“What Have We Become?” by Sean O’Bryan Smith

And yet again we find ourselves in that same point of life asking the ongoing question… Will this guy ever shut up? Silly rabbits. Y’all know the answer to that by now. All of that to say… Howdy Folks!

I hope everyone’s year is going well in this beyond crazy world we all currently reside in. Confusion, unrest, and general wackiness seem to be the new norm and our genre is absolutely following suit. I know I’ve talked about changes in the industry numerous times before. The bulk of my ramblings have been centered on things that are destined to come, but I wanted to focus this time around on the changes that have already happened. I am doing this because every single day I deal with artists, that not only don’t understand what’s going on around them but are fighting with their last breath to not accept what’s going on. Guess what, kids? It is not up to you.

If you are still one of the people in this genre hanging on to the “This is the way it has always been” motif, I implore you: It is time to open your eyes. This genre is changing at an overwhelming rate and there is a whole new generation of talent that is becoming increasingly relevant. First off, look at the NACC charts for our genre (more on the relevance of that chart shortly). The #1 position in our genre for weeks was held by a pop artist until this week. Andre 3000’s project, while enjoyable, commanded this spot because he crossed over. While that isn’t that farfetched to grasp, due to the fact that he is a well-known artist in other realms, the #1 spot this week is a younger artist and a glance at the Top 30 shows a peppering of names you may have heard of and other ones that you may have not.

A lot of you are already asking, “What is the NACC chart?” In short, it is the new benchmark chart in which our genre is judged. The radio outlets that we all jockey to have a position with report to NACC now. This is one of the many changes I am mentioning that people seem to struggle with. While still out there, ZMR is no longer the gold standard. The industry shifted. How many of you totally missed the shift around you? This is an example of what I am talking about.

Another huge change in the genre is its very name. “New Age” is rapidly becoming a dirty word in multiple circles. More and more hosts, reviewers, etc., now cringe at the brand of “New Age.” More importantly, the movement of the new age fan has shifted away from what it once was. Fans do not relate to the concept of “new age” music on the level they once did. However, if you call it “relaxation music,” “calming music,” “sleep music,” etc., then, the fans instantly connect. Seems silly? It is, but that’s what the industry has dictated. The good news is that you are creatively doing exactly the same thing already so, evolve and move on. It may seem ridiculous, but here’s why I say this.

After a 30 second search on YouTube searching for music under these titles, you will find countless videos with millions of views and subscriber numbers that any of us would kill for. The same holds true for Spotify listeners, Pandora, on and on. Now, look at the artists that are being successful with this. How many of them have you heard of? They are doing something right and I guarantee they are yielding a return from it. Are you, or have you been ,too focused on the same old tired business model? You can’t complain about your ROI from your projects if you are too focused on past practices. It just doesn’t work that way anymore.

If you think for one minute that these younger, more “successful” artists aren’t changing the genre around you then that is something you genuinely need to come to grips with. We are experiencing a significant shift in this genre. It’s not a prediction. It is here. The radio hosts are embracing it. The charts show it, and most importantly, the listeners want it. Some of you have fully embraced this and are thriving. To that, I applaud you loud and proud. For the remaining masses that are struggling with it, I leave you with this.  Think of the fundamental reasons why so many of us chose this musical path. To have peace, relaxation, and a spiritual connection to what we are doing so that we can share it with our fans and they can hopefully experience the same thing. There is absolutely zero reason why that still can’t be the case for all of us. That being said, take a deep breath, regroup, clear your mind, and go get back in the game. Do not let frustration win. It is just a hurdle, and you are all still relevant and inspiring to others.

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. 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.