Ana Ammann is currently the publisher and a writer for Oregon Music News, hailed as “Oregon’s only all genre, online music magazine.” Although not a Portland native, she embodies some of the city’s greatest virtues, practicing and teaching community building techniques on a daily basis. Ana is a writer, business maverick, music specialist, entrepreneur, activist, mother, and patron of the arts. She regularly mentors young artists, instructing them how to earn a living through their art, and represent themselves accurately so that they will be seen, recognized, and their audiences will keep coming back.
Tell us about your progression from studying law at Berkeley to writing for and publishing an online music magazine in Portland.
I think the story started when I was nine years old. I tell about it in a book called Knowing Pains. My first love was an electric guitar. It was a sparkly blue Fender Stratocaster that was sitting in the widow of a music store in the Bay Area that my family used to pass by on our Saturday night dinners. And so the music has always been something that has spoken to me. The things that I remember most about my childhood were writing and music. I wrote and I’d go in my room and just put the headphones on. I’d listen to Stevie Nicks, The Rolling Stones, Linda Ronstadt, you know, all those people that in the 70’s were big, and I just always wanted to be able to play.
In my story, I also talk about how I took lessons on the acoustic guitar for a year. My Dad promised to buy me an electric if I finished a year. I never got the electric guitar. I thought I’d show him and say, I’m not gonna play anymore. So, I shelved music at the age of ten and followed a path that other people were expecting me to follow.
In high school I got involved in competitive tennis and school government. From a very young age I wanted to get into politics and change the world. So, in college I studied law and ultimately went right into my career from school at UC Berkeley.
It took a long long time for me to get back into music. It wasn’t until I moved here into Oregon. I moved here to have a family in 1997 and I was divorced by 1999. I had a two-year-old. I didn’t have a political career here. I had been very involved in local politics in the Bay Area. By the time I moved here, I had become a bit jaded with politics. I didn’t want to do that anymore. Then, I saw an ad for the very first Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp for Girls and they were looking for volunteers. And that really was the thing that got me back into music. That opened the door and thrust me into this world of music here in Portland.
Oregon Music News started in 2009, at a time when the economy was really taking a dive. A lot of local publications were having to limit the number of staff they had on hand covering the arts, and we happened to be emerging right at a time when many of those people were still interested in writing about music and about art. So number one, we had some incredibly talented writers that were available to start working for us, right away.
We had the credibility of Tom D’Antoni, who is one of the founders. He is known throughout Portland as an aficionado of Jazz and Blues. We also had the support of Terry Currier, owner of Music Millennium. One of the initial goals was to create a haven for music writers. In print you’re really limited by space. Online you’re not limited by that. We also wanted the online form to create additional visibility for Music Millennium, as well as other music retailers, to encourage people to be looking up music as they were reading about it.
The people that came on board are known for their genres. Our classical editor, James Bash—classical actually has a huge following in this town. It’s our largest genre. And that’s because of his knowledge of classical and his dedication to that area. Second is jazz, because of Tom. We have ten genres, so no matter what you’re interested in, within a few limitations, you’re gonna find something happening in Portland or happening in the state of Oregon that you’re gonna wanna read about. We’re never gonna be that critical organization. We’re gonna find the reason to celebrate the person’s achievement in their art. Otherwise, we likely won’t write about it. We had over a hundred different contributors, writers, over a year’s period that wrote over 7,000 articles. 7,000 articles over a year’s period, that’s a lot of writing! There’s certain things we know we’ll cover, but we also leave it up to the writers. Each one of us has our own stuff we love. For me it’s 80’s alternative. Anytime anybody from the 80’s has come through that was an alternative British performer, I’m probably gonna be covering that show.
The Portland music scene has changed a great deal in the last couple of decades. Describe how you see the current scene here.
I think what has been created in Portland is this idea that it is a place for artists. Art is part of everything the city seems to do. Portlandia is a great example of that, right? At one time I think it was because of the beauty and inspiration people found here, and it was affordable, relatively affordable.
Portland is this mecca of people who, once technology started taking over and you didn’t have to be signed by a major label to have your music heard—CD Baby was founded right here, creating an alternate way of distributing music without the need of a label—it created this whole other opportunity. You no longer had to have a studio. You could record on your Apple, you could distribute the music yourself, you could press your own cd’s locally. But I think it continues to draw creative people now. There’s this sense of community among our artists that I don’t think you have in some of the larger cities.
What do you think Portland’s future holds with regard to the realm of music?
It used to be, you had to make a decision in your life if you wanted to be a musician. I’m gonna choose that career as a musician, or I’m gonna choose a career path that I know is gonna earn me some money. I think people are encouraged to express themselves artistically here. And, like I said before, I think the tools are more accessible to everybody, even if it’s just a hobby. People can be creating their own work, putting it out there, having it heard by people. I think that’s gonna continue to grow.
Where artists here need some help is for those that want to make a living being a musician. A lot of times they don’t get the business knowledge, the business background they need. I know Terry has a particular mission with the Oregon Music Hall of Fame, as does Oregon Music News, that we want to create a forum for building that community so that people earn what they should be earning, people get out to see the music. I’d like to see the clubs be full, I’d love to see the artists getting paid what they deserve to perform in these venues. There’s a preconception that artists are poor and that musicians always struggle. I’d love to see that perspective go away.
What’s hot in Portland music right now?
I’ll tell you what’s hot right now are festivals. Portland puts on the Soul’d Out Music Festival—just an incredible soul festival. We have the Waterfront Blues Festival, there’s PDX Pop Now, Siren Nation, Musicfest Northwest… Each one of these festivals really has their own audience. I think it’s the idea that people love to celebrate music in this town, and they love an excuse to get lots of musicians together, spend a considerable amount of time—whether its over a week or over a weekend, whether it’s in one venue or all over town. Portland has its own festival culture. You know, you’ve got the bike festivals and the bridge festivals—almost all of them have a musical component to them.
I heard you’re currently working on a book. Can you give us a synopsis?
It’s been in the works for a while and it’s called Fifteen Minutes with You. My goal is to have fifteen-minute conversations with people from England who were part of the post-punk movement. So this is bands like The Smiths, New Order, The Cure, the Pet Shop Boys. I think there was a migration of sound throughout England that took place when electronics came in that moved punk into this sort of mid-range alternative, and that’s what I’m writing about.
Characteristically, New York, LA, London—in other words, big metropolitan centers—were the places where young aspiring artists would go to “make it.” Do you see the beginnings of a paradigm shift today? Or where do you see Portland’s focus on local and sustainable culture industries fitting in to the larger global perspective?
Nobody has to be in the same room anymore. It’s not about the access to those resources anymore because they’re all around. I think it’s where you feel most inspired, where you can have the best life, and Portland is so balanced. We’re one of the greatest cities in America. We’re concerned about our ecosystem. We have people in this community that care about one another and care about the artists. I think people are drawn to that. I’m sure other communities have it too. We just happen to have it in abundance.
A successful artist is someone who can support their lifestyle to which they want it. And it it’s millions, great. You might have to go to one of those cities. So I guess you have to define “making it.” What does it mean to “me” to be successful. And to me, “making it,” is someone who can do what they love and put it out there. People will come see them, people will buy it, people will pay the value of it, and they can earn enough money to live off of that. That’s my take on it.