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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Entries Tagged as 'Music News'

Bandcamp Subscription Primer – Your Questions Answered!

August 7th, 2017 · 1 Comment

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 →]

Tags: Music News · New Music Strategies

Two New Albums Released Today!

July 17th, 2017 · No Comments

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 →]

Tags: Music News · Uncategorized

How My Bandcamp Subscription Kickstarted My Creative Path

June 16th, 2017 · No Comments

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!”

Tags: Music News · New Music Strategies

If They Had Won – New Solo Track Released on Bandcamp

June 13th, 2017 · No Comments

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 :)

Tags: Music News

Intersect – New album from Steve Lawson and Pete Fraser

April 3rd, 2017 · Comments Off on Intersect – New album from Steve Lawson and Pete Fraser

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 →]

Tags: Music News

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

March 19th, 2017 · Comments Off on Last Two Gigs on My March Tour – Birmingham and Guildford.

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 →]

Tags: Music News

2016 – A Year In Music

January 3rd, 2017 · Comments Off on 2016 – A Year In Music

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 →]

Tags: Music News · Random Catchup

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

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.

Tags: Music News

The Beauty Of Complexity – Why I Can’t Play Anything Live Off My New Album

September 6th, 2016 · 3 Comments

Right, before the main bit of this post, let’s get some niceness in your ears – my brand new album is here: Hit play while you read this:

…and if you’re in London or Birmingham, come see me play this week – Wednesday (tomorrow!) at the Bulls Head in Barnes, Sunday at Tower Of Song in Birmingham 😉

Now, on with the wordsmithery: 

I’m an improvisor. That much is known, right? But there’s a pretty broad range of approaches to improv and ways of understanding what it means:

  • People who play guitar solos on rock songs are often improvisors.
  • Jazz musicians who play the head then play a solo full of material they’ve culled from the rich recorded history of jazz are improvisors.
  • Classical musicians who can interpret figured bass and play baroque music authentically are improvisors.
  • Free players who actively avoid consonance, western-harmonically-define melodic structure and metric rhythmic combinations are improvisors.

So where does my practice fit? Cos, let’s be honest, a lot of it doesn’t *sound* like improv, right? And the language we have to describe recordings is, quite understandably, about ‘songs’ and ‘compositions’ and ‘arrangements’. And once it’s recorded, it just *is*. The variation in the experience of the music is now all about context and the technology used to turn the digital file into sound… The [lossless] file itself is a fixed entity – if it gets changed, it’s a something else. It ceases to be the thing it was.

But the genesis of the music? That’s all improv. That’s not to say that none of the elements of the tracks on The Surrender Of Time have any precedent – that would be like expecting a conversationalist to invent new words every day to avoid being a script writer.

No, improv forms a distinct set of variables for me in music making, which I’ll attempt to list and explain here.

  1. Vocabulary, not repertoire: If you’re in a band, or planning to play in bands, your greatest asset is a repertoire of songs to call on, in a variety of styles that you’re comfortable with and respectful of. Being a great technician – beyond a fairly basic level of facility – is definitely secondary to your ears, understanding and experience. Your ability to play the songs is everything. The relationship between the songs and the spaces to add your own stuff in is variable depending on the setting, but first of all, you gotta know the songs.

    I know very few songs, comparative to how long I’ve been playing bass. I’m *really* good at learning sets when I need to (this is my job, after all!) but I don’t retain them, and I rarely practice songs between gigs. I don’t sit down and play along with records to practice, and I’ve done hardly any transcription in my life. I got good at it so I could do it when needed, but it ceased to be part of my own creative development when I started putting together the toolkit for making the music I cared about, based on the impact certain practices seemed to have on other players…

    Instead, I spent time – and still spend most of my time – building vocabulary. Working on variations on the building blocks that make up the sound that’s recognisable as me. Expanding the set of harmonic possibilities that follow any chord, building a set of sounds that take that music and give it meaning, working on myriad melodic ideas over all the harmonic areas that I’m finding interesting at the moment. When I hear music that moves me, instead of trying to recreate it, I intently focus on how it makes me feel, and then try to recreate that feeling with my own music. That’s one of the reasons why I can quite unashamedly love my own music – it’s not about an arrogant juxtaposition of what I do alongside what anyone else does, and I don’t necessarily expect anyone else to agree with my enjoyment of it, but if I didn’t love it, it wouldn’t exist.

    So when it comes to making the music, instead of me drawing on a massive catalogue of other people’s songs, or transcriptions of their solos, I’m searching through my own catalogue of sounds and ideas for the right thing to attach to whatever it is that I’m trying to say. It’s soundtracking, in a very unmetaphorical sense. But it also means that I never get to properly ‘re-play’ anything. I don’t do multiple takes of the same ‘piece’. I might spend a day exploring a particular area (similar to the process of working out what a book meant to you by talking to multiple people about it, and refining your own take on it…) but there’s never two ‘takes’ of the same piece. Sometimes multiple versions of that iterative process get released, because they’re always distinct enough to be treated as different works.

  2. Complexity vs Repeatability. So, because I’m not forward-projecting to a time when I need to be able to recreate this music, I can allow it to be WAY more complex that I could ever make a composition. Again, it’s not about relative levels of complexity with other musicians (there are people whose composed work would in many ways be way way harder to remember and recreate than mine…) it’s more about my process – I have very little headspace for spending months learning how to recreate existing work. I don’t operate in a commercial space where that matters… or rather, I’ve consciously constructed an alternate performance space, or slotted into the bits of existing ones where I fit, in ways that mean I don’t have to do that.

    But even then, I do bang up against audience expectation that they’d love to hear a favourite tune…. That’s totally understandable, especially as I spent quite a few years doing just that – playing my own songs, doing a set list… Getting away from that has brought about the single biggest leap forward in my creative process since I first picked up the recorder aged 5. When I listen to my live versions of recorded tunes now, it’s only the deviations from the script that interest me. The start point feels like an unnecessary limiting factor, when that start point could just as easily be a sound as a fixed melody.

    So I stripped back the start point to be vocabulary and emotion based, not ‘skeleton composition’ based. It’s pretty heavily influenced by what Coltrane did in later years, when his compositions got looser and looser and were mostly a vehicle for what came after the bit that anyone was familiar. Or Miles’ 70s work, culled from hours of improvisation. Or Bill Frisell’s live solo excursions.

    The result for me is that I can put things together in a way where the serendipity of how they fall IS the composition.

    The unknown state of just how the loops are going to line up half way through the song, or how that loop is going to interact with the Kaoss Pad I’m going to send it through… it’s not ‘random’, in the way that nothing that’s been looped digitally is ever ‘random’ – as soon as it’s done, the result is inevitable, it’s just that no-one can ever know what that will be. The ratios of loop length, because I don’t sync them, are sufficiently complex as to be unknowable, unlearnable, and thus I get to interact with that complexity like a brilliantly unpredictable creative partner. If I was trying to do things that I could recreate, all that would be lost. And if I did it over fixed ideas that were ‘the song’ (in a more jazz like way) that would feel like an unnecessary limiting factor on just how great things can get when serendipity is your homeboy…

  3. Aesthetic constraint vs ‘industry’ expectation : With all of that process, all of the various inspirations (I’m a VORACIOUS music listener, and treat it like ear-food), I needed to find a way to keep focussed on the musical path that would get me to where I felt I needed to get creatively, not be distracted by the rather narrow expectations the come with the various typical western contexts for music – radio stations that play songs, venues that want to know what you’re playing, audiences who make requests, corporate situations that expect a set list, musician-collaborators who want to play standards, or a set of songs. I needed to break from that. Context-wise, house concerts were that, without a doubt. The strangeness and unfamiliarity of ‘your friend’s house’ as a venue gives me a whole lot of creative latitude to mess with all the other expectations, as well as plenty of time to talk about this stuff between songs without the venue getting annoyed that people aren’t dancing…

    But I also needed a way to do something with all the recordings. Because, the simple set of influences on the actual sound of my work mean that the recordings are experienced as ‘finished works’. I’ve built a live recording set up that is basically a studio. The studio IS my instrument (which Jazzwise VERY perceptively picked up on in their review of The Surrender Of Time) – my musical influences contain a LOT of singer/songwriters, because I’m drawn to storytelling over pyrotechnics, politics over self-aggrandisement, questioning music over music that sees itself as the answer… and singers tend to do that best. The music becomes subservient to what the music is trying to say, whether that’s a death metal band, or a rapper, Joni Mitchell or Cannibal Corpse, Divinity Roxx or The Blue Nile – the music is all about creating the context for the story. I just get to hide my stories a little deeper by leaving out the words 😉

So, the records sound ‘finished’. The language that makes most sense when talking about them is the language of songs, of arranging, or composing. They aren’t ‘jams’ or ‘little grooves I’ve been working on’ or however else people’s unfinished work on YouTube gets described, but they also aren’t things I’ve worked out, learned, done a couple of drop-ins on and chopped the end off to make them work for radio… They are conversation pieces that stem for a pretty highly developed philosophy of what improvising within the limitations of live performance with real-time looping makes possible. We have no real words for that, so I’m perfectly OK with you digging my songs 😉

My process is the result of 20 years of finding out how best to tell the stories I want to tell, to play the music that I hear in my head, and do it in a way that responds to the things I hear missing (for me) in other people’s music. When I hear music that doesn’t work for me, I don’t wish they changed it (telling someone else who hasn’t actually hired you as a teacher how they should play music is some tired lazy shit) I just use that as a nudge to work out what it was that was missing for me emotionally and adjust my musical process to work towards that thing that was missing… The gaps are mine to fill, not theirs. (as an aside, this is the exactly the same point of origin as my response to people who come and tell me what they think I should do, in a ‘you should do a funk record!’ or ‘you should totally do a whole ambient record’ or ‘I wish you’d do more of ****’ – my response is, ‘no, you should! It’s you that wants to hear that! This music is exactly what it’s meant to be – take the inspiration and go make your own music’.)

So anyway, call it a song, choose your favourites and play them over and over, transcribe them if that helps your own practice…just don’t ask me to play any of them at shows… :)

Tags: Music News · Musing on Music · New Music Strategies

Making A Meal Of It – Three Courses Of Musical Nutrition

August 3rd, 2016 · Comments Off on Making A Meal Of It – Three Courses Of Musical Nutrition

2016 is a bumper year for solo recordings from me. By the end of the year, I’ll have released more solo work than in any other year. Shifting over to a Bandcamp subscription as my primary music outlet has meant that Soundcloud has taken a backseat, allowing me to focus more time and energy on putting out finished albums, not works-in-progress

Aside from a 3 track EP of stuff that subscribers got just so they could hear what my new bass sounded like, this year is already shaping up to be a full-on three course meal of solo work.

The starter was Referendum – a record that wasn’t planned, rather it was a document of my response to all of my emotions before and after the EU membership referendum vote here in the UK. That 6 track album is one I’m REALLY happy with – it feels very immediate, raw and unfiltered. It’s also got some killer tunes on it :)

The main course is The Surrender Of Time – that’s the ‘proper’ solo album, the follow up to A Crack Where The Light Gets In/The Way Home – it took months to record, mix and master, and the tracklist was chosen by Sue Edwards, from the 2.5 hours of music recorded. The main course comes with a side-order, the addition EP of Colony Collapse Disorder – that’s a single 22 minute track that will be part of the ‘deluxe digital edition’ of The Surrender Of Time, out on Sept 5th. But, in the spirit of favouritism, my Bandcamp subscribers already have Colony Collapse Disorder – they got it this week. If you’d like it, feel free to subscribe.

The dessert in this massive musical meal will be a subscriber only album called Towards A Better Question. The title track is already on YouTube. It contains a lot of my favourite music I’ve recorded this year. The process of picking the tunes for The Surrender Of Time was a narrative one, full of questions of continuity and story-telling. Sue did that brilliantly, and it leaves me room to release another hour of very special music for subscribers later in the year.

And we haven’t even touched on the very special live recording I made earlier this year that’ll be out in time for Christmas (again, probably, at this point, subscriber-only) or the various collaborations (the 2nd Ley Lines album with Phi Yaan-Zek and Andy Edwards will be out in the next month or so too, and also on the way is the live album with Gawain Hewitt from his Beneath The Waves gig in Birmingham).

So it’s a bumper time for subscribers, and I’m sure that a fair few of them will find themselves a little behind after a while on the new releases. But that’s where the beauty of the Bancamp subscription comes in – this music is theirs, for keeps. There’s no time limit, not danger of it being taken away, no point at which I get to cancel its existence, or cut off their access to it if they cancel the subscription. This isn’t some bogus rental model. For £20 a year, you get to keep everything I make in that year, for ever, downloaded at whatever resolution you desire (the FLAC version of all the new stuff is 88k/24bit) – and when you first sign up, you get 28 albums from my back catalogue included too. The idea is not to get hung up on the unit value of any one album – that’s the bit that Spotify have got right, it’s not about how much an album is ‘worth’ – but instead to invite people into the journey, to give them the music needed to catch up with the story so far, and then to stay with it as we go forward investigating the world through collaborations and solo recordings, video, discussions, concerts, meet-ups… There’s no way on earth I could make all of this music available if I was relying on CD pressing and shop sales with normal marketing lead times and mainstream press. As it is, I put out one solo thing a year as the main course, but the rest of it is a vital part of the Big Picture, and you too can join that journey.

Subscribe by clicking here – stevelawson.bandcamp.com/subscribe  – and help make music’s beautiful sustainable future a reality. xx

Tags: Music News