
the Limousines that said ďIíve got an iPod like a pirate ship, Iíll sail
the seas with fifty thousand songs Iíve never heardĒ and Iím afraid
that might be the fate of a lot of the music that floats around on the
internet for free or that we obtain for no price at all. Iím just
throwing this out for discussions because as a long time follower of
ambient/new age music I want it to flourish and gain a new audience so
that the artists will be able to continue to make this great music for
years to come. If it gets lost in the flood of music that is currently
pouring out onto the net or diluted to the point that it disappears
beneath the waves of new titles that pour onto the market every Tuesday
then it would be a great loss for those of us who have listened to it
for decades. The way I see it is if the quantity of music can confuse
those of us who have followed it for years then newcomers to the genre
are going to be overwhelmed by the amount of releases that are
positioning themselves to be heard these days and since most of us donít
just listen to ambient/new age exclusively it really becomes difficult
It would be a shame to see music become something less than the
unique pieces of art that they are or that they would be downloaded and
then forgotten as they sit on hard drives filled to overflowing with
other pieces of music to be listened to. Itís like the person who loves
television and Tivos all their favorite programs but eventually the
drive fills up and the person realizes that they will never have time to
catch up so they erase the drive and start over without ever watching
those shows that they recorded. Is that where we are heading with music?
Will we place so little
Music As A Conduit
I have been immersed as of late in music that acted as a conduit for my discovery of the ambient/new age genres and I find that it has a comforting effect on my over all well being as it conjures up memories of a time when things were more stable in my life. I have found over the years that music has always had this kind of effect on me and I'm sure that for others it is exactly the same. Ambient/new age music is even more adept at allowing us to achieve these states of consciousness because for the most part (not always) the music is without words so the intellectual part of the mind does not have to be listening to the words of the song and trying to make sense out of them. The mind can immediately shift into a state where it can simply allow the music to lead it where it will. A blank slate for impressions created by the music or the music can act as a catalyst to allow memories associated with the compositions to surface because the mind has been stilled to the point where the memories do not have to compete with an ever active mind for attention.
The world is a complex place these days and through the magic of technology most of us are connected far more than we would like to be. Stress and pressure are part of our daily routine and reading about conflicts in the far flung corners of the earth are part of what we do while we have our morning coffee or tea. It has become ingrained in us and not always for the better. I think that many of us have forgotten the fine art of relaxing and switching off our minds for at least a small portion of each day and it has taken its toll on many who are overwhelmed by this stress to the point that they succumb to physical symptoms such as high blood pressure, ulcers, insomnia, headaches, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. While music won't be a cure all for everything that is wrong with a person it will at least allow the body to let go of some of the stress as the mind loses its very tight grip on the issues that you have dealt with all day long and begins dwelling on more pleasant thoughts. If the music has associations with the past then those more pleasant memories begin to flow into the mind and overpower the negative stress causing thoughts that have been dominating your thinking all day long.
Music is such an underrated art these days and I guess that would be because it has been a part of most of our lives from the day we were born until the day we die. Radio, TV, MP3 players, CD's, podcasts are just a few of the ways that we are bombarded with music all day long. Elevators play it while we go up and down and malls play it as we walk the aisles spending our money. It is no wonder then that oftentimes we tune out the music that we are "hearing" all around us and move through our day almost oblivious to the music that surrounds us. Perhaps that is what happens when we finally do sit down in our homes to listen to music on the stereo system. We use it as background music (nothing wrong with that mind you) but we never really hear it. We never come down from our stress riddled lives long enough to just sit and enjoy listening to an album of our favorite music. I mean really listening to it and not doing anything else. I am as guilty as anyone of not taking the time to pull back from the tensions of life for awhile during each day and spend just a small fraction of my total available time doing something that is purely enjoyable and has no other purpose than to make me "feel" better.
I have a place downstairs where I have my stereo hooked up with no TV in the mix and a sofa that sits and faces a wall with bookcases and artwork. When I go down there I light up some incense, patchouli being my favorite, I put on a favorite album and then plop myself down on the sofa. I don't sit there to work on anything and at most I might read a little bit as I listen to the music but it will not be technical reading it will be reading just for the sheer joy of reading. Most of the time I don't even bring a book to the sofa but rather I just sit down and begin to allow myself to completely decompress for about an hour or so. In our busy lives I think that it has been drilled into us that we need to be "productive" with our time and we haven't a moment to waste. It's that kind of thinking that have led many of us to push ourselves so hard that we end up paying the price when the stress and the tension overflow into our physical well being. Eventually the body has a way of slowing us down whether we want to or not when it simply refuses to function anymore until we have properly cared for it.
Don't wait for that "correction" to happen at a time not of your choosing. Rather start to plan times in your day that you set aside just for down time or relaxing time. Don't feel guilty about it thinking about all the things that you should be doing but think about how you are making sure your body continues to function normally for many more years than if you neglected it. Ambient/new age music can be a healing factor in your life and all it takes is just a little bit of your time. Why do you think that massage therapists or aromatherapists or any number of alternative practitioners combine their skills with appropriate new age or ambient music? They know that the mind can inhibit the body from being fully prepared to accept the treatment that is about to be provided. The music triggers the release valve for the mind to dump all the garbage that is stuck in there from the day that has just been or the day that is coming up so that the mind can work in conjunction with the therapist to help heal the body. The mind is a powerful tool and can do both good and bad things to the body depending on how it is used. Music is a powerful tool as well but most people don't give music its proper due. Music is not just entertainment. It can be but it can also be so much more. Emmy Rossum had a song a few years back that was called Slow Me Down. The song is only 2:38 long but it has an important message. Life is fleeting. Don't miss your life by always being some place else other than in the moment you currently occupy. Right here, right now is all we have. Let ambient/new age music help you find a place where you can be present in your life if only for brief moment. As the old milk commercial goes....Got Music?
Check out the Emmy Rossum video below and pay close attention to the lyrics. Definitely something to keep in mind. See ya next time.
For those of you out there who might not know Ambient Visions is more than its name implies. When I first started the website I'm sure that most of the material on AV probably related to ambient and new age music in one way or another. I remember asking artists in my interviews with them as to how they would categorize the music that they create. Was it ambient? Was it new age? Or was it some other subcategory of those two? At the time it seemed like a simple enough question but the more time I spent listening to the music that I received or downloaded the more that I realized that the simple question of what bin to throw it in (years spent working in record stores talking here) was a lot more difficult than what it at first seemed.
I have found that the classification of ambient music is fraught with all kinds of pitfalls when you start taking into account the various influences that can be found in any single album project. A dash of jazz, a pinch of tribal rhythms, a smidgen of space music, a splash of other worldly vocals and who knows what else and you finally have a finished product. So how do you classify something like that? Easy answer...you don't. I think that classifications are a good mile marker when it comes to broad attempts to understand what kinds of music an artist does but when it comes right down to observing the fine brush strokes that make up any composition you start to find that the various pieces of the music combine just for that composition in a particular way and create a unique sound that may mean nothing when it comes to describing the other songs on the same album. Of course to every rule there are exceptions and sometimes you can easily say that most or all of the songs on some album projects are strikingly similar and you can apply a broad description to the project and it will fit.
Ambient Visions was born out of the music that I was discovering back in the mid 90's which started off with Steve Roach's Dreamtime Return, Windham Hill's Path compilation and a weekly listening session of Musical Starstreams hosted by Forest who played some great electronica every week that set me off on journeys of exploration trying to find more music by the artists that he was playing. Eventually I wanted to offer to others a place where they might discover this music too and so AV was born. I don't know why it didn't end up being called Electronica Visions or World Visions or even New Age Visions. Maybe the names were already taken on the Internet but I did know that the term ambient could be used as a blanket term for more genres than just ambient music so it was with that in mind that Ambient came to describe the Visions that I wanted to share with other surfers who ended up on my site.
Ambient Visions is now more of a generic name as far as coverage goes that also includes music from other genres including new age, electronica, space music, techno, dub, trance, world and sometimes even progressive music that some would think doesn't belong in this category at all. Ahhhh but then you start to divide up the music into categories again and you are back where you first started. What bin does that album go in or what genre do I file that music under? AV is more about the music that the music that I enjoy and that I think my readers would like to know about. I don't ask myself "Is that ambient music? Should I be covering something that isn't ambient music on Ambient Visions?" Instead I listen to the music and then I decide if I think my readers would find this music interesting and if the answer is yes then I promote it on Ambient Visions. It doesn't matter where the album falls in the ambient spectrum because that isn't a criteria that I use to determine if music is AV material or not.
Now when I say genres don't play any role in the music that I feature on AV that is within reason of course. Lets not expect any death metal "ambient" music to appear anytime soon and if anyone out there is contemplating polka "ambient" music I just want you to be forewarned that it might not get featured very prominently on AV in the near future. :) Other than the extremes of the what might be considered ambient music I am very open under the Ambient Visions umbrella as to what I might include on the site. I think that there are many small genres out there that deserve to have a little light shown on them so that people might discover the music and thereby create an audience for those artists who have chosen to compose that kind of music. So when you hear something that isn't exactly ambient but is really good nevertheless then please let me know. Ambient Visions always has been about sharing the information that I run across about obscure and niche artists with a larger audience so the sooner I know about it then the sooner that my readers will know about it. I do want to stress though that this is about quality music. You don't need a studio worth millions of dollars to create quality music. I have seen it done time and time again by a wide variety of artists who record their music at home. When I hear albums that obviously lack any kind of quality or polished edges it turns me off immediately and it would be rare that I would ever help that artist by promoting them on Ambient Visions. I just think that when you release something out into the world it should be the very best that you can offer and not something that was done with a less than 100% effort.
Now you know a little bit more about AV and what is and isn't promoted on the website. Got any suggestions about links or new releases that I should be jumping all over? Let me have it then...I can take it. Talk soon.
I have been traveling down memory lane as of late as I try to reconnect with many of the artists and friends that I have met on my journey into ambient/new age music on Facebook. To my surprise and delight most everyone has made the transition over to the new social media and I have been happily friending them on Facebook so as to have a meeting point where I can reach out and talk to many who have been involved with Ambient Visions over the years. This pouring over old e-mails that have been accumulating on my hard drive for the better part of 10 years and the arrival of a new CD in today's mail courtesy of Beth Ann Hilton from The B Company have made me realize something about the music that I have chosen to listen to for the better part of the last 15 years. It made me realize that contained within the genres of ambient and new age music (and all the sub genres that comprise these designations) is enough variety that I will probably be able to spend the rest of my life listening to it but will never be able to say that I have completely understood everything that it has to offer.
Now that is saying a lot about music that many would dismiss as nothing more than elevator music which all sounds the same to them. After having spent all of this time with so many streams and tributaries of ambient/new age music I can say without a doubt that nothing could be further from the truth. To make statements like the above merely show that the person who makes these kinds of statements has never really tried to learn about or understand the music that they are pigeonholing by using the term elevator music. As I have poured over those old e-mails on my hard drive and once again followed the links to the artist's sites I am struck with the diversity of the music and the diversity of the purposes behind the music that I am confronted with on each new page upon my arrival.
To some the music is offered up as a way to help those beset by the pressures of living in the 21st century to find a centering spot in their home so that they can let go of the daily grind and begin to remember that life is not all about work but is about enjoying living as well. To others music is pivotal to their spiritual lives or other activities such as yoga, meditation, prayer or even in efforts to heal the body with the positive vibrations that seem to emanate from these types of music. To some the music serves as a background to the activities that they enjoy doing such as reading or writing or simply spending time with their loved ones. The music to them is the soundtrack to their lives and even though they don't sit and actively listen to each and every note that comes out of their speakers they still appreciate the foundation that it provides for the time they spend enriching their minds or sharing their thoughts with others through their words. The myriad ways in which people use ambient and new age music are too numerous to mention at length in this column but suffice it to say that the music that is so often brushed off as elevator music by those who do not understand the true nature of what it is capable of serves to provide happiness and joy to countless individuals each and every day across this country and around the world.
The advance promo CD that came in the mail today is a wonderful example of just what I am talking about. It wasn't sent with the express purpose of having it reviewed but the note simply said "This one is just for fun...enjoy!" The CD is a sampler of music created by the members of The New Age Music Circle (http://newagemusik.ning.com/ ) which acts as a meeting ground for creators, promoters and lovers of new age music. The website is run by long time new age artist Suzanne Doucet who also takes all the submissions that comprise this CD collection reviews them for production quality and then sequences them on the CD itself to create a homogenous flow to the many tracks that comprise this collection. The CD is created using MP3 tracks which allows for their to be 40 tracks on the latest collection which is called Sounds from the Circle III. As I sat listening to this collection of songs while I wrote this column it confirmed everything that I have every believed about the diversity of music that comprises what we call ambient/new age music.
The music on this collection includes music that covers a wide variety of genres including but no limited to chill, meditative, native, space, drumming, piano, cinematic, trance world and nature to name a few. With artists such as Suzanne Doucet, Kuutana, Richard Shulman, Kori Linae Carouthers and David Mauk you are presented with a great cross section of what new age music really has to offer and believe you me you would really have to look hard to find any music in this collection that might be classified as elevator music. Truth be told music like what I found on this collection is what inspires me to continue to be a small part of this community through my work here on Ambient Visions. And bear in mind new age is just one of the many genres that one can choose to listen to that all fall under the umbrella of ambient, new age or electronic music. When you add in the others such as electronica, techno, trance and all the sub genres that go all with them then you are talking about spending your life filled with a wide variety of music that will take you from the meditative to the celebrative and back again.
While I haven't sworn off my old musical habits of rock and pop completely I do find that the majority of my listening is confined to ambient and new age music. Of course when I hear that the Cars or Stevie Nicks has just released a new album (which both just did) I can't help but be tempted to take a listen because I want to see what they are doing musically but for the most part a lot of that music doesn't seem to stimulate my curiosity as much as what new age and ambient music does these days. The music seems to touch a deeper part of me than what rock and pop ever did. As we discover the inner parts of who we are as individuals we crave music that will complement those deeper revelations. Regardless of the reasons I am appreciative of compilation albums such as Sounds from the Circle III that whets our appetites for even more music from a lot of great artists. Do yourself a favor and stop by the New Age Music Circle and check out the website and when Circle III becomes available get your own copy. You won't be sorry. If it weren't for Steve Roach's Dreamtime Return and a great compilation from Windham Hill called Path: An Ambient Journey I would have missed out on a lot of the music that I now call my own. Keep up the good work Suzanne. See you next time and happy listening to everyone.
This year marks the 12th anniversary of Ambient Visions' time on the web. Granted 12 years is not a long time in the grand scheme of things but for time on the web it is meaningful that the site is still around after that length of time. AV did disappear a few years back for a couple of months but it became quickly apparent that this music would likely never be out of my system so the easier went back online shortly thereafter and has been online ever since. I have seen a lot of changes on the Internet during the intervening years some good and some bad and many sites that offered us coverage of ambient music went away but never did come back. The one mainstay during all of this has been the flow of music that seems to have remained steady into my life regardless of what else was happening around the world or right here at home.
Perhaps there are some out there in this world who do not appreciate the power of music in their lives and who can go for a day or a week or even longer without once putting on a piece of music and letting the sheer joy of it wash over them as the troubles that surrounds them fades just a bit while the music works its magic on the damage that has been inflicted on them simply by living in this world. Music permeates this world but not everyone hears it. Not everyone actually listens to it. It has become another noise that accompanies our daily routine and their minds filters it out as it does the thousands of other annoying sounds that bombards us each day. I think that all of us has a soundtrack to our lives whether it is positive or negative. Whether the music encourages us to feel good about ourselves and the world around us or offers us the view that the world is a place to be used to get what you want and nothing more.
I would like to think that the artists and musicians who create new age, ambient, and electronic music inherently know how important their compositions are to those listeners like me who feel a deep connection to the music that offers healing and a momentary respite from the stress of living in the world in the 21st century. I hope that they know that their music offers an island of refuge for many who put the music on after a rough day putting in their 8 hours of work or more and retreat to a place that they can feel safe and secure in for an hour or two each day. Sometimes I even imagine that the music keeps flowing because the artists know all of these things and even when the economic news is not so great and that last album they made hasn't broken even yet they still do it because of two reasons. First is that they realize that they are acting as healing agents in a world that desperately needs good things infused into it each day to offset all of the bad things that seem to happen to just about everyone. Secondly is that the music is a kind of therapy for the artist as well. By tossing these 60 minute messages in bottles out onto a turbulent ocean they are "sowing the seeds of love" to quote a Tears for Fears song and most of us believe in the concept of karma or reaping what you have sown or some other reciprocal return on the energy that we send out into the universe so artists are hoping that positive things will come back to them as well eventually.
Anyway from having interviewed quite a few musicians over the years I seriously doubt that they would quit making music even if there were no money to be made in it at all. The music flows from a place deeper inside them that can not simply be shut off even if they wanted to. I for one am thankful for this since I can not picture myself going through a single day of my existence without listening to my music at least once a day. I can only say I feel sorry for those who have not learned to appreciate the art that is constantly being created around us each and every day in the form of music, paintings and drawings, literature, photography and poetry because they are truly missing out on what makes life so very special and unique.
Ambient Visions was created in an effort to help these artists and musicians share their music with a wider audience so that they might be able to make a living doing what they love and what makes the rest of us as listeners happy. I hope that over the years you have found AV to be a resource in your search for the music that brings sunlight into the dark places of your life. I would encourage you to become patrons of the musicians and artists that inspire you the most. We can't buy everything that is released and support everyone but we can pick an artist that we enjoy the most and make a decision to buy their albums so that they can keep making the music that brings healing into your life. If everyone chooses an artist or two to support then in the long run we will all reap the benefit of their continuing to compose the songs that breathe a positive breath of fresh air into the world. Isn't that worth the price of a few albums every now and again? Talk to you soon.
I don't know about the rest of you but this has been another long, bad winter season and I am itching to put it behind me at this point. We had two snowstorms this past week (Monday 2-21-2011 and Friday 2-25-2011) both dumping about 8 inches or more in and around the Ambient Visions home stomping ground. My mailbox was destroyed by a passing plow who got a little too close to the edge of the road and I really have to force myself to pick up the snow shovel after the storm has passed. I just want it to be spring now please.
Fortunately for all of this horrible weather I've only lost power once and then only as I was heading out the door to my day job. When I got home the power was back on. So for all the time I have spend confined to the house I've had my Internet connection and my music to keep me company during the cabin feverish long days spent watching the snow fly from my window.
It just occurred to me this morning that the ambient/new age genres were lucky not to have grown to a juggernaut size as far as sales goes and inevitably been acquired by a major label. At first glance that sounds rather backwards in terms of where a lot of artists and labels in these genres would like to see their efforts headed but hear me out. Let's take for example a very well know label that I don't hear that much from lately. Of course I'm talking about Windham Hill records. The label that was owned and run by Will Ackerman for many years and whose releases I credit with introducing me to ambient/new age music in the first place back in 1996.
So what did happen to Windham Hill records? Major labels happened to Windham Hill. It appears that as long as the label stayed true to its origins as a new age label releasing well recorded music that was innovative for the genres that it was representing the label prospered. Of course I don't have access to Windham Hill's books so I can't tell you if they were making money in the business model that they were in or even if they broke even or not. But while they created the music that they were known for and kept the enterprise as an independent entity they appeared to be doing ok. Surely they were doing something right as their music regularly appeared on the Billboard New Age charts.
Once it left the safety of being small and independent was when things got away from them and Windham Hill lost its direction. Windham Hill was distributed by A&M records until Polygram purchased A&M in 1989. BMG took over distribution at that point and eventually purchased Windham Hill from Will and Anne Ackerman thought two separate deals by 1996. RCA took over distribution of Windham Hill at that point and merged other labels it controlled into it further diluting its once clear image. These mergings brought other artists into the Windham Hill fold but again it was a muddying of the water of the original vision that founded Windham Hill in the first place.
Sony absorbed all of the BMG assets including Windham Hill in 2008 and Windham Hill had become just another piece of a very large pie. According to what I've read Sony does not have an A&R department in Windham Hill so they probably won't be adding any new and exciting artists to the label from here on out. In fact it seems doubtful that Windham Hill will record any new music similar to what it started with as long as it remains a part of the Sony conglomerate. The final sign that "corporation" has no plans for Windham Hill is that they have taken to recycling their old music into new compilations but I ask you, how long can that go on without new music to draw upon? I am a big fan of compilations and samplers as a way of getting to know new music a label is releasing but Windham Hill isn't trying to introduce new music. They are just trying to make money on the music they own the rights to without the expenses of signing and recording new artists. A very sad ending for a once great label.
Now back to the point of this blog. The model that Windham Hill abandoned when it was sold and folded into the mainstream music industry is the very same one that many small and independent labels continue to use even now. The labels are small. They are focused and they go out of their way to find new artists who also believe the same as they do about the music that should be released. The quality is good and the variety runs the gamut of just about anything a listener might want to hear. The drawback has always been making enough money to sustain the artists or the labels so that they can go on creating and distributing new music. The enduring question of how do I increase my audience with a limited marketing budget will always plague the indie artists and labels. And yet.....who is still making new and original music and who isn't?
By definition Windham Hill was successful so it grew and was acquired by a large label as is the way of things in the business world. So where is it now? Is it still following the vision of when it was founded? Apparently not. So by becoming large and successful it became unsuccessful at achieving the goals for which it was brought into existence. Having dealt with mergers in the companies that I work for it always seems that the winner is the corporation and the loser is always the customers. The company gained some new toys to play with and the customer lost a source of wonderful music that had brought them enjoyment for years before they were bought out. Back when someone could personally focus on the music of the label, sign new artists and nurture them into productive members of the musical family all went according to plan. When that personal touch was replaced by corporate oversight then it all disappeared.
My thought on this Sunday afternoon is that the small labels that make up the ambient/new age genres should be happy that they aren't "successful" by the standards of the music industry because if you were you probably wouldn't be making any music worth having anymore. It means that you will always struggle to make ends meet and that you won't be a millionaire anytime soon but you will have one thing....you will have the satisfaction of putting out artistically excellent music created with tender loving care. You will be offering to those who buy your music a product that the listeners can enjoy and that you can be proud of for having created it with integrity. And who's to say that someday the world might not catch up with ambient/new age music and start beating a path to your door? To quote Romeo Void, "Never say Never.". See ya next time.
Everytime I welcome in a new year with my traditional watching of the ball drop in Times Square and a toast of champagne I am always thankful that I am still here to be a part of this thing called life. I don't say that in a I could die at any moment kind of way but rather in a positive way that says I enjoy my life and I'm looking forward to many more new years eve's celebrations in the years to come. If we look at the headlines that scream at us from whatever news source we use and let those be the litmus test of how positive or negative we should be then I have no doubt that my attitude would not reflect much optimism at all about what the future holds for the human race because very little is offered up to help buoy our hearts or lift our spirits.
Wars continue to rage around the world, the economy just can't seem to recover to a healthy level, both political parties are acting like children fighting over toys in a sandbox while letting the country fend for itself and oh yeah the predictions of $5 a gallon gas by the year 2012 are just a few of the things that wash up on our mental shore each and every day. I did see one positive sign though and that is that Steve Roach has a couple of new albums (Immersion Five and Sounds from the In Between) set for release the first couple of weeks in 2011 so in that respect I should feel comforted that some things never change and that I can always look forward to drifting away to Steve's music each and every year. I said that sort of tongue in cheek but those are the very things to me that make life interesting and worth living. Now doesn't that make you want to get out there and pick up a copy of Steve's music right now?
Actually it's music like Steve's and countless other ambient artists that motivates me to continue to keep Ambient Visions on the web even after 12 years. If my life consisted of nothing but earning a living (apologies to those who absolutely love their jobs) to feed myself and keeping a roof over my head then I would be such a miserable person that no one would ever want to be around me in any capacity. Fortunately it is what I do away from the daily grind that allows me to feel alive and a part of the human race. I suspect that is true of most of us in one way or another.
So as I look out on the fresh slate of a brand new year I see those 365 days as filled with potential for new music and opportunities to share that music with the thousands of people who stop by Ambient Visions each year. For 2010 there were about 89,000 visitors and those visitors looked at a little over 183,000 pages so there is plenty of opportunity for me to share great music with a lot of people. When I look at the year end stats I begin to see that over the years AV has developed readers who come back year after year and hopefully they are bringing a couple of friends along as well. It is that kind of support that helps me to overcome the negativity of the world's daily news and look out on the potential of the music that flows from ambient artists to offset some of the bad vibes. Look at it this way, even though we are only drops in the world's bucket if we can continue to grow and expand ambient music to new listeners then all those drops will be a shower and then a downpour and then a flood. Yeah I know very optimistic and not very realistic. There's no law that says we can't dream is there? And even if there was would you follow it?
So I welcome 2011 and celebrate the potential for ambient music and Ambient Visions during this upcoming year. And if you'd rather not spend all your time dwelling on the searches at the airport or $5 a gallon gas then I would invite you to hang out with me on the Ambient Visions website or over on the AV Facebook page and I will try to offer you a safe haven from the negative news that comes at you from all sides in your daily life. Who wants to spend their lives working to get by but never having the time, money or energy to enjoy the music and art that makes life worth living. Certainly not me and I hope not you either. Happy New Year from Ambient Visions.
Over the past few days we have seen our first dusting of snow here in Ohio while other places like Buffalo, NY were buried under 3 feet of snow. I'm going to hazard a guess here and say that even though we are still 2 weeks away from official winter that winter has nonetheless arrived for a lot of us. Fortunately our first taste of winter here in northeastern Ohio was a little easier on us this year and for that I'm very thankful. Besides I still have visions (nightmares) of shoveling snow during February 2010 earlier this year and I'm not that anxious to start all over again. Thanksgiving is over and we are headed full steam towards Christmas.
There's been some interesting discussions going on at AV's Facebook page about music and a little bit about politics too. While it feels good to express my political opinion now and again the music is really why my website exists in the first place so it is always a joy to enter in to discussions about the music. I think that I like the discussions even more when they are open ended discussions that seek understanding on why things are the way they are in the music business and how to make them even better. It's not that I don't think that political discussions are beneficial it's just that political discussions seem to permeate the news media and surround us every day from the time we wake up in the morning until we shut down our computers at night. We need something to divert our minds from this constant bombardment into something that will shift the mind into a more pleasant state if only for a short while each day. I would rather use my presence on the web to offer discussions and information on a subject that will be act as a counterpoint to all of the "reality" that surrounds us each day.
Music to me has always been a stress reliever and something that I look forward to when I come home at night after having spent the day trying to earn a living doing things that I would not ordinarily choose to do otherwise. For those lucky few out there who have jobs that you love...that's wonderful. I wish that everyone could experience that same feeling about their day jobs but unfortunately a lot of us don't. Music has been with me for as long as I can remember so it has become second nature to me at this point to be a musical explorer in what I listen to. Ambient Visions is the ship that I sail and this ship has passengers who feel the same as I do about music. Together we set sail to find "the new world" as we venture to the boundaries of where our musical tastes have taken us to date into new and unexplored territories in search of something different and unique.
The great thing is that with all the talented musicians and artists out there I don't really see us coming to a place where the world of music has been completely explored leaving us with nothing new under the sun to listen to. I appreciate that music and the talented artists who create it bring their own unique approach to the music that they compose which guarantees that the creative fountain will never run dry. It is this very fact that keeps me feeling that even after 11 years of being out there on the web with Ambient Visions that its mission is far from complete.
I still get e-mails from publicists or artists letting me know about the latest musical releases that they have available and each time I pull up the samples or the put in the new CD that has arrived in the mail for potential review I'm always amazed at what I hear. Original music with a slightly different twist or interpretation again pours out of my speakers. While I have not been involved with this music as long as some reviewers come next year I will have been listening to ambient/new age music for the last 20 years. You would think that after 20 years of intense listening I would be tired of the genre or that I would be saying that I've heard it all and I don't hear anything original anymore. But that is far from the reality of what I find as I work on the website day in and day out.
Political administrations come and go and the world will never be a strife free place but music goes on as from time immemorial and continues to offer to those who appreciate it a haven from what is thrown at us each day through our contacts with others or through the news media. Music is an island of peace and creativity that all of us can go to and find a few moments when we don't have to think about the tragedies that beset the world each day. It is a few moments of healing to our spirits and our minds that will allow us to go back into the world tomorrow and do it all over again. Lorrie Sarafin mentioned in one of her posts on the AV Facebook discussion that we were having yesterday about buying locally and supporting your local communities and I would like to take that idea one step further. The internet has created a musical community around ambient/new age music and we should seek to support one another so that all of us can pursue creative goals and strike a blow against the mega corporations who can only see the bottom line but not the people.
Weekends are a great time for reflection and so that is what I have been doing in this column today. Reflecting on what music has been to me over the years and how much I look forward to what the creative spirits of the artists and the musicians will bring forth in the years to come. It fills me with hope that someday people might focus more on what makes them the same as others and not what makes them different. I can always dream can't I? Have a great musical Sunday.
I'm hoping that 2011 will see a new era for Ambient Visions in terms of having the site updated on a regular basis with the interviews that have been with AV from the beginning and also with more pages to help you find music online and new music that is being released. I have always had the artist links page and the labels page but just as it is difficult for me to visit all those sites to find out if music is being released that I might enjoy I'm sure it is the same for you. I hope that in the coming months I will be able to provide more listings of what's coming out in terms of music and links to where you might find out more about it along with samples or whole albums to download if it is released on some of the netlabels under the creative commons license.
I want to take a wider view of the music that AV covers and I want to start including more of the music that is being produced outside of the United States along with all of the great artists that are based in the states. I'm not sure how this will all look and what new pages I might add to the site to more effectively allow me to share this information but please bear with me as I try to find the right mix for the site so that information can be shared quickly and with a depth that I haven't had on AV for a number of years. You would think that after 10 years on the web that I would be getting tired of doing what I do but it seems that the opposite effect is happening to me because I am looking at new ways to get the information out about music that still holds my attention and that still surprises me with its diversity.
One other word of warning for those who have not recently upgraded their computers. After six years I finally upgraded my computer system here at home where I do all the work on AV and I am running Windows 7 and both my monitors are now widescreen size. The site formerly looked good in 1024 x 768 but now with the new screen sizes that I am working with the site will probably look better in 1600 X 900 screen resolution. The site is still functional with the old screen sizes but it looks sort of large and the pages look more compact. I still have my old system set up and I check the site using those old screen resolutions just to see what it will look like. So far AV doesn't look all that bad but it will eventually look much better to you once your system reaches the age that you feel you have to upgrade. I just wanted to mention this in case the site looks strange to you whichever screen resolution you are using because not all of the pages have been upgraded yet. It has taken me a little time to adjust to the size of my monitors but they look better to me now a couple of months down the road since I bought them.
And if all that change wasn't enough I also moved AV off of my old web host onto a brand new host that I am much more pleased with. My old host seemed to be constantly replacing critical equipment and it always seemed to be on the servers that my domains were parked on. I have no idea how much mail got lost during this time period because very often it was the mail servers that failed and had to be replaced. I hate moving domains but enough was enough so I started shopping around and found a host that more than meets my needs for bandwidth, pricing and reliability as well. Hopefully I won't be moving the domains anytime in the foreseeable future.
I would like to make this blog a tool for communicating with the readers of AV on a regular basis and I hope that you will communicate back with me. If you have relevant news then send it to me. If you know of new releases I should have on the site then send me the information and links. On the other hand don't send me large music files unless I ask for them. They really slow down my incoming mail considerably. If you know of streaming music sources that I should know about or netlabels that I don't have links to then tell me. I know I've mentioned all of this before but a reminder never hurts. If you are an artist with a new release send me an e-mail letting me know about it and links to where I can find more information about it. Well, I hope that this makes up for some of the silence in the blog area. Now talk back to me and let me know what's up with you so that I can make AV a better place to learn about the music we all want to hear.
Michael Foster, editor
Well I just read something this morning in the news that just proves to me again that the big corporations really have no desire to promote music but are simply interested in making sure that their bottom lines are safe and that their investors always get their dividends. I'm talking about the article that announced that Apple after having purchased Lala is now shutting it down as of May 31, 2010. They won't be accepting any new members now so if you are not already a member you are now out of luck and after May 31 it won't matter if you are a member or not. It also means that the only source of legal full album demos is going away.
I guess I should have realized that something as good as Lala wouldn't last because it allowed people to discover new music before buying it, it was convenient and the pricing of the MP3's or the web tunes actually made sense. So in a way it was probably inevitable that once Apple bought it Lala's life expectancy was very limited. We can't have too many competitors out there for iTunes now can we? And to think that I had even considered buying an iPad at some point in the future which would have been my first Apple purchase ever and that includes iTunes. Now I think that I will keep my money and invest it in some other worthy music oriented companies who are not corporate giants bent on shaping the music landscape in their own image.
I enjoyed being able to go up to Lala on Tuesdays and see what new releases had come out and then listen to them to see if they were worth promoting on my websites. Or if they were really good then I would buy a copy of the whole album for web listening. Either way it was music that I wouldn't have know about otherwise and once Lala is gone it will be much harder to find these jems than ever. There are very few services that I thought enough of to integrate them into my websites but Lala's imbed album feature was something that I thought was perfect for smaller websites like mine and I had noticed that even the bigger sites like Billboard had integrated the full album previews into their content as well.
The only hope for all of this is if when Apple launches iTunes.com as a cloud based streaming service is that they offer full albums for listening prior to purchase. I doubt that they will outside of charging a monthly fee for the service but if they do then I can forgive the shutting down of Lala. If they don't then I will be looking for any alternative except iTunes. Spotify is rumored to be coming to the states later this year and that might be an alternative listening tool as well. I enjoy the radio services that have sprung up all over the internet but again these are programmed for you and don't allow you to listen to the tracks you want or the artists you want. You are pretty much tied down to the tastes of those who program the stations. If I want to buy MP3s from now on I'll certainly go to Amazon before setting foot on the iTunes website and if there is no free version forthcoming to replace what they have taken away in Lala I'll probably head back to Rhapsody and subscribe there until Apple buys that and shuts it down as well.
An important lesson to learn in all of this is that big business is looking out for big business and no one else. Corporations have demostrated during this recession, which by the way was caused by big business seeking "creative" ways to make money off of consumers, that the consumer is not their prime concern. Look at how credit card companies who brought on their own troubles by handing out cards like candy to everyone starting slapping high interest rates onto even their best customers when push came to shove. It took government regulation to get them to treat the consumer fairly. Apple is a corporation. Consumers are only as useful to them as a source of income. Beyond that we are really not that important. As some people commented on the article that I read this morning on Tech Crunch about Apple shutting down Lala....f..k you Apple and f..k you Steve Jobs. Not the most elegant way of putting it but it certainly captured the emotion of what they've done. http://techcrunch.com/2010/04/29/apple-to-shut-down-lala-on-may-31/
As a consequence of this please look for certain features of AV to start disappearing. The featured Lala release will no longer be available. The Lala page will disappear and any links back to their page will be taken down as they won't be functional after May 31, 2010. R.I.P Lala.com
Over the years Ambient Visions has become a voice for ambient/new age/electronica music and it has always been a joy working with the artists and the fans of these genres. A site like AV needs to speak with many voices so that it can reach new listeners and expose this music to those who might not have otherwise found a particular artist or a new favorite sub genre within the main genres of ambient and electronic music.
I would like to see Ambient Visions become an engine of discovery for those already within the ambient music community and those who don't know it exists but will find it through the efforts of AV and other websites like it. To be able to do that though I will need your help. I know that to take AV to the next level I will need to make it more of a collaborative effort with other voices and other points of view represented.
I think there are those of you out there who feel the same as I do and would like to see our niche reach out a little further and touch more listeners who are looking for something new but they are not sure what that "something" is right now. We need to introduce them to the music and allow them to hear what we have heard over the years as we listened to it ourselves. Ambient Visions has that potential and I would like to ask those of you who are so inclined to step up and take the challenge.
Over the past few months I have seen Ambient Visions' traffic shoot up by about 50% over what it was doing just a year ago. I think that readers and listeners are looking for a place that they can find clues as to what music will become their new favorite albums or artists. I think that they are very pleased when they come across a place like AV that helps them to find at least some of the better choices that are available to them among the many new releases that come out each week, month or year. I have said it before and I will say it again...websites like Ambient Visions have become the new substitute for being able to go into a music store and talk with a knowledgeable clerk about what they should check out this week. Having spent quite a number of years behind the record counter at a local record store I know that people are looking for music that they will love and if you can point them in the right direction and your advice turns out to be solid folks will be back to talk to you again and again.
Now Ambient Visions doesn't sell anything but it does offer advice through the reviews, the interviews, the new release listings and a variety of other things as to what is good and what readers might find interesting for their next music purchase. Sort of like a music store without actually selling the music. Even though the physical aspect of going into a store is missing visiting a website can still be an interesting experience depending on why it is on the web and the people who work behind the scenes to make it happen. In this case the people behind the scenes is just me and of course the artists who so graciously consent to either send me review copies or who allow me to interview them for the website. That was the wind up and now here is the pitch.
I'm asking for readers, fans or artists to become involved in the content that eventually ends up on Ambient Visions. This appeal especially goes out to those who have written reviews for AV in the past to consider getting back into the groove and doing it again. This appeal also goes out to those who have more depth and understanding of the other genres that I would like to see covered on Ambient Visions such as techno, trance, electronica, downtempo, chillout etc. It is difficult to be in touch with all the genres and subgenres that make up the music that I listen to so I'm asking if there are those out there who will step in and fill in the gaps and become a part of AV.
If you consider that a magazine like Stereophile not only has an editor but a Music Editor, an Assistant Editor, Contributing Editors, reviewers, writers, etc etc. then it becomes clear that if AV is ever to take the next step in its evolution then I will need those who share my vision to step up and join the AV team. The only caveat to all of this is that it is a labor of love at this point. For the past 11 years I've never made any money off of AV and of course you know that means that I would be asking anyone who steps up to offer their services to AV to do it because they want to see these genres grow and grab more attention out on the web, to pull in new listeners and retain old ones, and of course to have fun discovering new music for yourself. Of course there is one payment that I receive all the time and that is the satisfaction of helping others to find and enjoy the music that I found so many years ago. Perhaps I would have discovered the music sooner if I had a resource like AV to help me along the way when I was first starting this journey and that is something that anyone who feels like they want to be involved with AV should always bear in mid.
Reviews about ambient music are scattered here and there across the web along with opinions and articles about the artists. Perhaps if there were a place that one could find an access point to all of this information it would allow someone to spend more time listening to new music rather than searching through board after discussion board trying to catch a conversation about an artist that might be good to search out for yourself. There is a very fundamental principle about websites and that is the more traffic that comes to Ambient Visions on a regular basis the more exposure that artists who are featured there will get. Web marketing 101. What draws people back is new and original material that is updated on a regular basis. This is the part that is difficult for me and is one of the reasons that I think it is time to find others who want to be a part of Ambient Visions. I can only listen to so much and my tastes though broad are not unlimited so there will always be some music that I just don't care for. Not that the music is bad but others would appreciate it more than I and they would be able to review it more intelligently than I could possibly hope to.
You might ask what am I looking for and that would be the right question to ask at this point. Just like everyone else I have a day job just like you do and I have to find time to work on the website at nights or on the weekends when my time is free. What I am looking for is for folks to do the same thing for AV that I do now. I am looking for those who are wordsmiths and are not afraid of expressing their thoughts about music on the website. This naturally means that writing skills are a requite for the articles, the interviews, the reviews or just commentary pieces on the ambient music industry in general that you might submit to me for putting up on Ambient Visions. If AV were to continue to grow I might also be looking for assistant editors or those to help with the look and feel of AV in the future. Those who might be good at a particular genre of music and be the person who spearheads coverage for that genre on Ambient Visions. Reporters of ambient news items that happened near you. Concert reviews would be interesting so that others will get a feel for what it is like to attend the live events put on my the artists of AV. I could go on and on but you get the picture.
I have tried these appeals before and most of the time all I received was silence. I'm not sure if that means that no one is interested, if my ideas are bad ideas or if people are interested but not sure what to do next. If you fall into that last category then the next step is to write to me (email@example.com) and begin a dialogue of what you would like to do and we can discuss it from there. If you want to be involved but aren't all that much into writing then help spread the word to the groups you belong to, the forums you discuss ambient music in, on your Facebook or MySpace page or where it is that you hang out on the web. Let them know about Ambient Visions and what we are trying to accomplish. If you have a website or a presence on the web then by all means add a link to Ambient Visions on your page. Drop me a line and if your website is music related I would be happy to add a link back to your site on AV's links pages.
Well there you have it. Always the optimist and looking towards a bright future for these wonderful genres of music. The only thing missing is you becoming a part of this effort. Put your talents to good use and contact me about writing for Ambient Visions or how you could help us reach beyond where we are now and open up brand new territories for this music to be heard. Life is too short not to do the things you really love and to do them right now.
***All uses of the word ambient or new age are generic uses and refer not only to ambient but all the other subgenres that I mention in this blog. Even the name Ambient Visions is broader than just ambient music so don't let the words narrow your perception of what AV is all about. ****
I was reading an article in which Jack White from the rock group The White Stripes was quoted as saying that the web is "a nuisance" that trivializes music. He thinks that the Internet is good for some things but that "as every day passes music is more and more looked at as a soundbite and a trifle." While I can not agree that the Internet trivializes music I do see some danger with so much music available at the click of a mouse. The danger that I see is that like all things that find their way onto the Internet it is never in moderation but full tilt everything and anything goes. Music is no exception.
So now what we have is an environment in which just about any piece of music can be had instantly or with a little searching in a matter of minutes it can be downloaded to your hard drive. So where's the danger you ask? I think that you can be overwhelmed by the choices that are available for your listening pleasure and dismiss a lot of good music after only listening to a 30 second clip or sample of a few of the songs on any given album. With this much choice it now becomes difficult to decide what to listen to on any given occasion. Do I pull up Pandora and listen to the pre programmed music choices or do I head up to Lala and listen to some of the latest releases that just came out last Tuesday? Or do I head up to one of the Net label sites and download one of the hundreds of titles that are available for free to listen to there? Choices, choices, choices.
Think of the Internet as a huge buffet of music. Most of us go to a buffet not to eat a particular food item but to sample many things during our meal. We like to push ourselves to eat as much as we can to get our money's worth right up to the point of being sick by eating too much. Music used to be enjoyed like a meal in a restaurant where you would sit down and order one item with some side dishes and that would be your meal for the night. You would savor that meal and enjoy it thoroughly and step away from the table feeling satisfied. Music was very similar to this analogy. You would buy the LP, cassette or CD and bring it home to enjoy the album as a whole and get to know it through repeated listenings. In the digital age a person can conceivably still do this by downloading the whole CD and enjoying it completely but in many instances this is not what happens. Quite often a listener will listen to the samples of the music and then just go up to iTunes and download the tracks they like while ignoring the rest of the album.
Pink Floyd recently won a lawsuit to keep their music from being sold piecemeal as single tracks. Instead they would force them to be offered as complete albums as that was the way the band meant for them to be consumed. Their point is that listeners are not getting the whole picture of what an album is about because they are taking the songs out of context and listening to them as individual segments and not as part of the whole picture of the album itself. Jack White felt this as well when he said that the Internet trivializes music.
My feelings about the subject are mixed. I love the fact that I can listen to just about anything whenever I have a craving to listen to it all via the Internet. For me it does not trivialize the music but I will say that it does tend to dull the impact of new releases. It negates some of the excitement that used to surround a new album being released by an artist. I can go up to Lala on any given Tuesday when the new releases are available and start looking through hundreds of releases and reissues that came out that day. Back in the day I would be lucky if I heard a few songs off an album before I had to decide whether I wanted to buy it or not. Now I can listen to the whole thing online legally and make my decision on the music itself instead of hoping the rest of the release would be as good as the two singles that they released.
Now, how much time during any given day do I have to sit down and listen to music continuously? Obviously on the weekends I have a lot more time available but during the week when I work an eight hour day I only have a couple of hours each night ,if that, to sit down uninterrupted and listen to music. With hundreds of releases a week and with music services and podcasts all over the net clamoring for our attention where does a person even begin? Do you spend your time trying to find something new? Do you listen to CD's that are already in your collection because you want something familiar? Do you explore older catalog titles on Lala from your favorite artist? Many choices, limited time. Like a buffet a person might start sampling to see what they like and this is where music might be passed over if it doesn't grab you in that short 30 second sample. An artist may have spent a year or two working on the music you will hear but a listener these days might dismiss it out of hand after listening to it for 30 seconds because they want to get through a ton of new releases looking for something spectacular. So perhaps this is what Jack White meant by his statement that the Internet trivializes music.
The Internet to me has been a blessing when it comes to the music that I am able to access but in other ways my very broad tastes in music can be overwhelmed as I try to keep up with the latest musical trends and listen to the established artists as well. It has allowed me to hear very obscure artists from around the country and around the world that I would never have heard otherwise but at the same time I have a limited window of what I can listen to in any given day because of time constraints so I constantly have a feeling that I have missed something important because I did not have the time to listen for a longer period each day. So I can see the points of people like Jack White when he voices his opinion about the Internet but there are a lot of artists out there who would not be heard at all except that they were able to utilize the Internet to get their music out there to a wider audience. Perhaps it does trivialize some music but for others it casts a bright spotlight on tuneage that would never had heard the light of day otherwise. Let me know where you stand on this issue. I'd be interested to hear.
Even though I'm sure that most of you would not consider this a proper blog because I don't pour out daily or hourly thoughts onto the website no matter how trivial or small I am still going to call this column a blog simply because that's the closest thing that I can come up with for an occasional column of my thoughts about the various genres of music that are covered here on Ambient Visions. I find myself wanting to write more as of late and put more of myself into Ambient Visions so that readers can get an idea of where I'm coming from in regards to the music that appears here on AV. What better place to do that than in a column called AV Blog.
For those who may have missed it Clifford White of New Age Music News inducted me into the reviewers Hall of Fame on his website. Check it out here http://www.newagemusicnews.com/music-reviewers.asp I was honored to be included in such an illustrious group of reviewers who all work to help ambient/new age music find new listeners by offering their thoughts on the latest releases so that others might go exploring. In this day and age I have found that even with websites such as Lala or Rhapsody or even Spotify when it makes it to our shores later this year that there are so many choices in what to listen to that a friendly voice or in this case friendly words on a page nudging you towards what we think are some of the better releases to check out is still needed. I thought that perhaps reviewers might become obsolete once you could just go up and sample the music for yourself but I find that opinions still count when there are hundreds of releases coming out each week to occupy your attention and time.
Of course there are not hundreds of releases each week within the smaller genres such as ambient and new age but there are still enough releases that if you didn't keep up with them all the time you would find yourself hopelessly lost as far as who has a new album out and which ones are worth checking out. And I'm sure that it would be a simple matter for a person to miss something that they might have found if they had someone (reviewers) to sift through many of the releases and just say "Here, try this one. I think you'll like it." Besides, some of the smaller labels and artists don't end up on Lala or any of the other streaming websites so those definitely depend on recommendations to get the word out. So way to go Clifford for recognizing the hard work that everyone of these reviewers has put in over the years and hey, extra points for including me. :)
Many times I'll find myself writing as I sit in my car waiting to go into work in the mornings or at lunch while taking a break from the daily grind. And these writings are done quite old fashionedly with a pen and an notebook as I don't really care for laptops all that much. I much prefer my easy to read dual monitor set up as opposed to sitting and staring at the smaller screens that normally come with the laptops. Some of that daily writing will find its way into this column if I deem that anyone else other than myself would find it even remotely interesting and the rest of it helps me to clarify my feelings about music and the role that it might play in my life as well as readers of Ambient Visions.
Today I was wondering about the benefits or lack thereof of ambient and new age music being considered something that you put on while you do something else. You are aware of the music in a subconscious way but you are not really paying any attention to it. Don't get me wrong because I do the same thing sometimes and it isn't just ambient music that I do this with. Having worked for years in a record store I was more than able to continue working, waiting on customers and stocking the shelves all while rock music played in the background that I may or may not remember hearing later on. I guess my thought is that there is a thin line between background music and elevator music or insignificant music. It is music that barely registers on our radar and when it does we tend to think of it as less than other music that fills our days such as rock or pop.
I'm sure that many artists are more than happy to live with this description of their music and feel that it is what they were trying to achieve. While other artists would prefer that listeners would actually hear and actively soak up the music that they so painstakingly assembled on their latest release. There have always been discussions about why ambient/new age music tends to be stagnant in regards to reaching new listeners but perhaps one of the explanations is that there is a general perception of the whole genre that limits who will listen to it or who will even venture to try it for the first time. Since I am a fan of jazz and classical as well it was not that hard for me to step into ambient, new age and world music and enjoy those genres the same as I had enjoyed rock n roll for most of my life. Perhaps it is this view of instrumental music in general that causes potential listeners to look at ambient or new age music as something other than skillfully written and played compositions. The images of a band plying their trade on stage dominate the mindsets of potential listeners and if you sit behind a piano or a keyboard in general (unless you are Elton John or Lady Gaga) it means that your music is going to be less than entertaining and maybe even boring.
I know this is not true personally but it's not me that you are trying to sell your music to but rather to new fans that have yet to discover these genres of music. I'd like to invite readers to submit their own ideas to me at firstname.lastname@example.org about your thoughts on these ideas or even how to correct these perceptions that seem to stifle the reach of ambient and new age music. How can ambient/new age music get "noticed" by listeners and attract more attention to itself. Marketing and promotion are not bad words and should be playing a large part in reversing these perceptions of what instrumental music actually is. Maybe it is time that those of us who make and partake of ambient/new age music to become "instrumental evangelists" to paraphrase a technology term and seek to build a critical mass of support for these genres of music in order for it to break free from misconceptions of what this music is all about and that it certainly is not boring if you really sit down and listen to it. Think about it. Ponder it and then react to it. Drop me an e-mail with your thoughts.
Michael Foster, editor