A Historical Perspective
When Dean Evenson and I first started selling our audio cassettes in 1979, we had no idea that the music we were creating would one day become its own genre and bring a whole new aspect to the music industry itself. In fact, when we first offered our music to record stores they didn’t know where to put it. It wasn’t classical or jazz although it had elements of both categories. Store managers said we would need to create our own genre and so we did… or actually, we and many others did who were also exploring the same kind of peaceful music that we had discovered.
In the early days, we sold our tapes at swap meets which turned out to be an excellent venue for getting direct customer feedback on how the music was affecting people. We knew our music was calming, but we were surprised when people would come back to our booth week after week reporting on how it had helped them relax or deal with chronic pain or anxiety. Massage therapists and yoga practitioners were the first big fans. Remember, at that time massage, yoga, and meditation had only recently been introduced into our subculture.
As people have become more aware of the relationship between stress and health, the importance of this kind of wellness music has increased. Now over four decades later, the New Age genre has its own Grammy award, Billboard, and radio charts, and is a respected and meaningful contributor to the music industry itself.
Although some in the genre wish it had a different name, after many attempts to change it, the name may be here to stay. To get around that, people may describe the music by the mood or experience it brings up. Names such as wellness, ambient, relaxation, yoga, meditation and healing all convey the intention or use of the music. In fact, the intention of the musician is actually quite important in this genre.
Over the decades, the market for wellness music has greatly expanded even as the process of distribution has changed drastically. Most of the early wellness music was produced by the artist musicians themselves and self-distributed with a lot of creative effort. It wasn’t until later that larger record companies became involved in the genre and then, they sometimes missed the point of the music when their ‘bean counters’ didn’t see sales as high as expected and they didn’t do anything to support the music.
Most of us independent musicians skipped vinyl and went from cassette tapes to compact discs. The period during the ‘90s when people were replacing their vinyl and tape collections with CDs fueled growth in the industry. For many years, musicians were able to make a good living selling their CDs through mom-and-pop shops, and independent book and gift stores. Many musicians had direct contact with massage therapists or spas who would play the music during sessions. Touring musicians could give concerts and workshops and be additionally supported by selling their CDs. Then Steve Jobs invented the 99-cent song and things began to go digital. After the initial frenzy of free file sharing, people became used to paying for downloads and although a decent income was paid to musical producers, it was still downsizing. And then…streaming made its appearance. That along with the pandemic and gathering restrictions is where we currently have landed. Musicians are touring less but zooming more and this may be the new normal for a while. We’re all trying to understand how to navigate the digital world and still maintain our close connections with listeners and somehow support the artists. Online concerts or digital workshops. Social media posting and promotions. YouTube videos. Zooming.
As for bringing music into stores and venues, the internet can be helpful in making that happen. Wellness music is always relevant in the visionary marketplace. Many stores subscribe to the commercial component of their favorite streaming service so they can legally play music in their place of work. They can follow their favorite wellness musicians and continue to create a peaceful sonic ambiance in their store to enhance their customers’ shopping experience. More musicians and producers are developing ways to create virtual musical and visual events across great distances. This is our challenge today and we are not alone as people around the globe are trying to figure it out. We are ever grateful for the stores which still do sell CDs because that is one way to truly support the musicians who are creating the wellness experience. But no matter how you listen to music, now more than ever, an anxious world needs this spiritual music of peace. We can and we must figure out how to keep the music alive and enhance wellness in ourselves, our families, and our communities.