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Entries Tagged as 'New Music Strategies'

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

January 5th, 2017 · 2 Comments

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 →]

Tags: Geek · New Music Strategies

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

October 24th, 2016 · No Comments

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 →]

Tags: Musing on Music · New Music Strategies

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

It’s 2016 And We’re Looking For Magic In All The Wrong Places

April 25th, 2016 · 8 Comments

“All of the magic in the world is leaving”

– this is a quote from a friend’s blog about the death of Prince. He was quoting what another friend said to him, but it echoes a VERY widely held sentiment that the number of stars/legends/genuises dying is leaving us bereft of talent, of magic.

To which I say ‘bullshit’.

Statistically incomprensible, culturally myopic, yet completely understandable bullshit.

I know why it feels like that. I get it. I succumb to that in the moments after the announcement of the death of a Bowie or a Prince or a Papa Wemba… ‘not another one??’

Another what? Another dead human, another dead musician, another lost piece of the consensus around what made the late 20th Century so special for mass consumer art. That last bit is key. Musicians die all the time, musicians who changed people’s lives, musicians who made music that meant so much to people. Just *not enough people* for it to register on the global radar. Whether or not another 100 million people liked someone isn’t a measure of how important they were to me. The global population is somewhere north of 7.1Billion – that many, many of those will be making music that could change your life is a statistical certainty. That you haven’t found them yet is the product of a whole shit-ton of overlapping choices, cultural phenomena, the outworkings of a capitalist media and a level of inertia that happens to most people in the west when their music consumption switches from being primarily about discovery to being primarily about nostalgia when they are in their early 20s. Life gets busy, and the messaging in music journalism for grown-ups is almost entirely about the importance of the music we loved when we were teenagers. [Read more →]

Tags: Musing on Music · New Music Strategies

Modelled behaviour – Be the audience you want to have

April 5th, 2016 · 5 Comments

Here’s a thing I’ve seen happen more times that I care to remember. And every time I see it, I wonder what on earth is going on in the head of the musician concerned. I’m talking about the experience of seeing a musician whose entire online output is a series of hagiographic celebrations of the music of the past, steeped in nostalgia and the palpable sense that all the decent music was made during some golden age…

This is presented objectively, even though in almost every instance it was the music that the person in question discovered between the ages of around 14-20. The music that first showed them the life changing power of music. When it comes time for that person to release some music of their own, the conversation switches to one of sadness and often some degree of anger that no-one is paying enough attention to their music, and the Internet has ruined everything, and no-one has any attention span and blah-blah-blah. The extreme version of this also includes them sharing all of that music via the medium of Spotify links, or YouTube clips, with no useful conversation happening about the sustainable funding of whichever bit of the music economy they happen to occupy. [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies

Why I Never Talk About Women’s Appearance In Public

September 8th, 2015 · 10 Comments

[this is long and sweary – grab a cup of coffee, and strap yourselves in]

First up, read this Gawker Mansplainer post – it’s a very eloquent and funny exposition on the problem we’re exploring here.

Which is what? Which is, the way musicians who are women are often treated and talked about in the music industries. While we’ve made a whole load of progress on gender equality, and there are now so many amazing women playing every imaginable instrument at the absolutely highest levels, we STILL have an issue…

The root of the issue seems to me to be that for a large number of men in the industry, the women that work in it too are first divided into one of two categories – fuckable or unfuckable. That’s the line. If you’re not hot, you’re ignored. If you are hot, then the purpose of any interaction, ultimately, is to try and get laid. There seems to be pretty much no acknowledgement of just how insanely toxic a notion that is for both the personal and professional life of the women involved, or indeed any consideration of the social and professional consequences of that, when guys end up trading stories of who they’ve slept with, and those women end up being ‘trouble’ on a session or tour because of past relationships, and get sidelined. And it’s ALWAYS the woman who gets sidelined. Bros before Hos, right? If you’re an amazing guitar player who slept with an OK drummer but it’s the drummer who’s the dude? Sorry, we’re going to get a new guitar player, cos there’ll be weirdness on the tour bus.

So, for the women who choose – for personal or professional reasons – not to have any kind of relationship with the musicians they work with, they become a conquest. And bets are had over who’s going to bed her first. Or rumours start, because hey, who could resist hanging round with a bunch of delusional wannabe rock stars, eh? She’s got to want to fuck one of you!

And what if the woman actually does want to have some fun? If no strings sex sounds like a great way to go? That’s not a choice that’s available. For the aforementioned professional reasons.

Observation: there’s no male equivalent of a slut, and no female equivalent of a playa. Men are rewarded for promiscuity, and women are punished for it, in every way.

But, I get told (and I DO get told), she looks so great! Anyone dressing that fine must be out for the attention. She laughs when I ‘jokingly’ tell her what I want to do to her. She’s one of the guys, it’s all funny…Well, it can be funny – I know some women with a way cruder sense of humour than me, that love crass jokes…But when it’s relentless? When it’s the only thing that’s ever joked about? When joking turns into being groped? It ceases to be funny. But, if she wants to get hired, she’s got to play along. And she HAS to look amazing. Because if you end up back in the unfuckable category, you’re ignored.

This happens pretty much every time I’m talking to a woman at a music event:

We’ll be sat talking about music, life, family, touring, stupid shit, whatever…

And some dude will come up and say ‘excuse me, I have to tell you that you’re so beautiful.’ blah fucking blah…

And my friend will smile and say thank you…

And dude will push it, and go on…

And eventually – hopefully – realise this is not their conversation and fuck off…

And nothing will be said about the person’s music or art, no attempt to engage with them as a fellow professional will be made. Just some bullshit attempt to ‘reward’ them with attention for how they look. Like somehow having creepy dudes going on about how hot you are and staring at your boobs was part of your career plan when you spent 8 hours a day learning your instrument, or 70 grand of your own money to get through 4 years of university to become the best musician you could be.

But then, it gets worse. And the playing bit of the event is also built around a peculiarly male obsession – that ridiculously competitive, chops-heavy, zero-sound-design, melody-free world of the fusion bass jam. where a bunch of guys trade ever more elaborate reharms over an E minor vamp. And someone quotes Coltrane, and someone does a bunch of clever arpeggios. And if you’re not the kind of player who wants to spend years and years of your life training for the bass olympics, you’re out.

I’m obviously way outside of that world for another reason – my gear takes way to long to set up! This is the world of plug and play, a line of generic amps that give just enough midrange for everyone to battle it out… But it’s cool. I get a million other outlets and while I’m listening to this rutting ritual take place, no-one is stood next to me trying to feel my arse without getting caught.

And there are SO few women who can be bothered with this doleful charade. There are a few who can hang in that world, some who love it. But for the most part, the women I know in music are song players, writers, arrangers, producers – people who tell stories and put together the whole deal. Who care about sound design and things sounding good not just being metrically observable as faster or more complex than everyone else while 4 instruments battle or the same single octave span in the sound spectrum.

Why does this matter? Because it’s all about boxing in people’s options. It’s a social structure that has women watching men battle. It’s as old as dinosaurs puffing up their crests to see who has the biggest one and can pull the lady dinosaurs.

And it’s bullshit. This doesn’t mean you can’t dig bass jams. This is not a value judgement about being a part of that. It’s about acknowledging that narrowness of the social situation and how it impacts on the visibility of the talents of women vs the ‘value’ of their presence as eye-candy.

And let’s face it, everyone likes to look good. That’s not about wanting it to be the only thing that gets talked about. We want to look our best, because we’re on show. We’re entertainers, FFS!

Observation: I get to see a teeny-tiny-miniscule bit of what women put up with whenever a YouTube thread is taken over by some messed up angry-dude discussion about my nail varnish.

But the difference? The massive difference: I have options. I can choose to not wear nail varnish and pink shoes, to leave the wizard coat at home. I don’t suddenly become invisible. I like to look my best but when I’m too tired, it’s all cool. I have agency over my choices and they won’t negatively impact my career. For women? That’s very very often not the case. At all.

So, here’s why I never talk about the way my friends look – because I wouldn’t do that for a dude.

If you talk about the way men sound and the way women look, you’re an asshole.

If you compliment men on their choice of notes and women on their choice of neckline, you’re an asshole.

If you choose the guys you jam with because of their groove, but the women because you think you might be in with a chance, you’re a predatory shithead.

As human beings, we rely on music to tell the story of who we are. Music has done that for millennia. It’s part of our documentation. If we shut down the role of women within that, if we silence them and just make them part of the visual landscape, or fit their story-telling into the whims of the male gaze, the stories we’re telling are a lie. They aren’t us, they aren’t who we are.

For a lot of women, telling the real story of who they are would lose them work. They’d be unable to pay the bills if they took that risk. This is real shit that impacts people’s livelihoods. This isn’t just some theoretical feminist rant, or some moralising BS – women have neither the option to opt out of looking their best (while I can show up looking like a homeless dude and still get the gig) or to fuck all the dudes they like and do it without professional and social consequence (whereas I would be rewarded with high-fives and status if I managed to coerce my beleaguered female colleagues into sleeping with me).

So, have a think about how you talk about women, how you describe musicians who are women vs men. Next time you’re in a group of dudes talking about music, start talking about the women who inspire you and see how long it is before someone starts talking about how they look or whether they’d fuck them:

How easy would it be to dissent?

What would the impact be if you said you were uncomfortable with that?

Now think about BEING the object of it, dealing with that, in the context of your desire to be a professional musician, and the impact that would have on your career. And then think again about the ‘well, I’ve never heard a woman complain about it’ argument that’s used to justify the fucked up behaviour of the creepy dudes who obsessively pursue the women they work with.

It’s time to speak up.

And it’s time to LISTEN – to the stories of women, to the opinions and experiences of women, to the truth that may make us uncomfortable about our complicity in this screwed up behaviour. We need to listen without using our hurt feelings as a threat to the professional status of women. If they can’t tell you when your behaviour is out of line without it damaging their career, you’re not an ally. You’re the problem.

Be part of the solution. 

Tags: New Music Strategies · Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc.

Crowd-Funding My Next Solo Album (But Not How You’d Think…)

July 5th, 2015 · 2 Comments

So, I’m starting work on my next solo album. I’m not absolutely sure which direction I’m going in – musically – at this stage, I’m most interested in trying some bass and drums stuff with Andy Edwards… What I really need is time to experiment.

Which is where the ‘funding’ bit comes in, right? Because the time required to experiment (and through experimenting make more amazing music for you to hear) is time that would otherwise be spent doing things to pay the bills…

So, the modern thing to do is crowd-fund, right? Give you, the beautiful music listeners of SteveWorld the chance to pre-pay for it.

Guess what? That option already exists. Like Richard Marx, whatever you do, wherever you go, it’ll still be right here waiting for you…

I’m talking about my Bandcamp Subscription. The multi-tiered bit that you get with any other crowd funding thing is entirely optional. The start point is £20 – for that (or however much more you choose to contribute) you get:

  • all 10 of my solo albums,
  • 4 other subscriber-exclusive releases that have come out in the last 6 months or so
  • AND *everything* I put out in the next year.

So not just the new solo album – you get everything else as well. Including the 4 or 5 projects that are currently in development. (in the next couple of weeks, two of those will come out for subscribers only…) I can also send you news of what I’m up to (in a status-update kind of way, rather than a massive-long-newsletter kind of way) and will upload previews of tracks as the new album takes shape…

It feels like a friendlier model, it doesn’t require me to ‘hit a target’ before it becomes meaningful for you (your generosity is not only valid if enough other people are generous) and you also get LOADS of music straight away – under the old economic model, this would be thought of as hundreds of pounds worth of music. That’s not very meaningful right now, but there are certainly many, many hours of listening pleasure waiting for anyone who a) likes what I do and b) decides to subscribe… (and if that music isn’t enough, you can get my complete works USB stick for just £13 once you’ve subscribed!!)

I also – crucially – won’t have to bombard the world of social media with requests for money over a two month period. There are people who do this very well, I don’t think I’d be one of them. I love posting all the random stuff that has nothing to do with my music on FB, Twitter and Instagram, and don’t want that to get lost in a stream of begging notices…

SuperMarket vs Farmers Market:

While large parts of the music world are squabbling over Spotify and Apple Music royalty rates, those of us who will NEVER make sustainable art with the royalties from streaming (even if they end up at ten times the current rate) are quietly getting on with what we do, knowing that you, the listeners, can tell the difference between Walmart (Apple/Spotify) and your local farmers market (Bandcamp/the CD table at a gig). Supermarket efficiency and blandness vs Fairtrade from local makers of beautiful things.

You get it, we get it, we don’t really need Apple and Spotify to help us understand it (and like food or anything else you’d buy in both places, you also don’t have to choose between them, though don’t expect iCloud or Google Music to recognise the files you upload 😉 )

So, if you want to help take the sting out of making the new album, get a massive load of my already-existing music, and be part of the journey towards the new one, as well as a year’s worth of my creative output, for as little as £20 (or whatever you can afford and think is meaningful), I’d LOVE for you to subscribe and be part of our little sustainability revolution. OK? 

Tags: Music News · New Music Strategies

The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Tiny – Why Small Is The New Big

June 19th, 2015 · 3 Comments

So, I’m just back from Small Is Beautiful. One of my – if not my actual – favourite conference of the year, exploring the world of micro enterprise, self employment, creative, sustainable business engaging both the head and the heart – from why we care about our work to what’s the best software for invoicing. Invigorating, challenging, exciting, inspiring. Love it.

The Small Is Beautiful team curated a night of Pecha Kucha back in September. I spoke at it – tried to fit too many words in and at the time felt like a worthwhile experiment that hadn’t worked… but, listening now, it’s actually pretty good, even with the garbled speech! So, here’s the video, and the text of the talk. It’s about being small, why being small is actually advantageous within the current digital music economy, and exploring that idea through the lens of Walter Benjamin’s seminal text The Work Of Art In The Age Of Mechanical Reproduction. Here’s the video, followed by the text. Enjoy, and stay small :)

 

Pecha Kucha 22: Steve Lawson – Re-enchantment in the age of digitization from Inner Ear on Vimeo.

[Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies

Being Small – Sustainability, Scale and Success

June 11th, 2015 · 1 Comment

It’s that time of year again – one of my favourite conferences began last year, and this year continues as an annual event – Small Is Beautiful. Billed as ‘Insight, intelligence and ideas for micro-enterprises’, it’s a wide ranging exploration of how life and work play out for those of us who neither work for nor run corporations. Sole traders, freelancers, entrepreneurs, artists, makers, educators… an amazing collection of people gathering for inspiration, solidarity and encouragement in an evermore perilous financial environment.

Last year I wrote how being a ‘micro’ was my Plan A – it wasn’t a 2nd choice, it was always the aim.

This year, I’m going to explore a few of the reasons why, on the themes of Sustainability, Scale and Success.

Sustainability is such a buzzword in every field that we quite often lose sight of how it applies to us. There are so many kinds of sustainability that I need to consider in my work, perhaps it would be helpful just to list them:

  • Economic Sustainability – that’s obvious: can I keep doing this and no end up broke?
  • Creative Sustainability – alongside the economics is the task of maintaining the level of creative exploration and control that is right at the heart of my reasons for staying micro.
  • Environmental Sustainability – one of the joys of being self employed is that I can (and do) turn down work if the environmental impact of doing it is going to outweigh the benefit of the work. I can choose to spend more and get a train, rather than a cheap flight, and soak up the cost because I think it matters. That control feels vital…
  • Political Sustainability – this is a more tricky one, especially as every area of life involves compromise, but I’m deeply wedded to the aspect of being small that gives me political agency within my work. Being micro and stay micro is itself a counter-cultural act, and carving out a space where you can make art that is explicitly political without being beholden to someone else’s agenda is a luxury we’d do well to cherish. I certainly don’t take that freedom for granted, and make a lot of my decisions about the future with that freedom in mind.

Scale is another area that requires unpacking – especially in music, where the aims of so many people are unquestioning and depressingly hyper-modernist. Much of the music world is still obsessed with the metrics of success that applied in the late 20th Century, the triumph of giantism, and it’s inherent rush for the middle ground creatively and culturally, the competitive element that left so many crushed by a system built to push everyone through a funnel towards huge sales and huge gigs… Choosing something other than that is still often seen as ‘what you do because you can’t play stadiums’.

But realising that the kind of interactions with my audience that I cherished only really happened at a small scale, that there was an upper limit to the size of event that really worked for me was liberating. It took me out of that particular conversation about growth in numerical terms, and allowed me to think of growth in terms of creativity, consistency, how regularly I can do shows, reputation, the kinds of collaborations I was able to make happen… How to increase your standing as an artist or practitioner without playing to ever-bigger audiences is a really tricky question, but one that we micros are well placed to ask.

So how does the desire to scale in terms of impact weigh against the need to stay small in terms of the experience? It’s a juggling act I’m still working through, and one that requires a different conversation about priorities. And that leads us onto the third of our ’S’s…

Success… what is success? Is it a place you intend to arrive at, or is it a state of being? Is it your ability to navigate change successfully, or will it be something that is measurable only in hindsight? I have a mixture of ‘targets’ that help me with planning, but ultimately, success is about the ongoing curiosity of my creative exploration. So many other people have an expectation of what my ‘success’ should look like, what I should be pursuing and how I should go about it. Sometimes it’s to the point where they consider me irresponsible and/or lazy for not pursuing the business side of my work ahead of the creative side, and I have to be sure what it is that I value in order to push back against that.

But I also have to have some kind of idea of what order of success in those kind of economically measurable and observable terms is needed for me to be able to keep doing what I do, and to reach whatever creative targets I set for myself. Where is the perfect balance of creative freedom and audience size for whatever venture it is that I’m involved in? These are conversations I have to revisit on a very regular basis so as not to get sidetracked.

So, what are those questions for you?

  • How do you prioritise sustainability in its myriad forms?
  • What do you imagine is the perfect scale for your venture? At what point do you think growth would start to inhibit your other aims, personally, creatively, philosophically?
  • What is success? In what ways are you already a success? How can that success be maximised?
  • What is it that you value most, and how does your business plan help you to maximise the impact of those values on your life and the lives of those around you?

Last year’s Small Is Beautiful provided a lot of food for thought in asking and answering those kinds of questions and I’m looking forward to exploring them again in new and different ways this year, and maybe finding some new questions, new aims and new goals.

See you there?

Tags: New Music Strategies

Bandcamp and the New EU Vat LAW…

December 16th, 2014 · 6 Comments

[EDIT – Scratch all that, Bandcamp have rescued musicians! http://blog.bandcamp.com/2014/12/30/eu-digital-vat-changes-and-bandcamp/ ]

Right, finally, a follow-up with some clarification after my last post and all the edits. This may not end up being the last word on the subject – we’re still pushing for an 11th hour change to the law, or at least a year’s delay while people work out how the hell to comply with this. There are an awful lot of businesses that can’t deal with this at all…

Anyway, the important bit for us is Bandcamp’s updated info on tax.

https://bandcamp.com/help/selling

Go read it. All if it. It’s important stuff. [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies