stevelawson.net

Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Rejoining Emusic's subscription download service.

March 8th, 2009 · Comments Off on Rejoining Emusic's subscription download service.

Steve Lawson's Behind Every Word album, for MP3 download on emusic.com, screengrabI just started my subscription to Emusic again. Emusic is one of the biggest site for indie music download sales, and works on a subscription model, so you pay for a certain number of tracks a month. I get 50 tracks for £11.99, I think.
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Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians · website recommendations

Listen to the Lawson/Dodds/Wood album now (if you want to :) )

October 8th, 2008 · Comments Off on Listen to the Lawson/Dodds/Wood album now (if you want to :) )

First up, a HUGE thanks to everyone who’s bought the album already – thanks for the feedback, and thanks for investing in the music. It means that (if sales continue as they are) we’ll be able to pay for the pressing of the CD without going into any kind of debt… makes the whole process of being a musician who releases the kind of music that takes more than an hour to record MUCH more viable.

So, yeah, thanks. You all rule.

For those of you who, understandably, have been waiting to hear the album before dropping your money on it, your wait is over! Hurrah!

Via the wonders of last.fm, you can now listen to the album in its entirety before choosing whether to buy it. Just click on each track in turn in the player below –

We really hope you enjoy it.

I love the way releasing new music can inspire all kinds of other stuff around it – one of the nice things it does is it causes an upsurge in sales of back catalogue albums (sold more of my solo CDs in the last week than in the previous 2 months of online sales – and it means that Grace And Gratitude is now properly out of print on CD, but still available as a download 🙂 ), but it also gets me to do the things I should’ve done ages ago. Like uploading the Steve Lawson and Lobelia Live In Nebraska EP to Last.fm as well. It’s uploaded, and as I write is ‘processing’, but should be there before you read this…

Also, in more geeky news, for those of you that want to point friends to where they can get the album, the short URL www.stevelawson.net/ldw now goes to the shop page (which has the player embedded, and links to all the youtube videos too…)

Tags: Music News · Musing on Music · site updates

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

It pains me to say it, but Billy Bragg couldn't be more wrong…

July 26th, 2008 · Comments Off on It pains me to say it, but Billy Bragg couldn't be more wrong…

…And here was me hoping that the arguments over ‘flat license fees’ for music online were going away and people realised it was largely unworkable. Gerd Leonhard has been pushing this for a while as the answer – Gerd is a futurist, and as I’ve said before, he approaches the industry with the characteristic fatalism of a futurist – the trends all point in a certain way, so let’s not try and change the culture or wish for a better world, but instead just bend with the wind and squeeze some money from the listeners before they just steal it all.

And now my favourite living Englishman (OK, joint fave with Tony Benn), Billy Bragg has piled in on the discussion putting his weight behind the idea that music should be either license fee driven or ad-revenue driven.

And I, perhaps not surprisingly, disagree with him. Rather strongly. Here’s a few reasons why:

  • the cost of administrating such a scheme would be prohibitively high – the per-track margins involved in such a scheme would mean that the people who currently make a few hundred or a few thousand pounds a year in revenue from their recorded output would be likely driven out of the game, or forced to opt out of the scheme, and in order to ‘compete’ at all, would have to just give their stuff away without any come-back. There is a healthy music-world that operates outside even the spread of the MCPS/PRS licensing scheme for recorded music, where bands record their own original music, press their own CDs and sell them, because audiences are still aware of the financial value of recorded music. Destroy that, and those people are left high and dry – it would be fine if recorded music were genuinely ‘free’, but recording music takes time, resources, skills, all of which are costed on a scale – you want a better drum sound, you better go to a decent studio with great mics… That’s not going to happen if music for band start-ups is designed to be given away. So we end up back with the home-demo production values of the mid 80s, and hand the record labels another way of holding artists to hostage just because they own a studio and have access to advertising revenue…
  • how hard it would be to police – without getting deeper into a ‘big brother’ monitoring situation, it’d be damn near impossible to bring all music under that licensed umbrella.
  • how difficult it would be for smaller bands to build a ‘brand’ if their music is lost in some massive licensed distribution package – it’s hard enough for bands to carve out their own space online as it is, with most of the current retail options being centralized – iTunes, eMusic etc – they can be linked into, but it’s vital in the current climate that bands can manage their own sales. In the license-era, CDs (or whatever other new format has arrived) could still be sold online as ‘premium product’, but download sales would vanish, and download traffic, in order to fit within the license, will be moved away from the band’s site. I’m sure the widgets will be skinnable, but it’s still shifting the powerbase to whoever gets charged with handling the database (a database of ALL music??? who the hell would we trust with that, to not be gamable by the big labels???)
  • what’s the potential for growth within such a system – the Long Tail, as a concept, only works if an artist/content producer is ‘pushing’ traffic into the long tail – very little of my audience passively lands on my music – last.fm is probably the only significant traffic source for people finding me ‘by accident’. Maybe Myspace, to an extent. But I’m still pushing the traffic that way, and the idea of pushing people away from my site, into the license area (however that becomes administered) for miniscule return, just doesn’t work for me as a relatively marginal artist. It’s bloody marvellous for Madonna, Radiohead and even Billy Bragg – for artists with what I think of as an ‘ambient legacy’, a large general awareness of what they do amongst listeners, it’s a great deal – for people to be able to go and download all of Billy’s back catalogue for ‘free’, LOADS of people would do it, but even charge them £2 per album, and they’d think twice… He gets to capitalize on years of record company expenditure and media exposure…
  • what it psychologically does to the listener to perceive record music as having no value. This, for me is the crux of it – this approach actively ruins the relationship between listener and music – not listener and band, but listener and music. In order to give people the experience of learning from music, of being changed by it, of learning to love it, we need to be building better filters for discovery, not broadening access to 100,000 song archives. I know teenage kids with 10s of thousands of tracks on their computers. Most of it they’ll never ever listen to. You can’t. They have it because it’s there. It’s consumer-gluttony and benefits no-one. If they were ‘paying’ fractions of a penny per track via a license scheme for those tracks, it’s not going to make that track any more valuable for them. In fact, the value of downloading it illegally is probably higher because they need to step outside of ‘the mainstream’ to do it, there’s a frisson of excitement as doing something illegal (if they even know it’s illegal), and that adds value!

I LOVE Billy Bragg, I think he’s great, and I’m really glad he’s thinking through this stuff, but on this one, he’s many shades of wrong…

So what’s the alternative? i’ll write more later, but feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!

Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Social Media Thoughts 5: Sharing the Love pt 1 – fans.

June 13th, 2008 · 2 Comments

If you listened to the podcast I’ve been talking about in the last couple of posts, you’ll know that one of the things I’ve been thinking about of late is how Social Media lets the story of what we do and why we do it be told in as many ways as there are people willing to tell it.

As an example, think of an album you like, and try and sum it up in one sentence – a slogan that would work on a bill-board. Then have a think about the diverse range of people who might listen to that music, and whether they would understand what it is that you’re describing. Are you using other music as a reference point, music they might not know? Are you referring to it technically in a way that most of the audience wouldn’t understand or even care about? Are you framing it culturally in a way that alientates parts of the potential audience? The answer is probably ‘yes’ to all of those, for some of the potential audience.

I’ve designed a few print ads in my time, most of them to run in bass magazines – easy target audience you’d think? Nope. For every bassist who gets excited over the ‘idea’ of solo bass, there are 20 who dismiss it before listening as a mindless technical wankfest. Musician-specific audiences are a mixed blessing. Sure, there’s a level of ‘wow’-factor that anything clever has for them that a lay audience may not have, but they’re also prone to listening with their eyes, so if you’re inclined to make music to be listened to rather than watched as a sport, it can be a tough crowd.

No, writing broadcast ad-copy is a nightmare, and very rarely worth the expense, if what you’re marketing isn’t a necessary utility.

Which is where the ‘viral’ aspect of social media comes into its own, and doesn’t just involve videos of cats being cute racking up 11 million views on youtube. No, I just mean us being able to talk about and share things that we think are of value to anyone else in our social networks.

There are two distinct sides to this – what we do as ‘fans’, which I’ll deal with here and what we do as fellow artists, which I’ll blog about shortly.

The fans bit is easiest – people who find what I do and like it can ‘share’ the page on facebook, ‘stumble’ it, tweet about it, or just send an ole fashioned email to a friend with a recommendation to check out a particular tune or artist. We can even buy music for them on iTunes, and can of course describe it in any way that works for us, using the promo blurb that the artist has on their site if we want, or just making it up. So someone finding me could send their friend some BS about ‘the UK’s leading solo bass guitarist’ or say something random like ‘here’s a song that REALLY reminds me of custard… can’t work out why’… either way, it’s a new story, it’s a story that has context, and history and shared language in a way that a broadcast soundbite written by a marketing person will never have.

The artist’s role in this is to resource those digging for info. Often I want to share music with a fair amount of context, especially if it’s great music made in a way that is relevant to a particular musician, so if I go to the artist’s site and find a description of how they made a particular sound or recorded a particular track, so much the better. If while I’m there, I read a bit more about why they make the music they make, and what’s going on with them, it provides even greater context for me, and also for anyone I point to the site.

The key here is understanding how and why we ‘get into’ a particular band. It’s VERY rarely through one listen to a song. Two things in particular make a big difference to the likelihood of us loving a band – context and repeat exposure.

In the bad old days, pre-internets, repeat exposure came either through radio or after we’d bought the record. So we had time to grow to love things, and often bought them based on reviewers or friends who acted as cultural gate-keepers. The need to buy on trust has gone, so the role of musical town-criers is less vital, and we can all play a part in sharing what we dig.

Three things are therefor vital for musicians to do

1. articulate the need for some assistance – in the bad old days of Web 1.0, the vast majority of ‘web-savvy’ indie musicians played the ‘faux-major’ website game. Get a super flashy (often Flash-y) website design, and make it look like you are hidden behind a team of managers, designers, pluggers, PRs and a fancy schmancy rich label. Fake it to make it. It soon became very clear that audiences value interaction with artists far more than they are ‘wowed’ by faux-corporatism. So in the new web ecomony, we need to make ourselves available to answer our audience’s questions about what we do, invite their interaction with our process, and ask for their help! I UTTERLY rely on my audience telling their friends, family and social peers about what I do when they find something in it that works for them – and, leading onto number 2,
2.I try and make it as easy as possible for them (you?) to share things – at the bottom of this post, and any other post or page on my site, you’ll see a lil’ green logo that says ‘share this’ next to it – if you click on there, it’s easy to share that page or post on any social network you happen to be a part of – Myspace, facebook, stumbleupon, digg, del.icio.us, and a bunch of others I’ve never even heard of! that’s one of the main ways that people who have never heard me get to hear what I do – you sharing it.
3. The 3rd thing we musicians need to do is Show Gratitude – I’m well aware that you don’t NEED to tell anyone about my music. You don’t NEED to listen to me, or read this blog, or anything else – it’s a tragic pit that so many musicians fall into when they forget what David Jennings refers to in Net Blogs And Rock & Roll as ‘Jennings Law’ – “people make most of their discoveries elsewhere.” – no-one is hanging around twiddling their thumbs feeling like their monthly broadband fee is wasted cos I haven’t released enough music or written enough blog posts this week. In an attention economy, the onus is on me to be interesting enough for people to come and see what I do, and to frame the music is a context that hopefully inspires people to want to share that with their friends and peers, and to get the pay-off that they see it helping me…

So, in closing, it helps. If you’ve been sharing what I do with your friends, let me know in the comments below, and I’ll show some gratitude 🙂

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

Review – And Nothing But The Bass (No Warning e-zine)

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

“And nothing but the bass! No, don’t be afraid, you are not likely to get bored just because a single instrument takes the spotlight in this recording; in fact you will have the opportunity to discover a new world of sounds and colours conjured up by the intelligent use of the bass, which is perhaps too often written off as being unable to play an important role, except where it deals exclusively with rhythm. On the other hand, without going into the greats of the instrument in the fields of jazz and jazz rock, how can we forget the fundamental role played in rock by bassists such as Jack Bruce, Chris Squire, Mark King and Tony Levin? How can we ignore how many new horizons have been opened up by the courageous souls who have dared to abandon the “pedal” on the bass strings to venture in search of new possibilities on the high strings? What would Gentle Giant have been like with the bassist from AC/DC in the line-up? And the Clash with Stanley Clarke? But, without losing ourselves completely if “ifs” and “buts”, you get the picture that Steve Lawson is a bassist who belongs to that group of musicians who consider the bass to be an instrument capable of breaking new ground in its own right. His approach has been praised by colleagues of the calibre of Michael Manring and Danny Thompson.

Steve Lawson began his career as a solo performer when a London dance company commissioned him to write music for a contemporary dance performance which was subsequently held in a car park in central London. He then took part in the National Music Shows in 1997, 1998 and 1999 at the Wembley Conference Centre and held various clinics on the use of effects, MIDI and real-time sampling.

His approach is based on the creation of superimposed layers, preferring melodic bass lines onto which he grafts solo phrases rather than focusing solely on soundscaping: this method is apparent right from the opening The Inner Game, where Steve plays and layers a couple of lines which form the basis for the whole piece, then solos over the top. In Drifting, on the other hand, a beautiful arpeggio serves as the foundation for tricks with volume and delay, harmonics and solos which display a remarkable sense of melody. It is notable that in pieces such as Virtue Of The Small and The New Country, the melodies take on a pronounced Mediterranean feel, which is a real surprise from a British musician. If you are a fan of Jetlag/Passpartù-era Premiata Forneria Marconi* you will certainly appreciate these marvellous solar episodes. In Chance, Steve buries himself in soundscaping of indescribable sweetness, keeping melody always to the fore. In Blue Sticks he reshapes the famous tune Blue Moon in his own style. And what can be said of the beautiful Bittersweet, a trio for two basses and piano…if in Virtue Of The Small and The New Country Steve is able to conjure the landscapes of the Tyrrhenian coast and the smell of Sicilian orange trees, with Bittersweet the mind turns to rainy London afternoons, with grey clouds hanging over elegant Victorian buildings. Only a musician with great talent and sensitivity can provoke such emotions, giving us these 52 minutes of pathos from solo bass and effects. The disc closes with the minimalist picture of Pillow Mountain, a soft blanket of fine layers which Steve Lawson enriches with a few tastefully played notes. Recorded live, mainly during a performance at the Troubadour in Earl’s Court, London in December 1999, And Nothing But The Bass has already received favourable reviews from publications such as Global Bass Magazine, Cross Rhythms, Guitarist Magazine and Bass Frontiers. The album is available directly from the artist. To order it and to find news, images and free downloads, go to the website for Steve Lawson, and discover a musician about whom we will certainly be talking in the future.”

The Inner Game / Drifting / The Virtue Of The Small / The New Country / Chance / Bluesticks / Bittersweet / Pillow Mountain

Tags:

Streaming/Downloads

May 2nd, 2008 · 13 Comments

I’ve basically given up on mainstream distribution for my music – for a number of reasons, Bandcamp serves you and I way better than me going through the process of submitting all of my music to iTunes, Amazon etc. even before we get to any ethical concerns we may have about the companies…So, to hear everything I’ve done, head to music.stevelawson.net – or better yet, check out the subscription – it’s by far the best value way to get a TON of amazing music, previews of new stuff, new exclusive videos and everything new I release in the coming year… If you like physical things, there’s the USB Stick of Everything!

Here are a selection of recent things to get you started:

Let’s start with my latest solo album:

PS, You Are Brilliant

Then there are the collaborations:

Intersect, with Pete Fraser:

Live So Far, with Lobelia:

FingerPainting, with Daniel Berkman:

Diversion, with Jon Thorne:

Invenzioni, with Mike Outram:

enjoy!

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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

Some thoughts on 'Free' methodology and practice…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Downloading made easy, the Reverb Nation Widget way!

April 6th, 2008 · 5 Comments

Not sure why I didn’t think of this before, but you can download all of Lessons Learned from An Aged Feline Pt II from the widget below. It’s a four step process, as follows:

1. click the word ‘songs’ at the top of the widget.
2. click on ‘What Was Going On’
3. put your email address into the box that appears (you have to sign up for my mailing list to get the download)
4. while the track is playing, click the little download arrow to the right of the play-timeline, underneath the tracklist.

Then repeat steps 2 and 4 – click on each song and click download. And you’ll have a shiny digital loveliness copy of LLfaAF Pt II.


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One of the fun things about doing this experiment with the free downloads has been listening back to two albums I’ve not listened to of mine for a long time. LLfaAF Pt II is the record where I fell in love with my fretted 6 string bass – The majority of the tracks on it are recorded with that bass. Melodically, it’s probably the most ‘jazz’ thing I’ve done, as I was quite consciously experimenting with more ‘outside’ lines and some bigger intervals in the melodies. It was nice to go back and rediscover a few things I was doing then that I haven’t done since, and am now wanting to reincorporate into my playing.

For those of you who are musicians wanting to make your music available in different places, Reverb Nation widgets are a great way to do it – if you go to my page and click on the widgets tab, you’ll see all the ones available. You can even make the one above the main music interface on your blog.

It’s a good way to manage collecting mailing list subscriptions in exchange for the free stuff, rather than just giving it away AND having to play for the bandwidth from your own server.

And of course, your legions of fans can include your widgets on their myspace page, blog, facebook page, bebo page. etc etc.

As the user-base of Reverb Nation grows, it may increase in native currency. For now, it’s largely about traffic you send to your page, and the widgets it makes available.

Though the nice thing about it being pretty small right now is that I’m at Number 2 in their jazz charts! – that’s 2nd out of 1789 ‘jazz’ artists. And that’s without even being proper jazz. Good work.

Tags: bass ideas · Music News · New Music Strategies · site updates · tips for musicians