New Age as a whole was a cultural movement that arose from the hippie culture that started to decline in popularity by this time in history. It was a loosely connected spiritual awakening of young adults in Western countries. Some would describe it as religious, some as not a religious movement. It’s hard to pinpoint an exact set of ideas, but in general, the New Age followers were concerned with the mysterious and esoteric, such as spirits, the unknown after death, and even UFO’s. New Age also put a lot of emphasis on self-heeling through meditation and yoga, and protecting the environment.
Musicians started to get involved in this movement early on. American jazz clarinetist Tony Scott is often credited with making the first ever new age record, “Music for Zen Meditation” as early as 1964 - long before the cultural movement ever took off. In the 1970’s, German artists such as Deuter and Tangerine Dream put out songs in this genre; while in America, we had Kay Gardner and Steven Halpern doing the same. Important to note, that artists who produced new age music in that decade weren’t doing for the money - these types of songs didn’t have any significant record sales until the 1980’s.
The first new age album to hit it big was George Winston’s “December”, released in December 1982. It ended up selling 1 million copies. Meanwhile, interestingly, Billboard put it in their Jazz Albums category, in which it peaked at the #5 spot. It also reached the #54 spot on the famous overall Billboard 200 list. During the same time, new age music gained a lot of popularity in the East Asian country of Japan.
New age today is not among the most popular genres near the top of the charts, but still has a decently sized audience that allows artists to create music in this genre profitably.
New age music rarely features any vocals, usually only instrumentals. The instrumentals can be produced digitally or with physical instruments, mainly the synth, piano, acoustic guitar, or flute.
The pace of these songs is always slow, on average between 50 and 80 beats per minute. The harmonies are there to create a tranquil, peaceful feeling in the listener’s mind. Therefore, simple, major chords are used usually. Also, peaceful sound effects, such as the waves splashing in the ocean, rain hitting against the glass, or birds chirping can be incorporated into the music as well. When they do have vocals, they’re less prominent than the instrumental, sung softly with not meaningful lyrics, or even just humming sometimes. New age singers tend to be female.
While new age music usually doesn’t have any lyrics, these songs do have general themes, such as the ocean, wind, or the forest. The ones with vocals usually have esoteric lyrics with no clear meaning.
Irish singer-songwriter Enya is one of the most successful new age musicians of our time. She sings on her vocal new age tracks, the best known of which are “Boadicea” (1987), and “Only Time” (2000). Enigma is a German new age musical group, with such hits as “Return to Innocence” (1993) and "Sadness” (1990).