One Grammy To Rule Them All (plus 15 Grammyless “new age” artists who’ve had huge success)

 

This piece was inspired by observations gleaned over the last few years – and especially this past year – with regards to the presence of the New Age Grammy Awards category and the overall effects I see it having on the genre today. Some of my opinions on this matter have evolved during the past year, although my overall sentiments towards the whole New Age Grammy thing were mostly ambivalent even well before then. I’ll confess, as an enthusiast/DJ/reviewer of a lot of music that gets tagged “new age” (whether that oft-contentious term accurately reflects much of it or not), I tried to remain open-minded to any potential positives of keeping that Grammy category around. And I’ve officially concluded that I can no longer find any. For the record, this isn’t really about who or what gets nominated (or ultimately wins) in that category, nor have I even so much as passively watched a televised Grammy show for as long as I can remember. But rather, how the continued maintenance of a New Age Grammy category (that’s strategically rigged and bogus with conflicts of interests) has essentially created a breeding ground for a growing number of artists with no history of objectively meritable or notable accomplishments to their name – to seemingly show-up out of virtually nowhere onto the “new age” music scene, already in aggressively full-fledged pursuit of a Grammy Award. Often, such artists will then attempt to monopolize the genre like they’re the second coming of Enya (or even the first for that matter).

 


And every year – for the past few years – this phenomenon seemingly multiplies. It also tends to raise suspicions that, if there were no New Age Grammy category, they might not be composing in that genre of music (hint: that category is a much easier one to pursue an award in than that of most others).


Before I go any further, something I should clarify is that the oft-conflated and frequently overlapping but nonetheless distinctly separate Ambient genre is mostly shielded from this phenomenon, as are other styles of electronic music. For example, I see no Grammy “campaigning” ever going on in the psybient, spacemusic or chill/lounge music scenes – all of which I also keep pretty close tabs on and prominently feature on Journeyscapes. And it’s not because these genres are any less popular than “new age” – in fact, far from it.


Firstly, for anyone out there who doesn’t know how the whole Grammy thing works, here’s a brief explanation: Grammy nominations and wins have no direct relevance to album sales, chart positions, size of an artist’s fan-base, or any other objective measures of a recording artist’s success. It is by-and-large a subjective process based on an artist’s popularity among their peers and other members of the Recording Academy, of whom possess exclusive voting privileges. Add this to the fact that a growing number of these artists seem to suspiciously lack both knowledge of the diversity of music found in the “new age” genre – and an appreciation of the genre history with its notably influential, pioneering and groundbreaking associated acts – and the whole process seems even more absurd. Actually, think of the process as being like that of electing a prom king and queen. And then try to think of what all could possibly go awry when a high-school prom mentality gets adopted by members of an already niche musical genre – all competing for what they view as the ultimate crown of achievement. You get the picture.


In the days before social media, I took mere casual interest in one Grammy Awards category that also happened to be untelevised – the New Age one. Up until a about a decade ago, this category seemed mostly benign and even kinda cool to have around! That’s mainly because most if not all the albums that received nominations in that category were by artists who were quite prominent in the field. Just have a look for yourselves.


The first New Age Grammy was awarded in 1987 to acclaimed Swiss harpist Andreas Vollenwider. Whether my personal favored to win it ultimately took home the prize each year or not wasn’t really that important – the category was mostly robust with overall deserving acts – and that trend pretty much stayed the course throughout the 90s and even 00s.


Now if you know your “new age” music history even fairly well, you’ll likewise notice that some rather peculiar anomalies begin to show up in that category in 2011 – and that has literally everything to do with social media. This, unfortunately, marked the beginning of the end of what was once a bonafide Grammy category that near-consistently reflected the buying and listening public’s valuation of the acts in “new age” music.


Thanks to a Grammy networking site that was around at the time (when things began to go awry) called Grammy365, an essentially unheard-of musician lacking any valid accomplishments in the field successfully nabbed two Grammy nominations in a row. That site was subsequently shut down by the committee due to “vote-trading”, but the phenomena simply migrated elsewhere as the trend continued to spread.


By late 2013 or early 2014, a Facebook group that currently boasts nearly 2,000 members was created by the same person for Grammy voters to “network” among each other. So what all goes on in there? Elaborate ancient rituals intended to harness the power of the Earth’s energy grid? The opening of secret space-time portals in hopes of channeling interdimensional beings? My “intuitive” guess is that it’s mostly just vote-trading.

 


From that point until just this past year, the key to getting a Grammy nomination – and ultimately a win – became increasingly dependent upon making the most industry friends, attending all the right events and parties, and outspending competitors on awards campaigning. Whether an artist vying for a New Age Grammy had any tangible success in the genre or not became irrelevant. Literally nobody except other Grammy voting members even had to know who an artist was, nor did they have to sell even one record to garner a nomination.


Just this past year a secret committee was introduced, allegedly to help regulate the nominating outcomes of both the New Age and Contemporary Instrumental categories (which some have speculated will eventually be folded into just one category – fingers crossed that happens soon!). The rules of this new system went like this: of all the qualifier albums up for votes in that category, the 15 that received the most votes would then be eligible for nomination by this elite committee, who would then select 5 from those top 15 to be the category’s final nominees. However, the problem with any attempt to regulate gaming by introducing a secret committee is that it merely kills one form of gaming and replaces it with another. We’ll never know if all 5 nominees received the most overall votes casts, or if there were other albums in the pool which received more votes that were shut out of the committee because of industry favoritism/nepotism/etc. What we can confirm though is that this exact scenario has happened in other categories which have the same system in place, such as an album garnering the most votes being tossed out by that category’s secret nominating committee simply because it was deemed to be too commercially successful.


It’s also worth noting that one of the five nominated albums this past year had no business being received in the New Age category, of which I place the blame – not on the nominated artist herself – but on 1) the collective members of the initial qualifying committee who actually thought that an R&B album by a 4-time Grammy-winning, 22-time Grammy-nominated R&B artist – in the R&B category – somehow belonged in the New Age category – and 2) that the collective members of the secret committee in charge of nominating the final five – who by some reasoning that defies all known logic – apparently agreed that it belonged there. In a nutshell, members on both committees proved themselves to be either corruptible or incompetent when entrusted with such a task. Granted, “new age music” can be defined pretty loosely these days, but I gotta draw the line somewhere – and I draw it there. While I have my suspicions about why this occurred (hint: the artist in question is signed to a major record label and performed on stage that same night), I won’t get into any conspiracy theories here (or did I just do that?). Anyway, I’ll be the first to acknowledge the immense talents and credible achievements of all the nominees – and as for my own thoughts regarding what got nominated or won, is irrelevant to the bigger picture I’m presenting here.


Furthermore, yearly consecutive Grammy nominations of any artist – especially when it enters the double digits – is all the evidence I need of both a closed system and voting process that’s become antiquated, meaningless and out-of-touch with reality. For instance, while I’ve got nothing but utmost respect for Kitaro – nearly every album he’s released for the past 25 years has received a Grammy nomination – for a whopping total of 16 nominations (of which includes one win). On the plus side, at least he appears to keep a low-profile and doesn’t vote-beg.


Grammy fun-fact:


Think of someone who has won a lot of Grammy awards. Bob Dylan? The Rolling Stones? Well, according to Grammy.com, Dylan has won ten and The Rolling Stones have won two. You want to know a true Grammy winning legend? It's a man by the name of Jimmy Sturr. He's won 18 Grammys out of 24 nominations in the polka category. Now I know some people may dismissively say, "Well, I’ve never heard of him" – and up until someone recently told me about him, I’d never heard of him either! But those numbers don't lie and they prove an important point – specifically, that someone can win 18 Grammys and still be unknown to the general public. Now before any Grammy-hungry musicians out there suddenly have an epiphany that they were really put on this earth to play polka music, they might be disappointed to know that the category was eliminated a few years ago.

 


Another thing that makes the New Age Grammy category uniquely problematic is the generous lumping of widely varying musical styles under that header. How can anyone objectively determine which album is “the best” among a musical pile ranging in everything from solo piano, to neoclassical, to ambient/electronic, to Celtic, to kirtan/mantra singing – to now, apparently, mainstream R&B vocal – to the most undiluted form of new age music which embodies the likes of Deuter, Liquid Mind or Steven Halpern? The answer is simple: They can’t. Ultimately, it’s going to come down to what musical style and/or artist is most popular with the majority voting bloc. And for all the ambient/electronic fans out there, it’s not typically going to be that style – and that ties right into my earlier point about there being significantly overall less interest/involvement in the Grammys by members of the ambient/electronic scene. And the same is generally true for other contests. For instance, some questionable indie music awards contests have a combined “ambient/new age” category – and yet, I've never seen any ambient nominees actually in those categories.


Additionally, again thanks to social media, there’s no longer just a Grammy season. It’s a Grammy year – every year – and has been like that for several years. And here’s the thing: it’s not most, half, or even a quarter of the artists out there getting caught up in all this awards-obsessed madness. It’s just that it doesn’t take much for a relatively small number of people with a whole lot of “resources” to work their way into the right clique and deceptively make themselves appear far more prominent than everyone else in their respective field than they really are. These same people (all either independent or unsigned by the way) also tend to make it pretty obvious that their primary target demographic for their music is – not the listening public at large – but other Grammy voters to whom they ostentatiously pander.


A fairly-constant stream of Grammy hopefuls regularly send out friend requests to other confirmed or suspected voting members – and during the height of Grammy season an endless barrage of pleas for votes in the form of Facebook messages, generic emails and FYC posts (which means “For Your Consideration” – although I’ve mentally acronymed it something else) inundate inboxes and social media pages. They’ll almost always list “Voting Member, The Recording Academy” in their profiles, which is a dead giveaway that their music career primarily revolves around that of winning a Grammy. Add that to the fact that Grammy season peaks in October, and it begins to feel like people are trick-or-treating for trophies.

 


And for the record, this isn’t just exclusive to the New Age category, but also applies to other, mostly non-mainstream/untelevised categories. However, witnessing such activity occur specifically in “new age” music greatly tarnishes much of the mystique that made the genre uniquely appealing in the first place.


This is obviously not how people used to get Grammys. Nor do I observe this behavior coming from the most prominent acts historically associated with the “new age” genre (I’m talking about some of the very top sellers internationally) of whom coincidently – or not – are generally the farthest removed from the whole Grammy scene. On the other hand, it’s usually relative novices who get so obsessively caught up in it all.


One explanation I often hear for why some people are so Grammy-obsessed, is that they believe winning the trophy will bring the validation they crave to prove they’re better than their lowly inferiors them tons of “exposure”, and that said exposure will potentially lead to lots of album sales. Yet this explanation contradicts the generally agreed upon consensus that “the Grammys are about art, not sales”. Secondly, anyone who spends thousands, hundreds of thousands, or (in at least a couple of rumored instances) more than a million dollars trying to buy a Grammy, surely knows that the chances of them ever generating that money back in album sales are virtually slim-to-none.


These are all precise reasons why, during this last Grammy round, I bucked the previous years’ trend by not giving it any positive, public attention regardless of who got nominated – altogether eschewing the notion that having a New Age Grammy category helps give the genre “exposure”. If it does, I’ve ultimately concluded that it’s giving it the wrong kind of exposure, mainly by continuing to produce and sustain what’s become a steadily growing number of acts who map-out elaborate plans – and even downright unscrupulous schemes – for how they’re going to win the trophy and become the next big fish in an ever-shrinking pond.


Besides, numerous recording artists have scored soundtracks to major films, sold boatloads of albums, and had their music appear in various movies and television shows without having ever won a Grammy. And I’ve presented several of those examples below.


For the record, I begrudge no one whatsoever for merely submitting an album to the recording academy for consideration. People quietly do so all the time without making a big ruckus – and that’s fine. However, I’m somewhat bemused – and even more than a bit humored at times – by those willing to spend mind-boggling amounts of money trying to get nominated, or resort to what has become increasingly outlandish public stunts and obnoxious social media behavior – all for the sake of wanting some coveted trophy as a mere status symbol to show off with to everyone else on the internet.


And besides, there is just so much darn good music out there being created by musicians who are doing it because they’re genuinely passionate about the art – and want to get it out there to as many members of the listening public as possible – yet just aren’t interested in hoggishly competing in what amounts to nothing more than a ruthless vanity sport.

 


With all that said, the RIAA (which stands for “Recording Industry Association of America”) does award honors in the form of Gold and Platinum certifications (with other countries around the globe having their own respective equivalents) to both albums and singles which are based on real sales figures. It’s also not a coincidence that many of the same artists who doggedly pursue Grammys (and other music awards) rarely mention these. That’s because RIAA certifications are objectively awarded – and since many fulltime trophy-hunters haven’t earned even one gold record, they have to hype up all those other subjectively awarded medals and trophies instead.


Now I don’t care if I’m the only person in the world who bought someone’s record. So long as I love the music, that’s all that matters to me. Special bonus whenever I can get others out there hooked on it too! I’ll always be more impressed by what I’m hearing through my speakers than anything stated on someone’s musical resume.


However, upon compiling my list of 15 Grammyless “new age” artists who’ve had huge success (imagine that!), I discovered that several of them have produced works which have garnered RIAA Gold or Platinum certifications – some even multiple times over.


Despite the fact that most (though not all) of the artists included on this list have been nominated for Grammys at varying points in their careers, it should be pointed out that all their respective nominations came after – not before – they achieved high-profile success. Also, this list is by no means intended to be representative of every notably accomplished, Grammyless artist in the field – and for sure there are other musical legends and pioneers who could rightfully be included here. However, I’ve selected 15 undeniably influential and pioneering acts of varying musical styles who create music that’s often been described as “new age”, as well as whose names will be familiar to many listeners/readers.

 


… Whew! Anyway… here they are:

 

 

VANGELIS

 

 

Greek composer Vangelis is one of the most notable and influential figures in both electronic and film composer history. But shocking as it may come for many – he’s never won a Grammy! Vangelis scored his first film soundtrack in 1970 and subsequently released several more albums and soundtracks thereafter, eventually landing his big breakthrough when he signed on with RCA Records in 1975. Vangelis officially achieved international superstar status with his iconic 1981 score to the blockbuster film Chariots of Fire, which sold over a million copies in just the U.S. alone. The soundtrack earned him an Academy Award for Best Original Music Score and spawned his Billboard chart-topping hit of the same name, and while the composition did earn Vangelis his first Grammy award nomination for Record of the Year, he didn’t take the prize. His next big gig came with his 1982 score to director Ridley Scott’s now sci-fi cult classic Blade Runner, often heralded by many as one of the greatest movie soundtracks of all-time (it’s also my own personal favorite). It didn’t receive any such nominations, nor did a New Age Grammy category even exist then. Interestingly (but not surprisingly), Vangelis’ original Blade Runner film score experienced a resurgence in sales just last year following the release of the movie sequel Blade Runner 2049 (of which Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfishch composed the score to).

 

Vangelis also went on to score the 1992 film 1492: Conquest of Paradise, which received Gold or Platinum certifications in 17 different countries. The soundtrack’s title track was also released on single and sold over 1.5 million copies across Europe. Vangelis finally received the first of three Grammy nominations in the New Age category in 1995 and then in 1996. Not until another 20 years later would he receive another New Age Grammy nomination in 2016, with the trophy once again being award to someone else (who unlike Vangelis, actively campaigned to win it).

 

 

JEAN MICHEL-JARRE

 

 

Another pioneering legend in the field of electronic music is French composer Jean Michel-Jarre, perhaps most famous for his 1976 debut album Oxygène, and more specifically the track “Oxygène, Pt. 4”, which was later featured on the hugely successful “new age” Virgin Records compilation of the mid-90s entitled Pure Moods. While exact sales figures of combined total albums Jarre has put out is unknown, his Oxygène album alone has sold over 12 million units to date. Jarre has since garnered exactly two Grammy nominations – the first being in the freshly-implemented New Age category in 1986 – and the second, exactly 30 years later in the Dance/Electronica category in 2016.

 

 

DAVID ARKENSTONE

 

 

Best known for his often cinematic, fantasy-themed recordings, American composer David Arkenstone is among the most visible and versatile composers in the “new age” genre. He released his landmark debut Valley in the Clouds on Narada Records in 1987 – and has recorded over 60 studio albums since. A musical chameleon who’s mastered numerous styles spanning everything from Celtic, ambient, neoclassical and adult contemporary, Arkenstone’s also composed music for various video game soundtracks, while influences of his signature sound can be heard in many other artists’ work. To date, Arkenstone has received 3 Grammy Award nominations in the New Age category for the years 1991, 1999 and 2004.

 

 

PATRICK O’HEARN

 

 

Aside from once being a long-time member of Frank Zappa’s band, American multi-instrumentalist Patrick O’hearn was also subsequently a member of the 1980’s new-wave band Missing Persons. He later embarked on a highly successful solo career as a prominent new age and ambient music composer. O’Hearn released his debut album Ancient Dreams in 1985 on the Private Music label, which was followed up by a string of both highly-acclaimed and influential albums in the genre. O’Hearn also composed music for several films, including Roger Donaldson’s 1992 movie White Sands, which was released as a soundtrack album. Influences of O’Hearn’s enduring, pioneering style can still be heard on numerous works today, including some of those released on the prestigious ambient/electronic record label Spotted Peccary. Although O’Hearn has received two Grammy Award nominations – one in 1987 and another in 1995 – he hasn’t received another nomination since. An undisputed legend in the field, he’s retained a long-held following of dedicated listeners.

 

 

TANGERINE DREAM

 

 

Formed in Germany in 1967, Tangerine Dream is unquestionably one of the most important and influential electronic music acts of all time – having been especially integral to both the formation and evolution of the ambient, trance and new age music genres. A pioneer of sequencer music, and specifically, a style called “Berlin School”, the band’s discography is one of the most extensive out there – spanning studio and live albums that surpass 150 total. The initial turning point in Tangerine Dream’s career came with the unexpected success of their 1975 album Phaedra which reached #15 in the U.K. Tangerine Dream has scored the music to numerous films throughout their career – and there was one especially interesting fact I came across when gathering information for this piece. The band’s now iconic score to the 1981 movie Thief was nominated for a mock Razzie Award in the category of Worst Music Score. It also won the not-so-coveted award for Most Intrusive Music Score in the now-defunct Stinkers Bad Movie Awards. Ouch! Nevertheless, that insult certainly didn’t block Tangerine Dream’s path to future film score successes and beyond. Just two years later in 1983, the band would contribute to the soundtrack for the blockbuster movie Risky Business. One of the best remembered scenes from that movie (besides that of Tom Cruise dancing to Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” in his living room) is the iconic love scene between Tom Cruise’s and Rebecca de Mornay’s characters that takes place on a moving train. The hypnotic music playing during that segment is a now classic ambient/electronic piece titled “Love on a Real Train” – as well as a pivotal moment in Tangerine Dream legacy that helped to shape the future landscape of electronic music, while continuing to influence numerous artists’ works even today.

 

Tangerine Dream didn’t earn their first New Age Grammy nomination until 1991 – just a few years after that category had opened, of which was long after they’d been successfully doing their thing. The band would go on to earn six more nominations (including for a single in one category and a video in another) for a total of seven nominations – with their last one occurring in 1995. Sadly, the band’s founder and only constant member, Edgar Froese, passed away suddenly in 2015. Although insofar I’ve been unable to confirm exact sales figures for Tangerine Dream’s body of work – all indications easily put that figure somewhere in the millions – with more than a few estimates citing over 10 million albums sold.

 

 

STEVE ROACH

 

 

American musician Steve Roach is another ambient/electronic heavyweight whose influence extends far-and-wide in the field – having released his debut album Now in 1982. Citing Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and Vangelis as among his musical inspirations, Roach began carving out his own pioneering sound early on – releasing his now classic ambient-space music album, Structures from Silence, in 1984. A few years later in 1988, Roach released what would become his most significant and groundbreaking work – a double album titled Dreamtime Return – based on themes of Australian Aboriginal culture and their concepts surrounding “dreamtime”. This pivotal release was highly influential in both pioneering and popularizing a particular style of ethno-ambient music (of which also included artists such as Robert Rich and Popol Vuh) that is commonly referred to as “techno-tribal”.

 

With more than 100 albums to this credit – including many collaborations with the likes of Byron Metcalf, Robert Rich, Vidna Obmana and notable others – Steve Roach is one of the most established recordings artists in both the ambient and new age music genres. His signature style frequently encompasses atmospheric, ethnic and electronic space motifs – and his sound continues to influence the works of many other recording artists today. Interestingly, Roach didn’t receive his first (and thus far only) New Age Grammy Award nomination until 2017 – more than three-and-half decades after having already experienced notable achievements in the field.

 

 

LOREENA MCKENNITT

 

 

Canadian singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist Loreena McKennitt is an international Celtic music darling with an unmistakably ethereal, soprano vocal range. She released her debut album Elemental in 1985, setting her off on a successful career path that would gain her a steadily growing fan following over the next several years – with albums like 1991’s The Visit and 1994’s The Mask and Mirror receiving critical acclaim along the way. McKennitt’s official launch to global superstardom officially came with her worldwide hit “The Mummers’ Dance”, which entered the top 20 on U.S. Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in 1996. The single’s accompanying album, The Book of Secrets, was an international crossover success and remains her most popular album to date. Her music has appeared in many films including The Santa Clause, The Mists of Avalon and Tinker Bell, as well as on numerous television shows. Additionally, she has embarked on several successful international tours, while her concert performances continue to fill packed-out halls and venues.


Curious as it may be however, McKennitt didn’t receive her first of two Grammy nominations until a decade after the pinnacle of her success. Her 2007 album An Ancient Muse was nominated in the Contemporary World category while her 2012 album Troubadours on The Rhine got a nomination in the New Age category. Nevertheless, she has impressively sold over 14 million albums worldwide, with The Book of Secrets continuing to remain a best-seller in the field.

 

 

ENIGMA

 

 

Spearheaded by Romanian-German producer Michael Cretu, ambient-pop act Enigma first debuted on the global scene in late 1990 with their chart-topping hit “Sadeness part 1”. A surprise smash success, the single’s accompanying album, MCMXC a.D., went on to remain in the Billboard Top 200 albums chart for 5 consecutive years. Despite being released over 25 years ago, the album still sells by the bucketloads and is one of the top-selling albums – across all genres – of the 90s. Their second album, The Cross of Changes, produced the equalled hit “Return to Innocence” in 1994, and both songs would likewise headline Virgin Records’ original “new age” music compilation Pure Moods. Enigma’s defining sound would prove influential for many years to come, as well as spawn countless imitators and copycats along the way (although none have reached near Enigma's success) while their music has been featured in numerous blockbuster movies and television shows. The popular “Ibiza chillout” music scene, which inspired notable compilation series like Café de Mar – also owes much of its stylistic roots to Enigma (likewise of whom was based in Ibiza, Spain for many years).

 

Enigma has received two New Age Grammy Award nominations – one in 1997 and another, a decade later in 2006. While their music generally does possess “new age” overtones and is a top-heralded act of the genre, Enigma’s markedly edgier and often characteristically erotic sound makes me inclined to believe that the Dance/Electronic Grammy Award category would’ve been a better likely shoe-in for them a long time ago. In fact, their most recent album, which was released in late 2016, quickly topped both the Billboard Dance/Electronic and New Age album charts – demonstrating this act’s enduring staying power. To date, Enigma has received over 100 Platinum certifications and many more gold certifications, having quietly sold over a staggering 70 million albums worldwide – quite a feat for an act who’s never even once performed live. More so, an article that appeared in the BBC in 2003 cited Enigma’s back-catalog as the biggest selling in the world after that of The Beatles. Enigma only slightly trails the more visibly high-profile Enya (who’s nonetheless quite reclusive herself) as the best-selling “new age” artist of all time.

 

 

MICHAEL STEARNS

 

 

American ambient/space/electronic musician Michael Stearns is a renowned film composer – having worked on numerous movies, documentaries, commercials and themed attractions throughout his career. He’s also never even been nominated for a Grammy Award. Stearns released his debut album Desert Moon Walk in 1977, which was followed up by a string of other pioneering and influential works, such as 1981’s Planetary Unfolding, 1984’s Chronos and 1992’s Baraka. In 2011, Stearns composed music for the non-narrative documentary film Samsara – a critically-praised soundtrack that also features contributions by Lisa Gerrard and Marcello De Francisci.

 

 

LISA GERRARD

 

 

Australian musician, singer and composer Lisa Gerrard first rose to prominence with her neoclassical darkwave/gothic/world music group Dead Can Dance, of which also includes co-founding member Brendan Perry. A highly influential and pioneering act, they amassed a dedicated fan following over the years – while Gerrard also simultaneously embarked on a successful solo music career that further showcased her unmistakable, otherworldly-seeming, dramatic contralto vocal range. Gerrard eventually garnered her first Grammy Award nomination for her collaborative 2000 film score Gladiator in tandem with Hans Zimmer – set to director Ridley Scott’s international blockbuster movie of the same name. The likewise globally successful soundtrack spawned their international hit “Now We Are Free”, which has been rendered in many fashions by other numerous acts (I even remember our local area’s “party” station frequently playing a really cool trance remix of it).

 

 

STEVEN HALPERN

 

 

Of all the artists on this list, American musician Steven Halpern is perhaps the only one whose style unequivocally exemplifies “new age” – at least according to that term’s strictest definition (with other highly successful acts in this vein also including the likes of Deuter, Constance Demby and Liquid Mind). One of the original forefathers of the “new age” music genre, Halpern released his debut album Spectrum Suite in 1975 and has since released nearly 100 albums to date – including his especially notable 2001 release Chakra Suite. Halpern has long run and operated a highly successful mail order catalog – and his music continues to be heard in spas, massage rooms and holistic shops around the world. Curiously again however, this undisputed new age music grandmaster has only received one Grammy award nomination, of which didn’t occur until 2012, with his album Deep Alpha.

 

 

MYCHAEL DANNA

 

 

Canadian film composer Mychael Danna arrived on the scene in 1987 with his soundtrack to the Canadian drama film Family Viewing. A highly prolific and stylistically versatile composer, he’s released over 60 albums over the span of his career, of which overwhelmingly includes film score and television soundtracks. Danna’s also released several collaborative projects with other notable musicians – including his film composer brother Jeff Danna and Tim Clement. With a style often encompassing ambient, cinematic, neoclassical, Celtic and world music, thus naturally, Danna has likewise enjoyed longtime visibility in the new age music genre. Even with a plethora a film scores, widely-praised albums and enduring success to his name, Danna didn’t garner his first Grammy Award nomination until 2006 for the soundtrack to Little Miss Sunshine. His second Grammy nomination came a few years later with the highly-acclaimed soundtrack to the international blockbuster movie, Life of Pi, for which he earned both a Golden Globe and an Oscar win in the category of Best Original Score.

 

 

OTTMAR LIEBERT

 

 

German guitarist, songwriter and producer Ottmar Liebert founded his band Luna Negra in 1989 and released his debut album Nouveau Flamenco in 1990. The album earned multi-platinum status in the U.S. and immediately catapulted him to superstardom. Liebert’s first of five New Age Grammy Award nominations was garnered in 1991 with the album Borrasca, which also earned both Gold and Platinum certifications. His fifth Grammy nomination came in 2008 with his album The Scent of Light. Having sold millions of albums internationally and garnering 38 Gold and Platinum certifications, Liebert’s signature style of Nouveau Flamenco music continues to yield substantial influence and inspiration upon other numerous recording artists around the globe.

 

 

DEVA PREMAL

 

 

German singer/musician Deva Premal arrived on the “new age” music scene with her 1997 debut album Trusting the Silence (recorded with Miten) – and has released nearly 30 albums to date. Renowned for a musical style that weaves Buddhist and Sanskrit mantras, as well as other sacred chants, into contemporary atmospheric musical arrangements – Deva Premal’s mantra music has yielded significant impact and influence upon a string of other acts who’ve followed in her creative footsteps. She’s performed for the Dalai Lama and recorded with the Gyuto Monks of Tibet – while her music is a popular favorite in Yoga studios, healing spas and meditation centers.

 

Deva Premal has never received a Grammy award nomination – but she has impressively sold over 900,000 albums – making her one of the biggest successes of her kind.

 

 

YANNI

 

 

Yes… Yanni. Although his name has long-been virtually synonymous with “new age” music, Yanni himself rejects that term – something which is perhaps warranted given that his style actually spans neoclassical, rock, contemporary instrumental and world music. A Greek-born composer, keyboardist, pianist and music producer, Yanni released his debut album Optimystique in 1984 and remains one of the biggest successes in “new age” music. Frequently embarking on worldwide sold-out concert tours over the years, he's performed at impressive locations such as the Acropolis of Athens and the Great Pyramids of Giza. To date, Yanni’s recordings have collectively earned over 40 platinum and gold certifications – and he’s awe-inspiringly sold over 25 million albums internationally. Nevertheless, he’s only garnered two New Age Grammy award nominations – both occurring way back in 1992 and 1993.

 

One thing especially worth noting about Yanni is the nature of his social media presence and how wonderfully – almost adorably – he conducts himself. He personally engages his fans around the world in the form of many livestreams and other videos, which are often recorded at international airports, cities and venues he’s performing at. An air of positivity, friendliness and overall happiness always seems to emit from both Yanni’s own website and social media pages, as well as from those of his many fan-created pages and discussion groups. Shoot – the kind of feel-good vibes I get from that whole crowd is enough to make me love the guy, as well as want to flaunt a set of Yanni press-on nails (yes, I actually saw those for sale on Etsy sometime back).

 

 

Conclusion:


Granted, I’m sure I’ll ruffle the feathers of a few people who so desperately want to win that shiny trophy, but oh well – no biggy. I’m putting this out there not only because I’ve long been an avid listener/supporter of musical styles that often get filed under the “new age” heading (whether they technically belong there or not) – but because, I’ve ultimately concluded that the continued presence of a New Age Grammy category is proving itself destructive to the genre overall, with any perceived “pros” of keeping that category on life-support no longer outweighing the growing number of “cons” I see in doing so. Plus, considering how the nominating committee stuck an R&B album in the category last time, who knows what they might let through next year – a K-pop album perhaps?

 

A good chunk of “new age” music belongs in the Contemporary Instrumental category anyway – with another portion more properly belonging in Dance/Electronic, some in Classical, and others in World.

 

 

Granted, eliminating the New Age Grammy category won’t resolve everything, but at least it might compel a few self-important and overzealous trophy-hunters to emigrate to other genres. Perhaps they should bring back that Polka category (okay, maybe not ).

 

 

In closing, I wrote this piece and adjacent list not just for anyone who enjoys rubbernecking as much as I do curious onlookers, but also with the intention of offering some encouragement to the many genuine, dedicated and respectable artists out there who’ve become discouraged or disillusioned by the adverse effects the Grammys – and its many domino effects – have increasingly had on the “new age” music scene (and indeed, there are lots, just judging by various conversations I’ve had with quite a few people). And most of all – I hope I’ve put some self-delusions and distortions in check for a few others.

 

Bonus Fact: On January 15th of just this year, the world learned of the heartbreaking news that frontwoman Dolores O’Riordan of the Irish alternative rock band, The Cranberries, had passed away unexpectedly. Their debut 1993 hit “Linger” has remained one of my all-time favorite songs since the first time I heard it and I absolutely loved O’Riordan’s Celtic-infused singing. An iconic and influential artist who was beloved by millions of fans – and with over 40 million album sales to their credit – I was pretty stunned to learn that The Cranberries had never even been nominated for a Grammy Award.

 

 

 

Comments

Beth Hilton February 07, 2018 @10:08 pm
That is a fantastic all-star list, Candice!
Gary Schmidt February 05, 2018 @09:33 pm
All I can say is thanks.
  • Leave a comment:

  •