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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



2010 – The Year That Was.

December 31st, 2010 · 6 Comments

Here’s a month-by-month breakdown. As if such a thing were neccessary 🙂

January – Flapjack enters 2010 barely a month old, Lo and I still reeling from becoming parents, so January is a slow-ish month of ongoing adjustments to parentalism. But it does see two new ventures start – First, my work with the department of Social Computing at Imperial College began its first tentative steps, planning a new music discovery/sharing/listening app, that we’ve been working on all year, that’s proved to be all kinds of fun and a great chance to apply the knowledge I’ve gained about the changes in the world of music to a real-world project.

The other launch was the rebirth of ‘New Music Strategies’ – Andrew Dubber wanted to take the ideas that he’d developed on his blog, team up with some ninjas and see where it would go. We met up in Holland to talk over what it might end up being, and came up with all kinds of ideas. It’s quite a remarkable group of people, and NMS promises all kinds of great things going forwards… [Read more →]

Tags: Random Catchup

Happy Birthday To Me – Help Yourself To Some Music

December 29th, 2010 · Comments Off on Happy Birthday To Me – Help Yourself To Some Music

2010 has been a bumper year for me, musically. Not only have I – as my top 20 shows – found more brand new music that I love than I know what to do with, it’s been an unexpectedly busy and productive year of music-making.

The ‘unexpected’ part is because it was also my first full year as a dad – 2010 is definitely the year of the Flapjack. At the start of the year, he was barely a month old and we had no idea what we’d be able to carry on doing as musicians and how much would have to go by the way-side. [Read more →]

Tags: Music News

My 20 Favourite Records of 2010

December 28th, 2010 · 6 Comments

2010 has been, for me at least, a bumper year for new music. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve bought more albums released this year than I have in any year for well over a decade. This is a very good thing. That a lot of them were bought direct from the artist is also a very good thing.

Here’s a list of my 20 favourites – not any preference order, that would be futile, and subject to change at a moment’s notice (they’re alphabetical by artist).

Suffice to say, I recommend all of them, with the obvious caveat that if the are from within a style that would otherwise be something you’d avoid like the plague, proceed with caution…

Bandcamp embeds provided where possible… [Read more →]

Tags: music reviews

How To Give Downloads For Christmas

December 7th, 2010 · 1 Comment

For many of us, we are living in a post-CD world. I don’t mean we put CDs in envelopes and send them to eachother, I mean CDs are largely a thing of the past. Indeed, even if I was into CDs in a big way, a lot of my favourite music is no longer available in CD format.

However, we all know that music makes for a fantastic christmas present. We also know that sending someone an email attachment somewhat spoils the ‘opening a present’ on christmas day bit of getting a gift.

So, what to do? I have two suggestions: [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies

Ask A Stupid Question – Building A Community that Communicates

November 22nd, 2010 · 2 Comments

Something interesting happened on my Facebook page recently. Apropos of not much, I asked a couple of questions about the music people listen to – ‘favourite sounding records’, ‘records you didn’t like at first, but grew to love’ – that sort of thing. I did it largely because I found I was missing the kind of chats about music that used to happen on my forum. I intentionally shut down the forum a coupla years ago and suggested the posters there move over to Twitter, when it became apparent that a more open forum for conversation would result in better things to talk about for all of us. But Twitter is a short-form medium, and sometimes, threaded longer conversations can yield some really good stuff that won’t fit in the constraints of Twitter.

Suddenly, my Facebook page became a hive of activity – the ‘insights’ section graphs lit up with info about traffic to the page, posts, likes etc… It all got very active, and not because I posted about my own new music.

All I did was provide a place to talk about music, to share stories and meet like-minded music lovers. I – for a moment – became

  • The conduit not the destination,
  • The bus driver, not the main attraction.

And as a result,

  • More people are now connected to me.
  • More people are there to see what I do as a musician,
  • More people are sharing content from my Facebook page on their pages.

There are a lot of perfectly valid – and frankly scary – accusations that can be made of Facebook, but one thing it gets right is it’s an amazing environment for sharing. The Facebook ‘like’ may end up being the single most radical music sharing tool ever. It isn’t yet, but the statistics on site traffic for many of the top music sites show that FB sends them as much – if not more – traffic than Google.

On this site, the top drivers of traffic are Google, Twitter and Facebook –

  • Google is largely people looking for me,
  • Twitter is a curated community following my links (or retweets of those links),
  • Facebook is mostly listener-driven – people sharing my stuff on their page.

The integration with Bandcamp and Soundcloud make it SO easy for anyone to take my music and embed it on their Facebook page, to write a few words about it, and suggest that their friends check it out. That’s amazing. Srsly.

And all I have to do is provide a space to talk, a few questions, and a load of supremely awesome music that makes life worth living.

Simples.

-o0o-

Here’s my latest solo album – Ten Years On: Live In London – have a listen, then try sharing it on your Facebook page, just to see how easy it is 🙂

Tags: New Music Strategies

“I’ve Got Enough Music!” – Finding An Audience In An Age Of Saturation

November 18th, 2010 · 40 Comments

[ This is a very long post. Probably too long. You can be the judge of whether it’s worth the effort to read it. I clearly think it is, or I’d have edited it 🙂 ]

First, some historical context:

Back when I was in my teens, my music collection was never big enough. I was avidly looking for new music to expand it, being acutely aware of the gaps in it, both in terms of ‘classic’ records that I’d missed, and emotional states of being that were ill-represented. I was interested in music – any music – that might meet that. I listened to the radio – mainly John Peel on Radio One and whatever weirdness I could find on Radio Three – watched pretty much every music show that was on TV (we only had four channels in the UK back then, so it was easy to watch it all) from Young Musician Of The Year to The Power Hour, The Chart Show To The Hit Man And Her (yes, really) – I was voraciously foraging for music that filled a ‘need’ in my quest for a soundtrack to me.

Music that I imagined to be the holy grail, but which I couldn’t find, became mythologically awesome in my mind. Occasionally, it lived up to that promise, like the first time I finally got to hear Michael Manring (I bought Thonk on CD at Sam Goody in the Harlequin Centre in Watford in 95 – I still remember the feeling of elation when I saw it on the shelf…) More often than not, the hype was unjustified, and I just carried on foraging.

Fast-forward to 2011 and I, like so many other people, have near ubiquitous access to music. I have a lifetime of curated music – 18,886 tracks in my iTunes (that’s 62 days, 16 hours and 35 minutes of continuous listening) plus the combined powers of Spotify and Youtube to give me access to the nostalgic soundtrack of my youth – music I’d never buy, but often go looking for for a myriad reasons. In short, I have no pressing and desperate ‘need‘ of new music.

So how – and more importantly, why – do I discover new music now? I no longer ‘need’ it – I’ve got pretty much everything covered in one way or another, and the ongoing releases by those bands I’m already familiar with could supply me with more than enough music to keep me going for many many years to come.

Now, music is about connection. It’s about meaning, belonging and relationship – it always was, even though that wasn’t my expressed intention when searching – now, that’s pretty much the only thing that means anything. Making sense of the world through music.

Music that

  • makes me feel connected,
  • Music that makes me happy,
  • Music that allows me to delight in the creativity and ingenuity of my friends and people I admire.
  • Music that allows me to see my chosen instrument grow beyond the circus-trick nonsense of so much bass-led music from the last 30 years, and into a rich emergent seam of music exploring the sonic potential of the bass.
  • Music that speaks of a changing world, that’s inspired by and celebratory or critical of the way things are heading.
  • Music that gives hope.

And none of that is communicated by me seeing a link and clicking on it. All of it comes through relationship, either with the artist, or with someone who digs it. The spread of that music, and the meaning it carries, is not primarily through press releases and hyperbole. It’s through conversation, recommendation and the excitement of music fans whose taste I trust.

One of the biggest mistakes any musician can make is to assume that there are millions of fans out there just waiting to hear you, desperate for your music to show them what music is really all about. If the ubiquity of music has changed anything, it has leveled the playing field to such a degree that superlatives are meaningless. Everyone is a genius until you listen to them.

The upside to ‘saturation’ is that the music you’ve never heard of simply doesn’t exist. People who aren’t actively looking for music aren’t ‘swamped’ with it, they aren’t wading through 6 million myspace pages trying to find you. People use Google to find the things they’re looking for, and unless your band has a hopelessly generic name, or you’re a solo artist that shares their name with one or more famous musicians, search engines do a pretty good job of bringing the audience to you who are looking for you.

So, how do we connect with people who aren’t looking for us? One of the things that happens to me on a fairly regular basis – though much less so now that I’ve deleted my MySpace page – is bands or artists emailing or ‘tweeting’ me a link saying ‘hey, check us out’. To which my immediate response is ‘Why?’

Here’s the foundation fact of discovery – your desire to be discovered is of no interest or consequence to me at all. Everyone wants to be heard, that’s a given. Being pushy is no indication that I’m likely to enjoy what I hear. And I neither have the time nor the inclination to check out a band based on their brazenness.

Let’s think for a moment about what happens if I do decide to click the link:

  • I’m entering the deal expecting it to be shit. After all, most music is. Being great is really difficult. Even amongst music that is demonstrably ‘great’, there’s still a lot I’m not particularly interested in listening to.
  • I’m unlikely to listen past the first few seconds if it doesn’t grab me. That’s an awful way to engage with your audience. iTunes has conned us into thinking that you can make a decision about a piece of music in 30 seconds. Bollocks. For a lot of my most beloved music, 30 seconds at the start of the tune might be one chord, or one repeated bass phrase, or a drum intro. It’s not even close to being indicative of what’s to come.
  • I’m not listening with any context at all – I’m hearing your music purely as an exercise in music making. No story, no relationship, no sense of where to place it, what to expect. And the number of times that I’ve heard and fallen in love with music in that way can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Seriously, if you’re banking on being that good, you’re insane. You aren’t that good. I’m not that good. Statistically speaking, no-one is that good. The exceptions prove the rule.

Q: So how do I, and you and people like us, find music?

A: It’s all about the interesting.

I’ve said this hundreds of times before – people won’t find you because you’re good (or pushy) they’ll find you because you’re interesting. And what I find interesting is best represented by the people I allow into my life, the ones I’ve chosen to filter ‘in’ – my friends, my peers, the people I follow on Twitter, the people I’m (good) friends with on Facebook. If I get a recommendation through them, I’m roughly a thousand times more likely to act on it than if it comes through any other channel. If one of my friends who I trust puts out some music, I’ll listen to it. I’ll listen to it all, even if it doesn’t grab me first time. I’ll do that because I WANT to like it. It’s in my best interests to like it, so I’ll give it as much time as I can. If those same people recommend something – especially if I already like the music they make – I’ll listen. I’ll listen expectantly, fully open to the possibility that what I’m about to hear may be awesome.

None of my discovery methods involve people I don’t know shouting at me or spamming me with links to their music and requests that I check out their shit. Anyone who does that is LESS likely to get heard, not moreso. If you’ve spammed me, and soon after someone else that I know says ‘check out this band’, my suspicions are up that they’re just doing it as a favour to you because you’ve been as pushy with them as you tried to be with me.

In short. Discovery happens

  • in conversation,
  • in communities,
  • with context.
  • It takes time,
  • it’s personal,
  • and the right to recommend things is an earned one.

This doesn’t mean, of course that you can’t talk about what you do and your love of it to people who’ve chosen to follow you. The people who are following you on Twitter, or have clicked your ‘like’ button on Facebook have selected you as being worth hearing from. That’s a very good thing, so don’t cock it up by abusing the privilege. I talk about my own music on Twitter a lot. But I talk MORE about other people’s music. On Facebook I talk about my music a lot. But I ask interesting questions that invite people to tell the stories of their relationship with music too.

Context is everything. Relationship is everything. Spam and pushines are less than nothing.

Q for musicians – what does this post mean to you? Is it frustrating and annoying, because you think I should be listening to you? Is it comforting to know that you don’t have to go round spamming people to try and get heard? Are you still lost for what kind of strategic approach is going to work for you and your music? Feel free to vent in the comments 🙂

Tags: New Music Strategies

What Is Pop And Is It Dead?

November 9th, 2010 · 9 Comments

This post was inspired by an excellent blog-post by Paul Long in which he talks about ‘the end of pop’, and makes some comments about the risible state of pop music through the 90s…

What it doesn’t do (though he assures me it’s in the research that his post was excerpted from) is talk about the definitions and parameters of pop music, and whether or not the death of pop is as much a function of its limiting etymology as it is a profound cultural shift. [Read more →]

Tags: Musing on Music

Added Extras For The New Live Album…

November 3rd, 2010 · Comments Off on Added Extras For The New Live Album…

Just in case your preference is for my solo stuff, please feel free to grab the solo tunes off of ‘live so far‘ to add to the brand new live album – you can pay whatever you think it’s all worth for the live album, then download the others without paying – no need to do 4 transactions:

…this way you also get two versions of The Kindness Of Strangers… feel free to pick a fave 🙂

And, while you’re at it, feel free to add your favourites from Soundcloud – most of those tunes are demo recordings, some of which may surface on albums in the future, but there’s no reason why you can can’t add them to your own compilation of favourites…

Alternatively, you can download both albums, and enjoy the songs with Lobelia and the collaborations with Neil Alexander and Todd Reynolds. But you’re a grown up, do whatever makes you happy… 😉

Tags: Music News

Quoted In The Observer – More On the Myspace Redesign

November 1st, 2010 · 3 Comments

I was quoted in yesterday’s Observer, in an article by Jemima Kiss about the Myspace redesign.

Jemima contacted me via Twitter after I told her about ‘Quit Myspace Day’, and asked me a whole pile of really good questions. As is always the way with such things, she could only use a tiny fraction of what I wrote, so I’ll put the rest of it here. Enjoy! (I’ve paraphrased her questions, for the most part)

J: How useful was MySpace in the early days? How did you use it?

In the mid 2000s, MySpace accidentally filled a gap – the whole idea of adding a band as a ‘friend’ was revolutionary, and all of a sudden you had artists talking to their audience. For a whole load of tech-shy musos, the basics were there – music player, photo upload, gig list and a blog that acted as a newsletter. That it was happening at the heart of a youth social network was a double bonus – the sharing potential of that was massive, as kids put their favourite bands in their ‘top friends’ as a status symbol. [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies

Musicians Who Use Looping: A Beginner’s Guide.

October 31st, 2010 · 4 Comments

As you’re no doubt more than well aware, the whole process of real time looping is essential to the way I make music, whether it be live or in the studio, solo or collaborating – it’s a very long time since I last did a gig that didn’t have some element of looping in it. Certainly, one listen to my latest solo live album shows that – this is entirely live, there’s nothing added here, just the gig… (click the ‘buy’ button below to download the album and pay whatever you think it’s worth for it)

[Jan 2014 edit] And my latest project, FingerPainting is a duo (and sometimes a trio) that relies on multiple musicians looping at once and sometimes looping each other! Every note that Daniel Berkman and I have ever played together has been released – check it out in the sidebar there, or get all 10 shows for just £10 here.

The basic idea is this – a looper is an effect that allows the musician to record what they are playing and then loop it while they play over the top. Almost all looping devices allow you to do multiple layers on that loop, and some of them allow you to do fun things to the loop once it’s recorded – reverse it, slow it down, speed it up, stop it, restart it, remove some or all of the layers… [Read more →]

Tags: Musing on Music