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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



It’s The Little Things That Count – You Are The Press.

August 9th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Sidelong Glace by Patrick_Down on FlickrOver the years, I’ve sent literally hundreds of CDs to magazines and radio, in the hope of reviews and airplay. And I’ve had a quite large amount of both:

But, what is evident to anyone who experiences these things first hand, is that word of mouth – my listeners telling their friends and family about the wonderful music they’ve just discovered – is worth more than all that mainstream press put together. [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Promotion Is A Numbers Game (Get Heard!)

July 14th, 2009 · 10 Comments

I’ve run across a few situations recently where people have been limiting the amount of their music that can be heard online. So here’s a few thoughts about free streaming music, and the business model involved:

Most of the research I’ve seen – as well as the conversations I’ve had – tell us that a reasonable percentage of people still buy CDs. They still want music on CD, and are going to buy the music they like.

Nothing that I’ve seen or heard tells me that music fans will pay money for a CD in order to hear music they’re restricted from hearing online – just so they can find out if it’s good or not – or that people who buy CDs are happy to sit and click ‘play’ over and over again on last.fm instead of buying music… [Read more →]

Tags: 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

measurable last.fm stat (short post alert!)

June 23rd, 2008 · Comments Off on measurable last.fm stat (short post alert!)

Just a quick one: I’ve just seen that my number of listeners on Last.fm this week jumped up to 33, from 17 last week – see the list of weekly listeners here, and add yourself to it for next week by listening here.

So, in statistical terms, that’s a success, I guess, though this year, I think it’s telling that my highest level of listeners on last.fm was when I was on tour in the US in Jan/Feb…

Don’t miss yesterday’s post which brings together some thoughts on measuring the value of these interactions – read it here

(and don’t worry, I’ll be back to writing annoyingly long essays tomorrow 🙂 )

Tags: Geek · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Buzz experiment thoughts: Measuring Levels Of Connection…

June 22nd, 2008 · Comments Off on Buzz experiment thoughts: Measuring Levels Of Connection…

The other day I wrote my first post for MusicThinkTank.com – a really great collaborative blog with contributors from across the spectrum of ‘what’s happening in the music industry these days?’ – I was really excited to be asked to blog for them, as there are some fantastic thinkers writing for the site that I’ve learned a lot from over the years. (please feel free to read the post and comment over there)

One of the really nice things about writing for them is the brief to be brief. So my first post is just that – short and to the point. But it does mean that I get to expand on the thoughts over here 🙂

So, as I say over there, one of the things that the buzz exercises are making me think about and be more aware of is the whole area of ‘level of connection’ or ‘depth of impact’. There are two vague levels on which this stuff can be measured – abstract and metric. The abstract level is probably best summed up as ‘your own perception of the level of ambient awareness’ – or just the sense that more people seem to be clocking who you are and what you do.

The metric level is actually a whole series of interlocking metrics measuring LOADS of different ways that people engage with what you do: from audience attendance at gigs, CD and download sales, free download hits, web page hits, return visits, RSS feed subscribers, mentions on other people’s blogs and web forums, quantity of email interactions… etc. etc.

What’s vitally important to remember here is that what you’re dealing with is not a set of statistics that need improving, but a number of unique individuals who are all engaging what an aspect or aspects of ‘that thing you do’ in subtle and unique ways, and are all in a position to be drawn closer into what you do, if only it is presented to them in a way that is relevant and of value.

But in order to understand and quantify where each of those people are in their relationship with you, we first need to come up with some vague staging posts along the way, from no knowledge of even the area you work in to becoming a patron/sponsor/financier of what you do.

Let’s have a look at a few of those introductory stages:

Notice that a person’s level of connection with you begins before they even know who you are: knowing something about your field is a level of connection – it’s latent, but can prove vital to them a) finding you and b) understanding what you do. So for me, it really helps whenever anyone else is successful as a solo bassist and/or musician using looping. Every time KT Tunstall or Imogen Heap does some live looping on TV, it expands my pool of latent connection. Every time Victor Wooten plays a solo spot in a Flecktones gig, and a bunch of non-bassists see how cool solo bass can be, my pool of latent connection expands.

As and when those people are drawn into my orbit, they’ll have some frame of reference for what it is that I do, something to relate it to, a peg on which to hang their labels for it, beyond ‘nice music’. They’ll see it as a cool hip thing, and I’ll piggy-back on the residual level of cool that solo bass or looping has for them. This, in my experience, has way more real-world lasting value than the pretense that what you’re doing is utterly unique and groundbreaking. The majority of people connect better with familiarity than they do with ‘extreme novelty’…

The first level of actualised connection is name recognition. How many times have you had a conversation with someone who says ‘do you know ******’ and you say ‘I’ve heard the name’… and often you have. You know precious little about them, if anything, but their name is there, in your sphere somewhere.

If that happens 2 or 3 times with the same person, your curiosity is tweaked and you may google them, especially if you’re sat in front of a computer when it happens. And name recognition turns to first level engagement with what you do – finding whichever web-presence ranks highest in google for you and checking it out… So they’ve found you, and have done so based on the feeling that they might be missing out by not knowing about you…

The obvious point to make here is that this relies on them meeting 2 or 3 people who are inspired to talk about what you do – something that is latent in a lot of your audience, most likely. There’ll be a whole load of people who like what you do who don’t think to talk about it, cos they don’t realise you need it. As I’ve said many times, and will keep saying til people realise it’s true, I’m utterly reliant on word of mouth to get people to hear about what I do – both because I can’t afford broadcast ad-space and because I dip under the radar of most mainstream music media channels… the occasional play on Radio 3 or 6Music and the very occasional article in the national press can’t sustain any level of buzz enough to help support a career – though it’s great to have listeners now who first heard me on Late Junction or read about me in a mag (I’ve been interviewed by, reviewed by or featured in The Sunday Times, Jazzwise, Bassist, Guitarist, Bass Player, Bass Frontiers, Total Guitar… etc. etc. and lots of music related websites. Sounds a lot bunched together like that, but means precious little when spread out over 9 years in the context of building a career… …more on the real importance of reviews and interviews coming soon!)

But how is that measured? We as musicians need to make ourselves available for feedback – whether it be email, forums, tweets, myspace comments, blog comments, last.fm shout-box comments… Encouraging a culture of “letting artists know that we’ve found them and we like them” is a huge part of making music ‘sticky’, so that it pollenates beyond our ‘primary reach’.

So, comment thread: other than me (though if you’ve just discovered me, you can tell me where too!), who was the last independent artist you heard that got you excited? Feel free to video comment and play some of the music in the background 🙂

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

Last.fm-buzzing – day one results + free stuff :)

June 19th, 2008 · 1 Comment

OK, one day into the last.fm buzzing experiment, and the first thing that’s clear is that this is going to take a little longer. Twitter buzzing takes a maximum of 20 seconds beyond reading the blog post. You find a link, you twurl it, you tweet it. Simple As.

I did, however, have twice as many listeners on last.fm yesterday, compared to my daily average, and also visits to this site are also still up way above the average… Not sure how much of that is interest in me or interest in the results of the experiment. Either is good!

The Last.fm thing has a bigger pay-off – you’re listening to a load of music you presumably find interesting – but it takes a LOT more time, from the actual listening time, to navigating the site, to deciding where to comment, to finding out how this ‘loving tracks’ thing works.

So, here’s the first ‘prize’ for those of you that haven’t got it already: A free album to download from Last.fm – it’s my most ‘ambient’ album yet, with two massive long ambient epics, and a few shorter tracks, all to be downloaded and listened to in your own time. All I ask is that you sign up for last.fm and listen to them with the plug in switched on (once you’ve got it, if you set it to auto-load when you turn your computer on, you don’t even have to think about it, it just logs what you listen to, and when you want it to, can suggest interesting new music, or generate radio stations for you – all for freebs, how cool is that?)

What’s also note-worthy is that no-one has – as far as I can see – commented on there yet – I guess there are too many choices. So today, if you read this, please comment on the artist front page

I’m trying to find a way in their ‘music manager’ software of tracking when tracks are ‘loved’… the most obvious page for me to follow is the Fans page – which auto-updates whenever anyone plays some stuff on there. It’s great to see in real-time what people are listening to (though also slightly alarming when people start with my earlier albums – for some reason, the top two most played tunes on there are from Not Dancing For Chicken, which came out in 2002… guess you can’t control what people listen to 🙂

Anyway, the experiment goes on, please, join in today if you’re on last.fm, or fancy signing up, download the free album, and enjoy!

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