AV's Q & A with Atmo Works


James Johnson

John Strate-Hootman
aka Vir Unis


Visit AtmoWorks' Website

Ambient Vision's Q & A with
James Johnson and John Strate Hootman
of AtmoWorks


AV:  The both of you are very well known in the ambient community as musicians, why was it that you decided to form AtmoWorks?  

JOHN :  Both James and I have a very focused interest in releasing music at our own pace and on our own terms.  It's an empowering motion as an independent artist and one that actually enhances our creativity and productivity.  We determine the flow of our music which is essential to honestly representing our life as artists. 

JAMES: From the very beginning of Atmoworks, both John & myself we're aware of the limitations and frustrations associated with releasing works through traditional labels and means and felt restricted by the current paradigm of "the way things are done" in terms of marketing, promotion and releasing of our works. We wanted a more fluid and direct outlet for our creativity and saw that there was nothing available that met our criteria. 

AV:  Were there discussions between the two of you as to what AtmoWorks was going to be? Were there any sticking points that the two of you did not see eye to eye on that had to be ironed out?

JOHN : There was a lot of discussion.  Most of our talk was truly exciting and energizing since we really saw eye to eye on everything.  Naturally there's always things to "iron out", but nothing of real significance.  I think that's the power and positive energy behind what we do, as there's no real incongruities between our combined intentions that would have to facilitate big compromises on either side.

JAMES : Yes, definitely allot of discussion prior to the initial launch of AtmoWorks. We both completely agreed on the path that we wanted to follow, as well as the course of the energetic flow that would be required to achieve our goals. There's always an item or two that come up where we chose to review all the options available, prior to making a final decision. Yet, we have never run into an issue that could really be considered a sticking point. I think that this is due to the fact that we are both focusing our creative energies towards a common goal which only enhances our ability to remain fluid in the decision making process.

AV:  What was it that you were sure that AtmoWorks was not going to be? (Things you had run into in the past that you wanted to spare your customers from)

JOHN : A label that works under the old paradigm and business model of the "major" labels.  I think one of the first and biggest mistakes that small independently run labels like ours make is trying to model their business practices off of corporate controlled marketing entities.  As the major labels cling on to a dying business format, they are quickly becoming dinosaurs.  Smaller labels have to be smarter and more efficiently run and be open to how the world is changing rapidly. 

JAMES : Agreed...a label that is fueled by the old dream of how things should be done. As John says, probably the largest single misconception is that in order for a release to be valid, it must be on a factory pressed CD and promoted with hundreds of free copies. What good does that do for an independent artist or small independent label other than put them largely into debt, unless they are independently wealthy? Over the past 5 years of releasing my works independently, I have yet to see a significant enough increase in airplay or sales when sending out a ton of CDs as free promos to justify the energy (both monetary & physical) spent in "getting it out there" I would rather spend that energy in a more constructive way and positive way. This is the thinking of the old dream and a path we knew for sure we were not going to travel. In creating a direct link to listeners and fans through AtmoWorks, we've created a direct conduit to the people who enjoy our works, without a significant amount of the "promotional baggage" 

AV:  Obviously your own music was going to be featured on this label but how did you decide who else was going to be released on AtmoWorks? 

JOHN : Basically we go with stuff that inspires us, music that makes us excited and proud to support.

JAMES : Exactly.... 

AV:  What are some of the pitfalls that you have faced in trying to get this label up and running?

JOHN : I don't see anything as a "pitfall" per se.  I see things more as challenges, because when you work hard and focus positive energy like a laser beam on perceptions that have been imprinted by years of this old paradigm, you realize that you can overcome this rather easily.  By the old paradigm, I mean one of feeling that going out and having a thousand or more cds manufactured at an outside facility somehow legitimizes the artistic process.  We are working diligently to impress our listeners with our music and artistic endeavours only, while ensuring that the handcrafted packaging is of the highest quality. 

JAMES:  I would say they are more like guidance from the energetic stream. Number one on the list is how to schedule our time, so that we can remain fluid in our activities and creativity. There are times when we would both like to be working on new works, yet all energy seems to point us in another direction, albeit, a direction that leads us to a positive endpoint. This probably sounds all vague and esoteric, yet as John says, when we are both focusing our energy in the same direction, we seem to tap into a very tangible Karmic stream. As we become more aware of the events and processes happening around us and how they interrelate to what we are doing through AtmoWorks, "pitfalls" dissipate into positive energy. 

AV:  As musicians has it been a hard transition into working the business end of the label instead of just worrying about your own music? Has it been more difficult to find the time to work on individual projects? 

JOHN :  There's a natural adjustment that I've had to come to terms with, but it's a sense of balance that actually enhances what I do.  It has forced me to work on time management skills, that's for sure!  But, I am still finding time to be prolific as I naturally feel and to be successful with AtmoWorks.  When one takes a close look at how they spend their time, you can realize that there's plenty of time to do all sorts of things....One tip, stay away from tv! 

JAMES : I think John had a harder time adjusting in the beginning....in that I was already aware of the time requirements of releasing work independently. As AtmoWorks has grown over the past couple of years, we have both gone thru periods where we felt pushed to our personal limits and AtmoWorks has benefited each time, in that we come out the other side of these periods with more awareness and energy that in turn gets focus back into AtmoWorks. We've never felt as though we ever wanted out. If there is anything we want out of, it's our day jobs..:) 

AV:  What kind of relationship do the both of you have with the other musicians that record for your label? Do you have input into their projects as they reach the final mastering stage?  

JOHN :  The people we work with are generally friends of ours, or at least, if they weren't to begin with, they quickly become that.  We work very closely with them and respect them 100%.  We become involved with the mastering stage as much as they want us to and as is need be. 

JAMES : ditto..... 

AV:  You have also started a new delivery method for the music that you sell, tell me about the downloadable versions of the AtmoWorks' music.  

JOHN : The downloadable versions are about as near to cd quality as you can get with compressing audio.  We encode our MP3s at 256k which is a 4:1 compression ratio.  It does make for a larger download, but we wanted to be sure to provide these at as highest quality we could.  Many of our listeners have been asking for this for quite some time and we've also felt that this does work well with the lifestyle of many of them, as a lot of these people have broadband connections and like to store their music on their computer or iPod or whatever new audio gadget that is being rolled out....I'm sure there's been four new ones just since I started typing this answer!  Things are changing so fast and I think it's important to be fluid and open with new delivery methods.  That, I feel, is essential to any label, big or small.  The albums, as downloads, are less expensive and does facilitate an immediacy that I know I enjoy.  Now you can listen to a new album and if you like what you hear you can have that album on your harddrive fairly quickly. 

JAMES : We had a large calling out from our listeners for this service. We looked into various ways to help facilitate the request and came up with an MP3 encoded at 256kps. For now, this is the most acceptable format for us in that it is virtually identical to CD quality and generates a manageable file size. In the future we are considering lossless compression algorithms, but not yet, as the average file size would be massive. Another aspect of the downloadable release, is the tremendous creative freedom it gives both John & myself. With the downloadable release, we are no longer limited by time or space (beam me up Scotty) as we could theoretically release an atmosphere that was 24hours long and not have to worry about how to get it to our listeners. As more and more people get hooked into the web via broadband connections, there will soon come a time when tangible forms of an audio work will no longer be sold and we felt that we should get our feet wet now and be well prepared for the next transition. I personally feel that we are nearing this time exponentially.  

AV:  I noticed from one of your announcements that you have had to relocate to a dedicated server for the site, does that mean traffic is that high or do you need the storage space and bandwidth for your new delivery method?  

JOHN :  Traffic is very high right now.  But, yes, the storage space was very much needed for this as we plan to roll out our whole back catalog into this format as well. 

JAMES : Both actually...our traffic is very very high, as well as the need for server space and the ability to run server side programming that was not available through our past server. 

AV:  You are also a retailer of music other than what you produce, yes? How does an artist get their music listed or sold by AtmoWorks and how successful have you been as a selling point for ambient music? 

JOHN :  I think we've been fairly successful as a retail medium.  We are bringing in new customers from all over the globe on a continuous basis.  Basically, an artist would submit their music to us and it's a process like anything else, meaning that we represent what we feel adds a positive and exciting element to our own artistic endeavours.

JAMES : We consider AtmoWorks as a fluid outlet for both our creative works and the creative works of others and to that end have been extremely successful. We continue to grow at a very positive pace and consistently see growth in sales month to month. In terms of being successful in representing other artists works, I think that the level of success an artist achieves is a direct mirror of how much energy they put into their own work.   

AV:  Thanks for allowing me to grill you about AtmoWorks and hopefully allowing the readers of Ambient Visions to see what the two of you have been up to since forming this new label. Good luck with all of your future releases and here's wishing you much success.  

JOHN & JAMES Michael, thank you!  Thanks for taking the time to ask some very interesting questions and giving us the opportunity to tell our story.  You've been a great support of ambient and electronic music and we're both glad to see Ambient Visions running!