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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



The experiment Pt 2 – Last.fm-Buzzing

June 18th, 2008 · Comments Off on The experiment Pt 2 – Last.fm-Buzzing

OK, Pt II of the experiment is an easy-ish one, if you’re already on Last.fm.

In case you don’t know, Last.fm is an online radio/playlist/social network site – the heart of it is an ENORMOUS catalogue of songs, many of which can be streamed on demand, and all of which crop up in radio stations, based on the music that people who like what you like like. 🙂

There are also artist-specific stations, (you can go there and listen to ‘artists similar to Steve Lawson’, for example, and will get a play list of stuff that’s listened to by people who listen to me…)

So, here’s today’s experiment (feel free to sign up to last.fm if you’re not on there already).

there are four bits to this –
1) Listening
2) Tagging
3) “Loving”
4) Commenting

A little more detail on each:
Listening is easy – just head to my last.fm artist page and hit play – for the track to register, you need to listen to at least a minute of it I think, so if you do skip around a few tracks, do play more than a few seconds of each one.

Tagging is also dead simple – when you go to my artist page, you’ll see ‘User Tags’ in the top right of the screen. Click on ‘Tag This Artist’ underneath it, and start by clicking on each of the ‘popular tags for this artist’ that you agree with. The more times a particular tag is used for an artist, the higher they ‘rank’ in the radio stations associated with this tag – more taggers=more radio play. Feel free to add your own tags too, by typing them in the box.

Loving a particular track can be done either in the embedded player on the site, or via the downloaded Last.fm client – just click the big heart button when you’re listening to a tune you love, and it’ll bring it up more often in your radio station, and log it as something worth listening to.

And Commenting is again, I guess, self explanatory – you can comment on any page on last.fm – artist, album or song, so feel free to add more than one comment – a short comment on the artist page would be great, some more specific stuff on your favourite album of mine would be even better.

The purpose of this experiment is to see how deep the connection goes with Last.fm listeners, and also how much the radio stations are affected by this kind of thing – I get pretty accurate stats back from last.fm about how many radio listeners I’ve had, and can see the ‘recent listeners’ list for me as an artist, as well as individually for each track and album.

So go to it – you can even do a lot of the listening and loving here on the MP3s page, but you’ll have to head to last.fm for the tagging and commenting.

thanks so much! Those who comment and listen to the most tunes this week, that’ll add towards the Cd prizes, for sure!

I’m working on bringing some thoughts together about how we measure the quality of connection/interaction with our web-audience… will blog that soon.

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

Thoughts and Questions on Originality.

April 20th, 2008 · Comments Off on Thoughts and Questions on Originality.

Been having some fantastic conversations with creative people of late on the subject of originality. It’s a subject that seems to lead to wildly different comments and responses from creative people, but rather too often seems to become deified or fetishised to the detriment of the resultant art.

With solo bass being such a niche musical pursuit, I often end up with people thinking that what I do is ‘completely original’, in that listeners outside of the solo bass/looping/etc. cognoscenti have probably never heard anyone doing anything quite like what I’m doing before. It would be very easy for me to claim that I came up with the whole idea and convince people – at least in the moment – that I’m some kind of pioneer in a way that I’m not.

But, it’s also worth noting that some of what I do has been described as ‘pioneering’ and even folks within the ‘scenes’ from which I draw most of my influence have recognised bits of it as being in some way ‘original’.

So what is one to do with that? In both situations the result is that the people involved have another level on which to engage with what I do, but it’s one that holds precious little ‘real’ value.

The first question that comes from this is a) ‘how many records have you ever bought just because the artist was flagged up as ‘original’?’ – and part b) of that question is: of those, how many did you stick with just because it was ‘original’?

The answer to the first bit is probably – if you’re an early adopter and enthusiast like me – ‘a few’. There are a few things I’ve checked out (though these days more via downloads/myspace etc.) that I’ve being pointed to because the persons approach to music making was in some way novel. However, it’s the second half that concerns us – Long term engagement with an artist’s output is based on quality, value and integrity, not gimmick.

This is something that we’re all too aware of when it comes to the marketing aspect of what we do – trying to rebrand dogturds as caviar isn’t going to make people enjoy the taste of dogturds – but originality is trickier because it’s a) less easy to quantify and b) it feels like an artistic consideration first and not a marketing gimmick.

So, here’s the question that will help you to gauge your own reaction to concepts of originality – if everyone in the world did things the way you do, would what you do still have value? In otherwords, when your schtick ceases to be a schtick and just becomes a creative model like ‘being in a band’ or ‘taking photographs’, what is the innate value in the way your story informs the output?

For me, it becomes this – if all the world were solo bassists, would my music as a solo bassist still be worth anything? Or, to frame it in now, ‘what’s the value of what I do to an audience saturated with looped solo bassists?’ This last question is a key one when it comes to putting on ‘branded’ gigs – if I put on a solo bass night, does it water down my brand to the detriment of people’s perception of how ‘original’ I am, or does it just remove the ‘originality/novelty’ element from how they engage with it, and cut to the storytelling?

The reality for me is, as I’ve been telling my students for years, it’s way more important to be ‘good’ than it is to be ‘original’ – a whole load of the willfully obscure experiments that one can end up with when looking for a ‘new sound’ are things that other people have tried and dismissed before inflicting them on an audience.

Influence seems to be the dirty word in so many discussions about originality. The equation seems to go thusly –

Being original is key to my success, therefor I mustn’t experience anyone else’s art that may shape what I do in an overt way because if I hear them, I’ll want to sound like them, and that will ruin my USP (unique selling point), and I’ll be finished as an artist. So as a result, I’ll live my life in seclusion from talented people operating in the same field as me.

This, dear bloglings, is what’s known in the trade as UTTER BOLLOCKS. I’ve seen a few people’s musical paths really messed up due to their phobia of influence. I’ve seen people torture themselves when another band came up with a title similar to the one they wanted for their next album! It’s crippling creatively, but more than that it bears no relation at all to how we relate to art on any non-superficial level.

So from my observation of my own and other people’s reactions to these questions, here are a few thoughts on the creative process as it relates to originality and influence:

  • We are all aggregators: or as Bono put it (possibly quoting someone else) ‘Every artist is a cannibal’. Very very little in the development and progress of human existence has appeared in an intellectual vacuum. Our progress on a macro and micro level is way more often than not evolutionary rather than eureka-moment-driven. We take in our observations of what’s going on around us, filter them through eachother, through the world as we see it, through a complex-but-contained set of experiences and ever-growing opinions and tastes, and decide what to do, what to create, how to create, how to tell our story. Those Eureka moments that do happen are too random to be factorable in steering our creative path. What influences we choose to subject ourselves to is something we’re very much in control of.
  • Influence is influence, whether the influence is from within your own discipline or outside: If I stopped listening to all music, I’d still be shaped in my music making by politics, art, comedy, love, life, illness, nature etc… Everything I do as a musician is shaped by influences, millions of them. Influences won’t negatively impact my art, only unhealthy obsessions will.
  • The problem isn’t influence/no influence, it’s self-awareness or the lack-thereof: People who make great music in isolation won’t suddenly start making crap derivative music if they open themselves up to influence, and likewise people who are so unable to figure out what they want that they just ape someone else’s process to the point of plagarism aren’t suddenly going to discover their creative focus by not listening to their main influences. The problem with obsession is bigger and more fundamental than whether or not your music sounds like another band.
  • Influence is like a diet – it’s the mixture and balance that keeps us healthy: Obsession is not a healthy state to be in. Like eating only potato, or drinking nothing but tea, listening to one artist is going to mess you up. I have for a long time viewed my music listening as a diet, and as such cherish my music listening time like a meal. I avoid junk-food, and crave sumptuous filling meals that meet my dietary requirements. I don’t like eating the same thing day after day, and definitely enjoy the effects of seasonal variation.
  • Style is a medium, not a message – how you say something IS important. Vitally so. But talking shit with a soothing voice is still talking shit.
  • Speaking someone else’s language doesn’t make you think like them, it just makes you able to communicate with the same people they communicate with – this blog doesn’t come across as derivative just because it’s in English. None of us trawl the interwebs looking for ‘new languages’ just because they’re new. Language is there to communicate ideas.
  • Storytelling is an artform that exploits shared history and narrative form: If you’re telling your story through music, things that are familiar have a different resonance from things that are completley alien to both artist and listener. This is one of the reasons why so many creative musicians still find so much to stay within the confines of ‘blues’ – despite the restrictions of the form, there’s still so much great original music that’s coming out that is blues-based and blues-influenced. The language, imagery and resonance of the blues still provides a channel for so many people’s unique stories.
  • the quest to be original might actively prevent you from soundtracking your world: If I attempted to do away with my influences, most of the stuff that makes my music important to me would vanish; the melodic forms, the chord progressions derived from folk, pop and jazz idioms, the phrasing that I’ve absorbed from Joni Mitchell, Bill Frisell or Michael Manring, the bass techniques that I’ve nicked from Trip Wamsley or Victor Wooten. What makes me sound like me is the combination of everything that goes into my music. I throw it all into the mixing pot, and out comes my music. I practice to learn more about how to channel the feelings and emotions that those independent influences bring out in me, and look to find the right amount and blend of ingredients to make me feel the way the combination of all of them makes me feel.

So, where does all this leave me? Well, right now, I’m working on a new album, or at least, I’m getting ideas together to start working on a new album. Some of that involves working out what’s physically possible with the Looperlative, but a lot of it is working out what I want to say and how best to say it. So I’m putting myself on a fairly strict diet. A diet that will contain a whole range of music that generates the kind of response in me that I want from my own music. I’ll be listening to a lot of The Blue Nile, Joni Mitchell, Eric Roche, Rosie Thomas, Theo Travis, Alan Pasqua, Nels Cline, Bill Frisell, and then a whole bunch of extreme stuff in as many directions as I can to help me push back the walls that define the stylistic parameters of what I’ve done up until now.

And how I deal with notions of Originality and their value or otherwise impacts every minute of my practice time – do I get frustrated when I play something and it reminds me of some other musician, or do I use that as a model for saying something in their language? Do I get fixated with listening to other solo bassists because I am one, or do I realise that solo bass is in the grand scheme of things nothing to do with whether my music is any good or not, and look at developing the component parts of my musical narrative via influences that are best at those bits – for example, looking to singers for melodic influence, pianists for harmony, and classical guitarists for phrasing and shaping chord/melody ideas?

The end result of this is whether or not you hear those influences, the music is 100% me. It might be a different angle on me that hasn’t come out in other ways before. It might be me as expressed through the playing of other musicians on music that I’ve written for them, but it will be a combination of all the various influences that make me want to do what I do, and will at the same time be both entirely derivative and completely original.

Tags: bass ideas · Musing on Music · tips for musicians

Seth Godin on spam, email and right to contact…

April 13th, 2008 · 2 Comments

Thanks to this post on lovely Valerie Gonyea’s blog, I’ve found very cool quote from this great post by Seth Godin:

“Here, it’s simple:

You can contact just about anyone you want. The only rule is you need to contact them personally, with respect, and do it months before you need their help! Contact them about them, not about you. Engage. Contribute. Question. Pay attention. Read. Interact.

Then, when you’ve earned the right to attention and respect, months and months later, sure, ask. It takes a lot of time and effort, which is why volume isn’t the answer for you, quality is.

That’s a great way to get a job, promote a site, make a friend, spread the word or just be a human.”

I’ve been telling people this for years – the ONLY way to get any kind of meaningful interaction with people is to earn the right to meaningful interaction. Requesting interaction via spam, or demanding it without context is not only rude, it’s entirely unproductive.

The two worst places for this online at the moment are Myspace and Twitter – Myspace is particularly crass, with the mass email spam machines that often ask a lot of you but can’t be bothered to interact at all. The Twitter variation is to ‘follow’ people, post a load of links to products and marketing crap and somehow expect people to take notice. Bollocks. It’s SO not going to happen. If you’ve got 15,000 fans on myspace and the only conversation on your page is endless formularised ‘thanks for the add’ comments, I’m going to ignore you.

Likewise on Twitter, if you’re following 3,000 people, never reply to anyone else’s comments and only ever post obscured links to marketing stuff, there’s no way I’m going to follow you.

Here’s my musicians addendum to Seth’s comment: Nobody owes you any attention at all. You don’t respond well to spam, so why on earth would you expect anyone else to? It doesn’t matter how important you think your music is, you’ve still got to earn the right to request attention from your audience. Likewise, the chances of people finding your music and falling in love with it are miniscule unless you’re inviting people in and providing context for understanding what you do and an environment for interaction with you as they get into you and your noises.

Web 2.0 is neither about a collection of static info sheets, nor scatter-shot spam broadcasting. It’s about interaction, communication, discussion, sharing, conversation, context, experience, experiment and fun.

Anyway, read Seth’s post, it’s great, and go interactive!

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

The dangers of technodarwinian web 2.0 marketing for musicians

March 27th, 2008 · 2 Comments

There’s a way of viewing online marketing that I’m going to characterise as Technodarwinism. [Just to clarify, I didn’t invent the word, but I’m using it in this context to refer to a kind of ‘survival of the best proliferated’, rather than the more positive possible meaning about the continuing evolution and bettering of technological solutions for a particular problem]

There are some good and some bad things about the way that this phenomenon plays out. Or at least, some good things about the environment in which is it played out – let’s pick one or two –

Good – the product has to be ‘good’ or people just won’t be drawn in. No more albums with two great singles padded out with filler tracks, disappointing the listeners who bought them without hearing them first.

Bad – the idea that the measure of one’s ‘success’ is to have the most listeners, the most hits/visits/subscribers/comments – this drives people to do the kind of traffic-attracting BS that many of the ‘how to be a pro blogger’ sites come out with about being controversial to drive traffic, or spamming the services that may send traffic your way with misleading info just to ‘raise interest’… that only breeds discontent and argument, not a quest for shared ground, consensus and mutual growth. It also makes no measure of the quality of interaction with each of the people behind those hits/visits/plays.

Good – theoretically there’s a level playing-field. The chances of an unknown going ‘viral’ under the old model were zero, because even pressing up enough copies for blanket radio airplay cost thousands of pounds/dollars. Now, via youtube/myspace/last.fm/bit torrent, a track, album, band or even a genre/movement could become the next big thing in a matter of days… However, IT DOESN’T HAPPEN AS OFTEN AS PEOPLE WOULD LIKE YOU TO BELIEVE. Almost every act that ‘went viral’ had a team behind them, being paid a LOT of money to make it look like no-one had spent any money.

Bad – The race to be the most tech savvy can lead to people look for ways to market a product that doesn’t deserve it, or to read as validation of the art the amount of exposure it receives… YouTube is full of dreadful music clips that are initially impressive, funny or quirky, but don’t follow through… in the currency of YouTube though, that doesn’t really matter as most youtube views are seconds rather than minutes long, and for an artist it creates a false sense of worth. Unless your views are in the millions it’s unlikely that YouTube virality is going to have a significant impact on your sales/concert figures…

As I mentioned in the last post, the beauty of web 2.0 for musicians/creatives is that rather than having a publisher/record label/manager breathing down our necks about the next ‘hit’ or whatever, we can do what we do without worrying about that stuff, and then market it.

The key point here, in terms of my perception of how this stuff works, is that this is a FAR MORE EFFECTIVE WAY OF PRODUCING ART OF QUALITY – as I’ve said a million times trying to second guess your market is nigh-on impossible, so being able to produce the music that you LOVE, that you yourself crave to listen to is THE BEST CHANCE YOU HAVE OF MAKING SOMETHING WORTH RELEASING.

Do you remember the bargain bins of the 80s and 90s? Endless piles of lushly produced records that sold pretty much nothing because record labels got it VERY wrong a lot of the time too. The industry-heads want us to believe that without them we’re screwed, we won’t be able to produce anything of quality, or be able to sell it, because we’re unrefined bundles of creative genius, but need them to shape it, make it palatable and marketable.

But it was always pretty random. And some great bands made crap albums, some crap bands made nearly-great albums, some bands found the right producer, some found the wrong one, a lot of people wasted a whole lot of money, and a lot of artists ended up paying for those experiments.

The old model produced some outstanding music. That’s not in question here. What is in question, in my mind, is what is the best way for me to continue to make the music that I HAVE to make and find the audience for it, whilst hopefully finding a way to be remunerated for it. I don’t have a desire to be famous or ‘successful’ for its own sake. Actual fame would be a right pain in the arse, and fortunately I’m a solo bassist, so unless I somehow morph into the British Victor Wooten, it’s not remotely likely to happen.

So all this geeking, the social networking, the microformatting, the blogging and myspacing, facebooking and youtubing is about letting people know what I do, giving them paths to find it, easy ways to connect with it, and then opportunities to buy the product if they want to, or come to the shows, or even book the shows, or just drop me a message and say they enjoyed it, and maybe tell a few friends about it too.

What’s in it for the audience? Well, the best case scenario for them is that I make enough money to be able to do what needs to be done to make the best music I can, and to come and play it near them. So they can download it for free, if they want (let’s face it, there really is no stopping your stuff ending up free somewhere, even if you wanted to) but if they do, the chances of them a) getting something equally good from me next time round or b) me coming to where they are, aren’t improved at all. They aren’t noticeably diminished, but unless there’s someone else near them who is making some kind of active steps to make me doing a show near them possible, then the chances of that happening are close to zero anyway. On one level, it doesn’t matter – there’ll be other bands and other music, and people who will find a way to tour… So the social media proliferation is important because the raised awareness IS monetizable in concert ticket terms, and useful as leverage, but it’s art first, marketing second.

Remember that we’re doing the marketing because we love our art and want people to share in it, not professional marketers desperate for some kind of trinket to sell on our virtual market stall – we don’t want to end up the musical equivalent of a stall holder whose product changes every week depending on what weirdness he’s managed to pick up cheap down the pub and thinks he might be able to sell.

All of which is at least partly another way of saying there’s no ‘one thing’ to any of this. No way to make a silk paypal account out of a sow’s myspace page. There’s no ‘secret to unlocking your marketing potential through social networking’, or whatever. Your number one priority, as an artist, is to make art. Make YOUR art, do what you do best, as well as you can possibly do it. And THEN, to find an audience, look for community spaces, places where people can get to know about you and your art in the same place, where they can interact, ask questions, and build a relationship with what you do, by broadening their understanding of who you are. Then those people will WANT to tell their friends, will do the rest of the marketing for you. You just have to resource them with great art and value added – the ‘just’ in that last sentence is going to take another series of about 10 blog posts to unpack, fear not.

How many times have you consciously bought a CD or download of someone because they blogged well? I’m guessing never, unless you’re really odd. However, you may well have discovered a musician or fifty via their web presence first, and THEN gone on to investigate their music. And the chances are that most of the music you heard was a disappointment. Because making great music is really hard. Making great music that meets the taste-criteria of any one person is even harder. Don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t dig what you do, and don’t get lost in trying to sell something that doesn’t deserve to be sold. And by ‘deserve’ I mean isn’t the best that you have to offer in terms of the art that is YOU.

I’ve heard musicians with 100,000 myspace friends who were, by most estimations, appalling. And I’ve heard incredible/engaging/deep/funky/magical/inspiring music from completely unknown, unmarketed musicians.

The Awareness Doesn’t Validate The Art and conversely, obscurity doesn’t invalidate it. There needs to be a synergy in the way we make art and tell people about it because we love what we do and we care about them. Your audience are not just your ‘market’. They’re a community of people who find that what you have to offer is worth spending their time and money on.

That’s worth engaging with, being grateful for, and relating to. Whether that’s 10 people, or a million.

Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Masterclass tour finished – some thoughts on teaching…

March 21st, 2008 · 5 Comments

So the last four days have been spent touring the south of England giving masterclasses at branches of the The Academy Of Music And Sound – a chain of music schools that stretches the length of the UK, but is focussed around the south west and midlands.

Once a year they do a masterclass week, where they book two or three teachers in each of the instrumental disciplines they teach (bass, guitar, drums and vocals) to go round to the various centres and teach the students. I did it last year, they liked it, and so I was back doing it again this year.

I really love the masterclass format for teaching – being given a couple of hours in which to impart something of value to the students, hopefully something that’s different yet complimentary to what they are studying.

One thing that I decided years ago was that the ‘here’s how to play this song’ or ‘here’s how to do this technical thing’ approach was a bit of a waste of time, as it gave them one thing to learn, but because the situation is pretty much ‘hit and run’ it was a rather closed way to teach, as there’s no follow up.

So instead I look to help shape the way they think about the process of learning. How we learn is at least as important as what we learn, and I’m fascinated by what it is that makes a student want to teach them self. I try to impart a love of learning to my students, so that the question of ‘motivation’ is dealt with in their own practice room, rather than being something that is imposed in a lesson… Making people feel guilty for not practicing seems to be entirely counter-productive to me, given that a) there are loads of great reasons not to have practiced in any given week, b) it’s my job to inspire them to WANT to practice, not berate them when my ability to inspire falls short, and c) the consequences of not practicing are felt in the frustration of not improving, and the guilt of disappointing ME by not practicing is just a red herring…

So what do I talk about? Well, in this series of classes I started out be defining what I mean by ‘Bass 2.0’ in describing what I do – the idea that for much of the history of the instrument, the bass guitar has been defined by the role it takes in pop music, limiting it to what it ‘should’ do, rather than allowing your imagination to explore what’s possible. That’s Bass 1.0. Bass 2.0 detaches the lump of wood and magnets and graphite and strings that is ‘the bass guitar’ from any preconceptions about what it ‘should’ do and instead explores what’s possible with it, just thinking of it as a sound-source, albeit one where the craftsmen making a lot of basses have maximised its physical properties to emphasise that low end function…

The reason for that as a starting point is that it gets us thinking about music first – the instrument becomes a vehicle, a voice, a medium for channeling the music we hear in our heads.

And where does that music come from? What is it about the music that we love, that we’re proper FANS of, that amazes us, wows us, makes us buy t-shirts and posters, makes us dress like the band and pay lots of extra cash for the limited edition boxed set, rather than putting up with the phone-cam footage on youtube?

Thinking about music from that point of view causes us to consider the importance of music and to readjust our sights: It makes us want our music to have that significance. To write music that changes the world. Whether or not your music actually changes the world is moot, and certainly no concern of anyone else but you. The point is to aim to be to our audience what the music that changed our life is to us. To write and play music that makes them feel the way we feel when we’re willing to travel a hundred miles and pay £50 a ticket to see the band.

Why? Because anything short of that is selling ourselves short, and that kind of impact doesn’t happen by accident. You can’t MAKE it happen, any more than you can make yourself successful, but showing up is vital, being on the right journey, aiming in the right direction, focussing on the things that matter – it may well not happen even if you do all that, but it’ll definitely not happen if you don’t, and for us as musicians the journey is the goal. We can only influence the journey not the destination.

So we aim to change the world. We aim to soundtrack the lives of our audience. How on earth do we do that, given that it’s impossible to second-guess what our audiences want or need or will ‘get’. We soundtrack our own world and invite people to share the soundtrack. The only person in the entire world whose feelings I can assess with any level of accuracy or intimacy are my own. So my process for writing music is to write the music that I want to hear, that I need to hear, that soundtracks the world in a way that helps me make sense of it. And I then invite people to share in that.

Lots of people won’t get it, won’t like it, and that’s fine – I’m not really concerned with whether or not they like it. Marketing this stuff is about giving people an opportunity to hear it and an entry point to understanding where it’s coming from. Beyond that, you let go.

So given that as an aim, our approach to learning the instrument is two fold – we’re developing AWARENESS and CONTROL. An awareness of what music can do, how it makes us feel, how it relates to our world, and then the control to make that happen, to produce that music. To have an awareness of the nuance of a particular style/song/instrument/amplifier etc, and to develop the technical ability to utilise that nuance to make you feel the way that music should make you feel.. The sound with which we make music is like our language and accent – if I screw up the grammar when I’m speaking, it obscures the thought I’m trying to communicate. If my accent is so thick that native speakers struggle to understand me, they’re not going to be drawn in by my thoughts as easily as if I spoke in a clear and compelling style.

So our technical instrumental ability is about developing that clarity, skill, breadth and depth. About learning how to be compelling, convincing, and emotive. Impressing people with instrumental skill isn’t a bad thing, it’s just not everything, any more than long words carry any intrinsic importance. Great orators are wonderful to listen to, but stand or fall on the ideas they are communicating. Same with musicians – great technicians are a joy to hear, but if the music itself isn’t there, we’re going to switch off.

And our technical practice becomes more important, not less, it’s just no longer an end in itself. Context becomes paramount, dexterity and speed become subservient to nuance, control and expressive articulation. New technical ideas stand or fall on their ability to add to your sonic palette in a meaningful way.

Of course, none of this means anything – nor should it – to the people listening to what you do. They’re either going to dig it or not dig it. It doesn’t mean you’re a genius if they do dig it, and it doesn’t mean your shit if they don’t. It’s all about the journey not the destination, and you’re inviting listeners to share in that, to take from it that which makes sense to them, that which enhances the sound-world they live in.

So in a masterclass situation, I encourage the students to want to change the world, to love their instrument and its history but to remember that that’s vital to them but not to the people they’re playing to. I exhort them to listen and learn and play and improvise and write as though their life depended on it. To be mindful of what they want from music, what they want it to do for them, and to work towards that. To see the world of music as a big sand-pit to play in rather than a business venture to succeed in or a body of knowledge that needs ‘conquering’ before their contribution is validated.

What does music mean to you when you’re not playing it? How can you make music that makes you feel the way that music makes you feel? There’s a process in there, a journey, a whole load of exploration and mistakes and discovery and joy and frustration and great gigs and crap gigs and hours on your own in a room practicing and days spent wrestling with ideas in a band. Do it because you love it, because it’s too important to ignore, and don’t listen to the voices of those who WANT to dislike it. Screw ’em.

And somewhere in all that I demonstrate a load of right hand tonal variations, play a couple of tunes – on this trip, having Lobelia with me made SUCH a difference, being able to demo some of the concepts in a song rather than an instrumental. We played Black Hole Sun, looped the vocals, and I then talked about how we listen to music when we can’t see it – on the radio nobody cares that I’m playing a fretless bass. they’re only going to notice if I go out of tune. It just has to be ‘good’ – and make them laugh, answer questions and invariably explain how an ebow works.

And all that in two hours. :o)

Is there any of this you’d like me to expand on? Add it in the comments below. And if you were at one of the classes, feel free to contribute here, or over in the forum.

Tags: bass ideas · Music News · Musing on Music · teaching news · tips for musicians

Managing Information Streams Pt 2 – Twitter!

March 10th, 2008 · 15 Comments

Thanks so much for all the comments and feedback about the first Managing Information Streams post. Some GREAT stuff in the comments there.

I want to follow that up with what is fast becoming my favourite web-filter, and will hopefully become my primary interface with my network – Twitter.

The tech media has been full of articles about Twitter for the last couple of months, ranging from declaring it to be the saviour of the web to it being the scourge if humanity. Both are exaggerations, and as usual, ignore the range of ways to interact with a particular technology.

So first up, a ‘what is twitter?’ answer, StevieStyle – Twitter is a combination of microblog, status-update, public IM, SMS client, link-blog, mini-email, brain-storm-tool, twitterpedia and for me (I’ve not seen anyone else doing this yet, but I’m sure I’m not the first) a responsive public to-do list.

All of that in an IM-window style interface, portable to my cellphone, followable on the web and scannable at a glance.

So what’s great about it? Let’s undo everything I said it was at first –

Firstly, it’s not email – I’m getting increasingly sick of email, particularly email that isn’t addressed to me. It’s just not a quick enough or malleable enough way to get information, to difficult to filter for quality and the group stuff just makes it harder to deal with the stuff that is to me. So I’ve been unsubbing from groups and mailing lists like crazy, trying to reduce the volume of non-direct email. A lot of the things I might have used email or email lists for, I now do on Twitter. How does that help? Well, I know the answer is going to be either a) very short or b) very short with a link to a properly written explanation. If you have to post the longer answer on a public blog, you’re more likely to think about it, than if you just write bollocks to a mailing list.

Secondly It’s not IM – IM sucks my time. IM is a very demanding thing to have running. It can be very useful and a great way to get quick responses, and also to deal with more personal things, but for the most part the big problem with IM is that you sit WAITING FOR A REPLY, and the other person is doing the same. So you don’t get on with your stuff, you ‘do IM’ for whole chunks of time. I NEVER do that with Twitter. Even if I post 5 or 6 posts in a couple of minutes, in between I’m working, I’m blogging, I’m searching, I’m answering the good emails, I’m deleting the crap ones, I’m cooking, brushing my teeth, on the bus… whatever, it’s all going on, and Twitter can fit to that. I never get tweets that say ‘are you still there? hello? where’ve you gone, you bastard??’ like on IM.

It also means that there’s a public record of a process if you’re planning something. This is what happened when Jeff Schmidt and I planned our podcast. I think Jeff sent me one direct message on twitter about it, and the rest was public. Perhaps as a result, the podcast had the highest first day or two’s downloads of ANYTHING Jeff has podcasted. And he’s done some great podcasts (search in iTunes for his name, for more – really good stuff.)

Thirdly it’s not facebook – if I go into facebook and check people’s status updates, there are a million other distractions – photos, scrabblez, groups, event invites, etc. I set up Facebook as a separate app using FluidApp just so I can open it, do it, and go. Twitter is the status update with the option to reply, and without the distractions. That’s a good thing. Facebook can be so addictive.

Fourthly it’s not this blog – blogging here takes a lot of time and effort. It’s also very much an interactive archive of my public writing. Twitter is immediate, and then gone. Sure you can find or favourite tweets, but it’s largely about NOW. I try to keep my blog archive manageable by not posting quick ‘check this out’ blogs – that’s what twitter does REALLY well. I can also, crucially, start rumours on there about what I’m up to, talk about things that might happen but might not, in a way that would come back and bite me on the arse if I did it on here…

Fifthly it’s not Google – if I use twitter for a question, I’m not searching the internet for prewritten answers, I’m asking the minds of my fellow twittists. I’m asking people who know me, or at least know about me, and I can follow up. And all of it in 140 characters. I’m not demanding much from peoples, but I can get top quality info. And it’s filtered by who I CHOOSE to interact with. No spammers, no trolls… The traffic isn’t public enough to attract disgruntled losers shouting at windmills.

Sixthly, it’s not a to-do list – to-do lists are currently the bane of my life. I never know where to write things down to remember them. Twitter means that my to-dos can become discussion, friends can remind me, hassle me, and I feel a compulsion to update, and therefor a drive to get something done so as not to embarrass myself by saying ‘did fuck-all today’… So I post a list, I post options and court responses, and on some things, I can collaborate. I can even ask my flatmate to pick up milk or washing-up liquid on the way home. Last night, my landlord used twitter to find out if anyone was home in order to access a document in the flat – THAT is the magique of the Twittosphere!

Seventhly, and this is a small but significant one it’s not regular SMS – how? a) it’s free to send, and b) I can type it, not key it in on my phone. HURRAH!!!! That should be enough to get everyone in the world signed up…

So what’s unique about it, that isn’t so negatively defined? OK, there’s the asynchronous nature of ‘following’ – if someone clicks to follow me, I can choose to follow them or not. I can also follow people who don’t follow me. I can follow people for the conversation, or the inspiration, I can post in the same way – conversation or open ended thoughts. And people can choose to read or ignore. No-one is wasting time they don’t want to waste just to see if the info is good or not. Glance, engage, revert. It’s easy.

Two, it provides interactive news. On the scene ‘buzz’ about events. Right now, SXSW is going on in Austin. Last week was TED – the precis of ideas on twitter is a GREAT way to find out what’s hot and what’s not, what are the salient parts of an hour-long talk, what’s going to be rocking the tech-world in a few months time. Choose a different set of people to follow and you’ll get the same from glastonbury or the protest movement, or parliament, or probably even the countryside alliance *shudder*… you choose, you filter, you edit, you follow/unfollow, and form a group of twittettes who entertain and inform, interact and educate.

Thus far the signal to noise ratio on my group of feeds is extremely positive, and the stuff that’s come out of it is amazing. Lately, that’s been all about Seesmic, the video-blog site. But that deserves a post of it’s own, because it’s f’ing amazing.

So maybe now you can see why I’m hoping to make my twitter account my main web interaction. Sign up for twitter at twitter.com, add me, and if you’re a bass-head, add Jeff, Trip and search around for some others. Consider this my TwitterFesto :o) .

I’ll post some more stuff about it soon, but suffice to say, if you want to get in touch with me quick, twitter beats anything besides just calling me up on the phone (we need to get back into phones – our modernist technolust has relegated phones to a last resort. that’s got to change…) Email is great for longer more involved information, IM is good if your life is falling apart and you want my help or support, Facebook is good if you’ve got silly photos from your stag night, and Google is good if you want a URL to send to someone. Otherwise, TwitMe!

(addendum – I’ve tagged this as ‘future of music’, because twitter is something that bands and artists HAVE to get a handle on. It’s where so much web communication is heading. So read this, and I’ll post more about music specific application in the very near future)

(addendum #2 – massive credit must be given to Hugh MacLeod for his thinking on twitter, much of this was informed by his twitterings and bloggings. Follow him at twitter.com/gapingvoid)

Tags: cool links · Geek · Managing Information Streams · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians · website recommendations

Managing information streams (Pt 1)

March 7th, 2008 · 7 Comments

This will (I think) be the first in a series of posts about this, mainly because it’s an ongoing struggle and area of conceptual development.

So, I’ll start by saying where my problem lies – a lot of the stuff online about being overwhelmed by email starts by talking about spam. Apart from when I’ve had my domain-name spoofed by spammers and suddenly had 3000 ‘user not known’ replies, spam has never been a big problem for me. If you’ve got your email on a dedicated server, then there are various very effective and ‘teachable’ spam filters out there. the Gmail one seems pretty damned good too. (if you’re still using Hotmail as your primary email interface, you’re probably sorting through spam now and not reading this…)

So, what is my problem with email? it’s largely two fold – one, it’s filtering the mass of information I get on a subject so that I get only the best information, and two, it’s how to process info as it comes in.

I’m on a few different email discussion lists, which are seeming increasingly anachronistic as a way of doing group interaction. With the web forums I read, I tend to browse via keywords in the search box on the really busy ones, and glance at the recent posts every few days on the less busy ones. That doesn’t take long, and means I can track where the things I’m interested in are being mentioned. I also have google alerts, and technorati alerts for certain words cropping up in other places. But the email ones still take time to filter.

I get a fair bit of info that relates to gigs and teaching that tends to get lost as I put it to one side while I consider what to do with it, or juggle my diary so I can fit it all in… then someone emails me and says ‘are we still on for tomorrow’s lesson?’ and I panic as I try to make it all fit… so I need a new system there, for sure. the Search box in Macmail helps a lot, as I can just do a search for ‘lessons’ or ‘tuition’ to find all the bass lesson related stuff… Maybe I should try the ‘smart mailbox’ thing.

My other big problem with email is that replying quickly creates an expectation that this is your norm, so people use email for things that are urgent. I REALLY need to get away from that… Tim Ferris has written some really useful stuff on this topic here

Anyway, I’ve not got very far with managing my information, have I (though I did just go and unsub from a couple of lists I receive but never read, so that’s good…) – as my friend Karen would say ‘Land the plane, Steve!!’

It’s about filtering. I’ve written about this WRT music recently, but it applies equally to information – the problem isn’t a lack of it, it’s a lack of quality control. If I want to keep track of what’s happening in the bass-world, I could spend all day every day reading stuff on forums, blogs, email lists, digests…. And even for an info-geek like me, less than 3 or 4% of it is useful or even particularly interesting. So I need to be able to target my info. Here are a couple of suggestions for how WE can do it.

#1 – collaborate – if you want filters, be a filter. Google shared items is such an amazing way to get someone else to filter for you. I’ve read SO many great stories that I’d have missed thanks to following Jeff Schmidt and Jyoti Mishra‘s shared items. Some of the blogs I them subscribe to, often I just leave it to them to filter them for me.

Same goes for futuremusictalk.com – a GENIUS filter for stuff about the future of the industry. Not all the info, just most of the best info. And it gets better every time sarda tweaks it. He’s a genius, and lovely, and very busy, not surprisingly.

So using ready-made filters (here are my shared items for those of you who want them) – let others do the legwork.

If you have a very specific search criteria, use Google Blogsearch – put the searc term in, then grab the feed. Google rules. Technorati provide a similar service, but it’s hopelessly flakey…

So, get google reader, and start sharing – let me know when you do, and I’ll watch what you’re linking to… and then…

#2 – be ruthless. If you subscribe to a feed that you find yourself continually paging down past, delete it. Don’t clutter your reader. get rid of it, and let the google blog or news search watch it for you for keywords. (note to self, must see if google blogsearch can handle boolean commands). Don’t put up with duplicate feeds – if you subscribe to a feed that is fed straight into futuremusictalk.com, delete the feed (with some blogs, including mine, only certain posts are cross-posted. With others more specific blogs, everything is aggregated there). I did this recently with news feeds – the beeb cross post a lot of articles to world and UK news, so I deleted one of them. Same with the guardian. strip it back, get the info you need, don’t sweat about missing some stuff – if it’s that good, someone else will share it anyway (thanks Jyoti for the political filter stuff – you rule!)

#3 – set limits. This is the bit I’m worst at, and the bit that from next week is going to get experimental. Have set times for this stuff, then click ‘all read’ – use the starring thing in google reader (do you get the idea that I think Google Reader ROCKS??) to come back to things at a later date, or share it then go read your own feed… But stick to them. I’m definitely writing this for myself now, I’m terrible at this. One thing I’ve started to do is not have feeds loading in the background. Using FluidApp.com I’ve turned Google Reader into it’s own application. I read, then close it, so its not giving me alerts all the time. I read it like a newspaper in the morning or evening. I also set my email to only check once every 30 mins, so I do it in batches. Soon, I’m hoping to switch to twice a day email too… we’ll see if that works.

And here’s the clincher, and the link to the next post (later) – I’m using twitter to do a lot of my filtering. Twitter deserves its own post, but so far my online presence has gone through the roof as a result of using it (even with a fairly modest number of followers) but I actually spend LESS time on that than I used to on forums, IM and email… next post will explain how and why.

I hope that lot helps – PLEASE post suggestions – I’m still working this one out. Blog about it, and post a link in the comments, ask questions if I’m using geek terms you don’t get. This shit is important because it threatens to swamp our time to be human, creative and alive. Help me out here…

Tags: cool links · Geek · Managing Information Streams · New Music Strategies · Random Catchup · tips for musicians · website recommendations

perception trumps design – why Myspace still works…

March 6th, 2008 · 2 Comments

A few thoughts that sprung from a comment response here and a twitter conversation, re: the myspace vs facebook thing.

One of the problems with being a webgeek is that it’s easy to forget to think how Webphobic digital-dabblers engage with the web. They often choose an ecosystem that feels homely, one that while not being particularly functional is self contained and looks like the scenery for a kids TV show. I can’t believe that any self respecting web-user would still be using the AOL interface, but it happens. And we-the-geeks have to learn to work within that first and foremost.

Re-educating people about the clunkiness of Myspace is a very different task from effectively and productively engaging with your audience. And for a huge part of the music-finding web-audience, Myspace is comfortable. It’s homely, familiar and doesn’t feel like a geek-domain in which webtards are a nuisance. It looks like it was designed as a school project, so no-one feels patronised by it. For a really significant majority of people looking for your music online perception trumps design – telling them that Myspace is clunky, horrible to use, slow to load, unmanageable in terms of effectively sending out mass mailings etc. doesn’t change the simple fact that they are happy there.

As my previous post about this said, Facebook is almost exclusively a friend-interaction ecosystem. Myspace is far more of a discovery one. Yes, it’s rubbish, yes facebook looks better, yes Reverbnation still has a far better feature set and interface than either of them for actually digging up great music without getting spammed or having a pumpkin thrown at you or being bitten by a werewolf, but within each one, we need to adapt, to understand and to engage. Yes, we can continue to educate people, and to request better integration and implementation from the various sites (Myspace’s new API for developers is a HUGE leap forward… let’s see how much of it is useless spamming BS when the apps go live), but if you’re in the business of making music and connecting with an audience, educating digital toe-dippers has diminishing returns as a primary method of engagement.

Make Myspace work for you by interacting with people who express an interest in discovering new music, keep your friends list manageable, send regular friendly bulletins, use the blog and the status update, and if your friend list is small enough, the event invite (though I’ve found in my experience that the response to bulletins is close enough to being as high as it is for event invites as to be not worth the extra effort to send the event invite…) and use the status updates to keep people clicking through to your page.

And use facebook to connect with your friends and to supply them with the social capital to look cool because they know you – Facebook’s primary virgin market for musicians is friends of friends – your friends post your music on their page, and their friends listen because someone they trust digs it. It’s a pretty simple equation, and a pretty effective strategy in terms of quality engagement with people predisposed to wanting to like what you do.

So don’t get so hung up on telling people that they are losers for liking myspace, just accept that they do, and talk to them there. Just avoid spam like the plague, it’s so flippin’ obvious on Myspace, it stands out like a dog turd on a dinner plate. Better quality interaction with fewer people.

All of this changes when you reach 50,000 people that have added you and engaged with you, when 10,000 of those have comments, and you’re regularly topping 3000 plays a day. Then we can start to talk about the percentages involved in sending out blanket mailing and trying to get actual email addresses from those people to connect with outside of myspace. Til then, it’s one potential TRUE fan at a time.

Remember, no-one owes you anything, no-one is compelled to engage with your music, or assume that it’s any more important than what any of the other millions of musicians out there do. And a lot of them won’t like what you do, for perfectly valid reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ you are in any measurable way. So we keep putting it out there, inviting them in, rewarding their engagement, providing social capital and resources to gain cache and kudos from having engaged with us, and just making some friends! I’ve found that the vast majority of the people who dig what I do are people I like. Not in a sycophantic ‘hey I love you for buying my music’, but just that the music that soundtracks my life (my music) is likely to appeal to people who share a few of the values and perceptions that I have. I’ve made friends with so many people whose first point of contact was a gig or masterclass or CD of mine, it’s great, and a vital part of my life right now.

…I also have great friends who really couldn’t care less about my music, and are equally valuable for that reason, but that’s a whole other blog post…

So obviously, if you want to connect with me, feel free to do so on twitter , myspace or facebook.

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

It's a Kind Of Magique

February 29th, 2008 · 2 Comments

I’ll be back to blogging the deep stuff – lots of ideas coming off the back of the last post (read the comments, there are some good ones) – but first, a video for which only one TLA could possibly suffice…

W. T. F. ??

this, dear bloglings, is a strange kind of genius, it’s some kind of wonderful… I share this as something that the performer in question has posted on youtube themself, and I mean no ill-will or insult. It just had to be shared. I still have tears in my eyes from the first time I watched it.

Feel free to thank me in the comments… :o)

Tags: cool links · tips for musicians

To The Left Of The Mainstream – new music recommendations

February 25th, 2008 · 4 Comments

I’ve written before about the need for filtering in the online music world – there’s just too much music and not enough time to leave it all to chance. As Jeff Schmidt just expressed it on twitter – “curation is vital”.

Which is why I’ve just started To The Left Of The Mainstream – a twitter-based music recommendation feed. I’ll post at least once a day, sometimes more, with links to great artists, with the proviso that all the sites will provide full track on demand streaming tracks or downloads. They’ll mainly be from Myspace, last.fm and Reverb Nation

So if you’re on twitter (you should be), you can ‘follow’ TTLOTM on there, or just click the link and then grab the RSS feed to follow it in google reader or safari or wherever. I’m sure you’ll find loads of great new music through it.

Stylistically, it’ll run the gamut from singer/songwriters to ambient music, rock bands to chamber works, electronica to nu-jazz. All the kinds of things I love. There’ll be no ‘buy-ons’, as it’s only going to be of any value at all if the sole criteria is quality…

That doesn’t mean I’m not taking recommendations – make those in the comments below please (rule #325, you can’t recommend yourself! ;o)

Tags: cool links · Geek · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians · website recommendations