stevelawson.net

Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



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!”

→ No CommentsTags:

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 :)

→ No CommentsTags:

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 →]

→ 1 CommentTags:

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 →]

→ No CommentsTags:

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 →]

→ No CommentsTags:

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 →]

→ 2 CommentsTags:

2016 – A Year In Music

January 3rd, 2017 | No Comments | 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 →]

→ No CommentsTags:

My Favourite Records Of 2016

December 30th, 2016 | No Comments | Categories: music reviews

In a year where I spent more time than ever making and releasing my own music, I still found time to hear a whole bunch of new (and new to me) music. Here’s my favourite 11 albums from the last 12 months – give ’em a listen, and buy the ones you like.

Divinity Roxx – ImPossible

I heard this album in its unfinished state back in January in LA. I’d heard a couple of the songs as they were being written (and played improvised versions of them on a gig with Divi in 2015) but was still knocked out by just how great this album is. It’s an extraordinary statement, a labour of love, and the sound of someone throwing their everything into a project, and it working. I love everything about this.

Together, As One – Dinosaur


Laura Jurd’s latest band – I love her trumpet playing on everything I’ve heard her on. This takes something of the vibe of 70s Miles and takes it on a beautiful journey. This benefits from extended repeat listening. I can’t imagine ever getting tired of this album.

Feel – Hope And Social

New Hope & Social albums are interesting, because listening to old Hope & Social albums is so heavily associated with memories of seeing them live. They are, after all, my favourite live band in the world. This album stands on its own two feet and I can’t wait to hear all these songs live. Everything they do is wonderful.

Wyatt At The Coyote Palace – Kristin Hersh

Also a contender for favourite gig of the year, this is Kristin’s new album that was released as a book with accompanying CDs, rather than a regular music release, but I’ve just found that it’s also on Bandcamp. It is, as expected from Kristin, an amazing collection of songs – she plays everything and never shies away from allowing the music and lyrics to be unsettling where necessary. A rich, rewarding journey that I’m going to be revisiting a LOT throughout 2017.

Midnight Hallelujah – Jonatha Brooke

New Jonatha records usually take me a few listens to get into, cos she doesn’t stand still, and I have such a huge love for her earlier albums. This took a few spins to properly love, but now I adore it. Amazing songwriting, a properly deep probing lyrical journey, and some amazing arrangements.

Living In The Past – Jazz Chronicles

Properly beautiful hip-hop/nu soul/funky organic electronica project from one of my favourite producers in the world.

Kin – KT Tunstall

Another one that took a while to get properly into – KT reintroducing the fun rocking element of her earlier records, following the more downbeat sound of much of the last record. Loving it.

The Violent Sleep Of Reason – Meshuggah

Meshuggah do what they do and do it better than anyone. This record has more swagger and sway to it than some of their earlier records, and is all the better for it.

Dissociation – Dillinger Escape Plan

The swansong from an amazing band – as dizzying and disturbing as you’d expect, and (if you can imagine it) perhaps even more diverse than previous albums. Amazing.

Eden – Ivy Sole


A surprise recommendation from a friend who works at Bandcamp – soulful hip hop that I’ve played a LOT this year.

Fellow Creatures – Jasper Høiby

Jasper took a little time out from Phronesis this year for other projects – this fabulous quintet record, with Laura Jurd on trumpet and Mark Lockheart on sax is full of interestingness and beauty.

→ No CommentsTags:

The Beginner’s Guide To Steve Lawson – 5 Essential Albums for £2 Each

November 5th, 2016 | Comments Off on The Beginner’s Guide To Steve Lawson – 5 Essential Albums for £2 Each | Categories: Music News

This post was inspired by looking at the Bandcamp page for an artist called Knxwledge. I’ve enjoyed a few bits of his music, and wanted to go get an album. But there’s SO much there, made even harder by a weird taxonomy, that I’ve thus far not bought anything…

And it made me think about the similar problem with my own Bandcamp presence – there’s SO much music there. The easiest thing to do, of course, is Subscribe, then take your time to investigate all the music that immediately becomes yours – there’s no time limit, no trial period, and the music is still yours if you decide to cancel your subscription (it’s not renting access to a streaming server like Spotify or Supapass – you’re buying music in an annual bundle…)

But even then, you’ve got 30 albums across a load of projects. That’s hardly an entry point. So, in order to act as a lower level intro, here’s a selection of five albums, available for now for just £2 each, that will act as an intro to my musical world.

We should, of course start with my most recent solo album – The Surrender Of Time

This feels like the culmination of pretty much everything I’ve done so far. It’s where I’d point anyone wanting a first listen to my musical world.

Secondly, I’d suggest 11 Reasons Why Three Is Greater Than Everything – it was the last all-solo album I did before I added in the percussion and synth stuff, so the final statement of the first 15 years of my solo career.

One of the most popular of the collaborations I’ve done is Invenzioni with Mike Outram – all guitar and bass duets, improvised live in the studio.

For The Love Of Open Spaces was the 2nd collaborative project I ever recorded, and was the beginning of so many things. Working with Theo Travis was a truly enlightening and enthralling experience.

The FingerPainting Project with Daniel Berkman is still the biggest musical undertaking of my life – months and months of mixing and mastering went into releasing the entirety of the first 10 shows we played together. Every note. Accidentally (On Purpose) was the 2nd show we ever played, and the first album released.

So there you go – I could’ve included Live So Far with Lobelia, which is a document of the most enjoyable tour I’ve ever done with the greatest singer I’ve ever worked with, or Diversion with Jon Thorne which captures an extraordinarily special performance at the London Bass Guitar Show, but I honestly believe that are no weak links in my catalogue – if there were, they wouldn’t be out there. Everything here exists because I think it’s worthwhile, not because I think I can make a ton of money off it – I wouldn’t be playing solo bass if that was the case. It’s an ongoing exercise in taking the road less traveled and carving out a different kind of space for music to be made, discovered and enjoyed.

Comments Off on The Beginner’s Guide To Steve Lawson – 5 Essential Albums for £2 EachTags:

“Why Do You Sit Down To Play?” The Long Answer…

October 24th, 2016 | Comments Off on “Why Do You Sit Down To Play?” The Long Answer… | Categories: Musing on Music · New Music Strategies

When I get asked why I sit down to play, the short answer is normally ‘because I need two feet to operate all these pedals!’. But it’s a little more complex than that – as you’d expect, given how many people manage to play standing up while also having massive pedal boards…

The problem is not turning regular effects on and off. That you can easily do with one foot. It’s not even turning off more than one at a time – that can be done with a loop-switcher (pedal that allows you to have any number of pedals in a separate ‘loop’ that the sound can either go through or bypass), or by having them as a patch in a multi-FX unit (I do that a lot, obviously).

The issue for me is continuous control – wah, volume, delay feedback, pitch shift, parameters that fade in and out, and the interactions between them… That’s such a huge part of that constantly evolving feel that I aim for in my music – the feel that is absolutely at the heart of what I’ve been trying to develop as a solo artist since my very first album. Have a listen to ‘Drifting’ from my first album – in order to transition from one set of loopy-stuff to another, I had to fade the first loop down to nothing, quickly delete it and start looping again, all within the context of the music… [Read more →]

Comments Off on “Why Do You Sit Down To Play?” The Long Answer…Tags: