stevelawson.net

Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Lawson/Dodds/Wood album launch news.

September 16th, 2008 · Comments Off on Lawson/Dodds/Wood album launch news.

As if all the geeking in Helsinki wasn’t enough, we’re actually in the home stretch with the release of the Lawson/Dodds/Wood album, which is now officially called Numbers. The album should be available for pre order and download in the next few days, and what’s more, we’ve got a launch gig booked, and therefor an official release date!

The gig will be on November 24th, at The Vortex in Dalston, London.

I’ll be heading over to see Patrick and Roy on Thursday, with the aim of recording some videos telling the story of the project. That will be lots of fun.

Oh, and for those that case about such things, this entire post was written on my Nokia N95, using a WordPress posting app called Scribe – proper mobile blogging FTW!

So watch this space for news of the album going on sale in the next day or so…

Tags: gig dates

New site, new blog home, new shop…

May 7th, 2008 · 5 Comments

As you’ll have seen by now (unless you’re reading this in an RSS reader), there’ve been a lot of changes round here – the design of stevelawson.net has now shifted into wordpress, the shop is still zencart, but has been given a facelift and most significantly, the blog is now hosted here too, integrated into the rest of the site.

The task of getting everything to forward to the right place was pretty huge – given how highly this blog indexes in google, it was vital that all those link redirected properly to this one, and I had SO much help from my herd of sure-footed trusty geeks: James Stewart, Rev. Gareth, Mike Arthur and The Captain. Gentleman and scholars to a man. I now fully understand why properly trained geeks get paid so much money – they can save you so much money. James did a couple of things this afternoon that quite literally saved me 3-4 complete days of editing URLs and stuff…

The tags from the old site still haven’t copied across, and a lot of the little pages that are littered around the old design still need to be imported and linked to (old gig reviews etc), but we’re getting there, slowly.

I hope you like the new design. Feel free to try out the new shop – if anything does go a bit weird, just email me, and we’ll sort it out – there’s no way you’re going to lose money on the deal, cos it’s actually me who runs it, so if there’s a problem, I can just FTP you the files for the download or pop a CD in an envelope, no worries 🙂

Enjoy…

Tags: Geek · site updates

The dangers of technodarwinian web 2.0 marketing for musicians

March 27th, 2008 · 2 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Managing information streams (Pt 1)

March 7th, 2008 · 7 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

perception trumps design – why Myspace still works…

March 6th, 2008 · 2 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video Blog Beta version 0.01

March 2nd, 2008 · 3 Comments

So I’m dipping my toe into the world of video blogging – here’s the beta version, with me trying the camera and audio out on my lappy, and talking a little bit about some geeky Looperlative stuff… enjoy! :o)

Tags: cool links · Music News · New Music Strategies

Billy Bragg, KT Tunstall, Leo Abrahams & Foy Vance live…

February 25th, 2008 · Comments Off on Billy Bragg, KT Tunstall, Leo Abrahams & Foy Vance live…

So iTunes have started doing an annual festival – itunes live. This year they seem to have a thing for collaborations, which do often, it must be said, make a gig particularly special.

And is no doubt one of the main reasons why the genius that is Leo Abrahams was on the bill – his new album is pretty much all colalborations, and features KT and Foy.

The gig started with Leo on his own, playing a couple of my favourite tunes of his; Anemone (not Amoeba as I called it on twitter last night) and Kristiansand.

He was then joined by Foy for a song together, which was beautiful.

and Foy Vance (at The Luminaire tonight, if it’s not sold out) – sweet Lord, why had no-one told me about him before? Loopin’ up a storm, layering acoustic guitar (not sounding v. acoustic, but hey, it sounded amazing) and voice, and singing like a gospel preacher. Really really compelling stuff. I’ve yet to explore his recorded output to see if he’s managed to capture that magic on record, but live he was breathtaking. Didn’t know any of the songs, obviously, but all were arresting and beautiful. Amazing stuff.

Then a break, after which the ever-amazing Billy Bragg came on (Billy made some reference to using Google alerts – so if you’re reading this, hi Billy!) – one of the most consistently fantastic live performers I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen him do a bad gig, his rapport with an audience is that of someone who’s been doing this for 30 years and still loves it, is still grateful for the chance to sing his songs and weave tales. The new songs from his upcoming album, Mr Love and Justice bode incredibly well for the record – both the title track and one he played at Greenbelt last year, I Keep Faith, are singable after the first chorus… REALLY looking forward to this one…

His set ends with a duet with Foy on Woody Guthrie’s ‘I Ain’t Got No Home’ – deep, moving, spiritual in all the right ways. Billy’s lack of pretension makes him the perfect foil for an earnest gospel-tinged singer like Foy…

…or indeed, KT Tunstall. But more on their collab. in a bit.

KT’s wee band these days is her, a drummer (Luke) and two backing singers, and her ‘Wee Bastard Pedal’ (or Mk 1 Akai headrush to the geeks), and she makes a pretty incredible noise with it. Once again I’m struck by the energy, honesty, humour and passion in her writing and playing. Amazingly she completely bollocksed up ‘Black Horse And The Cherry Tree’ – a songs she’s played perhaps more than any other – tried it three times then gave up. And even then, the cock-up just made it all more human, intimate and special. as I said in my blog post about their last gig, screwing things up is never as bad as the artist thinks it is. Always make it funny, don’t try and cover it, laugh and move on. Which is what KT did, and played up a storm.

So when BB came back on, we were all set for a big finish, and we got it! Starting with a reprise of their version of ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ as played at HMV last week, they then played a brand new co-write called ‘Don’t Do It Liza’ which is one of the most arresting, engaging, emotional songs I’ve heard in ages. Swooping harmonies, a beautiful dark tale.. and we got to hear it twice cos they wanted a better take to sell on iTunes. :o)

All in a stunning evening – four of the best live performers around on one stage. Was amazing to see Leo, having played with him at Recycle gigs, doing his own stuff to such a large non-muso crowd, and it going down a storm. Leo’s an unbelievably gifted musician, lovely bloke, and spends a lot of time making superstars sound superstar-esque, but he’s getting the breaks for his own music now, and its long overdue.

KT has -as I’ve said too many times before – always been mischaracterised as a female James Blunt, but her live shows make a mockery of that notion in a very clear way. She’s a seasoned performer, engaging and funny, and show up the depth and character in her writing in a new light. She’ll hopefully be around YEARS after Blunt, Morrison et al have disappeared to Butlins…

Anyway, the tracks should be showing up on iTunes soon, and the two KT/Billy tracks are unmissable. And if you haven’t already got Leo’s first two records – Honeytrap and Scene Memory, go and listen to them, then buy them, they’re amazing.

Also worthy of note on the night is that Last.fm were co-sponsors of the event. Given that iTunes have long been the champions of DRM (even if it was because they were bullied into it by the majors), it’s nice to see them promoting a ‘listen on demand’ service like Last.fm, which given that the it’s limited to three listens, and there’s ad-revenue sharing, is still geared towards monetizing the added exposure of streaming on demand… It’ll be interesting to see where iTunes store goes next, be it closer ties with last.fm, or their own streaming scheme…

And another thing, if you’d been following me on twitter, you’d have got much of this as it happened, as I was able to post updates between songs. Twitter makes for a great brain-log for notes for future blogs when out and about, and a way to generate instant feedback on those thoughts… join the fun!”

Tags: Uncategorized

First Podcast recorded… available ASAP.

February 23rd, 2008 · 3 Comments

I’ve just finished my first joint podcast with Jeff Schmidt – we recorded it via Skype, and talked for about an hour about lots of musical things (we both were expecting it to get all political/religous but it didn’t this time – it’s going to be a series, so there’s plenty of time for that!)

Jeff’s the ideal person to do this with, in that he’s a solo bassist and tech-geek, but has enough of a different take on things that we can get our teeth into it without it becoming a podcasted mutual hagiography.

I’m looking forward to listening back to it, and will make it available as soon as possible.

So, bearing in mind that it’s Jeff and I talking nonsense about bass playing, music, marketing, the web, geek-stuff, and will contain rants about religion, politics, philosophy etc… have you got any suggested titles?

If you want to follow the development of the podcast, and any other whacky ideas that Jeff and I may come up with, you can subscribe to our combined twitter feed here – that way you can read our conversations about it in real time… or you can just sign up at twitter.com and join the conversation yourself…

Tags: Geek · Music News · Musing on Music · tips for musicians

Musical fun times in Northern California.

January 14th, 2008 · 1 Comment

Wow, I’m exhausted! The last three days have been pretty intense work-wise.

Starting with a gig Friday night at The Red House in Walnut Creek – it’s a fantastic venue: The Red House is a ‘health club for musicians’, the attendees pay a monthly subscription, and then get to use the rehearsal facilities, go to gigs, buy stuff in the shop, record demos and get music lessons in a really great facility.

The gig went really well – the onstage sound was spectacular, which always makes for a better show, given that we can play with more nuance, and Lobelia sang beautifully. A fine time was had by all, many CDs were bought, and we all went home v. happy.

Saturday and Sunday were really heavy on the work schedule – two 7 hour bass classes and a house concert.

The classes were less well attended than previous years, mainly because I pulled the classes forward two weeks this year due to scheduling, and a lot of people still haven’t really surfaced from christmas – it’s a lesson for future years re: planning, BUT the great thing is that the smaller classes actually make for a much better learning environment for everyone. The group of bassists who come along to these classes are such a fascinating, diverse group of musicians, all willing to learn, full of great experiences, comments, questions, and capable of making some really beautiful music. It’s a real privilege to get to teach them one weekend a year, and to see the progress from year to year.

The house concert at Looperlative Bob’s house was another really special event – Bob’s living room turned into a REALLY great lil’ venue, and again the audience was full of really really great people! One of the most exciting things about house concerts is that the audience isn’t ‘genre defined’ – they aren’t full of bass-geeks or ambient music afficionados or jazzheads or whatever. They are generally friends of the people putting the show on, out to hear something new, and it’s a such fun to play our music to a completely uninitiated audience. Again, it went over really well, and lots of CDs were sold too… (it’ll be interesting to see if CD sales at indie gigs remain high even after CD sales online and in shops die out – people still want the social currency of coming up and buying a piece of the evening, interacting with the musicians, and showing their support by doing that… there are clearly other things that can be sold, but I do think CDs will remain as ‘souvenirs’ of a great night out long after they cease to be the primary way of transmitting music from band to fans-at-home. Right now, CD sales are still a vital part of the indie gigging economy, so a HUGE thanks to all those who bought discs at the shows…)

So that was our weekend – busybusy, rewarding, exhausting, mentally taxing (staying focussed on a room-ful of bassists for 7 hours a day two days in a row is pretty challenging, especially given that I don’t work from notes, so have to keep the narrative thread of the day’s material moving forward whilst accommodating all the side-tracks that happen based on the questions people ask and the things they play…), and above all it was a great chance to catch up with loads of old friends and meet lots of new lovely people. So much fun.

Today’s a day off, tomorrow we drive to Southern California, and on Thursday, NAMM starts… hurrah!

Tags: Gig stuff · Music News · New Music Strategies

'Too much music' – further thoughts on filters.

November 4th, 2007 · 1 Comment

As I’ve said here recently, part of the problem with the notion of limitless downloads is the basic flaw in thinking it to be a good thing.

There’s never been an easier time to record and release music as a band or solo artist – anyone and her mum can get Garage Band or Audacity and record their songs. Then via the wonders of the web, you can even do one CDR, and then get it onto iTunes etc. via the internet miracle that is CD Baby.

This is, obviously, largely a really really good thing. The problem is that of filtering, and the part of that task that both cost and record labels used to play.

See, back in the day, you recorded a demo – it was probably live in a rehearsal room. You sent it, or took it to someone at a label, and asked them to come to your gig. If they bothered to turn up, they then acted as the first filter, but were obviously also influenced by audience reaction – same as it ever was, getting your mates out to a gig can really help…

Anyway, what this meant was that little labels sprang up all over the place, specialising in different kinds of music, and acting as enthusiastic ambasadors and as filters for what was good in that scene.

That’s now gone – the labels are still there, it’s just that a lot of people (like me) don’t even bother to contact them, and lots more contact them, and after endless rejections, they convince themselves they are misunderstood geniuses and release it themselves. And some times they are right.

However, a lot of the time, it’s that the music is substandard. And, back to the point about ‘value’ having a cost, when the recording hasn’t cost you anything to make, you’re automatically going to be less disposed towards making sure that it’s the VERY best you can do before releasing it. If putting a record out was going to cost you 6 months wages, you’d make pretty damned sure that it was the best possible representation of what you can do. You’d probably make sure that some of that spending went on getting an engineer who knows what he’s doing, maybe even a proper producer to oversee the project. You get outside help to make sure that you were fooling yourselves into thinking that you’re legends when in fact you’re substandard MySpace-filling nonsense.

So where does that leave artists. It leaves us needing to be mindful – mindful of the pitfalls, of the potential to overestimate how good we are, mindful of the things that we’ve overlooked because we live in an immediate culture that is all about cheapness masquerading as ‘value’. We need to make sure that the record we’re putting out there is one that we believe can become the soundtrack to people’s lives.

Why? Because if we don’t, we’ve lost. We’ve lost the battle with those who are trying to reduce the place of music in our lives to something that is measured not by its quality, integrity and creativity, but by it’s all encompassing availabilty and usefullness as an advert for some other commercial process – ours or someone else’s. We abandon ourselves to a world where we don’t get the music we want or need.

That’s why I make the music I make – I make it because it’s the music I want to hear, it’s part of a way of making music that I value hugely as a listener. It’s not fundamentally about it being marketable or popular or radio friendly. It’s about me believing that I am my own target market. What kind of music do I love most? How do I go about making that music?

That’s it, that’s what I do, and that’s what the feedback I get suggests is what my audience connects with. They’re a bunch of people who have similar taste to me, and thus click with the music that I’ve made for myself.

Of course once it’s recorded I then market it, promote it, advertise it, hope it gets radio airplay, hope it makes its way onto TV and film and into the iPods and CD players of the world’s music lovers.

And what does it mean for us as fans? It means that we need filters, we need both practical filters and abstract ones. Having to go out and buy a CD is a practical filter that stops us from wasting time on music with no pedigree. It means that we tend to buy things we’ve discovered somehow via a trusted source, be that friend, radio, review, TV, whatever…

But it also limits us to that. The digital realm, at it’s best, allows us to dip in and out of the filtered world – we can listen to a radio show, hear some great new music, then immediately get onto our music buying site of choice and buy the download, if we want to hear more at higher resolution. If we want to gift that music in a nice package, or we just like having physical product, we can order the CD.

Having access to all the music in the world doesn’t help anyone, because there’s too much of it. In the same way that very few people trawl wikipedia for news – it’s almost entirely search driven, so people find info about a subject they are already interested in – but still read random news from trusted sources (I read stories about all kinds of things in The New Statesman, just because they are in there – I don’t go searching for stories on the potential for civil war in far flung places, or the plight of migrant workers in the Caribbean… I read them because the New Statesman is my filter – if they deem it important, so do I) – we need ways of filtering for QUALITY, not just STYLE. you can search on myspace or wherever for funk bands with loads of plays, and that has some kind of popularity-related filter, but that kind of interest is driven by the degree of geekiness of the band and their ability to mobilize a an e-team, not just the quality of the music…

No, we need to be mindful of how valuable our listening time is, what a great addition truly great music can make to our lives. And artists need to think about that as an aspiration – not just putting it out cos it’s cheap and easy, but genuinely writing world-beatingly great music.

It brings me back to one of the many great points in Hugh McLeod’s How To Be Creative post – “The idea doesn’t have to be big. It just has to change the world.” – I want to write music that changes the world. It probably won’t change all of it, but I aim to make music that is significant, of value, and that represents everything I have to say in music, and hopefully becomes part of the soundtrack to the lives of the people who hear it. Whether I’m successful in that or not is almost moot… That’s not really anything I have control over beyond aiming for it.

The important thing is the intention. Be mindful of your intentions.

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