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Real Life Touring. A Social Media-Fuelled Tale.

February 15th, 2009 · Comments Off on Real Life Touring. A Social Media-Fuelled Tale.

House Concert peopleSo, we’ve been back in England a few weeks. I’ve even had time to do my busiest week of masterclasses ever! (more on that later, I promise)

For now, it’s time to round up some of the lessons and tips from our house-concert-based, social-media-driven jaunt to the US over christmas/january.

A few salient points to start with:

  • most of the gigs were booked by people we know via Twitter.
  • all but one of the gigs were house concerts.
  • we did 5 masterclasses – 3 in houses, one in a pub, one in a Uni.
  • in 7 weeks, we spent 2 nights in hotels, which we didn’t pay for anyway.
  • we made more money per gig than we ever have playing clubs/coffee houses (read: we actually MADE money, net, after paying for everything.)
  • we met more amazing people on this trip than ever before.
  • very few of the people at the gigs could have named a single other solo bassist.
  • moreso, very few of the people who came to the shows had heard OF us before, let alone HEARD us. Media exposure was not a prerequisite for attendance.
  • we have about 5 hours of video to pick through of the shows.
  • we have invites back for twice as many gigs as we played.
  • nobody got rich.
  • nobody planned to get rich.

Let’s break these down:

Most Of The Gigs Were Booked By People We Know Via Twitter:

the usual method for getting gigs is something like; “google venues and promoters in an area >> email promoter or venue >> send package >> agree to do gig for door money >> minus commission >> with food included if you’re lucky >> book hotel nearby for somewhere to stay”. Add other steps if a) promoter has no idea who you are and wants to put you on a double bill with someone who’s a ‘name’. The upshot is, it can often take 3 or 4 gigs in an area before you make any money. After the show’s booked, you contact local press and radio, send CDs, bios etc, and hope they cover it, so people will hear you and then come to the gig. Sometimes this works. often, it doesn’t.

Method for our tour: “talk to lots of people on twitter >> make friends >> allow them to discover music as they get interested in who we are >> tell them we’re touring >> invite them to host gig >> Book in the dates” – the audience is a shoe-in, cos most people can fairly easily find 15-30 friends who are up for a crazy night of music making in a house. It’s a nuts idea, it’s fun, and it has the added benefit of being validated by a friend of their’s… if Tracy/Linda/Angela/Steve/Gus etc are willing to book this, it MUST  be good. The person who books the show then emails the links to what we do around (no need to send out CDs) so people have an idea what to expect. Everyone comes to the gig, eats, listens, buys CDs, and we go home with money and loads of new friends. Win-Win.

All But One Of The Gigs Were House Concerts:

if we get offered non-house-concert gigs, we take them if they’re fantastic. They have to be AT least as good as house concerts to be worth doing. We’re no longer desperate for somewhere to play. The show we did at Grace Presbyterian church in Long Beach was an amazing night. And we got to see Vicki Genfan and Jim Bybee play too. Win-Win.

We Did 5 Masterclasses – 3 In Houses, One In A Pub, One In A Uni:

masterclasses in houses are great fun, and a fab way of a) sharing knowledge on tour and b) making a lil’ more cash. We did classes on looping, bass stuff and ‘social media for musicians’ – again, arranged by the people hosting the house concerts. I usually do a pretty big bass class in Northern California, and it has in the past paid for my entire trip. I didn’t need to this time, so was able to do a much smaller, more focussed class, for people experimenting with solo bass. Win-win.

In 7 Weeks, We Spent 2 Nights In Hotels, Which We Didn’t Pay For Anyway:

at each of the house concerts, we stayed in the house where the gig was. That’s not always the case with house concerts, but on this trip, it worked really well like that. In most places, we also had another day or so to hang out and see the area. The hotel nights were a thank you from Modulus for all the masterclasses and clinics I do using their instruments all over the place.

We Made More Money Per Gig Than We Ever Have Playing Clubs/Coffee Houses:

so much of what happens on tour is built on the promise of imagined success; ‘if you do *** then *** will surely happen’ but rarely is anyone willing to underwrite it to that degree, and so the artist takes a lot of the burden of risk… With house concerts, there’s no chance at all that you’re suddenly going to find yourself making millions of dollars. But there’s also less chance that you’re going to find yourself in debt and unable to pay the bills. The financial arrangements are generally straightforward, friendly, and sensible. Guarantees are kept at a level where they work for everyone.

We Met More Amazing People On This Trip Than Ever Before:

guess that speaks for itself. My music life is full of encounters with incredible, inspiring people. At house concerts we just get way more time to get to know them, to make friendships that will last. Ultimately, I’m WAY more interested in people than ‘success’. If I can combine encounters with magical people with a sustainable touring model, I’m happy. House concerts do just that. Win-win.

Very Few Of The People At The Gigs Could Have Named A Single Other Solo Bassist:

SO often gigs by bassists are largely populated by other bassists ogling their wikkid skillz and monster tech. As much as I love spending time with bassists, it changes the gig if they’re over-represented in an audience. Singers never have to play to entire audiences of singers. It’d be weird. So to play to rooms full of people who have little idea what looping is, don’t know any other solo bassists, and so are listening to what I do as music first and last is REALLY inspiring. I love it. It makes me a better musician.

Very Few Of The People Who Came To The Shows Had Heard OF Us Before, Let Alone HEARD Us. Media Exposure Was Not A Prerequisite For Attendance:

we had precisely ZERO mainstream media coverage for these gigs. No radio, no TV, no mags no nothing. At least partly because these are private events at people’s houses, and so we weren’t about to be giving the addresses out to total strangers. There are ways for people to get to the gigs if they contact us, but it’s not about broadcast at all. No, most of the audience were friends of the host, people brought in because the host said it was good, put their house and money behind it, and believed in what we did. It paid off. We had no shows that were less than wonderful. Made loads of new friends, and sold lots of CDs. Win-win.

We Have About 5 Hours Of Video To Pick Through Of The Shows:

the digital footprint of house concerts is probably about 10 times that of a normal gig. People are excited and talk about the show. Often the attendees are geeked-out, tweeting and facebooking the show from their iPhones and N95s, filming it, taking pics and posting them online, and in many cases, streaming it. The Milwaukee show has now had nearly 300 views on Ustream.tv. Everything is amplified.

Not only that, but after watching the Milwaukee show, we were invited to play in Philly. The show was booked because of the stream. Lovely Linda Mills saw the gig, sent me a twitter message, booked it, promoted it, and the show happened. All in about 3 weeks. Win-win.

We Have Invites Back For Twice As Many Gigs As We Played:

at house concerts, everyone there is a potential booker. they all have homes they live in, and may want to book a show. Loads of people went away inspired to book us next time we came, and also to start doing shows for their friends. That’s GREAT news.

Nobody Got Rich / Nobody Planned To Get Rich:

this is so far from being driven by the rock ‘n’ roll myths it’s untrue. No-one’s getting rich doing house concerts. But no-one’s doing it to try and get rich. It’s sustainable, people-centred, low-impact, high-value touring. It’s cheap to put on, flexible, engaging, original, exciting and artistically elastic. You can do the kind of show in a house you could never get away with in a club full of drinking punters expecting to dance. And you can go home making a profit, paying your bills, with time and resources to make more music for the next time you come round.

This tour was probably my favourite tour I’ve ever done. Every gig was more fun than playing the Royal Albert Hall. The people were amazing, the hosts were incredible in their generosity and still grateful to us for coming and playing. The audiences were attentive, engaged and loved it. There really was nothing bad about it at all.
Yesterday on Twitter, someone suggested that while my soundbites were enjoyable, the reality was different. (see the whole conversation here ) Our experience on tour says this works. Says it’s real. Says it will continue to work.

So, were you there? What did you think? Have you done house concerts? how did they go? please post your thoughts on house concerts/social media/the future of touring in the comments below…

(the picture at the top is of about half the audience/musicians who played at the inauguration house concert/party we co-hosted with Kerry Getz in Newport Beach – an amazing bunch of musicians, from all over the place, playing amazing music)

Tags: Geek · Gig stuff · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

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

Blog posts coming soon, but first, some video…

January 25th, 2009 · Comments Off on Blog posts coming soon, but first, some video…

Steve Lawson at a house concert in Newport BeachWell, our concert tour has come to an end. Will blog about the amazingness of the whole thing soon, but first, here’s a lil video that Geoff Hickman took at the inauguration party/house concert we had down in Newport Beach, with the lovely and amazing Kerry Getz, which also featured Jason Feddy, Matthew Von Doran, Seth Horan, Ed Sheets and a whole load of hugely talented Hawaiians:


Steve and Lobelia Live in Newport Beach, Ca. 01/20/2009 from Geoff Hickman on Vimeo.

Tags: Gig stuff · Music News

More House Concert magic.

January 5th, 2009 · Comments Off on More House Concert magic.

Lobelia playing at the Nashville House ConcertTonight’s our last night in Nashville, the town that both Lobelia and I think is the US city we’d be most happy to live in were we to move here… It’s so full of amazing people, and has an incredibly vibrant and exciting arts world. Ironically perhaps, it exists a long way outside of the music scene that makes Nashville famous, but throughout the city there are people producing amazing and vibrant art, music, and writing.

Last night’s house concert was at a beautiful house in the woods out near Franklin. Franklin is kind of CCM-ville, the bit of the Nashville area most heavily populated by the people that comprise the Christian music scene that makes up so much of the music commerce in the city.

But the vibe couldn’t have been further from the hairspray and choreography of a slick pop gig. One of the things I most love about house concerts is that they break the binary nature of the artist/audience relationship. Rather than it being about us communicating AT the audience, with house concerts people get to meet, to hang out, to eat together, swap stories, and the artist is no longer the only relevant factor in people having a good time. The space, the hosts, the food and the sense of coming together for something special all contribute to the overall effect of the event.

So being in such an amazing setting, the home of the very wonderful Angela and David, and having Angela open the show with some really beautiful songs, then getting to eat together, chat, hang out and get to make loads of new friends made for another great experience for us, and for the audience, by all accounts.

This site on the big screenImmediately before the show, I gave a workshop/masterclass, advertised as ‘the future of social media for music makers’ but to an audience made up half of musicians and half of wordsmiths – authors, journalists, creative writers. A really wonderful group of creative people to discuss the amazing opportunities presented to us by social media.

Again, the space proved perfect for it, including the million inch HDTV I was using to show some of the sites I was talking about in the presentation.

The reaction was pretty much as it always is – one of relief, that the fear and loathing that has swept through the music and publishing industries is actually caused largely by their short-sightedness in recognising what we can do with social media, how diffuse and varied our ways of connecting with an audience are, and how great it is to not be tied to a record release schedule followed by expensive PR campaign as a way of getting music or books out there.

All in all, an amazing day. More of those please!

More photos:

Lobelia chatting to lovely audience people between the two sets at the house concert:

Lobelia chatting with the audience between sets

the very lovely Julie Lee, who came to the masterclass, and then guested on one song on the gig. She’s amazing:

Julie Lee!

Lobelia and Victor Wooten, swapping looping tips:

Lobelia and Victor Wooten

Lobelia being filmed for the gig:

Girl On Film

Tags: Gig stuff · Music News · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians · Uncategorized

My House Concert Looping Rig.

December 25th, 2008 · Comments Off on My House Concert Looping Rig.

OK, so it’s christmas day, and I’m blogging, what of it? 🙂 Happy Christmas, y’all. Hope you’re having a fun day. We certainly are here in Ohio.

Anyway, thought I’d do a quick post about my touring looping rig. Here’s the picture:

from the top we have:

Samson S-Mix (mixer)
ART TubeMP Preamp
(next to it is the…)
Lexicon LXP1 reverb.
Looperlative LP1 looper
Lexicon MPX-G2
processor

and on top of the LXP1 we have my Ebow, G7 Capo, Slide, Sennheiser Mic and currently-missing rubbish cell phone (if you see it around, let me know, I can’t find it anywhere). The JBL speakers were provided for the house concert in Milwaukee. We don’t generally travel with speakers in the US, just find people locally to lend us things.

The signal flow is really simple – bass goes into Lexicon MPX-G2, which goes into the S-Mix, and has the ART preamp in the FX loop. Lobelia’s loop mic goes into the LXP1, and that also goes into the S-Mix, which then goes into the Looperlative. The Looperlative then goes out to the desk/PA/Speakers/whatever.

And here’s what’s happening on the floor –

The big pedal, rocked back, is the Visual Volume Pedal.
then an M-Audio expression pedal, which controls the loop volume.
Then a Rolls Midi Wizard that controls the looperlative.
then Another M-Audio expression pedal, for the MPX-G2 (sometimes wah, sometimes volume, sometimes pitch etc.)
then a Roland EV-5, for Loop feedback.
Then a Lexicon footswitch for different stuff on the G2
and finally another EV-5 for track speed on the looperlative.

Meanwhile, Lobelia is using a Roland RC-20 for much of her looping, unless I’m looping her or she’s doing improv stuff through my rig, in which case she just plugs a mic into the volume pedal and uses my bass set-up exactly as-is.

So there you go, a Christmas present in the form of some gear geekness. Post a comment with any specific questions you may have about how it all works 🙂

(the second photo is by the lovely Tracy Apps )

Tags: bass ideas · Geek · Gig stuff · looping · tips for musicians

First Leg of The House Concert Tour over…

December 24th, 2008 · Comments Off on First Leg of The House Concert Tour over…

Photo by the fabulous Tracy AppsWe’re back in Northern Ohio for Christmas, having played three amazing shows, (overshadowed by the tragedy before the first of the shows).

The picture on the right there was taken at ‘Divine Word Lutheran Church‘ in Milwaukee on Sunday morning, where Lo and I played a couple of songs and some ambient goodness for the assembled lovelies.

I’ll write more about the third gig soon, but for now, here’s a Flickr slideshow of the gig at Tracy’s, and then the embed of the UStream archive of the entire show!

Enjoy…

…and if you enjoy the show enough, you can still head to LivingRoomSessions.com and contribute to the ‘chip-in’.

Tags: Gig stuff · Music News · travel