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Social Media – first principles for musicians (Pt 2)

October 21st, 2008 · 6 Comments

House Concert in BournemouthOK, let’s jump straight into part 2 with a few of the fears musicians have when making ourselves available to talk directly with our audience.

We’ll look at 3 areas we often get wrong when interacting with our audience, which are:

  • How to treat your audience like friends rather than your ‘target market’. (notice I keep using the more neutral term ‘audience’ rather than ‘fans’ – I’ve never been all that comfortable with the word ‘fans’, seems a little patronising in some contexts, but substitute it if you wish…).
  • allowing people to comment on what you do doesn’t mean you have to put up with insults and slander.
  • don’t confuse inviting comment with asking for advice.

These three are biggies in terms of HOW we actually treat our audience.

  • If You Treat Them Like Friends, They’ll Stick Around Longer. I was going through some old letters earlier today (we’re moving house) and found one from a guy I knew when I was a kid. It was the first letter I’d got from him in almost 2 years, and he was trying to sell me insurance! No introductory message, no catch-up, no context. Just ‘I’ve got a new job selling insurance; want some?’ It all came flooding back to me how used I felt when I got the letter, how insane it seemed, even back in those pre-spam days.The parallels with talking to your audience like friends are obvious. If all you ever say is ‘buy my shit!’, there’s no level of which it’s a friendship. Think about it in terms of ‘how would you feel if everyone you talk to on social media started behaving like you back at you?’ – if you’d be getting hundreds of adverts a day, it’s time to change your approach
  • Allowing People To Comment On What You Do Doesn’t Mean You Have To Put Up With Insults And Slander – this is probably a bigger issue for Americans than Brits, given that you guys have a much stronger attachment to the notion of ‘freedom of speech’.I was chatting with Ben Walker last night over curry, about all the things that happened around the viral explosion of his Twitter Song video. One of the things that he got that seems to be endemic on Youtube was the hateful, nasty comments. Hundreds of them. From people who hadn’t even watched the video, but just spend their time posting hateful comments for absolutely no reason. Fortunately Ben found it funny. His girlfriend, less so. I never allow insulting comments to stay on any site that I moderate. Disagreement is fine, but politeness is a must.My rule is, if someone said it to me in a pub, would I walk out? I’ve stopped posting on a couple of bass-related forums because I was being insulted by a handful of posters. It’s not that I get upset by it, but it does become a waste of my time. I’m not one to court negativity or ‘controversy’ by getting into arguments with internet trolls. I’m happy to chat with people who don’t ‘get’ my music, but insult me and I leave the conversation – as the person in the conversation who has a reputation of sorts, you’ll never win. So the lesson is, keep such discussions to places you can moderate – Myspace, twitter, facebook fan-page, Ning pages, reverbnation comments, self-hosted forums : all of those are places you can keep the atmosphere at a level you’re socially comfortable with. Don’t feel like you owe airtime to people with a grievance. Deleting insulting posts isn’t censorship, it’s selection – censorship suggests you’re denying them a voice, when actually you’re just choosing not to allow them to hijack YOUR audience. Anyone can set up a blog posting about how much they dislike whoever, they just can’t do it in my forum. Simple as.
  • Don’t Confuse Inviting Comment With Asking For Advice – a lot of musicians, in order to stimulate conversation, ask their audience for their opinion on their work, be it released work or ‘works in progress’. It’s a good way to start a discussion, but there is a fine line between inviting people to pick their favourites, and getting completely unqualified criticism of your work from people with no idea what you’re actually trying to do.
    Crowd-sourcing advice for your music is a sure way of
    a) confusing yourself, and
    b) losing any sense of a coherent narrative to what you do.
    I make it as plain as I can without sounding stuck-up that I don’t make music FOR anyone except me. Not because I don’t care what they think, but because I can’t. I can only soundtrack the world as I see it, as best I can. Someone else telling me what I could do differently to best suit their aesthetic, their view of the world is completely futile.

    That’s not to say that I don’t have people whose opinion I trust who can comment and critique what I do – I have a whole list of them – it just that each of them have earned that place over years of listening and conversation. It has context. It’s also certainly not to say that I don’t like hearing what people like and don’t like about what I do. It’s fascinating to hear, and hugely encouraging when people ‘get it’, on whatever level. But as an example, we recently had a letter back from a record label about the Lawson/Dodds/Wood album (have you bought it yet? 🙂 ) The guy said he really like it, but threw in ‘maybe it needs a female vocal?’ – why? Why would it ‘need’ anything? Why do we need telling that? because we don’t know any female vocalists? The last few gigs we’ve done as a trio have featured one of the finest female vocalists I’ve ever worked with, and if we felt like we needed to add her voice to the album, we’d have done it. I’ve no idea who this dude is, I’m glad he likes the record, but have no real interest in whether or not the album sounds like it needs samples of dogs barking or clowns being kicked squarely in the nuts on it, in his estimations. It’s not that his opinions aren’t valid to him, they just lack context in relation to how and why WE made OUR record.

Talk to your audience like friends
don’t patronise them
don’t shout at them
listen to them but don’t pretend they’re your producers
share things of value with them
invite them into your creative pathway
give away information and ideas that have currency
help them and they’ll help you.

I’ve said before on a number of occasions, my audience is almost always entirely made up of people I’d love to go out for a curry with after the gig and chat to for hours. Demographically, my favourite people in the world are the ones that go to Steve Lawson gigs. If I wasn’t Steve Lawson, I’d be hanging out at his gigs to meet cool people. Somewhere along the line the approach to drawing an audience into your world that I’ve outlined above has worked pretty much perfectly for me.

Take the principles and examples, think about them, discuss them, adapt them, play with them, jump in and try chatting to your fans. See what happens. Please post and thoughts, comments or questions below.

Part 3 I’ll look at some of the software and hardware tools that work best.

Tags: Uncategorized

Solobassteve's Social Media Surgery

October 17th, 2008 · Comments Off on Solobassteve's Social Media Surgery

I’ve finally got round to writing a page on this site about social media consulting – helping out other artists, labels, students etc. with understanding how having a conversation with your audience is preferable to shouting at them.

I’ve been doing this kind of work for years – over the last 7 or 8 years, I’ve had various musicians come to me asking for help with releasing their own music, both the logistics of getting CDs pressed etc. and then how to make their music available and talk to their audience. A lot of people confused new tools with old media, and spent ages trying to rack up as many 10s of thousands of Myspace friends as they could before realising that all of those friends were using them in the way they themselves were being used – as someone to try and broadcast at.

So after the disappointment of trying that, a fair few musicians – from singer-songwriters to fellow solo bassists came to me for some help.

More recently, I’ve been talking about this stuff in Universities, writing about it here and on sites like MusicThinkTank and Creative Choices, and running informal sessions with groups of musicians, as well as continuing to consult with individuals.

And then this week I’ve been helping out on a PR job with a new digital download service, finding bloggers and social media enthusiasts with a connection to the subject who might want to check it out. Having the huge range of connections I’ve made through the disparate bits of my career – all the way back to my days writing for Bassist, Guitarist, Total Guitar etc – has really come into its own. 🙂

So I’ve written a page, bringing all that stuff together – if you or someone you know needs some help and advice on such things, read the page, then drop me a line!

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Solobasssteve says: Find Me

October 13th, 2008 · Comments Off on Solobasssteve says: Find Me

Some things are hard to find out, but worth the trouble.

Like discovering that your average gig attendance is 51.5057 – precisely -0.130506 on last year figures.

Or maybe it’s calculating the real cost of travel – approximately 51.5057 kJ of energy/mile, which is -0.130506 less than it was in the age of the camel-train.

Stats on, say, treasure, or indeed the spread of certain under-reported diseases can be harder to find.

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What my musical friends are up to…

October 9th, 2008 · Comments Off on What my musical friends are up to…

I’ve been telling you a lot about what I’m up to musically of late, but I’ve got some rather talented friends who’ve been busy too, so here’s a quick and incomplete round-up of what a few of them have been doing:

First up there’s Ben Walker – fellow Tuttlist and fab singer-songwriter. He was writing 50 songs in 90 days, a few of which he wrote one Friday morning at Tuttle. One of those was called ‘You’re No-one If You’re Not On Twitter’ – here’s the video, which has been watched almost 300,000 times! (warning – it’s insanely catchy…)

Then there’s Jonatha Brooke – I met up with Jonatha in New York in January and she told me about a record she was about to record, featuring songs with words by Woody Guthrie for which she’s written the music. She was very excited, and I’m really happy to say that finished album shows the excitement wasn’t misplaced. I reviewed the album for this month’s Third Way magazine – It’s a truly exceptional album, and here’s a clip of her teaching Joe Sample (jazz legend, out of the Crusaders) how to play one of the songs:

Uhm, who else now? Seth Horan – solo bassist singer/songwriter, recently toured the UK. He’s doing an interesting thing with the production of his new album, that you can be involved in – here are two blog posts about that: Part 1 and part 2.

Iain Archer has an AMAZING new album out, recorded and released entirely under his own steam. Judging by the record, it was a VERY smart move. Beautiful stuff – check out the tunes from it on his myspace page.

And of course Lobelia – we’ve had some great gigs together of late, and here’s a lovely clip of her playing from the same gig as my ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ Vid’ –

More friends-news coming soon. 🙂

Tags: music reviews · Musing on Music · Uncategorized

New solo tune on video – Don't Stop Believin'

September 28th, 2008 · Comments Off on New solo tune on video – Don't Stop Believin'

For last week’s Freedom Of Expression gig in Gipsy Hill, I took a mini-set-up. I couldn’t really face packing up my whole rack to take on the bus, so I took my Line 6 DL4 (thanks Mike!) and my Akai Headrush – both loop pedals, but the DL4 also has a load of Delay sounds on it. I’ve only used them in conjunction with one another a few times, so it was a chance to experiment a little.

And experiment I did – the video below starts out as ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ ‘ by Journey, then goes all spacey and ambient.. for 13 minutes. It was pretty creatively inspiring to be a) limited by what those two pedals are capable of and b) not have any kind of ‘routine’ worked out, so to be throwing sounds out there and reacting to what came back… I’m happy with the results, hence the video post!


Steve Lawson – solo bass. Don’t Stop Believin’ from Steve Lawson on Vimeo.

Given the choice, I’d still use my Looperlative/Lexicon set-up at any gig, thanks very much – but it’s great to be reminded once in a while that improv can extend to form and structure as much as to notes…

The inspiration to try this tune in the first place was two-fold – firstly, I LOVE the Petra Haden version of this tune that’s on her MySpace page – she’s a genius. And secondly, one of my students, Dan, arrived at his lesson last week playing pretty much the chordal loop that I use for the main body of the tune – same progression, slightly different rhythm and fingering, I think… anyway, we were playing around with an arrangement of this tune in his lesson, and the challenge was we’d both go away and work on it… so I did, only I did it on stage 🙂

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it half as much as I enjoyed playing i!

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Lawson/Dodds/Wood Pt 5 – What Patrick did with the improvs…

September 25th, 2008 · Comments Off on Lawson/Dodds/Wood Pt 5 – What Patrick did with the improvs…

Here’s my favourite of the little Lawson/Dodds/Wood videos so far. After doing the 18 minute long group chat that the last four vids were culled from, I did two 7-8 minute interviews, one each with Patrick and Roy, about what they did specifically on the project.

With a project as well defined as this, it seems really important to set the scene as to where the music came from, what limitations we put on ourselves, how we managed to do edits and overdubs while sticking as close as we could to the improvised basis of the project. Patrick describes his (major) part in that really well here –

If you’re enjoying the youtube vids, please feel free to comment on them, rate them, and hit the ‘share’ button to send them to your friends on Facebook or to ‘stumble’ them etc. It all helps us a lot!

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Lawson/Dodds/Wood, the making of Numbers video #4

September 23rd, 2008 · Comments Off on Lawson/Dodds/Wood, the making of Numbers video #4

It’s back to me talking non-stop on this one, I’m afraid… actually, that’s not all true, Roy gets a look-in half-way, but there’s lots of me. 🙂

The next two are mini-featurettes on Roy and Patrick, so look out for those in the next few days. Til then, here’s #4

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Nokia Open Labs Pt 4 – The Future of Business

September 22nd, 2008 · Comments Off on Nokia Open Labs Pt 4 – The Future of Business

CT struts his stuff - photo by meAnd the last session was Join and Collaborate – CT did a nice job of setting it up with his facilitator bit, but this was where the Nokia-ness of the session first impressed itself upon the kind of discussion we had.

Everyone immediately assumed we were talking about the corporate world. About using social media in big corporations. And proceeded in that manner (something CT expressed some frustration at in his summing up). It was so pervasive that my attempts to suggest that any model/metaphor for running a big business that is predicated on an essentially organic/benign model is flawed in its conception due to it assuming the ‘right to life’ – Corporations can be entirely predatory, more like sci-fi monsters than corrupted humans… If your metaphor is that of a ‘business is just like a person’, then you assume they have an innate right to life, and that our job is to enable them to function. If they are a sci-fi monster, a different morality is at work, and they may be entirely malignant and need to be got rid of…

Such is the clumsiness of over-used metaphors, and while some good thoughts came up about the nature of business, It was largely a frustrating discussion (the root of the frustration goes back to my point yesterday about extroverts getting more airtime than they really deserved…)

But, it has since sparked off in me an idea about a mash-up of Schumacher’s ‘Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If People Mattered’ and the principles involved in running an information-age corporation… running it as though the people mattered, given them some investment in the process and the product, allowing departments to run as semi-autonomous collectives…

And this is how the indie side of the music biz has run for years – most indie record labels can’t afford big staff – they can’t afford PO Boxes let alone post-rooms. There’s little space for anonymous drones in the indie world, given that everyone really needs to earn their salary, and those salaries are probably tiny. As a result, everyone is there for the love of it, and brings in whatever skills they have to make it better.

I’m in two situations like this work-wise at the moment – small teams of ‘super heroes‘, pooling their skills as a collective, rather than as employees. The first, as you’ll have seen if you’ve watched the last two videos I posted, is Lawson/Dodds/Wood – my trio with Roy Dodds and Patrick Wood. We each have different skill sets, both musician-ly and para-musically – when we’re playing, Patrick and I can easily swap roles, I can do melody while he does texture/groove and vice versa. Roy can be very much a rhythm section player or entirely self-contained, happy to play beautiful percussion without any obvious bassline to ‘lock in’ to. It’s gorgeous free-flowing music.

And outside of playing, our skills are different too – Roy got us the most amazing drum sounds in the studio – great experience at ‘ad hoc’ recording – we had no separation for mics etc, just a tiny room that sounded great. So his experience in recording live bands in his own home studio was HUGELY helpful.

Then Patrick took over on editing it – with Roy and I offering support, advice, opinions (more Roy than me, as for a lot of the editing time, I was away in the US) – Patrick produced the record, sorted out the sax/vocal additions to our trio improvs, edited them down. Really really amazing skills. (there’ll be more about this on the video).

And what’s beautiful about it is that it’s all done in an atmosphere of mutual fandom and gratitude – Patrick and I are Roy’s biggest fans. He’s our favourite drummer, and are both hugely grateful to work with him. Likewise, Patrick’s editing and recording skills are something I’m happy to pimp out to anyone looking for that kind of world class expertise. There’s no boss, no focus group, no board of investors. Just three skills people pooling their resources for the greater advancement of the whole.

The second project is JFDI/The Social Takeaway, but I’ll write more about that later, as I really have to go and teach!

Tags: Geek · New Music Strategies · Uncategorized

two videos of what I've been up to of late…

September 16th, 2008 · Comments Off on two videos of what I've been up to of late…

Here are two videos, both wonderful in their own way, of what I’ve been up to of late…

The first is from Sunday night’s gig with Lobelia in Tooting. Every time we play Love Is A Battlefield, it gets more and more nuts. This time, I’m just using a Line 6 DL4 for the looping, so when I start to really mess it up at the end, everything goes into meltdown. Listen out for Ilicco (who is filming it) joining on on baboon-like beatboxing about 2 mins from the end..

And this is the video that was shown at the final wrap-up of the Nokia Open Lab. There are a few quotes from me in there, along with a whole load of lovely memories, and probably a fairly good representation of what went on over the 3 days…

More thoughts from Open Lab soon. In the meantime, do check out the comments discussion after my first post about the Nokia Open Lab – a really useful discussion with Anne Toole who led the session on Entertainment.

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Videos from Heathrow…

September 11th, 2008 · Comments Off on Videos from Heathrow…

Tags: Geek · Uncategorized