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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Heads Up – Looperlative fall sale…

November 1st, 2008 · 4 Comments

As you’ll know if you’ve read anything about the gear I use for music-making, I’m a HUGE fan of the Looperlative. It’s something I’m very proud of that it was after a gig of mine that Bob Amstadt who invented it decided to build it, and that he asked me to be the first tester and co-developer of the software (I didn’t write any of the code, I was just sent an ’empty’ box and asked him for the features I wanted. He’d code them, I’d test them, and thus it was born, a looping device that did pretty much everything I could ever imagine wanting from a looping device!

The Looperlative

It really is the most fully-featured hardware looper around. I’m not a fan of doing these things on a laptop (I know some amazing musicians who do, it just doesn’t work for me on a practical level, or a latency level).

Quite a few of my musical friends have bought them since, and others have expressed an interest in getting on, so I thought I’d point you to this post on the Looperlative forum, where Bob offers a pretty hefty (but undisclosed due to commercial sensitivity, I guess) discount…

If you’ve been considering getting one, now’s a good time. If you don’t know what the looperlative is, watch any of the videos I’ve posted in the last 3 years on Youtube – that’s the Looperlative that lets me do all the layering. All the stuff on Behind Every Word is done with the looperlative. All the layers of bass on the Lawson/Dodds/Wood album are done with the looperlative. It’s proper amazing.

Tags: Music News · Musing on Music

Video of a duet with Michael Manring

October 27th, 2008 · Comments Off on Video of a duet with Michael Manring

In the process of clearing out my CDs before moving house at the end of this week (BTW, I’m selling of a lot of CDs, if you want a copy of the list of what I’m selling, email me!) I found a few CDRs of photos from past gigs. One of those CDs contained a series of short video clips of some duets I played with Michael Manring back in 2005 – I think they were filmed by Gustaf Fjelstrom, but were possibly by Lowell… I’ll find out!

Anyway, here’s the first of them, filmed at the Espresso Garden – a lovely venue in San Jose that’s no longer there, sadly. Playing duets with Michael is one of my favourite things to do in the world of music. He’s such an intuitive, amazing and fun musician to play with, and always makes whatever I play sound better than I thought it would…

Tags: Music News

Social Media – first principles for musicians (Pt 2)

October 21st, 2008 · 6 Comments

House Concert in BournemouthOK, let’s jump straight into part 2 with a few of the fears musicians have when making ourselves available to talk directly with our audience.

We’ll look at 3 areas we often get wrong when interacting with our audience, which are:

  • How to treat your audience like friends rather than your ‘target market’. (notice I keep using the more neutral term ‘audience’ rather than ‘fans’ – I’ve never been all that comfortable with the word ‘fans’, seems a little patronising in some contexts, but substitute it if you wish…).
  • allowing people to comment on what you do doesn’t mean you have to put up with insults and slander.
  • don’t confuse inviting comment with asking for advice.

These three are biggies in terms of HOW we actually treat our audience.

  • If You Treat Them Like Friends, They’ll Stick Around Longer. I was going through some old letters earlier today (we’re moving house) and found one from a guy I knew when I was a kid. It was the first letter I’d got from him in almost 2 years, and he was trying to sell me insurance! No introductory message, no catch-up, no context. Just ‘I’ve got a new job selling insurance; want some?’ It all came flooding back to me how used I felt when I got the letter, how insane it seemed, even back in those pre-spam days.The parallels with talking to your audience like friends are obvious. If all you ever say is ‘buy my shit!’, there’s no level of which it’s a friendship. Think about it in terms of ‘how would you feel if everyone you talk to on social media started behaving like you back at you?’ – if you’d be getting hundreds of adverts a day, it’s time to change your approach
  • Allowing People To Comment On What You Do Doesn’t Mean You Have To Put Up With Insults And Slander – this is probably a bigger issue for Americans than Brits, given that you guys have a much stronger attachment to the notion of ‘freedom of speech’.I was chatting with Ben Walker last night over curry, about all the things that happened around the viral explosion of his Twitter Song video. One of the things that he got that seems to be endemic on Youtube was the hateful, nasty comments. Hundreds of them. From people who hadn’t even watched the video, but just spend their time posting hateful comments for absolutely no reason. Fortunately Ben found it funny. His girlfriend, less so. I never allow insulting comments to stay on any site that I moderate. Disagreement is fine, but politeness is a must.My rule is, if someone said it to me in a pub, would I walk out? I’ve stopped posting on a couple of bass-related forums because I was being insulted by a handful of posters. It’s not that I get upset by it, but it does become a waste of my time. I’m not one to court negativity or ‘controversy’ by getting into arguments with internet trolls. I’m happy to chat with people who don’t ‘get’ my music, but insult me and I leave the conversation – as the person in the conversation who has a reputation of sorts, you’ll never win. So the lesson is, keep such discussions to places you can moderate – Myspace, twitter, facebook fan-page, Ning pages, reverbnation comments, self-hosted forums : all of those are places you can keep the atmosphere at a level you’re socially comfortable with. Don’t feel like you owe airtime to people with a grievance. Deleting insulting posts isn’t censorship, it’s selection – censorship suggests you’re denying them a voice, when actually you’re just choosing not to allow them to hijack YOUR audience. Anyone can set up a blog posting about how much they dislike whoever, they just can’t do it in my forum. Simple as.
  • Don’t Confuse Inviting Comment With Asking For Advice – a lot of musicians, in order to stimulate conversation, ask their audience for their opinion on their work, be it released work or ‘works in progress’. It’s a good way to start a discussion, but there is a fine line between inviting people to pick their favourites, and getting completely unqualified criticism of your work from people with no idea what you’re actually trying to do.
    Crowd-sourcing advice for your music is a sure way of
    a) confusing yourself, and
    b) losing any sense of a coherent narrative to what you do.
    I make it as plain as I can without sounding stuck-up that I don’t make music FOR anyone except me. Not because I don’t care what they think, but because I can’t. I can only soundtrack the world as I see it, as best I can. Someone else telling me what I could do differently to best suit their aesthetic, their view of the world is completely futile.

    That’s not to say that I don’t have people whose opinion I trust who can comment and critique what I do – I have a whole list of them – it just that each of them have earned that place over years of listening and conversation. It has context. It’s also certainly not to say that I don’t like hearing what people like and don’t like about what I do. It’s fascinating to hear, and hugely encouraging when people ‘get it’, on whatever level. But as an example, we recently had a letter back from a record label about the Lawson/Dodds/Wood album (have you bought it yet? 🙂 ) The guy said he really like it, but threw in ‘maybe it needs a female vocal?’ – why? Why would it ‘need’ anything? Why do we need telling that? because we don’t know any female vocalists? The last few gigs we’ve done as a trio have featured one of the finest female vocalists I’ve ever worked with, and if we felt like we needed to add her voice to the album, we’d have done it. I’ve no idea who this dude is, I’m glad he likes the record, but have no real interest in whether or not the album sounds like it needs samples of dogs barking or clowns being kicked squarely in the nuts on it, in his estimations. It’s not that his opinions aren’t valid to him, they just lack context in relation to how and why WE made OUR record.

Talk to your audience like friends
don’t patronise them
don’t shout at them
listen to them but don’t pretend they’re your producers
share things of value with them
invite them into your creative pathway
give away information and ideas that have currency
help them and they’ll help you.

I’ve said before on a number of occasions, my audience is almost always entirely made up of people I’d love to go out for a curry with after the gig and chat to for hours. Demographically, my favourite people in the world are the ones that go to Steve Lawson gigs. If I wasn’t Steve Lawson, I’d be hanging out at his gigs to meet cool people. Somewhere along the line the approach to drawing an audience into your world that I’ve outlined above has worked pretty much perfectly for me.

Take the principles and examples, think about them, discuss them, adapt them, play with them, jump in and try chatting to your fans. See what happens. Please post and thoughts, comments or questions below.

Part 3 I’ll look at some of the software and hardware tools that work best.

Tags: Uncategorized

N96 World Tour starts here!

October 21st, 2008 · Comments Off on N96 World Tour starts here!

A few weeks back I was contacted about a project involving the Nokia N96 – the idea was to send one round the world, getting various people to use it, upload video and photos, add apps to the phone itself, leave stuff on it, basically put it through its paces and tell a story… It’s a great fun idea, and I’m the first one to get it! So I’ve got a brand new lovely N96 to play with for a week or so.

You can follow the story by clicking here

Here’s the first video I posted as soon as I opened the case it arrived in:

And of course, you can follow the phone on Twitter

Tags: Geek

Solobassteve's Social Media Surgery

October 17th, 2008 · Comments Off on Solobassteve's Social Media Surgery

I’ve finally got round to writing a page on this site about social media consulting – helping out other artists, labels, students etc. with understanding how having a conversation with your audience is preferable to shouting at them.

I’ve been doing this kind of work for years – over the last 7 or 8 years, I’ve had various musicians come to me asking for help with releasing their own music, both the logistics of getting CDs pressed etc. and then how to make their music available and talk to their audience. A lot of people confused new tools with old media, and spent ages trying to rack up as many 10s of thousands of Myspace friends as they could before realising that all of those friends were using them in the way they themselves were being used – as someone to try and broadcast at.

So after the disappointment of trying that, a fair few musicians – from singer-songwriters to fellow solo bassists came to me for some help.

More recently, I’ve been talking about this stuff in Universities, writing about it here and on sites like MusicThinkTank and Creative Choices, and running informal sessions with groups of musicians, as well as continuing to consult with individuals.

And then this week I’ve been helping out on a PR job with a new digital download service, finding bloggers and social media enthusiasts with a connection to the subject who might want to check it out. Having the huge range of connections I’ve made through the disparate bits of my career – all the way back to my days writing for Bassist, Guitarist, Total Guitar etc – has really come into its own. 🙂

So I’ve written a page, bringing all that stuff together – if you or someone you know needs some help and advice on such things, read the page, then drop me a line!

Tags: Uncategorized

Solobasssteve says: Find Me

October 13th, 2008 · Comments Off on Solobasssteve says: Find Me

Some things are hard to find out, but worth the trouble.

Like discovering that your average gig attendance is 51.5057 – precisely -0.130506 on last year figures.

Or maybe it’s calculating the real cost of travel – approximately 51.5057 kJ of energy/mile, which is -0.130506 less than it was in the age of the camel-train.

Stats on, say, treasure, or indeed the spread of certain under-reported diseases can be harder to find.

Tags: Uncategorized

Social Media – first principles for musicians (Pt 1)

October 12th, 2008 · Comments Off on Social Media – first principles for musicians (Pt 1)

Cash registers - no longer needed. There’s been a whole load of talk in the last few days, following on from the financial crash, saying that ‘Web 2.0 is dead‘.

Q #1 – what’s Web 2.0? Well, here’s the wikipedia page for it. For our purposes as musicians, it describes the use of the web for collaboration, conversation and creative empowerment, as contrasted with the old model of broadcast, one-way traffic, competitive, aggressive sales-driven stuff…

As the very wise DanLight says here, the people saying ‘web 2.0 is dead’ are actually describing a facet of the tech industry built around web 2.0 resources that is now in deep shit because its funding model is based on venture capital. VC money is deeply hooked into the world of money-markets, credit, banking and all those financial institutions who’ve finally realised that gambling can go very wrong even if you’re not in Vegas.

Clearly, the use of the web as a vehicle for collaboration and conversation is alive well and growing daily. The number of people who ‘get it’ is still growing, and loads of musicians now realise that with a little bit of care, attention and respect, their relationship with their audience can shift from being one of being “big-box producers throwing product at faceless consumers for money”, to being one of arts patronage, support and friendship.

So, just to be perverse at the Web 2.0 funeral party, I thought I’d spell out a few first principles for musicians:

  • Talking to your audience doesn’t cost big money but it does take time. In order to get the value from social media, we need to invest time in communicating with our audience. The equation is a fairly simple one – if you spend time talking to your audience about what you do, they will
    1. understand you better
    2. feel like they know you better
    3. be able to explain what you do to their friends better (peer to peer advocacy, if you will) and
    4. be FAR less likely to view your ‘art’ as something disposable to be thrown away on a P2P sharing platform.
  • Broadcasting over social media networks stands out like a dead sheep on a bowling green. People who try and use social networking sites and tools for 90s-style broadcast look really effing stupid. You become like the dude at the party who goes from group to group, looking for an audience,but leaves without even knowing anyone’s name. A HUGE part of web 2.0 for musicians is learning how to listen. I’ve met SO many fascinating people through the web, through talking to people on line, and many of them are now advocates for my music. I’m not friends with them because of that, but it stands to reason that people who are engaged by the ‘soundtrack to the inside of my head’ are going to be people I’m likely to like. My audience is almost always comprised of people I want to go out for dinner with and chat to.
  • If you don’t ‘get it’, learn from someone who does. Look, let’s be honest, a lot of people who come from a record company background [where ‘we’ make music and ‘they’ sell it for us] really struggle to understand how this works. If that’s you, GET SOME HELP. That help can come just by observing how people who do it well do it, or it could be that you hire someone to help you out. Increasingly, I’m working with bands and indie labels on strategy for social media engagement. There is no one way to do it, but there are principles to be applied in your setting. And if you don’t get it, you can end up looking like a dick. Hiring someone for a day to help you set up the right services, talk through some strategy and get you hooked up with a like-minded community that will help you move forward will be a hell of a lot cheaper than an 8th of a page ad in the back of Q magazine, and do you 50 times as much good.
  • What you’re ‘selling’ is so much bigger than the music on your CD. Think about the last time you bought a CD just because you heard a track on the radio. You didn’t know who or what it was, you just heard it and had to own it because it was so good. Been a while, huh? No-one does that any more. People are entranced by stories, and even more so, like to buy music by their ‘friends’. Even though I put ‘friends’ in inverted commas, there’s no duplicity here. Your audience become people you know, people you talk to, people who tell their friends about YOU not just your music. And you telling your story in your own words gives them the story to tell.

If your first response to this is ‘but will it make them buy more CDs?’, go back and read it again. And this time, read it because you need to know it, not because you want to disprove it so you can nestle back into ‘busness-as-usual’ safe in the knowledge that the internet is still full of know-it-all nerds who can’t actually play an instrument, but like to talk as though they can. This is all a long way from the music forums of the late 90s. This isn’t about being top dawg in a kennel of bass-nerds, it’s about inviting people who are interested in what you do to engage with it on whatever level helps them to get more from it.

I don’t know about you, but I want my music to mean something to my audience. I want to help them to find that meaning in it. I don’t need to define the meaning, just to facilitate them finding it for themselves. Next post will look at more ways of doing that, and maybe a case study or two…

Tags: Geek · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

What my musical friends are up to…

October 9th, 2008 · Comments Off on What my musical friends are up to…

I’ve been telling you a lot about what I’m up to musically of late, but I’ve got some rather talented friends who’ve been busy too, so here’s a quick and incomplete round-up of what a few of them have been doing:

First up there’s Ben Walker – fellow Tuttlist and fab singer-songwriter. He was writing 50 songs in 90 days, a few of which he wrote one Friday morning at Tuttle. One of those was called ‘You’re No-one If You’re Not On Twitter’ – here’s the video, which has been watched almost 300,000 times! (warning – it’s insanely catchy…)

Then there’s Jonatha Brooke – I met up with Jonatha in New York in January and she told me about a record she was about to record, featuring songs with words by Woody Guthrie for which she’s written the music. She was very excited, and I’m really happy to say that finished album shows the excitement wasn’t misplaced. I reviewed the album for this month’s Third Way magazine – It’s a truly exceptional album, and here’s a clip of her teaching Joe Sample (jazz legend, out of the Crusaders) how to play one of the songs:

Uhm, who else now? Seth Horan – solo bassist singer/songwriter, recently toured the UK. He’s doing an interesting thing with the production of his new album, that you can be involved in – here are two blog posts about that: Part 1 and part 2.

Iain Archer has an AMAZING new album out, recorded and released entirely under his own steam. Judging by the record, it was a VERY smart move. Beautiful stuff – check out the tunes from it on his myspace page.

And of course Lobelia – we’ve had some great gigs together of late, and here’s a lovely clip of her playing from the same gig as my ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ Vid’ –

More friends-news coming soon. 🙂

Tags: music reviews · Musing on Music · Uncategorized

Listen to the Lawson/Dodds/Wood album now (if you want to :) )

October 8th, 2008 · Comments Off on Listen to the Lawson/Dodds/Wood album now (if you want to :) )

First up, a HUGE thanks to everyone who’s bought the album already – thanks for the feedback, and thanks for investing in the music. It means that (if sales continue as they are) we’ll be able to pay for the pressing of the CD without going into any kind of debt… makes the whole process of being a musician who releases the kind of music that takes more than an hour to record MUCH more viable.

So, yeah, thanks. You all rule.

For those of you who, understandably, have been waiting to hear the album before dropping your money on it, your wait is over! Hurrah!

Via the wonders of last.fm, you can now listen to the album in its entirety before choosing whether to buy it. Just click on each track in turn in the player below –

We really hope you enjoy it.

I love the way releasing new music can inspire all kinds of other stuff around it – one of the nice things it does is it causes an upsurge in sales of back catalogue albums (sold more of my solo CDs in the last week than in the previous 2 months of online sales – and it means that Grace And Gratitude is now properly out of print on CD, but still available as a download 🙂 ), but it also gets me to do the things I should’ve done ages ago. Like uploading the Steve Lawson and Lobelia Live In Nebraska EP to Last.fm as well. It’s uploaded, and as I write is ‘processing’, but should be there before you read this…

Also, in more geeky news, for those of you that want to point friends to where they can get the album, the short URL www.stevelawson.net/ldw now goes to the shop page (which has the player embedded, and links to all the youtube videos too…)

Tags: Music News · Musing on Music · site updates

Lawson/Dodds/Wood – Numbers: Available to order and download NOW!

October 3rd, 2008 · Comments Off on Lawson/Dodds/Wood – Numbers: Available to order and download NOW!

Lawson/Dodds/Wood - Numbers, album sleeve imageHurrah! Finally! It’s up.

Yes, I know it took me flippin ages, but it’s there now, in the shop – Click here to go to the store and buy it!

Q – OK, so what do you get for your money?

A – an immediate digital download of the album – encoded at 256kbps (VBR*), beautifully and lovingly mixed, mastered and sounding amazing. PLUS an extra 45 minutes (give or take 2) of extra material: There are 3 of the raw improv tracks that Roy, Patrick and I recorded in the studio, exactly as we recorded them before they got mixed and mastered, and one completely exclusive track from the improv sessions, that’s not on the album (I’ll talk about that in a video later on today).

AND, of course, you get the CD, including world-wide postage, which will be sent out on or before November 24th 2008. It’ll be in the usual Pillow Mountain Records deluxe gatefold all-cardboard packaging, designed by the genius that is Kenny Laurenson

Q – and how much will all this cost me
A – £12.00 (as I said, including postage)
Right, so why should you order it now? Well, obviously, it’s not available anywhere else yet, so if you’re dying to hear it, this is the only place you’ll be able to get it for now – it won’t be up on iTunes/eMusic/whichever other digital store you usually use for months. Srsly. And the extras aren’t available anywhere. And won’t be for a very long time. Certainly not for ‘free’.

But more than that, it’s about future investment. If you order it now, we can cover the cost of pressing the CDs before we even put the record out. No debts, no loans, just sending the music to the people who want to hear it without any record companies or distribution companies getting in the way. We get to make the music we love, you get to hear the music we make, and no-one has to go without food to make it happen.

Think of it as arts patronage if you like, only you’re not giving ‘a donation’, you’re just buying direct from the artist to make your arts-money go further.

We’re also happy to sign any advance order CDs that you want signing, so feel free to indicate that in with your order (once the CDs out, it’ll be much harder for us to make sure we’re in a position to do that, given that we don’t live in some Monkees-esque fun-palace of gorgeous improv. We do lead normal lives… so consider it another added bonus)

Thanks so much! We’re REALLY excited about the album, as it seems is pretty much everyone who’s heard it.

And don’t forget that I will be carrying a digital copy with me, so should you have any kind of laptop or whatever with you, I can drag a copy onto your computer if you want to buy it there and then, and I’ll take your address and send you the CD when it comes out, same as if you ordered it online.

Tags: Music News · site updates