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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



The problem of time. The eternal crisis of music-based social networks.

February 2nd, 2009 | No Comments | Categories: Musing on Music · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians |

TOO MUCH CHOICE! Photo of Lobelia in Mother's health food store, Costa Mesa, California, by steve lawsonSo, context: I’m on Myspace, ReverbNation, Last.fm, Facebook and Twitter. Oh, and Youtube, Vimeo, Seesmic, Phreadz…etc. etc.

All of them are social networks. On all of them, not surprisingly, I get followed/added/friended by a lot of musicians and bands.

Which is all well and good, except that I can’t listen to them. Not ‘won’t‘, ‘can’t‘ – the numbers don’t add up. Even if we ignore the 8000 myspace friends I deleted before christmas, we’re still looking and thousands of interactions. Even if I only listened to one song from each, that’s upwards of 4000 minutes of listening time, just to grant each of them a cursory ear. And given that a handful of them will really catch my imagination, I’ll probably end up listening to them a lot over time.

Add in that my listening time is already taken up by copious amounts of the music I love and a fair chunk of trusted friend recommendations, and the amount of time I have available to check out random stuff thrown at me on Myspace is tiny.

So what are we to do?

Let’s use me as TWO case studies. First as a music fan/listener.

Some facts about music-listening-Stevie:

  • I love discovering new music
  • Other than ‘it’s great’, it’s pretty tough for me to define a type of music I like. The one nearly-unifying element is that I tend to go for music with a story, whether vocal or instrumental.
  • [As it relates to the second point, 'Solo bass' is not, as far as I can tell, a genre. Neither should it be.]
  • I listen to an awful lot of music by people I know/have met.
  • I discover a lot of music from friends recommending it.
  • I have online a list of ALL the music I’ve listened to over the last 5 years.
  • Meeting an artist quite often moves their music from ‘have heard‘ to ‘required listening‘ in my estimations.
  • That being said, the majority of my music listening time is spent listening to things I already love.

So, what does all that mean?

It means I’m not going to listen to a band just because they ‘add’ me. I resent the idea that I should spend my valuable time on music without context. The worst culprits of this (it’s why I included it in the list above) are solo bass players. I say ‘worst’ – to be fair, it makes sense that they would send stuff my way. After all, I am a solo bass player and am interested in what’s going on within the field of solo bass performance, but only as it over-laps with great music! I’ve never been into the gymnastic, technical side of music. If it doesn’t work as a straight recording, without explanation, it doesn’t work for me.

Right, so just sending me a message saying ‘check out my solo bass stuff‘ isn’t going to cut it. which of those other points give us angles to work?

What we need to look for are where the filters are, and how to get into those filter-streams. So what flags music for me as being worth investigating? largly these two:

  • My friends recommend it,
  • or I know the artist…

It’s pretty safe to say that ALL the musicians on twitter that I’ve bothered to click through and listen to are those who I find interesting apart from their music.

Is it an efficient way of finding great music? Possibly, possibly not. But it does provide me with a few things:

  • a way of just cutting down the sheer numbers. Relatively arbitrarily, but it works.
  • a way into one of those things I like about music: the story – I’m actually getting the story first, then the soundtrack…
  • a way of making sure I’m less likely to listen to music by people I don’t like. There’s SO MUCH amazing music out there, I might as well limit myself to listening to the ones I really like as people :)
  • a way of encouraging people AWAY from spam and TOWARDS engagement. It’s what I want, it’s what I do, it’s what works.

And In Part II of ‘The Problem Of Time’, I’ll talk about what this does for me as a musician.

How does this chime with your experience of finding music online? Similar? Completely different? How much GREAT music have you found? I’d love to hear your experiences.

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No Comments so far ↓

  • Heather

    Yeah, I’m just starting to realize just how much is out there and my screening process is going to have to get more selective in a lot of areas, not just MySpace.

    Many of your facts about Music Loving Steve match or parallel Music Loving Heather. :)

    As far as narrowing things down, I’ve put my main focus for new music to things I can use on my radio show, which is about female singer-songwriters.

    If someone leaves me a real note (something besides “We’re great!”) when requesting to be friends I’m more likely to check them out sooner than let them sit in my inbox for a month or two when I can get around to checking them out properly, which I up till now I have given everyone the courtesy to do and probably still will for a while. (I don’t even have CLOSE to 8000 friends to delete :) )

    It kind of baffles me how people go about the whole thing so cluelessly when there are so many powerful tools and strategies available.

    If I find someone whose music I really love, I send them a note saying so, and also try to mention where/how/who I found them through. I find that to be a much more effective way to start a meaningful relationship than just adding them at random.

  • paddy

    i remember a while back (actually several times) you talked about social currency, and how i value the musical opinions of certain friends over others, and know which friends will recommend me music i’ll like, and who’ll like music i recommend. Its when these friends throw new things at me that i discover new music, and all sorts of potentially weird little connections (i’ve got a lovely lass called rebecca collins coming to do a gig with my band because her uncle *i think* is the optometrist of a friend of mine in london, odd connection but i love her music and have told many of my friends about her)

    despite being on many social media things, i use them mostly to talk to people, and if it happens these people ahve cool music then hey, bonus. I’ve already got enough great music to listen to for the rest of life, and more is just extra fun :D

    having said that (pardon the ramble) i really do love hearing new songs that connect with me in an entirely new way and soundtrack particular points in my life. so her maybe music is more than just a bonus….

    where was i? oh yeah, i agree, spam isn’t worth it, and valuing the right opinions is worth everything.

  • Eric Larson

    From a technical standpoint, I’ve made efforts to try things like pandora, route 63 (I think that is the name) and a few other sites that make an effort to train a personal radio station. Generally though, the training process is painful. Likewise, I use a feed reader to keep up with new music, but again, it either is not very interesting, too many press releases or simply overwhelming.

    I’m a programmer so in my mind I keep thinking there is a technical solution to this, but I think you make an important point regarding listening as a personal experience. Social networking sites do a great job as they all make an effort enable specific kinds of communication. Music, for whatever reasons, has been a difficult communication medium for technology to manage, hence I would argue most social networking sites based on music have not revolutionized how artists are found.

    As an artist, it feels like a tragedy that my music (or of others) might not be heard. This kind of negative thinking is easy to squash my recalling the fulfillment of writing and playing. Yet, it is still sad that great music might never reach someone whose life it could change.

  • Mike Arthur

    I tend to discover new music through recommendations through a very small number of friends who like the same sort of things as me and from Last.fm’s recommendations and radio. The latter in particular is really good at letting me hear a few tracks from an artist before buying their CDs (which I always do if I like them after me three ‘goes’ are up).

    As a result of the above I don’t tend to hear much stuff from smaller, independent artists but I’m content with this balance of time vs quality music.

  • steve

    Heather – having a stylistic focus can be a really good way of cutting out some of the noise. I’m a big singer/songwriter fan, and find that there are a higher proportion of singer/songwriters that I enjoy who contact me than others, so I filter towards that too…

    Paddy, the story with Rebeca is a great one – I tend to meet musicians through all kinds of random connections, more often that not, not musical ones :)

    EricLast.fm seems like a good way to go with the recommendations thing, as it learns without you doing much, just by you listening to what you usually listen to – much easier than having to type in endless lists. And you can use the ‘love track‘ and ‘ignore track‘ buttons to fine-tune the selections.

    Mike, your situation is probably one of the most common ones, meaning that musicians HAVE to get past your filters, or find an alternative route to have you hear them… worthy of much consideration, thanks.

  • James Stark

    Yikes! Well the last thing you want to hear from me is the fact I’m a guitarist and have compositions up on Myspace. But hopefully you have the time to read this comment.

    On Myspace, I receive a fair share of friend requests from bands that are not at all related to the music I play. I used to politely friend them then ask them how they found my profile, but I don’t think I ever got replies back. They were obviously trying to blindly target as many people as they could in the chance of getting someone’s attention. Now I’ve taken perhaps too hard a tact: If they don’t include an appropriate message indicating why they’re adding me in the friend request I deny it. Perhaps I should make the effort to not be as tough but it’s not easy to know who’s a legitimate contact interested in my music.

    I find I’m doing the same thing on Twitter but that probably has more scope for spam accounts and people following me for apparently no reason at all.

    I’m working on the meeting more musicians in person. In my isolated part of Cornwall there aren’t many serious musicians under the age of 50 but that has it’s advantages and disadvantages for getting noticed. I went to the Bath Spa IGF two years ago and made some extremely valuable friends which I can see myself holding on to for the foreseeable future.