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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Ask A Stupid Question – Building A Community that Communicates

November 22nd, 2010 · 2 Comments

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

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

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

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

And as a result,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simples.

-o0o-

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

Tags: New Music Strategies

Quoted In The Observer – More On the Myspace Redesign

November 1st, 2010 · 3 Comments

I was quoted in yesterday’s Observer, in an article by Jemima Kiss about the Myspace redesign.

Jemima contacted me via Twitter after I told her about ‘Quit Myspace Day’, and asked me a whole pile of really good questions. As is always the way with such things, she could only use a tiny fraction of what I wrote, so I’ll put the rest of it here. Enjoy! (I’ve paraphrased her questions, for the most part)

J: How useful was MySpace in the early days? How did you use it?

In the mid 2000s, MySpace accidentally filled a gap – the whole idea of adding a band as a ‘friend’ was revolutionary, and all of a sudden you had artists talking to their audience. For a whole load of tech-shy musos, the basics were there – music player, photo upload, gig list and a blog that acted as a newsletter. That it was happening at the heart of a youth social network was a double bonus – the sharing potential of that was massive, as kids put their favourite bands in their ‘top friends’ as a status symbol. [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies

London gig on Aug 25th – the Singers Of Twitter :)

July 31st, 2009 · 6 Comments

This is the first proper London show in AGES for Lobelia and I, so we’re making it a special one. We’ve asked 3 of our favourite singers to join us for an amazing night of singer-songwriter-ness… and genius Ukulele magic. It’ll be on Aug 25th, doors at 7pm, music from 7.30, at Darbucka World Music Bar, on St John’s Street in Clerkenwell, London. [Read more →]

Tags: gig dates · Gig stuff · Music News

Open Letter To The UK Jazz Community Pt V – Blogging.

May 11th, 2009 · Comments Off on Open Letter To The UK Jazz Community Pt V – Blogging.

photo of Corey Mwamba at the BarbicanAt the end of Pt IV, I said that band leaders could consider not hiring musicians who don’t blog to help promote the music. A few of you didn’t like that idea, suggesting that it’s all about the music, and why should someone have to be a writer in order to play music?

To which my answer is twofold:

  • Firstly, I did say ‘it’s not a hard and fast rule – you don’t want to, you don’t have to. But…
  • Secondly, you don’t have to be a writer to have a blog. You just have to want to tell people about cool stuff that’s going on around you. Some of the best blogs are a collection of really short posts – they’re a little bit of information, and some kind of embedded media. If you feel inspired to elaborate, or to write in the kind of long form article-based way that I do, that’s great, but that’s not why musicians should be blogging.

[Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Announcing 'Beyond Bass Camp'.

April 28th, 2009 · Comments Off on Announcing 'Beyond Bass Camp'.

photo of Steve Lawson live at the Greenbelt FestivalIf you’re an avid watcher of my various online streams – be it Twitter, Facebook or Friendfeed – you’ll have noticed over that last few days I’ve been talking about, and link to, BeyondBassCamp.com.

It’s a series of monthly masterclasses, inspired by the ones I give in California every January – for the last 4 or 5 years, I’ve been doing a day long seminar there, for up to about 25 bassists. Some years I’ve done two – a more general bass class, and then a solo bass focussed class on the Sunday. [Read more →]

Tags: Uncategorized

15 albums that changed my life…

February 26th, 2009 · Comments Off on 15 albums that changed my life…

This post is taken from a current Facebook Meme, and the title is fairly self explanatory. Some people have done 25 albums. I’ll just write til I run out… :) These won’t be in any particular order (just don’t categorise music like that) and will definitely be incomplete and open to change:
[Read more →]

Tags: music reviews

"Come To My Town" – request a gig.

February 17th, 2009 · Comments Off on "Come To My Town" – request a gig.

Come To My Town app on facebook for Steve LawsonI was just browsing around on Facebook, and noticed on my artist page that there there’s a ‘Come To My Town‘ request-a-gig button as part of the iLike app.

So I thought I’d bring it to your attention, as it’s always nice to know when people would actually like to come and see us play.

So head over there and request it!

Feel free to post gig-requests in the comments below too :)

Tags: Gig stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Win-win.

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

Tags: Geek · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what are we to do?

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

Some facts about music-listening-Stevie:

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

So, what does all that mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Media first principles for Musicians Pt 3 – going Mobile.

December 12th, 2008 · Comments Off on Social Media first principles for Musicians Pt 3 – going Mobile.

Steve Lawson and his N95 as taken by Benjamin Ellis. Finally… part 3! The timing is prescient for two reasons. Firstly, last Monday I was invited to be a panelist at a discussion hosted by Mobile Mondays (MoMo) on the whole area of Mobile tech and Social Media.

Secondly, it’s because today I’m heading to Leicester to De Montfort University Business School to help put together a social media toolkit that small businesses can use. (In case you’d let it slip your mind, being a pro or semi-pro musician IS a small business – makes for a great case study, in fact…)

So, cutting to the chase, our two Sesame Street-esque words of the day are:

Mobile‘ and ‘Transparent‘.

As I said to the lovely suits at MoMo, one of the big problems for non-uber-geeks using mobile social tools at the moment is the lack of transparent interface.

What the hell does that mean? OK, if you take a picture, click a button and quietly in the background it then uploads to Flickr for you (or to Facebook, Ovi, or if you want to post it to lots of places at once, Phreadz), that’s transparent. If, however, you take a picture, scroll through 100 menus, click a button, tell it to upload and then have to watch the screen for 5 mins because the connection keeps dropping and your phone might crash… that’s what I like to call ‘Not Transparent‘. That’s a pain in the arse, and unless you have a dedicated Social Media monitor (like a library monitor in school, but with cooler toys), it makes it very difficult to be spontaneous.

And spontaneity is key to the value of mobile for a musician. If you’re touring, all kinds of fun and crazy things are happening all the time. Lots of them (the ones that aren’t borderline illegal), when photographed, filmed or recorded, have enormous shareability. They’re funny, engaging, interesting and easily become part of the narrative. Even more importantly, they are something free you can GIVE to your audience, expecting nothing in return. You’re just inviting them into your world, to see a glimpse of the life you live on the road. Or in the studio, out shopping for music gear, or – if you’re comfortable with it – bits of your day to day life.

So where are we up to with the tech? Well, it is, not surprisingly, getting better and better. Hardware-wise, the front-runners are the Nokia N95 (my own smartphone of choice) and the iPhone… I’m not a huge fan of the iPhone, but I do appreciate the feature set it has, and it is a great device for playing around with mobile social media.

My reason for loving the N95 is that it’s as close to an all-in-one tool as I’ve seen yet
. The camera – and more importantly, the video capture – is the best I’ve come across in a mobile phone (even the world’s biggest cynic about such things, PhotoMonkeySteve, was impressed by the quality…). It has wifi, 3G and a whole slew of great apps developed for it. It’s a pretty good media playback device (if you rip films in the right format, you can even use it as a portable DVR, hook it up to your TV and watch films on the big screen…)

For me, being able to record gigs (I’ve currently got about 3.5 hours of Lobelia and I playing house concerts on the phone, waiting to be edited and uploaded to YouTube…) stream little bits of my daily life and upload photos direct to flickr (or, using TwitPic, to Twitter) is really cool. I can even blog direct to this WordPress blog from the phone.

The connection your audience will feel with what you’re doing is multiplied by a pretty large factor when you talk to them ‘in the moment’
– not ‘last night I played a gig’, but ‘I’m about to go on stage, wish me luck!’ – I posted that very message on Twitter last night before I played with Lawson/Dodds/Wood and got LOADS of replies from people who wouldn’t drop in to say ‘hey, really glad you had a good gig’ on my blog, but feel all warm and snuggly, and again, importantly, ‘like they’re missing something’ because I tell them what I’m doing right then.

So here’s what you need to get going with your Mobile social media life:

  • A Nokia N95 (or N82, or iPhone, or any other smartphone that has the features listed above)
  • A twitter account (twittering on the go makes bus and train journeys so much more fun. Most of the members of Jars Of Clay are now on Twitter, and their tour-banter is a lovely glimpse of life on the road)
  • A flickr account (you should have one of these already – I’ll post more about flickr soon…)
  • A youtube account (be warned, if you get an iPhone, the current version does NOT do video. I know, it’s insane, why the hell not?) – you can upload directly to your youtube account from the Nokia N series phones, via the youtube app. Same goes for Seesmic and Phreadz.

You can also post to Facebook, Myspace and a raft of other social sites from your phone.

Bottom line, you can double your social media footprint and quadruple your connection with your audience by going Mobile.

What’s more, it’s only going to get better from here. Be warned, a few of these things have a bit of a learning curve attached, mainly to get round the foibles of the hardware and software (by far the best feature-set of the upload apps is ShoZu… it’s just a shame that it makes my phone impossible to use when it’s running… I met the VP of Marketing at Shozu at MoMo, so will report back on my communication with her soon – she’s eager to help…)

4 years from now, social networking is going to be predominantly mobile and very much driven by rich media (photos, videos, audio) – get in there now and you’ll have a bigger slice of the audience, have made all your mistakes while most people don’t even know what you’re doing, and be in a position to innovate as soon as the tech comes along that lets you do it.

So, off you go and upgrade your phone (just don’t forget to recycle the old one…)

Tags: Geek · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians