Ma-na Music

If music be the food of love, play on.

Month: January 2016

How To License Your Music

Music is a big part of civilization. Centuries had passed but music survived and even grew to greater heights every single decade. As a matter of fact, the demand of music has been rising very steadily in the past 10 years and it will continue that way in the foreseeable future. It comes along with the big amount of revenue the music industry is currently getting year after year. It is an unstoppable force as people always look up for the next great artist around the corner, thus continuing the cycle and the relevance of music. The demand of music content is at an all time high. The global music revenue since the turn of the century has been steady. The currency is measured in billions.

As the technology grew, music got more technical, complex and in demand. Others take credit for using music they don’t own. Nowadays, independent musicians are well aware of protecting their work for legal purposes. Through music licensing, you can be ensured of your asset/work being protected legally.

What is music licensing? Music licensing is the licensed used for copyrighted music. This allows the owner of the music to maintain the copyright of their original work. It also ensures the owner of the musical work to be compensated if their music is being used by others. The music licensing companies has limited rights to use the work without separate agreements. In music licensing, you could get your work licensed in the form of music, composition and songwriting.

During the music licensing process, there are terms that would be discussed by the groups involved. If you are an independent musician, you would be the licensor. You are the one responsible of the music created, thus you are the copyright owner of the licensed work. A licensee would be the music licensing company as they would be the one who will distribute your work to other industries. They will also collect the royalty fees as distribute them back to you if your music is included in live performances, TV shows, ads, campaigns, video games, etc.

There are also two kinds of contracts in music licensing, namely exclusive contract and non-exclusive contract. Exclusive contract means having your work licensed exclusively to a single music licensing company. Only a single company has the authority to distribute and market your work. If you signed an exclusive contract to your song or album, you cannot use the same music contents and get it signed by other music licensing companies. The agreement is exclusive and confidential to the licensor and the licensee.

Non-exclusive contract allows a second party to distribute your work and it doesn’t prohibit the licensor to sell their music to other music licensing companies or licensees. An independent musician can sign a non-exclusive contract to multiple companies using the same music content. Non-exclusive contracts are generally used to prevent an individual from being locked into a restrictive contract before their work gains popularity. This type of contract is designed to protect music artists from being taken advantage of in the early stages of their respective careers while on the process of getting their music out to larger audiences.

There are also cases which involves direct payment for used music content. This is called Sync Fees. Sync fee is a license granted by a holder of a copyrighted music to allow a licensee to synchronize music with visual media such as ads, films, TV shows, movie trailers, video games, etc. For example, a video producer is in dire need of music content for a certain project and is in a limited time of finding one.

In these cases, the artist and the music licensing company will be contacted directly for the possible use of the original work and negotiate the upfront payment involved. Sync fees can range from a few dollars to a couple of hundred dollars or up to thousands. The payment usually depends on how big and established a company is. If it is a well known company, there is a probability that the sync fee will spike up in value.

We need to understand that businesses nowadays are paying premium for music at an all time high. The influx and revenue generated on different industries are worth billions of dollars and the music artists who got their music licensed will get a big share of that money. The content of music is very important. Every single company need visual and audio content. You can’t do ads, shows and movies without having any music content.

Music licensing brings compensation for assets used. This is called royalty fees. A royalty fee is the payment collected by one party from another for the ongoing use of a copyrighted asset. You can get compensated if your work is featured on live public performances. For every live use of your music, you get compensated as you own the copyright of your work.

The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) has collected over $941 million dollars in licensing fees and distributed $827.7 million dollars in royalties to its members back in 2014. BMI on the other hand, collected more than $1.013 billion dollars in license fees and distributed over $877 million dollars in royalties to its members during the year 2015.

Music licensing is the modern way of earning through music. In the past few years, the physical sales had gone down. Streaming music has taken over because it’s more convenient and practical with the help of the World Wide Web. With the rise of streaming sales, the figures that could be collected as royalty fees could spike up in the years coming. In fact, as stated in an Australian financial review website, streaming generated $2.5 billion dollars in US music sales last year, overtaking digital downloads as the industry’s biggest source of music revenue. As stated in the picture below, the global streaming of music is projected to reach greater heights in terms of revenue in the upcoming years.

The internet contributed greatly for the rise of music licensing and streaming. 20 years ago, the distribution of music hasn’t been exactly this big. Television shows and filmmakers are the top two industries that need music content. Today, there are more and more TV shows, films, commercials, movies, ads and tons of video games that need music content. It is safe to say that the internet opened the public eye about the opportunities involved behind it.

One of the most visited sites on earth is YouTube. People use, duplicate, rework, copy, revise and perform music from different artists around the world. It also has an influx of ads which contains music content. To track all these data, YouTube has a Content ID System. If your music is licensed, you can contact this site and they will take a look at their data and see if your work is being used by other parties. As the licensor, you have the authority to take actions such as mute the audio which matches your music, block a whole video from being viewed, track the video’s viewership statistics or monetize the video by running ads against it. Every country has different rules about it. But YouTube runs a lot of ads and monetizing work from this site is very probable.

If you are an independent musician, you must improve and instill professionalism in your craft to get your chances up of being signed by a music licensing company. With billions of dollars of revenue involved today, you want at least a slice of the pie. Monetizing your passion is never easy but taking the necessary steps to make it work is a must to reach success.

Country Music History

The Beginning of Country Music

One thing that has always baffled me is the fact that whilst country music is one of the most popular genres of music in the United States, outside of the country it is not as well regarded. In fact, if you head on over to the United Kingdom you will find that it is an incredibly niche genre. Why is this baffling to me? Well, it is because country music history can be traced back to the Irish, who of course are very close to the United Kingdom (just a couple of miles over the water in fact, with half of Ireland considered part of the United Kingdom). On this page I want to take a little look at the its roots. This is before any music recordings or the like. This was when music was a form of entertainment and not just a way to make money.

Country Music, in the form that we know it, has been going strong for over three hundred years in the Southern part of North America. It was not until the 1920s that it started to gain traction though. So, where did it all begin? It began with a group of Irish immigrants who decided to settle in the Appalachian Mountains. Obviously North America is an incredibly long distance from Ireland. The boat journey was horrendous to start with and of course, space was limited. Those that headed to America could only take their most prized possessions with them. Everything else was left at home. Many Irish cherished their instruments and it was those that they took on this boat journey.

The Irish preferred to use the fiddle, the sounds of which are heard in country music to this very day. The reason why they loved the fiddle so much was because it had such a dynamic range. One second you could be playing the most upbeat music possible, and the next second you could be creating something that was almost mournful. In its history it was not just the Irish fiddle that played a roll though. The banjo got in there (from West Africa), the Mandolin (Italy) and even the Dulcimer (Germany). You got a nice blend of instruments.

It was sort of born out of a clash of cultures. Many people do not realize this, but it has a number of its roots in African music. It was born out of the white and black musicians in the southern areas of the country starting to play together. In fact, country music history shows us that back then Country Music tended to be a great deal more ‘African’ influenced than European influenced. The style has meshed too much nowadays to really tell though. It just grew from here. As the music style started to spread around the area more and more people started to introduce new elements into it. This is a constantly evolving form of music. What we regarded as country all those years ago is nothing close to what is regarded as country music right now. That is why it is so exciting. We never know where the music is going to take us next.

The Early Recordings

Country Music has been played throughout the southern part of the United States for over three hundred years now. However, it was not always as popular as it is today (where it is one of the most popular music genres in the United States). In fact, up until the 1920s very few people outside of the Appalachian area had even heard of this music style. This all changed pretty quickly though.

It was the booming industry in Atlanta which kicked started country music history in recordings. During the early days of Atlanta many people who lived in the Appalachian area started to work in the cotton mills. Just like their ancestors had done all of those years ago, they took their instruments on their travels. This means that country music started to hit Atlanta.

In the 1920s the recorded music industry was just getting started. It was particularly popular in Atlanta. In fact, Atlanta was the hub for a lot of recorded music for over twenty years. The recordings sadly started to die down in the 1950s.

Anyway, during the 1920s everybody was looking to make money with commercial music. However, nobody thought that country music would sell. Many people, including Fiddlin’ John Carson tried to get their music recorded. They were turned down by record company after record company. This was until somebody discovered that country music was actually marketable. In fact, these marketing geniuses believed that it would resonate particularly well amongst those that worked in agriculture. What a brain wave this was. It was this very idea that kicked off country music history as we know it today.

Around this time, country music was a blend of styles. It really had no definition. People just played it how they wanted. One of the first recordings launched which was regarded as country came from Henry Gilliland and A.C. Robertson. They released ‘Turkey in the Straw’ and ‘Arkansas Traveller’. Both of these musicians were fiddlers. This is a far cry from the country music that we know nowadays which tends to be dominated by guitar players.

It was the high sales of these records which really got the country music ball rolling. Fiddlin’ John Carson, previously turned down by all of those record labels was signed by Okeh Records. He released his much beloved song ‘Little Log Cabin in the Lane’ in 1923. Vernon Dalhart was the first country singer to take the country by storm though. His hit, Wreck of the Old 97, released in 1927, was absolutely fantastic. It really pushed the commercial value of country music.

Nobody had such an impact in the 1920s as the Carter Family though. Their music style was unique. Over the course of 17 years they went on to released 300 different songs. Many of which people sing to this very day. In fact, the music that the Carter Family released was meant to showcase this history of Southern America. As you can probably guess, they sold millions of records.

This is just a very brief introduction to country music history in 1920s. As you know, the style evolved from there. What we know as country though originated in these recordings. It was distinctly different to the music from three hundred years ago (although built on the same principles). It really would be interesting to see where country music takes us from here on out.

The Evolution of Travis Picking

I do not know whether you have attempted to learn guitar before. However, if you have then you will notice that there are a number of techniques that you need to get down if you want to start any hope of actually being able to play a song that another person wrote, let alone write one yourself. One of the most important techniques for a guitarist is that of ‘finger picking’. Now, there are a number of different ‘finger picking’ styles out there. The one that I want to focus on though is Travis Picking. This is because it has its roots in country music history.

Before we dive into what Travis Picking is all about, I want to discuss a little bit about where it stands in the context of country music history. As you may know, country music never really started to get a grip on popular culture until the 1920s. However, people were starting to develop their style a long time before that. One of those people was Arnold Shultz, an African-American musician who was born in Ohio County, Kentucky.

Arnold was very much surrounded by music for much of his life. In fact, his family were touring country musicians. As they went from location to location he met a number of famous musicians. He also began to develop his own style. His own style was something that had not really been heard before in country music. It was a very jazzy sound with deep base notes (sadly he was never recorded so we do not know what he done exactly). The style that he developed became firmly rooted in Kentucky Style country music. In fact, his performances had a massive influence on one Merle Travis through a country musician known as Kennedy Jones.

It was Merle Travis who began to develop the idea of Travis picking in greater depth. So, what is Travis Picking? Well, it is a thumb picking technique. It is very hard to explain if you have never played the guitar before. Basically, it is a style which involves the thumb of a finger playing the bass notes on the guitar (the top three strings). This creates a deep bass note. The other fingers then play the lower strings to add a touch of melody. As you can probably guess, absolutely no guitar picks are used here.

Nowadays, many musicians blend Travis picking into their music. In fact, I am sure that you will find elements of Travis picking in pretty much every genre out there. Even ‘rock’ musicians do it from time to time, particularly on their slower numbers. This is one of a few ‘country music’ styles which seems to have escaped the confines of country music history and worked its way into other forms of music. It really does go to show the reach that this genre of music actually as. If you want to hear a good example of Travis picking outside of Country Music then I suggest that you pay a listen to Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘The Boxer’.

How to Listen to Ambient Music

Musical Vocabularies and Purposes

Many years ago, I had a college friend who was an evangelizing devotee of the abstract painter Marc Rothko. I remember her gushing over a catalog of Rothko’s work, while I was thinking that I must be aesthetically challenged; I just didn’t “get” it. After all, most of the paintings were nothing but large rectangles of color, with slight irregularities and a contrasting border or stripe. All of the familiar reference points of line and shape, perspective and shadow, were gone. I could appreciate them as “design,” but not as “art.” While they were pleasing enough, I couldn’t see why anyone would rhapsodize over these abstractions… until I first saw them for myself in person–a completely different experience! When I encountered them at the Museum of Modern Art, they literally stopped me in my tracks, subverting conscious thought and plunging me immediately into an altered state. They were not just flat canvases on a wall, but seemed more like living things, pulsing and throbbing in resonance to a wavelength that had a fundamental connection to the Source of things. I was stunned. They didn’t “express” a feeling–they were more like feelings themselves, and they seemed like nothing personal to me, or Rothko, or anyone. When I later looked at the reproductions Rothko’s works in books, they reverted to flat swatches of color. There was a recollection, but no recreation of my experience. This was an experience that depended on the presence of the original artifact (art: a fact).

A Tune is Not a Tone

I spent my early musical life working mostly with music that used-like representational art–some set of familiar musical conventions to create its effect. There are many vocabularies of melody, counterpoint, rhythm, harmony, and structure that place music in a context of form that makes it comprehensible to listeners. “Comprehensible” is not precisely what I mean–it suggests that music communicates only intellectual ideas, whereas in fact, it conveys and expresses a whole range of ideas, feelings, sensations and associations. But there is an element of “intelligibility” to conventional forms of music that depends on a shared formal vocabulary of expression. There are familiar elements that listeners use to anchor their real-time experience of a composition, formal or sonic elements that are borrowed from other pieces created and listened to in the past. When I find myself humming a tune from a Beethoven symphony, or invoking one of its characteristic rhythms (dit-dit-dit-DAH), I reduce a complex sonic tapestry to an abstraction, a shorthand that is easily recognizable to others familiar with the music. I may be able to share a musical idea with other musicians using the abstraction of notation. But a “tune” is not a “tone,” and a “note” is not a “sound.” It is an idea, even a powerful idea, but when I find myself humming the tune, I know that I have in some way “consumed” the music, reduced it to a subset of its conventions, deconstructed and reconstructed it for my own purposes.

Ambient music, and in particular, the type of ambient music I will refer to as “soundscape,” abandons, or at least loosens, many of these conventions. There is, in general, usually no hummable melody, often no recurrent rhythmic pattern, and if there is a larger “form,” it is more commonly nothing familiar or identifiable, even to astute musicologists-it might be completely idiosyncratic to the composer. Even the vocabulary of “instruments” is fluid and too vast to hold in mind. With the profusion of sounds that are electronically-generated or sourced and manipulated from field recordings, it is rare that separable and recognizable instruments or sounds can be identified-that is, “named.” Late nineteenth and early twentieth century classical composers worked hard to try to erase the familiar boundaries of individual instruments, using unusual instrumental combinations and extended instrumental techniques to blur sonic lines. Ambient music takes this even farther. The sound palette of ambient composers is more diverse and less subject to “naming” than that of composers who use ensembles of traditional instruments to present their compositions. While the savant may be able to identify a sound source as belonging to a particular method of generation (analog, FM, sample manipulation, etc.), diffuse mixing and morphing of sounds can confound even experts.

The Irrelevance of Virtuosity

To a great extent, the virtuosity of the musician-often an important element in other music genres–is replaced, in the ambient music world, by the skill of the composer in crafting and shaping the sound. Slow tempos are common, and arpeggiators and sequencers obviate, to a large degree, the need for ambient musicians to develop sophisticated keyboard skills. Complex and rapid sequences can be generated that defy the abilities of even great performers. While it is true that many ambient musicians do perform in real time, most do not. Even the notion of “performance” disappears to a large extent. Most soundscapes are recorded works; they are not commonly reproducible in real time by performers on stage. More technical knowledge of sound-producing hardware and software is necessary, but in the end, this becomes invisible to the listener, subsumed by the sound artifact of the music itself.

The mixing of sound in the studio enables ambient composers to manipulate and place sounds freely in the stereo field, unencumbered by any need to spatially represent a virtual performing ensemble. These elements become a part of the composition, whereas in other musical genres, the mix–where it can be controlled–is more of an enhancement or special effect than a compositional feature. Some ambient composers don’t even separate the mixing process from the composition. I, for one, tend to mix as I go, since the dynamics, effects, and placement in the stereo field are all integral features of my compositions.

Furniture Music

I mention these elements of ambient music because they have implications for how we might approach the genre as listeners. I do not want to suggest that there is only one narrow “way” to hear ambient music. In fact, part of the richness of the genre is that it is amenable to diverse listening approaches. In fact, one popular way to listen to ambient music is to mostly ignore it. This is what I might refer to as the environmental approach. Here, the sound is treated–in the iconic words of Erik Satie–as “furniture music.” It is played, most likely at a very low level, in the background, while the “listener” goes about his business in the environment. Musak, or “elevator music,” was an early institutional-if insipid–form of environmental music. In public settings, environmental music generally has some agenda behind it; it may be designed to get people to linger in a space, or even to leave (classical music in malls as a sonic “weapon” to disperse groups of teens). It may be intended to calm people, or to get them to spend more freely (the research as to the effectiveness of these tactics is inconclusive). The rave has its “chill room,” where over-stimulated ravers can psychically cool or calm themselves. Some hospitals are beginning to use ambient music to create a soothing environment for recovering patients.

In the home environment, environmental ambient music is self-selected and regulated. In our home, we have a number of recordings that are expressly used for environmental listening. My partner prefers a CD with the sounds of rain, wind chimes and Tibetan bells. She often uses this soundscape while she paints. The selection of music for this purpose is important. Her favorite painting CD has no progression–no beginning, middle, or end. There are no interesting developments, themes, or dramatic sonic punctuations. It is devoid of rhythm, melody and harmony. It effectively “freezes” (or perhaps the word is “frees” ) time in a perpetual present moment, and helps to create–for her–an environment that is particularly congenial to her art practice. In my own case, I use a variety of soundscapes as an environmental backdrop to my t’ai chi practice. There is typically a bit more sense of rhythm and flow to the sonic tapestries I will select for this purpose (this seems to facilitate the flow of the movement), but I avoid anything with too much musical interest for t’ai chi, as I wish to keep my focus on my breath and movement.

Music for Meditation

Some people use ambient music for meditation, and this deserves its own discussion. Many people who first begin to meditate are dismayed to discover how much mental chatter or “noise” is generated by the “monkey mind” that is the default waking state of human consciousness. Attempts to quell the endless stream of thought prove not only fruitless, but even counterproductive, since they add an additional layer of mental activity. For some people, quiet, relaxing music soothes an overactive mind, at the same time calming the body and inviting spaciousness without requiring any special technique. Admittedly, much of what is commercially sold as “relaxation” music is vapid and saccharin; it certainly doesn’t help me relax. For a more discerning listener, artistic value needs to be a criterion for “relaxation” music. I’m probably over-opinionated about this, but to me, there is a distinct difference between “mindful” and “mindless” music. While department store kiosks featuring harp and seashore sounds may appeal to the masses, I rarely discover much substance to these sonic bonbons; there are much better choices to foster an atmosphere conducive to a relaxed and supple mind.

Brainwave Entrainment

When seeking out music for meditation, consider tempos of 60 bpm or slower, since one’s heart rate tends to naturally entrain to the fundamental tempo, and a low resting pulse is desirable to enter meditative states. Also consider music which uses binaural beats. These are usually created with difference tones in the left and right channels, and can gradually and subtly guide the brain to relax into the lower frequency brainwaves, from ordinary waking consciousness (beta waves: 14-40 Hz), down to relaxed or even trance states (alpha waves: 7.5 – 14 Hz). At brainwaves below 7 Hz, you are just sleeping. Binaural beats are based on the idea of brain entrainment, the tendency of the brain to sync up with a reference frequency. Binaural programs can also induce sleep, and there is ambient music designed for this very purpose.

Music heavy in the low frequency range can activate fearful or anxious states for some people, so for such individuals, it may be best to choose music for meditation that is richer on the mid- and high end, or more evenly balanced across the frequency range. For a soothing “sound bath,” some people like to somewhat roll off bass frequencies with the tone control on the stereo system. And for sure, if you are planning on using ambient music for meditation, it should be played at a low volume; let it blend in with the soundscape of everyday life-the whoosh of traffic, the occasional dog barking, and so forth. Let it be an element in the soundscape rather than taking it over. This can help with the practice of mindful attention to the moment. For musicians, music for meditation may actually add an element of distraction, as the mind becomes involved with musical ideas. For this reason, I personally, do not use music for meditation. I prefer simply sitting in a relatively quiet space and allowing whatever environmental sounds that may be present to occur, without (hopefully) naming or interpreting them.

Music for Massage and Acupuncture

Massage and acupuncture treatments can be enhanced with ambient music, and here many of the same the guidelines apply. I recommend that you bring your own music to these sessions, if possible. Practitioners may or may not share your taste, and there’s almost nothing worse than having to listen to some godawful drivel when you’re trying to relax. I have compiled several mix CDs for massage, and mine generally have a shape to them that helps me first settle and relax with something calm and diffused, then something more rhythmic, as the massage therapist works on problem areas, then, at the end, a very spacious section, in which I can completely zone-out, and let my body enjoy the after-effects of the massage. This is my personal preference; if you want to make your own mix for massage, you should find the combination that suits you.

Immersive Listening – Headphones or Speakers?

This leaves one final type of listening that I’d like to discuss: deep listening, listening to ambient music as musical art form. Here, you give immerse yourself in the sound and give it your full attention. The first question is consider is: headphones or speakers? There are pros and cons to both. Headphones are preferred by many ambient listeners for a variety of reasons. First, they isolate the music from environmental sounds, particularly if the headphones have a noise-cancellation feature. Second, and probably more importantly, they emphasize the width of the stereo field and allow one to clearly hear panning effects (moving from left to right, or right to left) that are sometimes very salient features of ambient music. Most ambient composers are likely to mix primarily with quality near-field studio monitors, but they almost universally check mixes very carefully with headphones for stereo placement and movement of sounds.

The most popular types of headphones are closed-cup, open cup and in-ear (ear buds). Ear buds are cheap and easy to take on-the-go. They are most commonly used with iPods or other mp3 listening devices. Since they are inserted directly into the ear canal, they should be used with extreme caution, and only at low volumes, to protect the ears. Low frequency response is poor and subject to distortion. Some people-myself included-find them uncomfortable and cannot use them. For travel or use in waiting rooms, I prefer a light, over-ear headphone.

Closed-cup headphones reduce environmental noise-especially those with noise-cancellation. Make sure, if you decide on noise-cancelling headphones, to make sure that the feature actually works. Some claims are exaggerated. Some closed-cup headphones may be uncomfortable for longer listening sessions, to be sure any headphone you consider buying fits you well, is not too heavy, and does not make your head feel like it’s in a vise. A disadvantage of the closed cup is that bass frequency response may be limited-without a port to let some compression (sound) escape, lower frequency sound production may not be adequate. It is partly in the nature of headphones that low frequencies will not be well-represented. It simply takes a larger cone to create lower frequency sounds, and distance for them to develop (the lowest audible frequencies are several feet long). One alternative strategy is to use open-cup headphones in conjunction with speakers in the room-especially if a subwoofer is available. This way, the lows are picked up, both through the open ports in the headphones, and through the body.

The most immersive listening environment I have experienced was on a “sound table,” where sound vibration comes to the ears and directly through the body by means of transducers built into the cushioned surface. For sound healing, this may be the ultimate technology. But most of us (including myself) do not have regular access to this technology.

A cheaper alternative to the sound table is to lie comfortably on a couch or on cushions with bookshelf-size speakers placed a foot or two from each ear; it’s like having a pair of huge, open cup headphones! With this arrangement, you are immersed in the sound without pressure on the head or ears from wearing headphones, and the bass is less compromised. Experimenting with different configurations of the speakers, I have found that placing the speakers slightly above and behind the head offers a particularly pleasing sound.

Recording Formats

Some listeners may prefer a “surround sound” scheme, although it is difficult to find much music specifically encoded for this format. Surround sound has not really taken hold commercially for serious music listening. This is unfortunate, since besides the availability of true 3D sound reproduction, the 24-bit DVD surround format provides superior clarity and a greater practical dynamic range. While commercial surround sound setups are popular in home entertainment centers, they are primarily used for movie watching. Some music has been specifically encoded for surround systems-most of it, film scores, since they were already encoded for surround in the first place.

But it appears that at least for the present and near future, most listeners will be working with 16-bit stereo systems, and nearly all of the output of contemporary ambient composers is formatted for this playback. The low volume level of many ambient recordings means that the top bits of 16 bit recordings are often unused-a compromise that removes them from the odious “volume wars” of popular music, but also limits bit-resolution. Compression through MP3 encoding tends to “flatten” recordings and distort low frequencies. Listening carefully, one can often also hear warbling or other artifacts introduced by compression. While necessary for streaming, I find most recordings are irreparably damaged when encoded at bit rates below 320 bps. (I do hope and believe that more albums will become available in the 24-bit FLAC format. While not yet practical for streaming, this format promises to deliver recordings of superior audio quality, albeit longer download times.) Just because rock and pop listeners who download their recordings on iTunes may have given up on audio fidelity doesn’t mean we have to! One can make the case that ambient music, in particular, deserves the best sound possible.

Immersive Listening – Attention and Process

As far as where to place one’s attention in immersive listening, good ambient music offers many possible inroads. If the music is drone-based, there won’t likely be much harmonic movement, so the ear will be more likely engaged with texture and atmosphere. Drones, often consisting of either a primary tonic tone or a root and fifth combined, anchor a piece and provide a backdrop for the tension and release of other tones, as they alternately pull away from the drone in dissonance, or draw back to it in consonance. Melodic and rhythmic components are both optional elements in ambient music, and tend to claim one’s aural attention when present. They emphasize time over space, since melodic phrases are like musical sentences, with a beginning, middle and end-and rhythms divide time into periodic units. A highly melodic piece requires more sustained attention, whereas a purely atmospheric piece may allow the listener to fade in and out. I love both types of ambient music, and while more of my own pieces are melodic than not, I have created non-melodic compositions as well.

I’ve already alluded to the creative use of stereo space by ambient composers, and once listening strategy I enjoy is to visualize a spherical area extending around my ears and in front of me, in which I track sounds as they originate and dissipate within this field. The skillful use of dynamics, delay and reverb, and EQ enable ambient composers to create vivid three-dimensional illusions, and as a listener, I enjoy putting my attention on sound placement and movement in the stereo field as an integral element of the composition. Besides the lateral placement of sound between right and left channels, one can listen to the “height” of sounds in the stereo field, as the ear places higher frequencies “above” and lower frequencies “below.” One can also notice the distances of sounds, observing how some are present and close, while others recede into the distance. It is also interesting to notice how sounds react in an imaginary space. Ambient music is typically very heavily reverbed, the perceived container for sound often cavernous. Letting the ear follow a sound as it echoes in virtual space and then gradually fades can create a vivid mental picture of the size of the soundstage.

Ambient music is also rich with sounds that evolve in tone over time, employing a variety of morphing and filter-controlled effects that make an individual sound into its own journey. Listening for changing harmonics in a sound, especially the upper partials that define a sound’s timbre, is a rewarding exercise in mindfulness of sound that reveals interesting details in a piece.

Ambient composers may evoke any number of types of harmonic palettes in their work. Some fine work is purely tonal or triadic, even completely diatonic (using only seven tones of a scale), while works may employ extended harmonies, including exotic scales, bitonality (simultaneous sounding of harmonies in different keys), quartal harmony (based on fourths instead of thirds), and even complete atonality (no “home key,” but equal participation of all twelve tones. I have heard some very fine music using alternate tunings and temperaments. This is frequently a feature of tribal or world-music influenced ambient. A tuning which takes listeners out of the familiar Western equal-tempered scales can open up wonderful sonic vistas. Listening for harmonic “spice” is a great way to enter into an ambient piece that may involve creative use of tonality and tuning. It is not necessary to “identify” exactly what these elements are musicologically. Over-intellectualization can even get in the way of fully appreciating an ambient composition. But being aware of these possibilities, and listening for them, can open up the ear and increase one’s personal connection to a piece of music.

Much ambient music has a strong visual component, at least to me. It is not surprising that so many ambient composers are also visual artists or at least dabble in visual art forms-as I do. While few composers or listeners may have true synesthesia (seeing music as color or shape-or colors as musical tones), the practice of visualization during the listening experience opens up many connections between the senses and can enrich the experience. Some pieces have a strong sense of “story,” and writing or telling a story that emerges from an ambient music listening experience can be a wonderful way to communicate your vision of a piece to others. It is also interesting to experiment with listening with eyes open and closed. For me, these are very different experiences. I find that by limiting visual sensory input, my hearing becomes more acute, and I am able to notice much more that I can with my eyes open. On the other hand, there are some wonderful videos made to accompany ambient music, well-worth exploring. Multi-media presentation may also represent one of the more viable venues for ambient music in the concert hall. Audiences may not accept purely recorded music as a “performance,” but the addition of visuals creates a more complete “live” experience.

There is a tremendous variety of style within the genre of ambient music, ranging from New Age space music to very dark, industrial noise-oriented music. I try to sample as much as I can, learning from and appreciating the diversity of this growing genre. It is exciting to be a part of this still-emerging format, both as a composer and a listener.

Music Genres

abThis is a list of some of the world’s music genre and their definitions.

African Folk – Music held to be typical of a nation or ethnic group, known to all segments of its society, and preserved usually by oral tradition.

Afro jazz – Refers to jazz music which has been heavily influenced by African music. The music took elements of marabi, swing and American jazz and synthesized this into a unique fusion. The first band to really achieve this synthesis was the South African band Jazz Maniacs.

Afro-beat – Is a combination of Yoruba music, jazz, Highlife, and funk rhythms, fused with African percussion and vocal styles, popularized in Africa in the 1970s.

Afro-Pop – Afropop or Afro Pop is a term sometimes used to refer to contemporary African pop music. The term does not refer to a specific style or sound, but is used as a general term to describe African popular music.

Apala – Originally derived from the Yoruba people of Nigeria. It is a percussion-based style that developed in the late 1930s, when it was used to wake worshippers after fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Assiko – is a popular dance from the South of Cameroon. The band is usually based on a singer accompanied with a guitar, and a percussionnist playing the pulsating rhythm of Assiko with metal knives and forks on an empty bottle.

Batuque – is a music and dance genre from Cape Verde.

Bend Skin – is a kind of urban Cameroonian popular music. Kouchoum Mbada is the most well-known group associated with the genre.

Benga – Is a musical genre of Kenyan popular music. It evolved between the late 1940s and late 1960s, in Kenya’s capital city of Nairobi.

Biguine – is a style of music that originated in Martinique in the 19th century. By combining the traditional bele music with the polka, the black musicians of Martinique created the biguine, which comprises three distinct styles, the biguine de salon, the biguine de bal and the biguines de rue.

Bikutsi – is a musical genre from Cameroon. It developed from the traditional styles of the Beti, or Ewondo, people, who live around the city of Yaounde.

Bongo Flava – it has a mix of rap, hip hop, and R&B for starters but these labels don’t do it justice. It’s rap, hip hop and R&B Tanzanian style: a big melting pot of tastes, history, culture and identity.

Cadence – is a particular series of intervals or chords that ends a phrase, section, or piece of music.

Calypso – is a style of Afro-Caribbean music which originated in Trinidad at about the start of the 20th century. The roots of the genre lay in the arrival of African slaves, who, not being allowed to speak with each other, communicated through song.

Chaabi – is a popular music of Morocco, very similar to the Algerian Rai.

Chimurenga – is a Zimbabwean popular music genre coined by and popularised by Thomas Mapfumo. Chimurenga is a Shona language word for struggle.

Chouval Bwa – features percussion, bamboo flute, accordion, and wax-paper/comb-type kazoo. The music originated among rural Martinicans.

Christian Rap – is a form of rap which uses Christian themes to express the songwriter’s faith.

Coladeira – is a form of music in Cape Verde. Its element ascends to funacola which is a mixture of funanáa and coladera. Famous coladera musicians includes Antoninho Travadinha.

Contemporary Christian – is a genre of popular music which is lyrically focused on matters concerned with the Christian faith.

Country – is a blend of popular musical forms originally found in the Southern United States and the Appalachian Mountains. It has roots in traditional folk music, Celtic music, blues, gospel music, hokum, and old-time music and evolved rapidly in the 1920s.

Dance Hall – is a type of Jamaican popular music which developed in the late 1970s, with exponents such as Yellowman and Shabba Ranks. It is also known as bashment. The style is characterized by a deejay singing and toasting (or rapping) over raw and danceable music riddims.

Disco – is a genre of dance-oriented pop music that was popularized in dance clubs in the mid-1970s.

Folk – in the most basic sense of the term, is music by and for the common people.

Freestyle – is a form of electronic music that is heavily influenced by Latin American culture.

Fuji – is a popular Nigerian musical genre. It arose from the improvisation Ajisari/were music tradition, which is a kind of Muslim music performed to wake believers before dawn during the Ramadan fasting season.

Funana – is a mixed Portuguese and African music and dance from Santiago, Cape Verde. It is said that the lower part of the body movement is African, and the upper part Portuguese.

Funk – is an American musical style that originated in the mid- to late-1960s when African American musicians blended soul music, soul jazz and R&B into a rhythmic, danceable new form of music.

Gangsta rap – is a subgenre of hip-hop music which developed during the late 1980s. ‘Gangsta’ is a variation on the spelling of ‘gangster’. After the popularity of Dr. Dre’s The Chronic in 1992, gangsta rap became the most commercially lucrative subgenre of hip-hop.

Genge – is a genre of hip hop music that had its beginnings in Nairobi, Kenya. The name was coined and popularized by Kenyan rapper Nonini who started off at Calif Records. It is a style that incorporates hip hop, dancehall and traditional African music styles. It is commonly sung in Sheng(slung),Swahili or local dialects.

Gnawa – is a mixture of African, Berber, and Arabic religious songs and rhythms. It combines music and acrobatic dancing. The music is both a prayer and a celebration of life.

Gospel – is a musical genre characterized by dominant vocals (often with strong use of harmony) referencing lyrics of a religious nature, particularly Christian.

Highlife – is a musical genre that originated in Ghana and spread to Sierra Leone and Nigeria in the 1920s and other West African countries.

Hip-Hop – is a style of popular music, typically consisting of a rhythmic, rhyming vocal style called rapping (also known as emceeing) over backing beats and scratching performed on a turntable by a DJ.

House – is a style of electronic dance music that was developed by dance club DJs in Chicago in the early to mid-1980s. House music is strongly influenced by elements of the late 1970s soul- and funk-infused dance music style of disco.

Indie – is a term used to describe genres, scenes, subcultures, styles and other cultural attributes in music, characterized by their independence from major commercial record labels and their autonomous, do-it-yourself approach to recording and publishing.

Instrumental – An instrumental is, in contrast to a song, a musical composition or recording without lyrics or any other sort of vocal music; all of the music is produced by musical instruments.

Isicathamiya – is an a cappella singing style that originated from the South African Zulus.

Jazz – is an original American musical art form which originated around the beginning of the 20th century in African American communities in the Southern United States out of a confluence of African and European music traditions.

Jit – is a style of popular Zimbabwean dance music. It features a swift rhythm played on drums and accompanied by a guitar.

Juju – is a style of Nigerian popular music, derived from traditional Yoruba percussion. It evolved in the 1920s in urban clubs across the countries. The first jùjú recordings were by Tunde King and Ojoge Daniel from the 1920s.

Kizomba – is one of the most popular genres of dance and music from Angola. Sung generally in Portuguese, it is a genre of music with a romantic flow mixed with African rhythm.

Kwaito – is a music genre that emerged in Johannesburg, South Africa in the early 1990s. It is based on house music beats, but typically at a slower tempo and containing melodic and percussive African samples which are looped, deep basslines and often vocals, generally male, shouted or chanted rather than sung or rapped.

Kwela – is a happy, often pennywhistle based, street music from southern Africa with jazzy underpinnings. It evolved from the marabi sound and brought South African music to international prominence in the 1950s.

Lingala – Soukous (also known as Soukous or Congo, and previously as African rumba) is a musical genre that originated in the two neighbouring countries of Belgian Congo and French Congo during the 1930s and early 1940s

Makossa – is a type of music which is most popular in urban areas in Cameroon. It is similar to soukous, except it includes strong bass rhythm and a prominent horn section. It originated from a type of Duala dance called kossa, with significant influences from jazz, ambasse bey, Latin music, highlife and rumba.

Malouf – a kind of music imported to Tunisia from Andalusia after the Spanish conquest in the 15th century.

Mapouka – also known under the name of Macouka, is a traditional dance from the south-east of the Ivory Coast in the area of Dabou, sometimes carried out during religious ceremonies.

Maringa – is a West African musical genre. It evolved among the Kru people of Sierra Leone and Liberia, who used Portuguese guitars brought by sailors, combining local melodies and rhythms with Trinidadian calypso.

Marrabenta – is a form of Mozambican dance music. It was developed in Maputo, the capital city of Mozambique, formerly Laurenco Marques.

Mazurka – is a Polish folk dance in triple meter with a lively tempo, containing a heavy accent on the third or second beat. It is always found to have either a triplet, trill, dotted eighth note pair, or ordinary eighth note pair before two quarter notes.

Mbalax – is the national popular dance music of Senegal. It is a fusion of popular dance musics from the West such as jazz, soul, Latin, and rock blended with sabar, the traditional drumming and dance music of Senegal.

Mbaqanga – is a style of South African music with rural Zulu roots that continues to influence musicians worldwide today. The style was originated in the early 1960s.

Mbube – is a form of South African vocal music, made famous by the South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The word mbube means “lion” in Zulu

Merengue – is a type of lively, joyful music and dance that comes from the Dominican Republic

Morna – is a genre of Cape Verdean music, related to Portuguese fado, Brazilian modinha, Argentinian tango, and Angolan lament.

Museve – is a popular Zimbabwe music genre. Artists include Simon Chimbetu and Alick Macheso

Oldies – term commonly used to describe a radio format that usually concentrates on Top 40 music from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Oldies are typically from R&B, pop and rock music genres.

Pop – is an ample and imprecise category of modern music not defined by artistic considerations but by its potential audience or prospective market.

Quadrille – is a historic dance performed by four couples in a square formation, a precursor to traditional square dancing. It is also a style of music.

R&B – is a popular music genre combining jazz, gospel, and blues influences, first performed by African American artists.

Rai – is a form of folk music, originated in Oran, Algeria from Bedouin shepherds, mixed with Spanish, French, African and Arabic musical forms, which dates back to the 1930s and has been primarily evolved by women in the culture.

Ragga – is a sub-genre of dancehall music or reggae, in which the instrumentation primarily consists of electronic music; sampling often serves a prominent role in raggamuffin music as well.

Rap – is the rhythmic singing delivery of rhymes and wordplay, one of the elements of hip hop music and culture.

Rara – is a form of festival music used for street processions, typically during Easter Week.

Reggae – is a music genre first developed in Jamaica in the late 1960s. A particular music style that originated following on the development of ska and rocksteady. Reggae is based on a rhythm style characterized by regular chops on the off-beat, known as the skank.

Reggaeton – is a form of urban music which became popular with Latin American youth during the early 1990s. Originating in Panama, Reggaeton blends Jamaican music influences of reggae and dancehall with those of Latin America, such as bomba, plena, merengue, and bachata as well as that of hip hop and Electronica.

Rock – is a form of popular music with a prominent vocal melody accompanied by guitar, drums, and bass. Many styles of rock music also use keyboard instruments such as organ, piano, synthesizers.

Rumba – is a family of music rhythms and dance styles that originated in Africa and were introduced to Cuba and the New World by African slaves.

Salegy – is a popular type of Afropop styles exported from Madagascar. This Sub-Saharan African folk music dance originated with the Malagasy language of Madagascar, Southern Africa.

Salsa – is a diverse and predominantly Spanish Caribbean genre that is popular across Latin America and among Latinos abroad.

Samba – is one of the most popular forms of music in Brazil. It is widely viewed as Brazil’s national musical style.

Sega – is an evolved combination of traditional Music of Seychelles,Mauritian and Réunionnais music with European dance music like polka and quadrilles.

Seggae – is a music genre invented in the mid 1980s by the Mauritian Rasta singer, Joseph Reginald Topize who was sometimes known as Kaya, after a song title by Bob Marley. Seggae is a fusion of sega from the island country, Mauritius, and reggae.

Semba – is a traditional type of music from the Southern-African country of Angola. Semba is the predecessor to a variety of music styles originated from Africa, of which three of the most famous are Samba (from Brazil), Kizomba (Angolan style of music derived directly from Zouk music) and Kuduro (or Kuduru, energetic, fast-paced Angolan Techno music, so to speak).

Shona Music – is the music of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. There are several different types of traditional Shona music including mbira, singing, hosho and drumming. Very often, this music will be accompanied by dancing, and participation by the audience.

Ska – is a music genre that originated in Jamaica in the late 1950s and was a precursor to rocksteady and reggae. Ska combined elements of Caribbean mento and calypso with American jazz and rhythm and blues.

Slow Jam – is typically a song with an R&B-influenced melody. Slow jams are commonly R&B ballads or just downtempo songs. The term is most commonly reserved for soft-sounding songs with heavily emotional or romantic lyrical content.

Soca – is a form of dance music that originated in Trinidad from calypso. It combines the melodic lilting sound of calypso with insistent (usually electronic in recent music) percussion.

Soukous – is a musical genre that originated in the two neighbouring countries of Belgian Congo and French Congo during the 1930s and early 1940s, and which has gained popularity throughout Africa.

Soul – is a music genre that combines rhythm and blues and gospel music, originating in the United States.

Taarab – is a music genre popular in Tanzania. It is influenced by music from the cultures with a historical presence in East Africa, including music from East Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, the Middle East and Europe. Taarab rose to prominence in 1928 with the rise of the genre’s first star, Siti binti Saad.

Tango – is a style of music that originated among European immigrant populations of Argentina and Uruguay. It is traditionally played by a sextet, known as the orquesta típica, which includes two violins, piano, doublebass, and two bandoneons.

Waka – is a popular Islamic-oriented Yoruba musical genre. It was pioneered and made popular by Alhaja Batile Alake from Ijebu, who took the genre into the mainstream Nigerian music by playing it at concerts and parties; also, she was the first waka singer to record an album.

Wassoulou – is a genre of West African popular music, named after the region of Wassoulou. It is performed mostly by women, using lyrics that address women’s issues regarding childbearing, fertility and polygamy.

Ziglibithy – is a style of Ivorian popular music that developed in the 1970s. It was the first major genre of music from the Ivory Coast. The first major pioneer of the style was Ernesto Djedje.

Zouglou – is a dance oriented style of music from the Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) that first evolved in the 1990s. It started with students (les parents du Campus) from the University of Abidjan.

Zouk – is a style of rhythmic music originating from the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique. It has its roots in kompa music from Haiti, cadence music from Dominica, as popularised by Grammacks and Exile One.

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