stevelawson.net

Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



A new review…. of And Nothing But The Bass..??

May 11th, 2008 · Comments Off on A new review…. of And Nothing But The Bass..??

It’s amazing what you can find looking at your web-stats – I was browsing through mine, seeing who had linked back to this site, and found a review just posted on a blog in January of this year, of And Nothing But The Bass (my first album, for those of you a little late to the party).

A little browsing round the blog in question – jamscience.blogspot.com – showed that it was a review that the writer, Ian Peel, had written for Record Collector magazine!

So those of you that have the CD of And Nothing But The Bass – whether you paid for it, or picked up a free copy at the Social Media Cafe on Friday – have a genuine collectors item in your possession! 🙂

Anyway, you can click here to read the full review. The choice quote from it, that will be appearing on a poster near you soon, is “one of the most gifted solo bass players on the planet” which is always a useful thing to have for a press release. 🙂

If you want to listen to And Nothing But The Bass
, you can do so at last.fm, or you can buy the download version with the extra tracks mentioned in the review, from the online shop here, or from Amazon, or from Cdbaby

Tags: Music News · music reviews

Some thoughts on 'Free' methodology and practice…

April 10th, 2008 · Comments Off on Some thoughts on 'Free' methodology and practice…

It’s the big buzz-concept in the online world – the new currency is attention, recorded music can be duplicated at zero cost, so we should all give it away in order to promote ourselves as a brand, and the caveat often added to this is that we make our money off live shows.

OK, let’s contrast this with a distinction I’ve pointed out quite a few times over the years between bands from the US and bands from the UK. As a general rule (and there are exceptions on both sides, but it pretty much stands) American bands are ‘better’ live, while British bands are more creative in the studio. The reason for this is one of necessity and scale: the live circuit in the US means that you could quite easily play 250 nights a year and not repeat yourself for a couple of years. It’s quite possible for a coffee-shop-sized artist to literally ‘live on the road’ – if you want to know more about that, I seriously advise that you get Seth Horan’s ‘Between Two Oceans’ DVD – this isn’t a slick presentation about how touring works. It’s a fly on the wall look at actual life on the road. Some of it’s funny, some of it’s silly, some of it looks like proper fun, some of it looks like purile nonsense. All wrapped around Seth’s fantastic music…

The thing with Seth’s DVD is that it looks like some kind of weird fairy tale from this side of the Atlantic. Here’s why. if you are gigging in the UK alone, VERY few bands ever get to do more than 30 or so gigs a year. I asked a Live Nation employee recently about the bands they promote here, and who is doing more shows than that. Off the top of her head, the only name she could think of was Status Quo. Not one ‘new’ artist.

So, unless you’re clearing at least £500 a night as a solo artist, you aren’t going to be making a living out of gigs. The musicians I know who make sensible money playing live music in the UK are playing weddings, jazz or are in tribute bands.

So, giving away your recorded music as a way of getting more gigs makes far less sense in the UK than it does in the US. A lot of British bands get signed without having played even 15 or 20 gigs together. The standard model was to put together a band, play a few local shows, then try and get a ‘showcase’ at some shitty venue in Camden in order to ‘get signed’. (If you see footage of really early Coldplay, Stone Roses or Travis TV appearances, you’ll see what happens when a band doesn’t do the road work… painful…)

One possible answer to this is ‘well, tour abroad then!’ – which is a great suggestion, and one that some artists are able to take up. Sadly, the cost of being on the road away from home is ramped up that much higher than if you’re near friends and family that will put you up, so the chances of you making money at it are negligible. In fact, what you need in order to make money abroad are merch sales… including CDs…

As for UK artists touring in the US, that costs a HECK of a lot of money. Seriously big money. You need a major following at home, or a US record label to make it work, or to do what I do, which is to only do things that are sponsored by a European company and not get paid for gigs, but for ‘demos’ and trade shows like NAMM or bass-day events. That’s not an option for ‘bands’ or people who don’t have those kind of relationships with gear companies…

________________________________________

OK, that said, what’s the value of ‘free’ for us then, given that we need to make some money off this. A few observations on the current trends in ‘free’ music:

  • Radiohead didn’t ‘give away their album for free’: no, what they did was use a low-ish resolution copy of most of the tracks from the album as a way of generating MASSIVE publicity for a normal CD release, but also monetized their obsessional fan-base by selling vinyl to people who don’t even own record players. They used the leverage they had from already being one of the world’s most successful bands to create MILLIONS of pounds worth of column inches and airtime in every conceivable media channel. The amount of money they ‘made’ from their venture HAS to have factored in the amount of money they SAVED that they would normally have spent on advertising, and the amount over and above any ad campaign they could ever afford that they got from the stunt.
  • Ditto Nine Inch Nails. Trent Reznor putting out an instrumental album is not a particularly ‘newsworthy’ event. Trent Reznor ‘reinventing the way bands market and sell their product’ is. The fact that it was a 5 album set of instrumental stuff is neither here nor there. Just like Radiohead, Trent leveraged and amplified the residual level of interest there was in him as an artist already associated with the zeitgeist, albeit one quite a few steps down the food chain from Radiohead in terms of mainstream public perception. So Trent made his own album newsworthy by coming up with a payment pyramid that again leveraged his obsessional fans’ commitment to the band by offering massively overpriced limited edition packages (back to scarcity as a selling point…) and making the price on the download so cheap that the teaser ‘free’ bit of it drew people in.
  • Both bands got huge exposure, but still relied on it being any good for word of mouth to sustain it or for the success of the record to spill over into live success – Neither made a loss on the music in order to promote gigs: I think in the final analysis, both bands will have made more money from these ‘upscaling’ adventures in progressive scarcity than in any previous album… but that’s a guess. We’ll see when the stats come in.
  • The bit of this that can be drawn out for a starting artist to use is the pyramid –
    • at the bottom is freely downloadable lower resolution partial release/live set/older material/live video compilation etc. that provides the curious with something that gets them involved in what you do. It gets clicking, it demands time and means they’re more likely to stay than click away.
    • Next up is ad-supported listening – napster/last.fm/rhapsody/reverb nation – you get a coupla cents for each play, but often they’ll show up on playlists or in tag clouds and you’ll reach people who might never have heard of you that way…
    • From there we have low priced download albums – higher res than the freebies, easy to get (either from your own site or via iTunes/eMusic/CDbaby/Amazon – those are the big four) and coming with extra tracks not in the free version, sleeve notes, photos, printable artwork etc… drawing people in…
    • Next up from there is CDs – the old faithful. Audiences still want something to take home! The value of CDs at gigs is massive. Feel free to do USB sticks/MP3 players/DVD discs/whatever as well, but good old fashioned CDs might be declining, but for the next few years, you’re going to make more money on gigs if you’ve got something physical to sell. A lot more if they’re any good!
    • Then we’re into the tip of the pyramid and what goes on here depends on your audience. Some possible options – 24bit audiophile downloads :: CD/tshirt/poster packages :: CD/DVD double packs :: boxed-sets of your entire catalogue :: street-team-only dinners :: fanclub only gigs :: weird freebies (food, stickers, domestic items relating to the name of the band or the artwork etc.) :: instructional material :: remixable files :: anything personalised…

Free is all about attention. Making product available for free is utterly VITAL in the current climate. However, there HAS to be a degree of subtlety and nuance in how it is applied, how you make it work, how you reach your audience, and how you move them on from the ‘gateway drug’ of free low-res MP3s to Class A merch-buying.

And on that note, you need some free stuff, so go Here and Here to download over 2 hours of free fabulous music!. Go on, you know you want to…

And if you’ve already done that and want some more, there’s The webshop here for CDs and other downloads. :o)

Tags: cool links · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Creativity and Socially Networked Marketing – the good and the bad.

March 23rd, 2008 · Comments Off on Creativity and Socially Networked Marketing – the good and the bad.

So much is being written about the egalitarian nature of online distribution, it would be easy to believe that all our worries as wannabe professional musicians are now over. We all know that we can get a myspace page and a facebook music page, a reverbnation widget and a last.fm page, just like the big boys. We can also get our music onto iTunes and eMusic, Amazon and Rhapsody, just by sending a CD to CDBaby and paying them less than $40 to set it up. Easy, huh?

Well, not quite. It’s true that the music economy in the last couple of decades has shifted from hundreds of acts selling millions of records to millions of acts selling hundreds of downloads, but two things are still problematic – monetizing the attention that we’re given, and building online spaces where attention is available in units greater than 30 second chunks.

You see, the huge problem with the MySpace/Youtube/iTunes generation is that it favours instantaneous gratification. It favours music that ‘wows’ in the first few seconds over music that takes a while to grow – in much the same way that mainstream pop radio has done for decades. It’s just that now, it’s not just the top 40 sector that’s expected to fit that paradigm, it’s everyone. There’s no special version of myspace for people with long songs, where the listener knows that it’ll take a particular piece of music a good few minutes to get going and reveal its hidden magic.

It’s true that to a degree it has always been thus – playing music to your friends in a ‘hey, check this out!’ scenario has always been a less comfortable proposition if you’re introducing them to the magic of Steve Reich or Brian Eno’s Music For Airports than if you were letting them in on the hitherto-undiscovered-to-them genius of Chic or Duran Duran. Pop music is by its very nature more immediate.

No, the problem here is a slightly more insidious one – it’s that all of us, ‘pop’ acts and more difficult to classify musicians alike, are being encouraged to market what we do via these channels in the same way, and music lovers are being encouraged to look for it in that way, and it can have a negative effect on the way we create and the way we find the music we love.

The fantastic potential that Myspace/Youtube/iTunes gives us to connect with an audience that we’d previously have needed a record label and radio plugger to connect with is still largely bound up in the ‘instant gratification’ notion of where the value lies in a piece of music. 30 second previews of tracks are useless for through-composed or gradually evolving music. 30 seconds of just about anything by Michael Nyman or Philip Glass isn’t going to show where the piece goes as it unfolds over the course of minutes rather than seconds.

How do we deal with this? I think acknowledging it is the first part of the answer – once the influence has been ‘named’ we can see if for what it is, and hopefully recognise the difference between our own creative urge pushing us towards brevity or accessibility (certainly no bad thing if that’s where you’re leaning) and the crippling of a deeper more evolved sense of where a particular piece of music should be going out of a fear that it just won’t work on myspace.

Download culture is wonderful in that it frees us up from the limitations of length – in both directions – that vinyl/casette/cd/minidisc had – we can put out tiny short works and not feel like we need to pad it out to fill a CD, or we can release massive epic hours-long single pieces if that’s really where our muse is heading. There’s nothing to stop you putting out 10 hours of continuous music, other than the limitations of the download speed of the person trying to get hold of it. We’re no longer constrained by pressing cost or media size, but we are still subject to the evolution of the music-discovery culture, and we all need to be thinking hard about how we build a space where we encourage people to investigate music that takes many listens to sink in, music that doesn’t reveal any of its complex magic in a 30 second low-res preview, but given time will seep into our consciousness and affect us in a unique way.

We need filters. We need

  • people and
  • media-outlets and
  • blog groups and
  • socially networked advisors who will recommend great music to us in the way that magazines used to.

Magazines still provide some of that, but they are very limited in their scope, because they are beholden to their advertisers and the broadcast nature of what they do, so are constrained by the need to write about people their core readership already know about. Those people aren’t really our concern. The ones who already have a career, a fanbase, a stream of self-generating traffic to their sites and online store. Finding out about the new Nick Cave or Pat Metheny record is rarely going to prove difficult.

No, we need microfilter channels, groups of 5,10,20,50 friends who get excited about new music and do the research for eachother, in the same way that Google Reader lets us search out news and blog posts for eachother.

There are already music blogs like this – audioblogs that feature MP3s on a daily basis. Some of them are fabulous. Many of them are less helpful in that they are basically a mashup of bit-torrent and blogger.com – illegal giveaways of whole albums that don’t actually help the band because they direct no attention or traffic in their direction. I was talking with a guitarist friend in LA in January who found that only a week or so after his latest album had come out, someone was giving it away on an audioblog based in Holland. The sales in the first few weeks of any project are important because that’s when the publicity is focussed on, so to be offering illegal free downloads of an album that close to the release date is particularly galling.

The new currency online is attention. Time is valuable, and it is possible to monetize that, through sales of CDs, downloads, DVDs, t-shirts, gig tickets, teaching weekends, meet and greets, promotional spin-offs, advertising revenue. But directing attention is best done by communities, by trusted advisors, but bloggers and twitterers and facebookists and friends of friends who know their subject and seek out the best new music around and tell people about it. And do it because then their love for it is propogated, the artform and the creators are encouraged, make enough money to make the next record, and the cycle of soundtracking a part of our lives is completed and begun again.

BUT if you’re a musician, unless the career part of being a professional musician is more important to you than the musician part, all of that has to be at the service of getting the word out about YOUR art. That which you hold most dear. Not an advert for what you hold dear, not a truncated, MySpace-ized version of it, but the real deal, however dense, complex, mellow, subtle or otherwise it is. Which brings me back to a point I’ve made a few times on here before – BE THE KIND OF FAN YOU’D LIKE TO HAVE – musicians need to be using the attention they have from their audiene to share the love, to let their listeners know about the music they love. It’ll come back, karmic-stylee, and will solidify your position as a guru of great music, a person of taste and discernment and the hub of a music-loving community. That’s how we build RELATIONSHIPS with the people who connect with our art – relationships built on shared knowledge and an unfolding understanding of where our aesthetic tastes overlap…

That is, as the yanks like to say, all good.

Tags: cool links · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

All four solo albums now on Amazon.com downloads

March 5th, 2008 · 2 Comments

I’ve just seen that all four of my ‘proper’ release solo albums are now up on Amazon.com download store – here they are –

And Nothing But The Bass – $7.92
Not Dancing For Chicken – $8.99
Grace And Gratitude – $8.99
Behind Every Word – $8.99

that’s a pretty damn cheap way to get hold of them – and you can listen to all of them before buying over on last.fm.

The reason my stuff is now available on amazon is because it’s put there by CDbaby – if you sign up for digital distribution with then (a non-exclusive deal, BTW), they’ll ship your stuff to 50-odd digital stores. Most of them won’t sell a thing, cos they got no passing traffic, but because some of those stores include the iTunes stores worldwide, emusic, napster, amazon and a couple of others that actually shift stuff, it’s the best possible way for an indie kid like me to get his music out there. It’s cheap to set up (less than $40 per album), and they take a pretty small percentage. CDbaby are the ultimate indie long-tail company. lead the market, get everyone signed up, get a little bit of cash from tens of thousands of musicians, and make millions. We’re happy cos we get it cheap, they have leverage because they represent so many artists and labels, and everybody wins.

Seriously, if you’re indie, and you’re not with CDbaby, you’re missing out. Do it.

Tags: cool links · Music News · New Music Strategies · site updates

Cabaret, variety and the joy of artistic cross-pollenation.

February 22nd, 2008 · 3 Comments

I just got in from playing a cabaret show, organised by Moot, an urban spiritual community, with a particular fondness for the arts.

This was the second of their cabaret evenings I’ve played at, and once again the line up was hugely mixed in terms of artistic disciplines, but all of really high quality. There were 4 musical acts (me, two singers with guitar and Foreign Slippers, a comedian, a performance poet, and a dramatic monolgue. Last time there was also a guy playing contemporary classical works on a giant marimba… a really great mix.

steve lawson at the moot cabaret

In the UK, there’s an old tradition in performance called ‘Variety’, not just the concept of ‘having lots of things’ but an actual school of performance where the performers were multi-disciplined – they had to be able to sing, dance, play at least one instrument, act, tell jokes, compere, etc. etc… It’s why old timey british comedians often turn out to be great musicians or dancers (Bruce Forsyth being top of the shop – a stunning tap dancer and really lovely piano player too.) I guess the US equivalent was Vaudeville…

It was a relatively low-brow kind of show, the variety show, but it did mean that people going out weren’t going to watch two similar bands play for ages and ages, they got to experience a range of culture.

Cabaret, as a term, has slightly more cultured connotations than variety, but is still largely a kind of nightclub type show with a range of entertainers.

I rarely get to play on bills as diverse as this. The main other places where it happens are at Greenbelt (obviously, being an arts festival), and at Jenny Roditi’s ‘salon’ events at ‘The Loft’ in Crouch End – I’ve had a couple of really wonderful gigs at Jenny’s, particularly the time I played for about 15 or 20 mins with just one loop box and a bass, not processing or toys, but shared the bill with some incredible and diverse musical talent and a couple of story-tellers.

Artistically we need this kind of inspiration – this evening I followed Bart Wolffe, doing a dramatic reading of Nikolai Gogol’s Diary Of a Madman – he did an incredible job of portraying the descent into paranoid delusion, which started out kinda funny, and got incredibly dark. So dark that I couldn’t just go straight in and play what I was going to play. I did a much more dissonant twisted improv thing to start with just to respond in some way to what I’d just seen… I’ve no idea what the audience thought of it, but it felt like a much more appropriate transition into what I do than just dropping straight into one of my tunes…

So for the audience it was a fantastically mixed evening, all high quality stuff, and a huge range from funny to deeply tragic, romantic to cutting and sarcastic.

And for us as the performers, it was a chance to cross-pollenate. For me to get to respond to Bart’s performance, to listen to the cadence of the poetry, to hear the other musicians, and to play in a gallery space surrounded by amazing art, it’s pretty vital stuff.

Somehow we need to engineer more such spaces… any suggestions how? :o)

Tags: Music News · Musing on Music · Random Catchup

Grace And Gratitude now available on Amazon.com

February 14th, 2008 · Comments Off on Grace And Gratitude now available on Amazon.com

I’ve just seen that my 2004 album Grace and Gratitude is now available on Amazon.com for download – $8.99 for the whole album, which is less than a fiver if it works from the UK… is that good? ;o)

And in keeping with my current obsession with Youtube, here’s a video of the title track (not the album version :o)

Tags: Music News

If you want me, you can find me…

February 10th, 2008 · 2 Comments

…left of centre? well, yes, but also at these places (just as a recap, in case you missed some of them!)

Facebook
Reverb Nation
iLike
Last.fm
iSound (I’d pretty much forgotten that this one existed!)
MySpace
YouTube

and then just for buying stuff there’s

Cdbaby (there are a host of other MP3 stores linked from here).
iTunes
Emusic
Amazon.

….and also on Rhapsody, Napster and god-knows-where else!

Which of them do you use? Which sites are useful to you as a listener? Which sites have features that draw you in to spend time browsing for new music? It’s amazing that after all this time, there’s still nothing that can top Myspace, exposure-wise, shitty design or no shitty design. Last.fm is now definitely the go-to site for hearing music on demand, and emusic is my download site of choice, though the Amazon store is pretty kick-ass too..!

Which ones do you think will last? the Facebook fan-page thing doesn’t seem to have caught on all that much as yet, mainly because Facebook is ALL about connecting with people you know… I guess the artists need to do more interacting on there! Last.fm seem to have a really good thing going, and they are going to start doing subscription downloads too, it seems… What about myspace? The news about their open access API seems great if it works and we’re not just swamped with spam through it…

Thoughts please, bloglings. :o)

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

…now available on amazon.com

January 28th, 2008 · Comments Off on …now available on amazon.com

I’ve just seen that Behind Every Word is now available on the Amazon.com download store – all DRM free pretty high-res downloads, apparently available to anywhere in the world. So at $8.99 US, it works out a pretty good deal!

click here to go there – I think my other solo records should be up there soon….

oh and while you’re there, you can check out Lobelia’s rather lovely piano/vocal album 040515 – that’s on amazon too.

Tags: cool links · Music News

…for Blue Nile Fans

January 7th, 2008 · 2 Comments

One of the biggest shifts in my music knowledge in the last year has been my now-obsession with The Blue Nile – I’d owned a couple of their albums for years, but never really listened to them much until going through my iPod earlier in the year finding undiscovered gems and fell completely in love with Paul Buchanan’s bleak-yet-optimistic take on the world.

So today, I’ve completed my collection of their album releases, by buying Peace At Last from the Amazon.com download store, but more interestingly, I also managed to find a couple of Paul Buchanan solo tracks on a compilation album called Seasons Of Light on eMusic.com – they are, as expected, beautiful. If you’re a Blue Nile fan and want another 8 or 9 minutes of glorious loveliness to help ease the years til they next put an album out, these two tracks are a great way to do that.

Been having a lot of fun on eMusic today – Lo. and I were going through the site looking at all the industrial, metal, grunge and punk stuff we loved in our teens, from Helmet to The Melvins, Prong to Black Flag, but found that in our advanced years, we were much happier with gentle old lady music, so settled on Tanya Donelly’s achingly beautiful Whiskey Tango Ghosts – and she used to be in the Throwing Muses, so is sort of alternative-ish, right? right?

Sometimes you just gotta embrace becoming an old lady… though the Therapy singles collection, and the first Fudge Tunnel album both sounded pretty damned fine – guess I’ll have to pick them up as part of next month’s 50 tracks, and feel all young and dudeish again…

(oh, and my eMusic tip of the day is to set up your computer so m3u files (the files used to play the previews on the site) open with Quicktime – it handles them SOOO much better than iTunes and doesn’t litter your iTunes playlist with redundant entries… )

Tags: Musing on Music

Future music stats….

December 10th, 2007 · Comments Off on Future music stats….

Sarda just sent me a fab link to zdnet’s blog of digital music industry facts and figures – here are three at random –

1. Top music retailers in Q1 2007: Wal-Mart, Best Buy, iTunes, Amazon, Target
2. 72% of online Americans listen to music on their PCs
3. 10% of all music sold in Europe in 2007 will be digital music

Piecing together anything coherent by way of a response to these will require a lot of reading, extrapolating of trends, and a look at what’s happening outside the mainstream (I doubt that I’ve lost that many sales because people have gone into Walmart or Target hoping to buy my CDs and been disappointed…)

But the blog is well worth a read if you’re interested in the trends and stats in the monetization of music…

Tags: New Music Strategies