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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Creating Spaces Where People Can Respond To Music…

February 27th, 2015 · 4 Comments

[big gig update blog-post coming later, but this was bubbling in my head so needed writing first… 😉 ]

Right, this was inspired by a couple of brilliant thinker-friends. Partly it was this blog post by Corey Mwamba (an exceptional musician, thinker, doer and advocate for music) about The Family Album, and his audience-focussed rethink of jazz/improvised music programming, and partly by the work of a theatre company called Coney, particularly their co-director Annette Mees, whose thinking on pretty much everything has been of immense value to me over the last while… Their amazing work on new ways of experiencing theatre, of devising experiential work for audiences is truly remarkable (their upcoming show, Early Days (Of A Better Nation) is touring in the run-up to the election, and is unmissable)

Anyway, here’s today’s brain-ramble, on which I welcome your thoughts and input…

…disappearing down a wikipedia wormhole of synonyms for outmoded terminology that appears to have no analog in the useful terminology world, I stumbled on Cymatics – en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cymatics

cymatics by evan grant.

And I’m now thinking about how it works as a metaphorical space for thinking about visible human/audience responses to music… [Read more →]

Tags: Musing on Music

Ask A Stupid Question – Building A Community that Communicates

November 22nd, 2010 · 2 Comments

Something interesting happened on my Facebook page recently. Apropos of not much, I asked a couple of questions about the music people listen to – ‘favourite sounding records’, ‘records you didn’t like at first, but grew to love’ – that sort of thing. I did it largely because I found I was missing the kind of chats about music that used to happen on my forum. I intentionally shut down the forum a coupla years ago and suggested the posters there move over to Twitter, when it became apparent that a more open forum for conversation would result in better things to talk about for all of us. But Twitter is a short-form medium, and sometimes, threaded longer conversations can yield some really good stuff that won’t fit in the constraints of Twitter.

Suddenly, my Facebook page became a hive of activity – the ‘insights’ section graphs lit up with info about traffic to the page, posts, likes etc… It all got very active, and not because I posted about my own new music.

All I did was provide a place to talk about music, to share stories and meet like-minded music lovers. I – for a moment – became

  • The conduit not the destination,
  • The bus driver, not the main attraction.

And as a result,

  • More people are now connected to me.
  • More people are there to see what I do as a musician,
  • More people are sharing content from my Facebook page on their pages.

There are a lot of perfectly valid – and frankly scary – accusations that can be made of Facebook, but one thing it gets right is it’s an amazing environment for sharing. The Facebook ‘like’ may end up being the single most radical music sharing tool ever. It isn’t yet, but the statistics on site traffic for many of the top music sites show that FB sends them as much – if not more – traffic than Google.

On this site, the top drivers of traffic are Google, Twitter and Facebook –

  • Google is largely people looking for me,
  • Twitter is a curated community following my links (or retweets of those links),
  • Facebook is mostly listener-driven – people sharing my stuff on their page.

The integration with Bandcamp and Soundcloud make it SO easy for anyone to take my music and embed it on their Facebook page, to write a few words about it, and suggest that their friends check it out. That’s amazing. Srsly.

And all I have to do is provide a space to talk, a few questions, and a load of supremely awesome music that makes life worth living.

Simples.

-o0o-

Here’s my latest solo album – Ten Years On: Live In London – have a listen, then try sharing it on your Facebook page, just to see how easy it is :)

Tags: New Music Strategies

“I’ve Got Enough Music!” – Finding An Audience In An Age Of Saturation

November 18th, 2010 · 40 Comments

[ This is a very long post. Probably too long. You can be the judge of whether it’s worth the effort to read it. I clearly think it is, or I’d have edited it :) ]

First, some historical context:

Back when I was in my teens, my music collection was never big enough. I was avidly looking for new music to expand it, being acutely aware of the gaps in it, both in terms of ‘classic’ records that I’d missed, and emotional states of being that were ill-represented. I was interested in music – any music – that might meet that. I listened to the radio – mainly John Peel on Radio One and whatever weirdness I could find on Radio Three – watched pretty much every music show that was on TV (we only had four channels in the UK back then, so it was easy to watch it all) from Young Musician Of The Year to The Power Hour, The Chart Show To The Hit Man And Her (yes, really) – I was voraciously foraging for music that filled a ‘need’ in my quest for a soundtrack to me.

Music that I imagined to be the holy grail, but which I couldn’t find, became mythologically awesome in my mind. Occasionally, it lived up to that promise, like the first time I finally got to hear Michael Manring (I bought Thonk on CD at Sam Goody in the Harlequin Centre in Watford in 95 – I still remember the feeling of elation when I saw it on the shelf…) More often than not, the hype was unjustified, and I just carried on foraging.

Fast-forward to 2011 and I, like so many other people, have near ubiquitous access to music. I have a lifetime of curated music – 18,886 tracks in my iTunes (that’s 62 days, 16 hours and 35 minutes of continuous listening) plus the combined powers of Spotify and Youtube to give me access to the nostalgic soundtrack of my youth – music I’d never buy, but often go looking for for a myriad reasons. In short, I have no pressing and desperate ‘need‘ of new music.

So how – and more importantly, why – do I discover new music now? I no longer ‘need’ it – I’ve got pretty much everything covered in one way or another, and the ongoing releases by those bands I’m already familiar with could supply me with more than enough music to keep me going for many many years to come.

Now, music is about connection. It’s about meaning, belonging and relationship – it always was, even though that wasn’t my expressed intention when searching – now, that’s pretty much the only thing that means anything. Making sense of the world through music.

Music that

  • makes me feel connected,
  • Music that makes me happy,
  • Music that allows me to delight in the creativity and ingenuity of my friends and people I admire.
  • Music that allows me to see my chosen instrument grow beyond the circus-trick nonsense of so much bass-led music from the last 30 years, and into a rich emergent seam of music exploring the sonic potential of the bass.
  • Music that speaks of a changing world, that’s inspired by and celebratory or critical of the way things are heading.
  • Music that gives hope.

And none of that is communicated by me seeing a link and clicking on it. All of it comes through relationship, either with the artist, or with someone who digs it. The spread of that music, and the meaning it carries, is not primarily through press releases and hyperbole. It’s through conversation, recommendation and the excitement of music fans whose taste I trust.

One of the biggest mistakes any musician can make is to assume that there are millions of fans out there just waiting to hear you, desperate for your music to show them what music is really all about. If the ubiquity of music has changed anything, it has leveled the playing field to such a degree that superlatives are meaningless. Everyone is a genius until you listen to them.

The upside to ‘saturation’ is that the music you’ve never heard of simply doesn’t exist. People who aren’t actively looking for music aren’t ‘swamped’ with it, they aren’t wading through 6 million myspace pages trying to find you. People use Google to find the things they’re looking for, and unless your band has a hopelessly generic name, or you’re a solo artist that shares their name with one or more famous musicians, search engines do a pretty good job of bringing the audience to you who are looking for you.

So, how do we connect with people who aren’t looking for us? One of the things that happens to me on a fairly regular basis – though much less so now that I’ve deleted my MySpace page – is bands or artists emailing or ‘tweeting’ me a link saying ‘hey, check us out’. To which my immediate response is ‘Why?’

Here’s the foundation fact of discovery – your desire to be discovered is of no interest or consequence to me at all. Everyone wants to be heard, that’s a given. Being pushy is no indication that I’m likely to enjoy what I hear. And I neither have the time nor the inclination to check out a band based on their brazenness.

Let’s think for a moment about what happens if I do decide to click the link:

  • I’m entering the deal expecting it to be shit. After all, most music is. Being great is really difficult. Even amongst music that is demonstrably ‘great’, there’s still a lot I’m not particularly interested in listening to.
  • I’m unlikely to listen past the first few seconds if it doesn’t grab me. That’s an awful way to engage with your audience. iTunes has conned us into thinking that you can make a decision about a piece of music in 30 seconds. Bollocks. For a lot of my most beloved music, 30 seconds at the start of the tune might be one chord, or one repeated bass phrase, or a drum intro. It’s not even close to being indicative of what’s to come.
  • I’m not listening with any context at all – I’m hearing your music purely as an exercise in music making. No story, no relationship, no sense of where to place it, what to expect. And the number of times that I’ve heard and fallen in love with music in that way can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Seriously, if you’re banking on being that good, you’re insane. You aren’t that good. I’m not that good. Statistically speaking, no-one is that good. The exceptions prove the rule.

Q: So how do I, and you and people like us, find music?

A: It’s all about the interesting.

I’ve said this hundreds of times before – people won’t find you because you’re good (or pushy) they’ll find you because you’re interesting. And what I find interesting is best represented by the people I allow into my life, the ones I’ve chosen to filter ‘in’ – my friends, my peers, the people I follow on Twitter, the people I’m (good) friends with on Facebook. If I get a recommendation through them, I’m roughly a thousand times more likely to act on it than if it comes through any other channel. If one of my friends who I trust puts out some music, I’ll listen to it. I’ll listen to it all, even if it doesn’t grab me first time. I’ll do that because I WANT to like it. It’s in my best interests to like it, so I’ll give it as much time as I can. If those same people recommend something – especially if I already like the music they make – I’ll listen. I’ll listen expectantly, fully open to the possibility that what I’m about to hear may be awesome.

None of my discovery methods involve people I don’t know shouting at me or spamming me with links to their music and requests that I check out their shit. Anyone who does that is LESS likely to get heard, not moreso. If you’ve spammed me, and soon after someone else that I know says ‘check out this band’, my suspicions are up that they’re just doing it as a favour to you because you’ve been as pushy with them as you tried to be with me.

In short. Discovery happens

  • in conversation,
  • in communities,
  • with context.
  • It takes time,
  • it’s personal,
  • and the right to recommend things is an earned one.

This doesn’t mean, of course that you can’t talk about what you do and your love of it to people who’ve chosen to follow you. The people who are following you on Twitter, or have clicked your ‘like’ button on Facebook have selected you as being worth hearing from. That’s a very good thing, so don’t cock it up by abusing the privilege. I talk about my own music on Twitter a lot. But I talk MORE about other people’s music. On Facebook I talk about my music a lot. But I ask interesting questions that invite people to tell the stories of their relationship with music too.

Context is everything. Relationship is everything. Spam and pushines are less than nothing.

Q for musicians – what does this post mean to you? Is it frustrating and annoying, because you think I should be listening to you? Is it comforting to know that you don’t have to go round spamming people to try and get heard? Are you still lost for what kind of strategic approach is going to work for you and your music? Feel free to vent in the comments :)

Tags: New Music Strategies

The Illusion Of ‘Genre’

August 8th, 2009 · 24 Comments

John Goldsby just tweeted a link to this article from the Wall Street Journal. It’s all about the falling audiences for jazz. A whole load of demographic stuff about who’s going to see jazz, and who now isn’t going to see jazz.

The problem with this is that any artist worth a listen doesn’t do ‘jazz gigs’. They play their own unique music. They play ‘John Goldsby music’, or ‘Miles Davis music’ or ‘Pat Metheny music’ or indeed ‘Steve Lawson music.

The ‘style’ might be jazz, but the intention, ideas and the 20/30/40/50 years of life experience that lead them to make the music they make are unrepeatable. [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Primary vs Secondary Audiences. AKA 'Friends Stick Around'

July 23rd, 2009 · 4 Comments

Today, we’re going to be looking at graphs. Here’s the basic premise:

So, something I noticed a long time ago (and I’m sure a lot of people noticed a long time before me) is that the kind of audience you pick up from ‘other people’s activity’ – whether that be support gigs, radio airplay, magazine reviews… – ALWAYS gets smaller:

  • You get exposed to a load of people,
  • a small proportion of them dig what you do
  • another percentage of those stop listening to you after a short while once the novelty wears off or something new comes along to grab their attention. Let’s call this your ‘secondary audience‘.

[Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

The problem of time. The eternal crisis of music-based social networks.

February 2nd, 2009 · Comments Off on The problem of time. The eternal crisis of music-based social networks.

TOO MUCH CHOICE! Photo of Lobelia in Mother's health food store, Costa Mesa, California, by steve lawsonSo, context: I’m on Myspace, ReverbNation, Last.fm, Facebook and Twitter. Oh, and Youtube, Vimeo, Seesmic, Phreadz…etc. etc.

All of them are social networks. On all of them, not surprisingly, I get followed/added/friended by a lot of musicians and bands.

Which is all well and good, except that I can’t listen to them. Not ‘won’t‘, ‘can’t‘ – the numbers don’t add up. Even if we ignore the 8000 myspace friends I deleted before christmas, we’re still looking and thousands of interactions. Even if I only listened to one song from each, that’s upwards of 4000 minutes of listening time, just to grant each of them a cursory ear. And given that a handful of them will really catch my imagination, I’ll probably end up listening to them a lot over time.

Add in that my listening time is already taken up by copious amounts of the music I love and a fair chunk of trusted friend recommendations, and the amount of time I have available to check out random stuff thrown at me on Myspace is tiny.

So what are we to do?

Let’s use me as TWO case studies. First as a music fan/listener.

Some facts about music-listening-Stevie:

  • I love discovering new music
  • Other than ‘it’s great’, it’s pretty tough for me to define a type of music I like. The one nearly-unifying element is that I tend to go for music with a story, whether vocal or instrumental.
  • [As it relates to the second point, ‘Solo bass’ is not, as far as I can tell, a genre. Neither should it be.]
  • I listen to an awful lot of music by people I know/have met.
  • I discover a lot of music from friends recommending it.
  • I have online a list of ALL the music I’ve listened to over the last 5 years.
  • Meeting an artist quite often moves their music from ‘have heard‘ to ‘required listening‘ in my estimations.
  • That being said, the majority of my music listening time is spent listening to things I already love.

So, what does all that mean?

It means I’m not going to listen to a band just because they ‘add’ me. I resent the idea that I should spend my valuable time on music without context. The worst culprits of this (it’s why I included it in the list above) are solo bass players. I say ‘worst’ – to be fair, it makes sense that they would send stuff my way. After all, I am a solo bass player and am interested in what’s going on within the field of solo bass performance, but only as it over-laps with great music! I’ve never been into the gymnastic, technical side of music. If it doesn’t work as a straight recording, without explanation, it doesn’t work for me.

Right, so just sending me a message saying ‘check out my solo bass stuff‘ isn’t going to cut it. which of those other points give us angles to work?

What we need to look for are where the filters are, and how to get into those filter-streams. So what flags music for me as being worth investigating? largly these two:

  • My friends recommend it,
  • or I know the artist…

It’s pretty safe to say that ALL the musicians on twitter that I’ve bothered to click through and listen to are those who I find interesting apart from their music.

Is it an efficient way of finding great music? Possibly, possibly not. But it does provide me with a few things:

  • a way of just cutting down the sheer numbers. Relatively arbitrarily, but it works.
  • a way into one of those things I like about music: the story – I’m actually getting the story first, then the soundtrack…
  • a way of making sure I’m less likely to listen to music by people I don’t like. There’s SO MUCH amazing music out there, I might as well limit myself to listening to the ones I really like as people :)
  • a way of encouraging people AWAY from spam and TOWARDS engagement. It’s what I want, it’s what I do, it’s what works.

And In Part II of ‘The Problem Of Time’, I’ll talk about what this does for me as a musician.

How does this chime with your experience of finding music online? Similar? Completely different? How much GREAT music have you found? I’d love to hear your experiences.

Tags: Musing on Music · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

'But I still like CDs!': why it's OK if your audience are webphobic.

December 4th, 2008 · Comments Off on 'But I still like CDs!': why it's OK if your audience are webphobic.

one of Ben Walker's excellent graphs. Clever man.This morning I read a really excellent blog post by Ben Walker.

It’s headed Wake Up And Smell The Evidence and outlines via statistics gathered from Ben’s own audience just how little of this social media webby geeky stuff gets through to ‘your average music fan’.

So are we wasting our time? Not if, like me, you see David Jennings amazing book, Net Blogs And Rock ‘n’ Roll as the handbook to understanding this stuff.

The Cover of Net Blogs And Rock 'n' Roll by David JenningsDavid addresses the very issue that Ben is most concerned with in the book, and in this blog post entitled Participation And Influence In Social Media in which he introduces us to a pyramid in which the 3 categories of participant in social media – as categorized by Bradley Horowitz – work as follows:

  • Creators — 1% of the user population might start a group (or a thread within a group)
  • Synthesisers — 10% of the user population might participate actively, and actually author content whether starting a thread or responding to a thread-in-progress
  • Consumers — 100% of the user population benefits from the activities of the above groups (lurkers

So when we put all this stuff out there, when we make our blogs and music and widgets and all that geeky bollocks sharable, we’re actually doing it for only a small percentage of our audience.

We can actually take heart that 1% of our audience are likely to be creating their own widgets, writing their own blogs about music and generally making a fuss about the things they love. If that happens to be us or our music, so much the better.

The next 10% are the ones who care, who share and who are very often there to bring friends along to gigs – they aren’t doing youtube mash-ups of our songs and clips from US teen TV shows, but they are very much aware of what we’re up to, and are more than happy to pass the info along.

And at the base of the pyramid we have the other 89%, who just like what we do, who listen, who put it on while they do the dishes. Who buy CDs, who listen to the radio, and use the internet to write emails to relatives and to passively stalk old school friends on FriendsReunited. They don’t really care (at the moment) about downloading and RSS feeds and twitter and tagging and all that other stuff we’re so excited and passionate about.

But then they don’t need to. Hopefully they’ll find out about us because one of their 10 BFFs is doing that for them. and then maybe…

…1 of their 100 work colleagues has started his own internet radio station,
…and he digs mellow loopy solo bass post rock goodness.
…So he plays me.
…And then Mrs FriendsReunited hears it because, hey, he’s a nice bloke to work with, and he even went to the trouble of emailing the link round.
…Most of what he plays is very odd, but there was this really gentle bit in the middle, sounded like the soundtrack to a mellow film.
…etc. etc.

The evolution of web-tools will always be targeted at these three groups differently. While Ben and David and I are all trawling the net for news of great social apps that we can add as plug-ins to our wordpress blogs, our keen friends and fans are happy to click on the ‘share this’ links a the bottom of each blog, and send it out to their mates on facebook. The better the facebook integration with our blog is, the better the chances are for them to share that stuff. And given the size and reach of sites like facebook and myspace, you never know, Mrs FriendsReunited may well have a facebook page, and get sent a link to a post about my new album, and hear it, and think ‘hmm, that reminds me of that thing on the internet radio station’ and about 3 years later she’ll serendipitously find out that they were one and the same, and will buy a CD…

So please do read Ben’s post. It’s excellent. But the situation is slightly less bleak than he makes out, as the marvellous David Jennings makes so clear in his post. I’m glad I have such wise and talented friends. (and no, for the record, David didn’t steal the idea from me… 😉 )

Tags: Geek · Musing on Music · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

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!

Tags: Uncategorized

Social Media – first principles for musicians (Pt 1)

October 12th, 2008 · Comments Off on Social Media – first principles for musicians (Pt 1)

Cash registers - no longer needed. There’s been a whole load of talk in the last few days, following on from the financial crash, saying that ‘Web 2.0 is dead‘.

Q #1 – what’s Web 2.0? Well, here’s the wikipedia page for it. For our purposes as musicians, it describes the use of the web for collaboration, conversation and creative empowerment, as contrasted with the old model of broadcast, one-way traffic, competitive, aggressive sales-driven stuff…

As the very wise DanLight says here, the people saying ‘web 2.0 is dead’ are actually describing a facet of the tech industry built around web 2.0 resources that is now in deep shit because its funding model is based on venture capital. VC money is deeply hooked into the world of money-markets, credit, banking and all those financial institutions who’ve finally realised that gambling can go very wrong even if you’re not in Vegas.

Clearly, the use of the web as a vehicle for collaboration and conversation is alive well and growing daily. The number of people who ‘get it’ is still growing, and loads of musicians now realise that with a little bit of care, attention and respect, their relationship with their audience can shift from being one of being “big-box producers throwing product at faceless consumers for money”, to being one of arts patronage, support and friendship.

So, just to be perverse at the Web 2.0 funeral party, I thought I’d spell out a few first principles for musicians:

  • Talking to your audience doesn’t cost big money but it does take time. In order to get the value from social media, we need to invest time in communicating with our audience. The equation is a fairly simple one – if you spend time talking to your audience about what you do, they will
    1. understand you better
    2. feel like they know you better
    3. be able to explain what you do to their friends better (peer to peer advocacy, if you will) and
    4. be FAR less likely to view your ‘art’ as something disposable to be thrown away on a P2P sharing platform.
  • Broadcasting over social media networks stands out like a dead sheep on a bowling green. People who try and use social networking sites and tools for 90s-style broadcast look really effing stupid. You become like the dude at the party who goes from group to group, looking for an audience,but leaves without even knowing anyone’s name. A HUGE part of web 2.0 for musicians is learning how to listen. I’ve met SO many fascinating people through the web, through talking to people on line, and many of them are now advocates for my music. I’m not friends with them because of that, but it stands to reason that people who are engaged by the ‘soundtrack to the inside of my head’ are going to be people I’m likely to like. My audience is almost always comprised of people I want to go out for dinner with and chat to.
  • If you don’t ‘get it’, learn from someone who does. Look, let’s be honest, a lot of people who come from a record company background [where ‘we’ make music and ‘they’ sell it for us] really struggle to understand how this works. If that’s you, GET SOME HELP. That help can come just by observing how people who do it well do it, or it could be that you hire someone to help you out. Increasingly, I’m working with bands and indie labels on strategy for social media engagement. There is no one way to do it, but there are principles to be applied in your setting. And if you don’t get it, you can end up looking like a dick. Hiring someone for a day to help you set up the right services, talk through some strategy and get you hooked up with a like-minded community that will help you move forward will be a hell of a lot cheaper than an 8th of a page ad in the back of Q magazine, and do you 50 times as much good.
  • What you’re ‘selling’ is so much bigger than the music on your CD. Think about the last time you bought a CD just because you heard a track on the radio. You didn’t know who or what it was, you just heard it and had to own it because it was so good. Been a while, huh? No-one does that any more. People are entranced by stories, and even more so, like to buy music by their ‘friends’. Even though I put ‘friends’ in inverted commas, there’s no duplicity here. Your audience become people you know, people you talk to, people who tell their friends about YOU not just your music. And you telling your story in your own words gives them the story to tell.

If your first response to this is ‘but will it make them buy more CDs?’, go back and read it again. And this time, read it because you need to know it, not because you want to disprove it so you can nestle back into ‘busness-as-usual’ safe in the knowledge that the internet is still full of know-it-all nerds who can’t actually play an instrument, but like to talk as though they can. This is all a long way from the music forums of the late 90s. This isn’t about being top dawg in a kennel of bass-nerds, it’s about inviting people who are interested in what you do to engage with it on whatever level helps them to get more from it.

I don’t know about you, but I want my music to mean something to my audience. I want to help them to find that meaning in it. I don’t need to define the meaning, just to facilitate them finding it for themselves. Next post will look at more ways of doing that, and maybe a case study or two…

Tags: Geek · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians