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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Social Media thoughts Pt 4 – the podcast!

May 27th, 2008 · 1 Comment

Last Friday, after the Social Media Cafe, I was interviewed by broadcaster and programme maker Penny Jackson for the Creative Coffee Club podcast. She’s a fantastic interviewer in that she asks the questions that from my site of the mic sound obvious, but are the things that make sense of a lot of the stuff I’ve been writing on here.

We talk a lot about my story, where the energy and motivation comes from to see marketing and promoting what I do as a conversation, as well as my understanding of how social media facilitates that, and allows me to make a living from it…

You can listen to the podcast below:

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[clarification – half way through, I describe what I do as being pop music, and at the end I say it isn’t pop music – I’m using the term in two different ways: First time it’s because I’m using pop forms and pop harmony for the most part, and my influences are ‘pop’ songwriters. The second time it’s because in a live setting (the context being opening for Level 42) it doesn’t engage you in the way that a pop ‘song’ does, largely because it’s instrumental, and because the looping process means it doesn’t hit you with the hook in the first 15 seconds like any classic pop song would… I really should’ve chosen a different term 🙂 ]

Does that lot make sense? Was it helpful? Do you want to hire me to come and talk to your band/college/company/record label/etc. about how this stuff works for you? I’m all ears… 🙂

Tags: Music News · Musing on Music · New Music Strategies · Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc. · tips for musicians

Social Media thoughts Pt 3 – the ongoing conversation…

May 22nd, 2008 · 6 Comments

So, from my own ill-formed thoughts on how to use Social Media as a way of connecting with an audience, I started reading more about the way other people were doing the same thing, and watching what other musicians did. There’s been a lot of cross-pollenation, as musicians who’ve taken some of my ideas have gone further with them in a much shorter space of time than I ever have – Jeff Schmidt is a good example of this.

Jeff’s got a pretty huge profile given the very short space of time in which he’s been doing this solo bass stuff. He went from exploring solo bass ideas at a masterclass I was giving to winning international competitions and building an online fanbase in just a few months. A lot of his spread was via the social media of Myspace, his blog, bass forums and videos. His playing is at times really immediately impressive which got a lot of people embedding clips of his music in a ‘wow, check this dude out!’ kind of way, and word spread fast. A lot faster than it ever has for me online… And from his thinking about this stuff, I’ve picked up all kinds of great ideas and thoughts. Our ongoing conversations on how all this works, via blog comments, twitter and sporadic podcasting – as well as chatting whenever we get to meet up – are a vital part in how I process all this stuff.

Again, the information flow is non-linear – it’s back and forth, it involves a lot of tributaries and cul-de-sacs and hours of mucking about and exploring what’s happening. Both Jeff and I are having conversations with other people, and bring those to the table when we get together. His thinking on it is very much shaped by him having a pretty demanding day job, which frees him up in terms of making money from his music, but ties him down in terms of time spent on music-related stuff… And around us, we’ve built a growing community of musicians – many of them, not surprisingly, solo bassists – who are talking about and using this stuff.

Recently, something fundamentally shifted for me. I started to discuss my ideas on this with non-musicians. Twitter was a big catalyst in the beginning of this, starting to have mini-discussions with people who were actively integrating social media into their daily public dialogue. From there, I discovered about the London Social Media Cafe, and started to have weekly conversations with people from other businesses and artistic disciplines about how the conversation enables us to do what we do, and find an audience, clients, business partners, inspiration and resources.

The format of the Social Media Cafe is so simple, a room is booked upstairs in a pub, a load of curious people turn up, drink coffee, eat croissants and chat about social media stuff. Sometimes it’s about making friends and feeling less isolated. Sometimes it’s about getting work. Sometimes it’s about helping other people process their thoughts on a particular subject. Sometimes it’s about giving and receiving encouragement. Or having a sounding board. And it’s all about the Moo Cards. 🙂

The founder, Lloyd Davis, is very much the personality archetype for the SMC – he’s curious, creative, tech-savvy, self employed as a social media consultant and enabler… and loves a good natter!

What is clear from the SMC (and the spin-off gatherings, like the fantastic Creative Coffee Club) is that the level of thinking and dialogue that goes on is pretty much the leading edge of thinking on the subject of social media and it’s relationship to work, innovation, entrepreneurship, the arts, creativity etc. – certainly that I’ve ever come across. I’ve listened to keynote speeches from expos and new media gatherings around the world and often things that are presented as revolutionary and new in those settings are just taken as read at the SMC and are part of the way we daily live. If I worked for a media agency or corporation, I’d be biting Lloyd’s hand off to pay for access to the collective minds of the SMC! I can’t imagine a better group to bounce ideas off, or get feedback from. The various sponsors of the Friday morning get togethers understand this.

The other key part of it for me has been about reinvention – a lot of my geek friends that I’ve known for years have watched me go from a website with scrolling text and animated gifs with a blog just written in HTML, through all of my new media mistakes and false starts, and so are less likely to be invigorated by my take on Social Media. They’ve heard all of my thoughts in their ill-formed half-baked state and as such, hear what I’m saying now in that light. That’s a useful thing, in that it stops me from thinking I’m the business when in fact I’m just writing up here what happens in my life, but it does mean that taking the more refined, nuanced, considered version of it into an environment where the tall bloke with the big hair and furry coats is a new face on the geek-scene is a good testing ground for it as a body of thought.

I’m getting to abstract from a musical context the principles behind the social media interaction discussion and instead of solo bass, to talk about film or books, computer games or education, and see how those scenarios throw light on the process, on the concept, on the whole area of looking at the failure of broadcast media to engage an audience, and the need for pathways of interaction between ‘content providers’ and consumers.

Another key piece in my thinking on this over the last 6 weeks or so has been David Jennings brilliant book Net, Blog And Rock ‘n’ Roll, which is a wonderful look at the way that people find information and how that plays out on the web in relation to music. I’ll not write a full review yet, as I still haven’t finished it, but suffice to say it is utterly vital reading for anyone thinking about this stuff, from any field.

So, what’s the value in the SMC/CCC/Social Media Geek-world for me then? Well, it works on many many levels. It’s a test-bed for ideas, it’s a place where I get to contribute to other people’s conversations, as well as starting my own. My, uhm, esoteric place as a musician makes for a great perspective provider, in that I’m clearly never looking to make millions, but am fiercely protective of my own creative space. I’m a good foil for conversations about the place that ‘meeting the needs of a market’ takes in any business/marketing plan, and maybe that will spill over into some consulting work on that.

I’m also able to collect stories and info from all these various worlds that are hugely useful for talking to music students about this stuff. I’m really looking forward to doing more university sessions on this, and helping music students plan a strategy of engagement, of interaction, of story telling and ‘real’ buzz-building around their music. I’m getting enquiries now from people wanting me to go and talk to their bands about this, which will be a lot of fun too!

And on top of all that, I’ve met a load of really amazing people, who inspire and energise me, who challenge me to up my game, and who encourage me. As well as a whole new load of listeners to my music – that last bit alone makes a lot of this worthwhile, but is actually just an added bonus!

So where do I go from here? I keep talking, keep sharing stories, keep helping musicians, keep learning from the mega-minds at the SMC/CCC/London geek world community, and carry on making the best music I can!

Are you an SMC/CCC attendee? What does it mean to you? What have you got from it?

Tags: Geek · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Social Media thoughts Pt 1 – my background and history.

May 15th, 2008 · 3 Comments

The last couple of months have been a really interesting time for me in terms of getting to experiment with, understand and conceptualise about the world of interactive web tools refered to as ‘Social Media’. Next week is the first London Social Media Cafe Musicians get together (we need a new title!) – so I thought I’d throw in some thoughts on social media and music over the next few days:

It’s not as if the idea is new – I’ve been interacting, networking and building knowledge about what I do as a musician on the web since the late 90s via email discussion lists (I joined The Bottom Line in early ’98, I think), forums (been on talkbass since early 2000, IM and music chatrooms. But two things have changed drastically since then – firstly an understanding, both academically and amongst users, of ‘social networking’ as an enterprise in its own right, and secondly the range of tools and web resources to make it happen.

A lot of what’s happening now was happening in a secondary way ages ago – your profile page on a web forum wasn’t that different, conceptually, from your Myspace page, but no-one thought of it in that way. Very few people sought to build an identity there and promote it as a site to visit to find out what they were into. There was no social capital in directing people to your talkbass.com profile page, for example.

Myspace was one of the first to really go huge with the whole Social Networking thing, and invert it from the web forum thing – they made it possible (in a hideously clunky way) for people to build their own page as a shop front for the world, and then to promote that via the various groups on the site, which all had message boards and discussion sections. The groups and forums on myspace have been a relative failure, for a number of reasons – firstly, the design is horrible, but more importantly, Myspace has always been about branded space: people customising their page to make it say something about them. The hook-up with music and bands was what sent them over the edge – they weren’t the best by any stretch, and are no hopelessly behind the game in every conceivable way, they just have 150 million registered users. That helps!

So I got a myspace page in late 2005, and started to search for people who were listening to people I liked, and add them as friends. I did this with about 3-4000 people, over a period of almost a year, with fairly diminished returns. I sold a few CDs as a result, and the general level of awareness of what I do in the bass community was certainly heightened, but it was a scattershot approach, and crucially, when I finally realised that MySpace worked best as an interactive media, not a broadcast one, I was left with a completely unmanageable, uncategorisable list of people I knew very little about, with no way of grouping them geographically, or by their level of interest (I couldn’t tell who’d added me and who I’d added). So my Myspace page, en masse, is still a pool of hideously underused potential, thanks to the completely rubbish way the site itself makes data available. I did a fairly major purge at one point, deleting a couple of thousand ‘friends’ who weren’t interacting and appeared to have nothing in common with what I was doing, but the numbers are now back up close to 8000…

The other social network I joined before Myspace was Last.fm – a much more focussed site, infinitely better designed, MUCH harder to spam, and built to slowly proliferate music that is considered ‘good’ by the regular users. Thanks to me getting in early on last.fm, my music is heavily tagged and associated with some fairly well-listened artists, so my music crops up on a relatively high number of people’s personal radio stations there.

Fast forward 3 years, and I now have a ‘portfolio’ of social networks, including Myspace, Last.fm, ReverbNation, Facebook and Twitter. I’m still involved in a few discussion forums, but largely, I prefer the friend/contact culture of social networks to the bear-pit/lowest common denominator world of most web forums.

For musicians, the onset of the ‘Social Media Age’ has meant an end to the tyranny of broadcast media, to our potential career and audience being in the hands of record execs, radio and TV programmers and big concert agents. We can build relationships with our audience, talk to them, ask for their help spreading the word about music they love, and also help out the musicians we love. The traffic is now moving in every direction, from us to fans, from fan to fan, from fan to us, and even via facebook from our non-music friends and family, to their friends as they use their connection with ‘real musicians’ as social capital on their facebook profile. The flow of information has been somewhat democratised, and the potential for us is huge.

I’ve been talking about this in universities and colleges for a couple of years now, and in the last few months have had the chance to start to conceptualise about Social Media with curious participants and thinkers from other worlds – from the mainstream media, from business, from hi tech industries, from marketing companies – via the various networks of geeks, primarily the weekly marvels that are the London Social Media Cafe and Creative Coffee Club – but that’s part 2…

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