“Change, ewwww” by Sean O’Bryan Smith

Once more unto the rant, Dear Friends, once more, or close they mouth up with duct tape. In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility. #RedneckShakespeare

First off friends, let me thank you all for the comments, emails, and text messages about my last article. It’s highly exciting to know that people genuinely take time out of their incredibly busy lives to listen to me babble on. It is even more rewarding seeing the outpouring of support from artists of all professional levels who appreciate my verbal spewing.  These articles are for YOU and are meant to share things that I have directly witnessed over the past four decades. A lot of these hard truths are tough to swallow for some. However, it’s not meant to pick a fight or alienate anyone. Quite frankly, we are all too busy just trying to create and contribute to our artistic community, so I don’t have time, nor do you, to get involved with any nonsense. However, for some it may rub them the wrong way and if my face ends up on the dartboard owned by some industry professionals in this market, so be it. #NotTheFirstTimeNaryThe Last

If it isn’t abundantly clear by now, my focus is to get us all thinking on how to improve ourselves as artists in an ever-changing artistic climate. To truly and effectively accomplish this though, we must dig much deeper into ourselves than musical society has conditioned us to do. Every single artist out there must, beyond a shadow of a doubt, learn how to at bare minimum have current musical business skills so that they can be self-sufficient if the need arises. That doesn’t just mean working a side hustle to put food on the table while you try to make it. It means learning basic business etiquette, proper self-promotion techniques, protecting your hard-developed creative property and other skillsets to diversify how you present yourselves to individuals who can either make or break your career.

One of the reasons that I tend to harp on these things so much is to help catch our respected genres up with what the rest of the musical genres have been doing for years. Since my reemergence from self-prescribed musical retirement into the New Age/ambient/electronic realms, I have done one thing more than anything else: Shook my head at how these genres operate. It is befuddling to me that there are ongoing day-to-day business practices in these genres that are teetering on being archaic. I see things constantly that were standard practice, in say, 1986, that are still in place today. The artists buy into it hook, line, and sinker, then have the audacity to wonder why something isn’t working. “Well, I’ve always done it that way. . .” That makes my brain hurt.

As cliché as it sounds, the next sentence still holds absolute truth. The ONLY constant is CHANGE and our genres have not done a very good job at acknowledging that. In part, I think this because we are one of the only commercially accepted musical genres that is dominated by more “Seasoned” artists. That was the nice way of saying we look like a brochure for AARP at times (myself included, #GrumpFallsOnSwordAgain). I say that because, at our age, we are the world’s worst at wanting to accept change. I know I don’t want my routine and ideas to be rocked most of the time. Do you?

What sparked part of this article was another one I stumbled upon recently. It was an article from Pitchfork highlighting the Best 16 Ambient Albums of 2020. What did I see on this list that is nearly four years old now? YOUNG artists and not a SINGLE one of us more “seasoned”/established artists. Stop and think about that for a minute. Some of you are Grammy® nominated and winning artists reading this. There’s no reason at least one of you shouldn’t have been included on this list, which yields the question: Why weren’t you on it?

Brian Eno famously spoke about our genre with the now classic “as ignorable as it is interesting.” The question you need to ask yourself is this: Does that same quote now apply to you as an artist? And if so, what can you do about it? Has not wanting to change your ways about your “business model” gotten in the way of your success? Have you been falling for the lure of “time honored” traditions in the industry only to find out that they have been irrelevant in literally every other genre for decades? Do you need to walk into your bathroom and gaze into that shiny, rectangular object hanging on the wall and reassess? The answer might be “Yes” to ALL these questions.

First off, kudos to these kids on the aforementioned “Best of” list. The recent surge in artists in our realm is extremely exciting. We are not the most popular of the musical explorers in the land, so I am elated beyond relief to see a new generation emerging which leads directly to this. Why aren’t we embracing them and vice versa? Why on Earth do we have an “us and them” scenario happening in one of the smallest musical environments in creativity? Heck, some artist rosters look like a promotion for Fixodent these days and we need to include these younger artists in our daily lives. I just don’t get why we wouldn’t want to embrace them, and I think for us Ole Fogeys it falls into the fact that these younger artists don’t even know we exist and that is 100% our fault.

For us to truly be relevant in the ever-changing industry and contribute along with the younger artists that are increasingly gaining their own notoriety, it is imperative that we adapt to industry changes. Some of us have made strides in this and others have not. There are also some like me, that choose to sort of “skirt around” the industry as well. For example, I chose not to stay on social media years ago and deleted it all after years of being the constantly promoting artist. I now enjoy the shadows because for me, it is no longer about being an artist, but in turn, sharing what I have learned. I don’t suggest that approach however if you are trying to grow your artistry yourself. In this market, you will fall completely flat, and these younger artists will eat you alive since they are part of a generation obsessed with self-promotion techniques to the point where it is second nature.

As usual, I hopefully engaged some semblance of mind fodder for you to dwell on at least for a fleeting moment. If I have witnessed anything in my own career, it is the ebb and flow of success of the struggling recording artists. I have been in the immediate presence of meteoric rise going directly into meteoric irrelevance with more than one artist, which is why I now do what I do to help all of us that still feel compelled to create and do this thing called music. With that, the waves are nice today and my beach chair is calling. . . adieu.


Sean O’Bryan Smith is an award-winning film composer, author, producer and recording artist. As a musician, he has recorded and/or performed with over 100 major and independent recording artists worldwide in multiple genres.

Sean originally emerged onto the new age/world scene in 2012 while on the Australian record label Wolf Entertainment. His single “Rain” from the album “Tapestry” became an international jazz/new age crossover hit. The album also included the single “Vashon” which was featured on multiple new age stations overseas. These ventures into the genre continued when a number of Sean’s original compositions from the Indian motion picture Mrigtrishna were heavily featured on a collection of ambient/new age works in India. 

As an author, Sean’s regular columns have been published in numerous musical periodicals and he was a contributing author alongside Gene Simmons and Nile Rodgers for a series of books dedicated to the ins and outs of the music industry. Sean’s music continues to be heard across the globe on radio, film and television. He is currently composing, recording and producing from his home in South Florida as well as serving as Director of Artist Development and Relations for Wayfarer Records where he is also an Artist in Residence.