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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Bandcamp Subscription Primer – Your Questions Answered!

August 7th, 2017 | 1 Comment | Categories: Music News · New Music Strategies

Right, as you no doubt no by now, the Bandcamp artist subscription service has become my primary way of making music available. I’ve had the subscription for 3 years, and in that time have released more music than in the previous 15 years combined. None of it has been ‘demos’ or bootlegs – I just have a music life that results in an awful lot of finished albums. The history of music is littered with great records that were recorded in a single session, live off the floor, and that’s how all my music is made, whether solo or collaborative – and because of the way I’ve built my live rig (after 15 years of tweaking/upgrading/refining), I can get a studio quality multitrack recording of every gig. If I was in a band that played the same set each night, that would result in a single live album, edited from the best bits of the tour, once a year or so. But because I improvise, every gig is potentially an album – and I tend to choose fabulous people to play with, so that ups the likelihood that it’s going to end up being released.

So, the subscription is how you get all of that – it’s just not possible, without several pseudonyms and a full time press team – to do a full, advertised, radio-supported album release for every single one of them. Certainly not to put them out on CD or vinyl. So the subscription means that you don’t have to scrabble around for info about new releases, and I don’t have to waste money advertising a new album every 7 or 8 weeks :)

But I know a few of you are still unsure how it works, so here’s a few bullet points that will hopefully answer your questions:

  1. The subscription is NOT renting the music. Streaming services like Spotify charge you a monthly service to be able to stream their music. If you stop paying, you lose access to the premium aspects of the service, and if you close your account, you lose all the playlists and information that you’ve curated. With my subscription, you own the music – you can download it all in whatever format you like, and it’s yours for ever. If you lose it (stolen phone, crashed hard drive) you can download it all again from Bandcamp without paying any more money, whether or not you’re still a subscriber. YOU OWN IT.
  2. Bandcamp is, however, also a streaming service. The Bandcamp app gives you access to everything you’ve bought in Bandcamp, and acts as an amazing discovery service too – you can search the whole of Bandcamp via the app, and listen to albums that way, and you get a feed of everything that the people whose fan accounts you follow are buying. So if you follow people with excellent taste, there’s a ready-made recommendation engine there. So when you’re out and about, you don’t have to download all 30 albums (or however many it is now!) to your computer and copy all of that over to your phone – you can just stream it direct from the app, and pick and choose from any of the subscriber music, without the need to pre-plan it.
  3. But you can also download the same music in multiple formats – so, if you want a lossless version for your computer at home, but the MP3 for your phone (to save on data by not streaming) that’s all good – you can get both versions. Like I said, it’s yours.
  4. The main purpose of the subscription is to make more music possible. The main focus of the mainstream recording industry is not, in case you were wondering, promoting and selling brand new music. The massive value in their model is in re-selling you access to things you already love. That’s why Spotify works for them – to a large extent, people are paying again to stream music they already own and love. Spotify is a convenience, that has new music thrown in too. But it makes way more sense if your album sold 10 million copies 25 years ago than it does if you’re trying to recoup on a brand new album, without all of that historic investment in your music. Here, my back catalogue is offered to you as part of the subscription so you can catch up. There’s some amazing music in there – I’m deeply proud of all if it, and the journey that it charts through the last couple of decades – but the exciting stuff is what’s still to come. The £20 a year is to make that possible, not to try and squeeze additional money out of music that already exists. I’m less interested in creating ‘passive income’ than I am in making it viable to perform, record and release new music that moves this story forward. So your £20 a year is what makes that possible.
  5. It’s OK to unsubscribe and resubscribe. This happens a bit. The first year’s offering is massive. 30 albums of anyone is a crazy amount of music. How many artists do you own 30 albums by? I think for me there are about 5 artists. I don’t even know many artists with a catalogue that big. Certainly not niche improvisors like me :) So, you may find yourself after 12 months with enough music. At that point, it’s OK to give it a while before subscribing again. Of course, I’d rather you stayed on board – every subscriber helps to keep the thing viable – but I’m not trying to trick you into staying. I will say, though, that if you unsubscribe, you won’t necessarily get all the music that was released in between when you re-subscribe – quite a few albums are now available to current subscribers for a month, and then removed from the subscription – mostly so the people I’m collaborating with can make some money from that music too! But those are available elsewhere if there’s anything you particularly love, and they’re rarely more than £5. Or you can buy the USB Stick of everything, should that have the missing recordings on it! Or you can stay on board but take a sabbatical from listening to the new stuff. As it’s all yours to own for ever, there’s no time limit on download it. And £20 a year to keep it all flowing into your account is, as the Americans say, chump change 😉
  6. It’s also OK to unsub and immediately resubscribe in order to change the amount you’re paying. Some people put in an amount much bigger than the minimum £20 when they first sign up. Lots of those people are happy to keep paying that amount. But if you get to the end of the first year, and want to move back to the £20 minimum going forward, it’s easy enough to unsubscribe and resubscribe at the lower rate. Likewise (and even more wonderfully!) it’s possible to do the opposite – to unsub and resubscribe at a higher rate, if the value proposition is one that you think is worth more than the minimum you paid in the first year.
  7. I don’t currently have a plan B. This is the best possible way I’ve come across for me to keep the music making viable. To be able to collaborate as widely as I do, to do proper, careful, beautiful mixes and mastering on every one of these recordings takes a lot of time, and I just wouldn’t be able to do it if I was sticking half of it up on Soundcloud or YouTube or even releasing it to iTunes etc… The ongoing funding model here means that you’re not having to pay £8 for every album that comes out, and I’m not having to spend thousands marketing this stuff to an audience that need convincing of the value of each individual album.
  8. I love you all. I really do. The subscribers, past, present and future, are the people who make my music life possible, who create a world where other artists can look at what’s going on here and see a different, new way to make their music, to not get lost in a system where you’re supposed to spend ten grand on a record and twenty grand marketing it and then tour the same 10 songs for a year while filling your YouTube channel with twee covers in the hope that people will hear them and want to buy your album. Nope, there’s a better way – there’s deeper magic to be had, that means we still get to support niche art, art that’s made without an eye on the charts, that’s not beholden to a record label’s promotional schedule, but which results in some amazing music that helps us soundtrack and make sense of this rapidly changing world.

[Read more →]

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Two New Albums Released Today!

July 17th, 2017 | No Comments | Categories: Music News · Uncategorized

I’ve got two albums coming out today! They’re being released in different ways, and the releases are connected, so read on to find out how to get both!

First of all, the first Illuminated Loops recording is coming out. Illuminated Loops is my project with visual artist Poppy Porter. Poppy is synaesthetic, which means she ‘sees’ sound. So for this, I improvise, she draws what she sees and I then treat the drawings as a graphic score. It results in a lot of truly beautiful art and some really surprising and lovely music – it’s very much recognisably me, but definitely draws me in new directions and inspires choices that I wouldn’t have made had I just been focused on playing… There’s an awful lot more to be said about the process, which is why the album comes with extensive PDF sleeve notes.

Now, the album will only initially be available to my Bandcamp subscribers. They are the people who pay £20 a year (or more, some of them voluntarily contribute over that) to get everything that I release in the year. They are the reason I’m able to make music the way I do. Last year I put out 7 albums. Some of them were subscriber-exclusives, all of them were released to subscribers a month or so before they became public. And when you first subscribe, you get a massive windfall from my back catalogue – over 30 albums, including every solo album I’ve ever made and a load of subscriber exclusive collaborations too. There are albums in there with Michael Manring, Jem Godfrey, Bryan Corbett and others that are unavailable elsewhere. It’s a crazy bargain, and if you decide to join them today, you’ll get all that music right now, and at some point today, you’ll get the Illuminated Loops album. [Read more →]

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What’s So Special About An Improvised Gig?

July 12th, 2017 | No Comments | Categories: Gig stuff · PhD Thinking Out Loud

Things I adore about improvised music, pt 593:

This is a quote from a book I’m re-reading for my PhD, called Coughing And Clapping, all about audiences and music:

“The pop music gig is a unique and visceral event, which at its most resonant can be a consummate experience involving all the senses. There is a real feeling for the concert-goer of it being for one night only, in that place, at that time, and of being something that can never be replicated – despite the fact that the band will often be playing the same numbers with the same light show on subsequent nights of the tour.” [1]

It sums up beautifully my feelings about the sleight of hand of playing the same thing night after night and hoping that something magical happens and it connects. There are obviously some bands who allow the circumstances to alter the music to a greater or lesser degree – for some, the songs are basically jumping-off points for whatever comes next – but for most pop/rock bands, the majority of the performance is set in stone. Or if not stone, then at least stale bread. Or that weird green stuff that soaks up water that you put flowers in.

For an improv gig, no such assumptions can be made. And the audience’s presence completely alters the music. The music is not only FOR you, but in a very real way, BY you – you change it. Like Jedis at Christmas, we feel your presence. We respond to the room, the people in it, the conversations before the gig, to smiles and looks of consternation, to interruptions, to the decor, to traffic noise. The music is an amalgam of everything in that moment, and if you weren’t there it would be different. So you get to have that experience of something unique 4 REALZIES. It actually happens.

My next gig is in a couple of weeks in Birmingham, and it’s all improv. Andy, Phi and I will be collaborating with whoever shows up, with the venue (we LOVE the Tower Of Song – such a welcoming, warm place to play dangerous music :) ) and we’ll promise you a night of wholly original music that will stay with you, and will be uniquely yours. No-one else will ever get to say that they saw it, unless they were there on that night. Make plans, bring friends, come be a part of the history that will be made, and that is made every time improvisors step onto the stage, swallow the voice that pops up that says ‘er, what happens if *this time* it all goes to shit??’ and instead create something magical. For you. And your ears.

[1] Kronenburg, R. 2014. Safe and Sound: Audience Experience in New Venues for Popular Music Performance. In: Burland, K. and Pitts, S. eds. Coughing and clapping: Investigating audience experience. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.

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How My Bandcamp Subscription Kickstarted My Creative Path

June 16th, 2017 | No Comments | Categories: Music News · New Music Strategies

The last two years have been some of the most musically productive of my entire life. The sense that both my solo playing and my collaborative work have taken a significant leap forward is palpable. At least for me. I’m happier with the music I’m making that I’ve ever been, and also have a clearer sense of where I want it to go than at any time since perhaps the run up to Grace And Gratitude in 2004…

I started my Bandcamp subscription three years ago so that I would have a way of releasing more music than could possibly fit into a ‘normal’ release schedule. I was putting music on Soundcloud and YouTube that I would much rather have been able to properly ‘release’, to make available within the framing of an album or single release – the way that we label these things and the stakes we place in the ground when we declare something worthy of both attention and money have a significant impact on our relationship with art. WAY too much of our music lives have become a process of flitting from one YouTube or Instagram vid to another, vacillating between nostalgia and novelty as we fill up the time we used to spend building relationships with art and artists with what mostly functions as a distraction. So the Subscription service was not only an economic experiment but a cultural one:

  • What happens if a body of work is seen as a thing to sign up to and support, with money and attention?
  • What does it mean to release music as a self-contained entity with its own story, rather than as part of a fragmented timeline of adverts for something else, a quest for that nebulous ephemeral notion of ‘exposure’ or virality…
  • Does me valuing my work enough to frame it like this have any resonance with the people who listen to it? How much of it is going to connect?
  • How easy will it be to convince people that releasing anywhere between 5 and 10 albums-worth of music a YEAR isn’t just a pile of demos for a ‘proper’ release every 18 months, but is actually part of a new (but also old) way of thinking about music releases (John Coltrane’s catalogue includes 62 studio and live recordings with him as leader, and numerous side projects, recorded in 10 years – it wasn’t always the norm to put out one album every 2 years)
  • What does having a release mechanism for more music do to the economics of gigging and recording? Because, based on anecdotal evidence, a large number of my musician friends lose money on making and promoting albums. They’re throwing all kinds of strategies at it, and spending money on whatever looks like it’ll be a good idea, but ultimately hoping that somewhere along the line, the expenditure will turn into a critical mass of listeners that means they can do gigs and make records and not end up homeless…

I’ve said before, and I’ll keep saying it til people realise it’s true, this is the golden age for improvising musicians. We have better resources for documenting, sharing and selling our music than at any time in history. We’re not ladened down with the pressures of spending two years writing a record, or spending months in the studio before rewriting all the songs and having to start again. We have none of that in our history and mythology, and it’s certainly not a prerequisite to our day to day practice.

And I’ve spent the last two decades of my daily practice getting better and better at improv. I haven’t focussed on building the skills necessary to spend months in the studio on my own music (though I do rather enjoy the work I get to do in studios on other people’s music! :) ) but instead I’ve worked on being a better improvisor. And not so I can do 5 hour jams that get edited down to 5 minutes of music. But so I can play and collaborate on coherent conversational music that has a beginning middle and end. And that’s what the Subscription makes possible – you hearing a LOT of those conversations.

So, in the next couple of weeks, I’ll be releasing one new subscriber-only album – the first live recording from my Illuminated Loops project with visual artist, Poppy Porter – and will be making the other latest subscriber only release, Over Time, with Andy Edwards, public and removing it from the subscriber back catalogue.

SO if you want both, and 30-something other releases, for just £20 a year (seriously, you get ALL that now – it’d be well over £200 if it was on iTunes, which it isn’t…) then you need to head to stevelawson.bandcamp.com/subscribe

And if you want some words from people who are already subscribers, these are testimonials that are posted by subscribers in their Bandcamp collections: 

“Steve is basically my favourite person on bandcamp. I’ve been following his fan-account since my first days here and always enjoy his recommendations. Just recently I realised he’s also a musician. And who would’ve thought – his music is crazy good too! Thanks Steve!”

“Yay! Glad to be a subscriber!”

“Steve is a dedicated, hard working, artist committed to creating authentic, beautiful music and innovating ideas! I whole heartedly support his efforts in finding ways to make a living through music and the art that he is creating in the process!”

“Not many artists have the body of work or the prolific release habit of Steve Lawson. And so it has felt almost impossible to keep up with everything Steve is doing musically. Until now. A subscription is a very simple and elegant solution which seems an ideal fit for fans of Steve’s music making.”

“Steve is not only a brilliant musician and composer he is an exceptional human. He is always so generous with his time, resources and encouragement. I’m proud to play a small part in freeing him up to be the best he can be.”

“I subscribed because Steve is a very prolific artist and I enjoy his music. He also is a champion for independent musicians staying economically viable.”

“Definitely the best music subscription value around. Steve manages to be both prolific and uncompromising on quality – I have no idea how he does this.”

“I’m in love!! Not only do I enjoy the sounds of each song, but the album and track titles are marvellous unto themselves. Thanks again for the amazing music Steve!”

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If They Had Won – New Solo Track Released on Bandcamp

June 13th, 2017 | No Comments | Categories: Music News

I have a long and unillustrious track record of playing and releasing music inspired by elections. Grace And Gratitude was all about the 2004 European Elections. Referendum was about last year’s referendum on membership of the EU. And I wasn’t really planning on doing anything about the current election. At least, not until there’s some kind of resolution point, and I make an album of upbeat funk/party music to celebrate the end of austerity… the counterpoint to Torycore…

Anyway, my musical impetus had other ideas, and on Sunday night, I sat down to play – I tend not to divide up my music time into ‘practice’ or ‘recording’ or whatever ahead of time. Whatever happens and happens, and if there are things I want to be able to do that I can’t, practice ideas are developed to help get past those blockages…

What came out was not in the immediate sense reflective of my rather upbeat mood since last Thursday’s General Election. I’m pretty excited about the future right now, and am expectant that things will indeed be getting better over the next few months.

But underneath that there’s still the residual foreboding that has hungover since the campaign – the sense of what might’ve happened had the Tories got the majority they wanted. Had they read it as not only an endorsement of their strategy for leaving the EU, but also an approval of their austerity measures that have been – quite literally – killing people for the last 7 years.

And this is what came out – ‘If They Had Won‘ is a dark ambient piece, all recorded live, just bass and some found sound percussion samples played in via the Quneo, hooked up to FL Studio. One of things I love about looping is that things can drift in and out of the foreground if you create loops that have a strong dynamic arc to them – where they overlap dictates which bits will be foregrounded at any one time. There’s very little extra that I’ve done to the volume of each layer in this in the mix process. It is pretty much as it was played. It’s also a very wide dynamic mix, so will sound like nothing useful at all on laptop/phone speakers. You’ll need headphones or good speakers, and a fairly quiet space. It gets much louder at certain points – intentionally, and the quiet bits are the calm before many micro-storms… So set aside half an hour to listen to it twice and close your eyes :)

For reference, here are Grace and Gratitude and Referendum. The sleevenotes will help :)

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Decorating Tips For Musicians (How To Learn Like A Painter)

May 24th, 2017 | 1 Comment | Categories: teaching news · tips for musicians · Uncategorized

I’ve been teaching bass now for almost 25 years. I’ve taught thousands of students, and given masterclasses and seminars to many more in universities and colleges all over the world. In that time, I’ve never stopped trying to refine my method, my process, my ability to help a student get where they need to be. And one of the things I’m always searching for is better metaphors for what it is we’re trying to do.

So, today we’re going to talk about painting and decorating, OK?

Imagine you were asked by someone to decorate their house – to paint all the rooms, the stairs, hallway, all the doors, fittings. Everything needs doing. There’s a lot of work there, and you’ve not really done any painting before…

There are a number of ways to approach it, so let’s break them down, then you can look at their parallels with learning an instrument: [Read more →]

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Intersect – New album from Steve Lawson and Pete Fraser

April 3rd, 2017 | No Comments | Categories: Music News

Ta-daaa! new album out today! How exciting, eh? [EDITED – 1/5/2017] – after one month as a subscriber-only release, Intersect is now out for streaming and download via Bandcamp. Click here to listen.

Anyway, here are the sleeve-notes for the album – written by me and Pete about making it. It’s a good read, I think, enjoy!

STEVE: Serendipity is such a huge factor in my music life, it’s almost a genre description. On a micro level and on a macro level, the benevolence of chance is a thing that I rely on at every turn. Moment to moment in the music, I’m throwing things together in ways that I then attempt to react to and make sense of, to understand where the patterns are but also embrace the unknowable complexity of it all and allow improvisation to do what it does best – explore the unrepeatable.


[Read more →]

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Last Two Gigs on My March Tour – Birmingham and Guildford.

March 19th, 2017 | No Comments | Categories: Music News

So March has been a *beautiful* month for gigs – starting with the London Bass Guitar Show, and taking in solo shows in Cheltenham and Southampton, and a show in Kidderminster with Andy Edwards and Phi Yaan-Zek. THANKS SO MUCH to all y’all who came out to the gigs. It’s been a beautiful time of surprising and exciting music, weird and wonderful banter, and a great chance to catch up with friends all over the place (not to mention to hear some great music from James Chatfield and Poppy Waterman-Smith in Cheltenham, and Alex Ayling-Moores and his band in Southampton!) 

The last two shows on my slightly spread out tour are a week away – Sunday 26th is back at Tower Of Song in Birmingham (ticket link) with drum genius, Andy Edwards (Robert Plant, Frost*, IQ, Magenta, Kiama etc. etc.) and then the day after, March 27th, I’m in Guildford (ticket link) doing an ‘Illuminated Loops’ show with artist Poppy Porter – SO excited about both of these gigs. [Read more →]

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Will 2017 Be The Year We Admit Ad-Funding Is Ruining Everything?

January 5th, 2017 | 2 Comments | Categories: Geek · New Music Strategies

Ad-funding is why we can’t have nice things. I’ve long held this to be true, and have yet to see any useful evidence to the contrary. Pretty much every business idea that relies on it that I’ve come across has to compromise on content, context and impact due to the need for a) massive numbers of page views, and b) the invitation to click away from the thing you’re actually interested in as quickly as possible for the person hosting the thing to get paid for you looking at it.

As a musician, making music because I think the music itself is the thing that matters, that’s clearly useless. I’m not making sonic clickbait – I’m not trying to gather up likes and views in the hope of hoodwinking some company or other into advertising on my site/giving me money/product endorsements/record deals/whatever. The music is the thing I care about, and the process of making it available and telling the story about it is about supporting its existence.

Barnes Law, section h) “keep your art the main focus. it isn’t about you it’s about your art. do what’s good for your art”

With that in mind, this is VERY interesting stuff from Ev Williams (“Renewing Medium’s Focus” – posted on 4th Jan 2017) – he’s the founder of Medium, and interestingly, the co-founder of Twitter, a platform whose social value has nosedived as it has chased advertising money. [Read more →]

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2016 – A Year In Music

January 3rd, 2017 | Comments Off on 2016 – A Year In Music | Categories: Music News · Random Catchup

2016 was a really interesting year for music for me:

  • I released more solo music than in any year ever
  • Got my first new bass in well over a decade
  • Played gigs with a visual artist and an amazing dude playing a large bowl of water
  • Did a mini tour of Germany and Holland
  • Played bass on Songs Of Praise…

Let’s break that down a little!

Releases:

The plan from the start of the year was to put out a new album in the summer – The Surrender Of Time was planned, but the rest of this years solo releases were more of a surprise!

But before all the solo stuff came Language Is A Music – this live recording of Michael Manring and I from 2012 is one I’d revisited from time to time, but never carved out the time to properly mix and master. At the start of 2016, I got that sorted and released it for my subscribers. I really enjoyed coming back to this over the year, reliving such a fun show! [Read more →]

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