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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Happy Birthday To Me – Help Yourself To Some Music

December 29th, 2010 · Comments Off on Happy Birthday To Me – Help Yourself To Some Music

2010 has been a bumper year for me, musically. Not only have I – as my top 20 shows – found more brand new music that I love than I know what to do with, it’s been an unexpectedly busy and productive year of music-making.

The ‘unexpected’ part is because it was also my first full year as a dad – 2010 is definitely the year of the Flapjack. At the start of the year, he was barely a month old and we had no idea what we’d be able to carry on doing as musicians and how much would have to go by the way-side. [Read more →]

Tags: Music News

The Problem Of Time Pt II – Social Networks for Social Musicians

February 5th, 2009 · Comments Off on The Problem Of Time Pt II – Social Networks for Social Musicians

Steve Lawson talking in the Ustream chatroom between sets, Milwaukee House concert Dec 2008So, as I outlined in Pt 1, Social networks can be a really tough place to inhabit as a musician, because you’re going to get a LOT of artists sending you friend requests expecting you to check out their music.

The idea for the artist, in that case, is that numbers mean everything. If I have 80,000 Myspace friends I must be doing something right, right? Surely that means that a percentage of them are going to become fans, tell their friends and then go and buy my CDs. Surely those kind of numbers will land me a record deal? Any label that knows I’ve got 80,000 devoted Myspace ‘fans’ will surely snap me up?

Wrong. As anyone knows whose spent any time on Myspace, there’s no correlation at all between numbers of myspace friends and any real-world metric of success, be that sales, gigs, quality or measurable commercial potential. There are some truly dire musicians on myspace with 80,000 friends, who clearly didn’t get the memo that said ‘oi! stop adding myspace friends and go and practice, your music sucks!
And sadly for musicians on other social networks, the numbers game of the old industry – and myspace – still carries over, and there are bands spamming everyone and anyone on Twitter, ReverbNation, Facebook, Last.Fm and anywhere else they can find to pimp their music. The internet equivalent of aggressively flyering in the street.

Only, as I wrote in part 1, that’s just not how people find music. If you want to know how people find music online, read ‘Net, Blogs And Rock ‘n’ Roll‘ by David Jennings. It’s by far the best book ever written on the subject. It’s brilliant, and you need to read it if you want to be were you audience are likely to be. David outlines the ways that communities form around musical artists and styles, and what the tools are online that are facilitating that. His book is vital reading for anyone working in the industry, and would make fascinating reading for anyone interested in any level of community formation online.

But what I’ll add to it is about the value of being social on social media platforms.

I know, it sounds flippin’ obvious. And it is. It is obvious. So why do so many morons persist in ‘following’ 3000 people on twitter in the hope of picking up listeners? Why the inability to hold a conversation with anyone?

Lobelia and I just booked a whole series of house concerts in the US, almost entirely through Twitter. The vast majority of the hosts of the concerts were twitter-friends of ours, and between us and them, we promoted the shows via Twitter. Loads of our twitter friends showed up, almost all of whom found out about ‘us’ before they found out about our music. They were people we’d chatted with about everything, who listened to the music we make because we were interesting to them.

The conversation was what gave them cause to listen, not the description of what we do. I would hazard a guess that well over 90% of our audience on this tour couldn’t name you another solo bassist (except at the shows that featured other solo bassists!). We didn’t end up playing to rooms full of bass and looping geeks. We played to people who were already caught up in the story of who were are, and were the only too eager to become part of the event, and bring their friends.

We still had to be really good at what we do. Moreso, given that the person hosting each gig was putting their reputation on the line by hosting our gig (in most venues, the owner couldn’t care less what you sound like if you can guarantee beer-drinking punters. House concerts obviously aren’t like that!).

So how does this idea of conversing with your audience transfer to social network activity? Here are some key points:

  • Myspace friends are a cheap (near-worthless) currency, in and of themselves. Most of the people who add you on myspace only do so to get you to listen to them. The only value is the interaction.
  • There are only so many superlatives in the world, and all of them have been claimed by other musicians. Telling me in your bio how universe-conqueringly amazing you are counts for nothing.
  • Your audience are far more likely to talk about you once they’ve made friends with you. ‘Hey guess what, I met this really cool guitar player on twitter, we were chatting about his dog, then I listened to his tunes – amazing stuff’ – etc.
  • Pretending to be an aloof detached rock star doesn’t work unless you’ve got the kind of money it takes to make you into a rock star. ‘Fame’ is way too expensive for very little pay-off – ignore it.
  • If all you talk about is your own music, you’ll bore people pretty quick. Frame it in the context of the rest of your interests. Use the platform you have to share info that’s of value (at this point, if you haven’t read my top twitter tips for musicians, do it!)
  • Time is precious, you have to earn the right to the time it takes people to listen to your music. Take that responsibility seriously, talk up to your audience not down to them, listen, chat, answer questions, ask them, and you never know, you might even end up getting more out of social networking personally than you do professionally 😉
  • Don’t get lost in the numbers – communities of properly connected people take time to grow. Give it time. You’ve got plenty of it.

It’s vital to not get distracted by the over-hyped, bankrupt ideas of the old school record industry. The cost of turning records into hits vs the chances of making it back made for pretty crappy odds for each artist – the labels eventually did OK by making it all back on the ones that went supernova, while the rest were left in debt, and the stars often ended up drugged out and fucked up.

We have the chance to do this differently. If we understand what’s going on, reject the giantism of the friend-list-size-obsessed spam culture and instead invest our time in making great music and inviting people into the world where that music is made, we have much less to lose and much more to gain.

Win-win.

(BTW, the picture at the top is me on Tracy Apps‘ laptop, chatting to the people who were in the chat room watching the live stream of our house concert from Tracy’s place, on Ustream.tv – gettin’ social on yo ass!)

Tags: Geek · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Lawson/Dodds/Wood album… release is nigh. :)

August 11th, 2008 · Comments Off on Lawson/Dodds/Wood album… release is nigh. :)

Lawson/Dodds/Wood by Helena DornellasI’ve finally heard the proper mixed ‘n’ mastered version of the Lawson/Dodds/Wood album. It sounds amazing – Patrick has done an incredible job both of the editing and mixing mastering.

In case you missed it, Lawson/Dodds/Wood is a trio that came out of my Recycle Collective project (which is currently on a temporary hiatus). I’d played with Patrick a lot over the years, mainly in our respective home studios, and he was one of the musicians that inspired the Recycle Collective – we were making great music behind closed doors, so why not do it on stage?

Anyway, Patrick and I were thinking about doing a Recycle thing with a drummer, and both of us thought of Roy Dodds. Roy’s one of those rare drummers who understands what ‘quiet‘ actually means, but can rock out with the best of ’em. An endlessly creative musician, and perhaps most importantly, one of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet.

So we did a Recycle gig at Darbucka, and had a really special show. Some amazing music came out of it, and we decided there and then that this would be ‘a band’ – more than just a one-off collaboration for the RC, we’d do some more shows. And some recording.

We went into the studio for a couple of days in Dec. 07. We did it just like a Recycle gig – set up, play, see what happens. We spent two days doing that, and recorded some amazing beautiful sprawling improvs.

When I got back from a couple of months in the US, Patrick and Roy had already set about editing the big improvs down, distilling them, finding ‘the deeper magic‘ – it’s not the way I usually work, but in this instance, especially due to Patrick’s diligence and focus, the edits were really spotlighting what was best in each tune. We brought in Mark Lockheart to play sax and bass clarinet on a couple of tunes, and Gwyn Jay Allen on one track. The essence of the pieces is improvs – largely the edits were for length. It’s not a ‘remix’ project.

Along the way, each person who’s been involved, from the other musicians to artwork designers, mastering engineers and the like have got as excited about it as we are. Some really amazing music has emerged from a free flowing collaborative project, that is very much the sum of its parts. It made it particularly hard to decide on a name for the band, given that there was no ‘band leader’ in the trad sense. We arranged our names in various orders, and settled on the one that looked least like a firm of chartered accountants. But this is as much a Roy Dodds record as it is a Steve Lawson record. Same for Patrick. Their personality and musical magic is evident in every second of the music. 1+1+1=a very big 1. 🙂

And now the music is finished, and we’ve got a CD release date, vaguely – we’re going for mid October.

But thanks to the wonders of modern technology, we’ll have a very special digital version, with some lovely exclusive material, available very soon. You best bet is to sign up for my mailing list on the front page here, or follow @lawsondoddswood on twitter.

You can hear one tune from the album on my Reverb Nation page, and one on Roy’s myspace page. And I’ll post more about it here ASAP.

Tags: Uncategorized