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In this space last week, Pat Martin Bradley, executive director of the Association For Independent Music, said the new-age genre is among the strongest performers in the indie market. She's right, of course: With only a few exceptions, major companies have shied away from new age, leaving the field open to smaller imprints eager to seek out niche audiences. As a result, many new-age artists are able to make very nice livings without ever being noticed by the mainstream.
Darren Skanson is a case in point. A previous Westword profile subject ("The Dawning of a New Age," February 27, 1997), Skanson has spent the past several years flying to various new-age-oriented events and festivals around the country. There he performs his music and peddles CDs with titles like The Guitar Tree and Angels, Guitars and Joy. "Since January, I've already been to San Francisco, Miami and New York City," he says. "I usually tour about four or five weekends in a row, then take a weekend off. And business has been good."
High rollers might not agree: The sales figures for each of his various titles number in the low thousands. But because Skanson makes the discs himself for his own firm, Colorado Creative Music (CCM), the profits are all his--and they've been growing so steadily that he recently decided to expand beyond his imprint's original focus by issuing a pair of recordings under the umbrella title "Acoustitherapy." The offerings, designed for relaxation and "regeneration," compile the work of a handful of new-age artists across the country, and they've proven so popular that the prominent bookstore chain Borders is about to start selling them nationwide.
The Borders deal should raise Skanson's profile enormously, as should an Acoustitherapy-themed concert he's staging on Sunday, May 31, at the Art Center of the West, 721 Santa Fe Drive (call 730-7460 or 888-732-4839 for more information). At the show, Skanson will be joined by three other Acoustitherapy performers: Lyra Roark Baron, a Santa Fe, New Mexico, group that includes concert harp and pan flute; T. Lathern Johns, a Denver-based keyboardist and composer; and Dr. David Zald, a Chapman Stick player whose day job is at the University of Minnesota, where he's a researcher who studies what Skanson describes as "the effect of stimuli on human emotion and reaction." However, Skanson adds, Zald's music isn't the fruit of his studies: "He feels that being intellectual about it is not the proper way. He's interested in measuring its effects, but the playing of it comes from the spirit."
Skanson frequently drops new-agey aphorisms into his speech, and he's obviously sincere about the music he and his associates are making. "I believe in it so much," he says. "I've never been around a more talented group of people, and they definitely need to be heard. What they're making is just beautiful." But he combines ethereality with an entrepreneurial acumen of which Bill Gates would approve. For example, he assembles the songs for the Acoustitherapy series at his Denver studio, then sells the completed discs back to the participating artists to market in their hometowns. (The price he charges for the CDs, he says, "is much lower than you'd get from a normal company.") Skanson's method covers his costs up front and gives the players a financial incentive to push the product. He's also hyping his products on a nicely rendered Internet site (the address is www.acoustitherapy.com) that demonstrates his flair for merchandising. So does his next Acoustitherapy project: Titled Gentle Passion, the disc, due this summer, should be used, Skanson says, "for anything having to do with love, romance, rekindling relationships and intimacy. It's something special to share with the one you love."
If the May 31 concert goes well, Skanson plans to stage gigs in the hometowns of other Acoustitherapy artists. Coupled with the Borders agreement, such showcases may transform Skanson from a mini-mogul into the real thing. "The music's the most important part of this," he stresses. "But running the business has been very satisfying for me, too. I've been described as one of those right-brain/left-brain people, where both sides of my brain can function at the same time. So making music and doing business comes pretty naturally to me. I'm kind of Jekyll and Hyde in that way--and I guess it depends on your point of view which side is which."
A recent column detailed the end of the children's-music format that was featured on station KKYD-AM/1340. But you tots reading this page without your parents' permission needn't worry. At the end of May, KQXI-AM/1550 will start airing Radio Disney, a 24-hour radio network aimed at the under-twelve set. Finally, those nine-year-olds awake at 3 a.m. will have something wholesome to listen to.
Also on the radio tip, KGNU-FM/88.5 hosts an open house on Friday, May 22, at its studio, located at 1900 Folsom, Suite 100, in Boulder. The reason is the outlet's twentieth anniversary, which Boulder mayor Bob Greenlee has acknowledged by declaring the 22nd to be KGNU Day in the city. The next day at the Boulder Creek Festival, KGNU is sponsoring a stage on which Mollie O'Brien, Rich Moore and Tony Furtado will entertain. (Furtado also performs at the Soiled Dove on Sunday, May 24.) If you can't make it, tune in. You'll be glad you did.