stevelawson.net

Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Some thoughts on 'Free' methodology and practice…

April 10th, 2008 · Comments Off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

________________________________________

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two free albums for you to download!

March 30th, 2008 · Comments Off

Oh yes, you read that right, TWO delicious free albums – volumes one and two in the ‘Lessons Learned From An Aged Feline’ series.

Part 1 can be had from Last.fm by clicking here

And for Part 2, you have to go to my Reverb Nation Page – and sign up for the mailing list there, then you can download all of that one too!

Anyway, that’s about two hours of lovely tunes for you!

Why am I giving them away? Have I suddenly decided that paying for music is a bad idea? Is it that I think they’re too bad to be worth selling? Perhaps there’s a third option – I released 10 full length CDs on Pillow Mountain Records since 2000 – 7 completely solo ones and 3 collaborative. Four of them were very limited edition CDs – only ever 100 copies made on CD – which were given away at the time to people who pre-ordered the CD they accompanied. The three that I did with solo albums were called ‘Lessons Learned From An Aged Feline’ Pts 1, 2 & 3. The title came from my love of all things Cat – I had a very old cat during the time I recorded the first two volumes, and two elderly cats by the time of the 3rd, so just chose titles for the tracks that were inspired by the cats. And a few other silly things thrown in.

The tracks themselves were largely things that were recorded at the same time as the album they came with, but just didn’t fit within the flow of the record. I tend to record up to 3 or 4 hours of releasable material around the time of an album, and so can often get a double album of CD-worthy stuff. The LLFAAF series gave me a chance to put some of that out, without it breaking the continuity of the ‘proper’ releases. I’ve had some emails from people suggesting they prefer some of the Lessons Learned tunes to the stuff on the CDs…

Anyway, they were free to start with, but limited. Many years have gone by, they’re available via my webshop for cheaps, but their value as a way of getting people who have maybe heard of me but not bothered to buy anything to have a listen is greater than the few quid a year I make by selling them. It’s also the case that the versions that are free to download are, I think, 128k MP3s. I’m going to switch everything on my webshop to 320K VBR files pretty soon, so if someone wanted the hi-res versions, they’d still have to get them there.

So these are either a way to get people listening (and in the case of Pt 2, to sign up to my mailing list via my Reverb Nation Page) or they are a thankyou to the people who’ve been buying my stuff all along and are patiently waiting for my long-overdue next solo album. Here’s some stuff to fill that gap.

And of course, if that’s still not enough to satiate your need for Steveness, then head to www.stevelawson.net and click on any of the album sleeves at the top of the page to go to the shop to buy downloads or CDs, or head to iTunes or eMusic and search for me – CDs and downloads are always available to buy. I particularly recommend the EP with Lobelia – the songs with here are definitely among the best musical things I’ve ever been involved with. And it’s only £3.50 :o)

Then, feel free to post reviews, links, tweets and spread the word – that’s what I’d like from you in return. It’s not compulsory, I shan’t be checking up on you. I’d just be grateful.

So there you go. Free stuff from me. Enjoy!

Tags: Uncategorized

Creativity and Socially Networked Marketing – the good and the bad.

March 23rd, 2008 · Comments Off

So much is being written about the egalitarian nature of online distribution, it would be easy to believe that all our worries as wannabe professional musicians are now over. We all know that we can get a myspace page and a facebook music page, a reverbnation widget and a last.fm page, just like the big boys. We can also get our music onto iTunes and eMusic, Amazon and Rhapsody, just by sending a CD to CDBaby and paying them less than $40 to set it up. Easy, huh?

Well, not quite. It’s true that the music economy in the last couple of decades has shifted from hundreds of acts selling millions of records to millions of acts selling hundreds of downloads, but two things are still problematic – monetizing the attention that we’re given, and building online spaces where attention is available in units greater than 30 second chunks.

You see, the huge problem with the MySpace/Youtube/iTunes generation is that it favours instantaneous gratification. It favours music that ‘wows’ in the first few seconds over music that takes a while to grow – in much the same way that mainstream pop radio has done for decades. It’s just that now, it’s not just the top 40 sector that’s expected to fit that paradigm, it’s everyone. There’s no special version of myspace for people with long songs, where the listener knows that it’ll take a particular piece of music a good few minutes to get going and reveal its hidden magic.

It’s true that to a degree it has always been thus – playing music to your friends in a ‘hey, check this out!’ scenario has always been a less comfortable proposition if you’re introducing them to the magic of Steve Reich or Brian Eno’s Music For Airports than if you were letting them in on the hitherto-undiscovered-to-them genius of Chic or Duran Duran. Pop music is by its very nature more immediate.

No, the problem here is a slightly more insidious one – it’s that all of us, ‘pop’ acts and more difficult to classify musicians alike, are being encouraged to market what we do via these channels in the same way, and music lovers are being encouraged to look for it in that way, and it can have a negative effect on the way we create and the way we find the music we love.

The fantastic potential that Myspace/Youtube/iTunes gives us to connect with an audience that we’d previously have needed a record label and radio plugger to connect with is still largely bound up in the ‘instant gratification’ notion of where the value lies in a piece of music. 30 second previews of tracks are useless for through-composed or gradually evolving music. 30 seconds of just about anything by Michael Nyman or Philip Glass isn’t going to show where the piece goes as it unfolds over the course of minutes rather than seconds.

How do we deal with this? I think acknowledging it is the first part of the answer – once the influence has been ‘named’ we can see if for what it is, and hopefully recognise the difference between our own creative urge pushing us towards brevity or accessibility (certainly no bad thing if that’s where you’re leaning) and the crippling of a deeper more evolved sense of where a particular piece of music should be going out of a fear that it just won’t work on myspace.

Download culture is wonderful in that it frees us up from the limitations of length – in both directions – that vinyl/casette/cd/minidisc had – we can put out tiny short works and not feel like we need to pad it out to fill a CD, or we can release massive epic hours-long single pieces if that’s really where our muse is heading. There’s nothing to stop you putting out 10 hours of continuous music, other than the limitations of the download speed of the person trying to get hold of it. We’re no longer constrained by pressing cost or media size, but we are still subject to the evolution of the music-discovery culture, and we all need to be thinking hard about how we build a space where we encourage people to investigate music that takes many listens to sink in, music that doesn’t reveal any of its complex magic in a 30 second low-res preview, but given time will seep into our consciousness and affect us in a unique way.

We need filters. We need

  • people and
  • media-outlets and
  • blog groups and
  • socially networked advisors who will recommend great music to us in the way that magazines used to.

Magazines still provide some of that, but they are very limited in their scope, because they are beholden to their advertisers and the broadcast nature of what they do, so are constrained by the need to write about people their core readership already know about. Those people aren’t really our concern. The ones who already have a career, a fanbase, a stream of self-generating traffic to their sites and online store. Finding out about the new Nick Cave or Pat Metheny record is rarely going to prove difficult.

No, we need microfilter channels, groups of 5,10,20,50 friends who get excited about new music and do the research for eachother, in the same way that Google Reader lets us search out news and blog posts for eachother.

There are already music blogs like this – audioblogs that feature MP3s on a daily basis. Some of them are fabulous. Many of them are less helpful in that they are basically a mashup of bit-torrent and blogger.com – illegal giveaways of whole albums that don’t actually help the band because they direct no attention or traffic in their direction. I was talking with a guitarist friend in LA in January who found that only a week or so after his latest album had come out, someone was giving it away on an audioblog based in Holland. The sales in the first few weeks of any project are important because that’s when the publicity is focussed on, so to be offering illegal free downloads of an album that close to the release date is particularly galling.

The new currency online is attention. Time is valuable, and it is possible to monetize that, through sales of CDs, downloads, DVDs, t-shirts, gig tickets, teaching weekends, meet and greets, promotional spin-offs, advertising revenue. But directing attention is best done by communities, by trusted advisors, but bloggers and twitterers and facebookists and friends of friends who know their subject and seek out the best new music around and tell people about it. And do it because then their love for it is propogated, the artform and the creators are encouraged, make enough money to make the next record, and the cycle of soundtracking a part of our lives is completed and begun again.

BUT if you’re a musician, unless the career part of being a professional musician is more important to you than the musician part, all of that has to be at the service of getting the word out about YOUR art. That which you hold most dear. Not an advert for what you hold dear, not a truncated, MySpace-ized version of it, but the real deal, however dense, complex, mellow, subtle or otherwise it is. Which brings me back to a point I’ve made a few times on here before – BE THE KIND OF FAN YOU’D LIKE TO HAVE – musicians need to be using the attention they have from their audiene to share the love, to let their listeners know about the music they love. It’ll come back, karmic-stylee, and will solidify your position as a guru of great music, a person of taste and discernment and the hub of a music-loving community. That’s how we build RELATIONSHIPS with the people who connect with our art – relationships built on shared knowledge and an unfolding understanding of where our aesthetic tastes overlap…

That is, as the yanks like to say, all good.

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

Managing Information Streams Pt 2 – Twitter!

March 10th, 2008 · 15 Comments

Thanks so much for all the comments and feedback about the first Managing Information Streams post. Some GREAT stuff in the comments there.

I want to follow that up with what is fast becoming my favourite web-filter, and will hopefully become my primary interface with my network – Twitter.

The tech media has been full of articles about Twitter for the last couple of months, ranging from declaring it to be the saviour of the web to it being the scourge if humanity. Both are exaggerations, and as usual, ignore the range of ways to interact with a particular technology.

So first up, a ‘what is twitter?’ answer, StevieStyle – Twitter is a combination of microblog, status-update, public IM, SMS client, link-blog, mini-email, brain-storm-tool, twitterpedia and for me (I’ve not seen anyone else doing this yet, but I’m sure I’m not the first) a responsive public to-do list.

All of that in an IM-window style interface, portable to my cellphone, followable on the web and scannable at a glance.

So what’s great about it? Let’s undo everything I said it was at first -

Firstly, it’s not email – I’m getting increasingly sick of email, particularly email that isn’t addressed to me. It’s just not a quick enough or malleable enough way to get information, to difficult to filter for quality and the group stuff just makes it harder to deal with the stuff that is to me. So I’ve been unsubbing from groups and mailing lists like crazy, trying to reduce the volume of non-direct email. A lot of the things I might have used email or email lists for, I now do on Twitter. How does that help? Well, I know the answer is going to be either a) very short or b) very short with a link to a properly written explanation. If you have to post the longer answer on a public blog, you’re more likely to think about it, than if you just write bollocks to a mailing list.

Secondly It’s not IM – IM sucks my time. IM is a very demanding thing to have running. It can be very useful and a great way to get quick responses, and also to deal with more personal things, but for the most part the big problem with IM is that you sit WAITING FOR A REPLY, and the other person is doing the same. So you don’t get on with your stuff, you ‘do IM’ for whole chunks of time. I NEVER do that with Twitter. Even if I post 5 or 6 posts in a couple of minutes, in between I’m working, I’m blogging, I’m searching, I’m answering the good emails, I’m deleting the crap ones, I’m cooking, brushing my teeth, on the bus… whatever, it’s all going on, and Twitter can fit to that. I never get tweets that say ‘are you still there? hello? where’ve you gone, you bastard??’ like on IM.

It also means that there’s a public record of a process if you’re planning something. This is what happened when Jeff Schmidt and I planned our podcast. I think Jeff sent me one direct message on twitter about it, and the rest was public. Perhaps as a result, the podcast had the highest first day or two’s downloads of ANYTHING Jeff has podcasted. And he’s done some great podcasts (search in iTunes for his name, for more – really good stuff.)

Thirdly it’s not facebook – if I go into facebook and check people’s status updates, there are a million other distractions – photos, scrabblez, groups, event invites, etc. I set up Facebook as a separate app using FluidApp just so I can open it, do it, and go. Twitter is the status update with the option to reply, and without the distractions. That’s a good thing. Facebook can be so addictive.

Fourthly it’s not this blog – blogging here takes a lot of time and effort. It’s also very much an interactive archive of my public writing. Twitter is immediate, and then gone. Sure you can find or favourite tweets, but it’s largely about NOW. I try to keep my blog archive manageable by not posting quick ‘check this out’ blogs – that’s what twitter does REALLY well. I can also, crucially, start rumours on there about what I’m up to, talk about things that might happen but might not, in a way that would come back and bite me on the arse if I did it on here…

Fifthly it’s not Google – if I use twitter for a question, I’m not searching the internet for prewritten answers, I’m asking the minds of my fellow twittists. I’m asking people who know me, or at least know about me, and I can follow up. And all of it in 140 characters. I’m not demanding much from peoples, but I can get top quality info. And it’s filtered by who I CHOOSE to interact with. No spammers, no trolls… The traffic isn’t public enough to attract disgruntled losers shouting at windmills.

Sixthly, it’s not a to-do list – to-do lists are currently the bane of my life. I never know where to write things down to remember them. Twitter means that my to-dos can become discussion, friends can remind me, hassle me, and I feel a compulsion to update, and therefor a drive to get something done so as not to embarrass myself by saying ‘did fuck-all today’… So I post a list, I post options and court responses, and on some things, I can collaborate. I can even ask my flatmate to pick up milk or washing-up liquid on the way home. Last night, my landlord used twitter to find out if anyone was home in order to access a document in the flat – THAT is the magique of the Twittosphere!

Seventhly, and this is a small but significant one it’s not regular SMS – how? a) it’s free to send, and b) I can type it, not key it in on my phone. HURRAH!!!! That should be enough to get everyone in the world signed up…

So what’s unique about it, that isn’t so negatively defined? OK, there’s the asynchronous nature of ‘following’ – if someone clicks to follow me, I can choose to follow them or not. I can also follow people who don’t follow me. I can follow people for the conversation, or the inspiration, I can post in the same way – conversation or open ended thoughts. And people can choose to read or ignore. No-one is wasting time they don’t want to waste just to see if the info is good or not. Glance, engage, revert. It’s easy.

Two, it provides interactive news. On the scene ‘buzz’ about events. Right now, SXSW is going on in Austin. Last week was TED – the precis of ideas on twitter is a GREAT way to find out what’s hot and what’s not, what are the salient parts of an hour-long talk, what’s going to be rocking the tech-world in a few months time. Choose a different set of people to follow and you’ll get the same from glastonbury or the protest movement, or parliament, or probably even the countryside alliance *shudder*… you choose, you filter, you edit, you follow/unfollow, and form a group of twittettes who entertain and inform, interact and educate.

Thus far the signal to noise ratio on my group of feeds is extremely positive, and the stuff that’s come out of it is amazing. Lately, that’s been all about Seesmic, the video-blog site. But that deserves a post of it’s own, because it’s f’ing amazing.

So maybe now you can see why I’m hoping to make my twitter account my main web interaction. Sign up for twitter at twitter.com, add me, and if you’re a bass-head, add Jeff, Trip and search around for some others. Consider this my TwitterFesto :o) .

I’ll post some more stuff about it soon, but suffice to say, if you want to get in touch with me quick, twitter beats anything besides just calling me up on the phone (we need to get back into phones – our modernist technolust has relegated phones to a last resort. that’s got to change…) Email is great for longer more involved information, IM is good if your life is falling apart and you want my help or support, Facebook is good if you’ve got silly photos from your stag night, and Google is good if you want a URL to send to someone. Otherwise, TwitMe!

(addendum – I’ve tagged this as ‘future of music’, because twitter is something that bands and artists HAVE to get a handle on. It’s where so much web communication is heading. So read this, and I’ll post more about music specific application in the very near future)

(addendum #2 – massive credit must be given to Hugh MacLeod for his thinking on twitter, much of this was informed by his twitterings and bloggings. Follow him at twitter.com/gapingvoid)

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

All four solo albums now on Amazon.com downloads

March 5th, 2008 · 2 Comments

I’ve just seen that all four of my ‘proper’ release solo albums are now up on Amazon.com download store – here they are -

And Nothing But The Bass – $7.92
Not Dancing For Chicken – $8.99
Grace And Gratitude – $8.99
Behind Every Word – $8.99

that’s a pretty damn cheap way to get hold of them – and you can listen to all of them before buying over on last.fm.

The reason my stuff is now available on amazon is because it’s put there by CDbaby – if you sign up for digital distribution with then (a non-exclusive deal, BTW), they’ll ship your stuff to 50-odd digital stores. Most of them won’t sell a thing, cos they got no passing traffic, but because some of those stores include the iTunes stores worldwide, emusic, napster, amazon and a couple of others that actually shift stuff, it’s the best possible way for an indie kid like me to get his music out there. It’s cheap to set up (less than $40 per album), and they take a pretty small percentage. CDbaby are the ultimate indie long-tail company. lead the market, get everyone signed up, get a little bit of cash from tens of thousands of musicians, and make millions. We’re happy cos we get it cheap, they have leverage because they represent so many artists and labels, and everybody wins.

Seriously, if you’re indie, and you’re not with CDbaby, you’re missing out. Do it.

Tags: cool links · Music News · New Music Strategies · site updates

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

February 25th, 2008 · Comments Off

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

The Steve 'n' Jeff Show – podcast available now…

February 24th, 2008 · Comments Off

So the podcast is already up! – you can read Jeff’s take on it here – I had a listen to it last night, and it sounds pretty fun. We talk a fair bit about the relationship between technology and music (or more getting information out about being a musician), about some of the things that turn us off and on in the music world, how much ‘bassness’ there is in how we see what we do… It roams a little, but Jeff’s a sharp cookie, and fortunately interrupts me when I get to long-winded… He’s the ideal foil for this kind of thing, and I think I do the same for him…

I guess it’s worth noting that there’s some grown-up language in there (both in terms of hopelessly long words, and some ‘strong’ ones too), so if you’re overly bothered by such things, you might want to proceed with caution, though if you’ve ever had a normal conversation with Jeff or I, you’ll be in the same territory. :o)

here’s the download link, or via the player below -

or apparently you can find it on iTunes… not tried that yet…

Enjoy!

Tags: bass ideas · cool links · Music News

New Steve Lawson and Lobelia EP to download

February 19th, 2008 · Comments Off

You may remember back in December, Lobelia and I put out a limited edition CDR release of our live in Nebraska EP – 5 tracks taken from our forthcoming live album (release date TBC!)

Well, it’s now avaliable for download from the online store here – for &3.50

It’s over half an hour long, and the track list is

happy 7:34
mmfsog 4:09
i’m lost 5:11
rain 9:14
jimmy james 6:51

and it’s fab – if you go to my myspace page you can hear the first song from it.

anyway, you can get it as a download, it’s fab, you’ll love it, I’m sure. :o)

It’s worth noting that in general, I still sell way more CDs from the online store than I do downloads. I sell more downloads from itunes than I do here, though probably the highest volume of track sales is from emusic, though the unit price is much lower… I’m guessing, I’ve said before, that is at least partly because as a solo bassist/jazz/ambient/whatever artist, my core audience is that bit older, and not comprised of the digital natives in the 15-25 age-group that seem to dominate so much of the discussion around online music. I have a number of listeners who would be unhappy even with 198kbps MP3s (the new ones are 256k VBR), and so still want CD for the quality… I think the next full album will come out on high res MP3 and flac… I may do what Trent Reznor and Saul Williams did and put out a free low-res version, and a paid download much higher res version… we’ll see…

Tags: cool links · Music News · Musing on Music · New Music Strategies · site updates

Billy Bragg/KT Tunstall at HMV – the value of screwing it up…

February 19th, 2008 · 2 Comments

I went to a fabulous lunchtime gig yesterday – Billy Bragg and KT Tunstall at HMV on Oxford Street. I had no idea why they were doing it before I went – I assumed it was as promo for the iTunes festival that’s coming up, where both of them are on a bill with the wonderful Leo Abrahams.

As it turned out it was as promo for Q magazine’s top 100 greatest british pop/rock albums or some such bollocks. Q magazine used to be good, but is now, sadly, largely unreadable shit. Endless top lists of either journo picked or reader-submitted stuff, rehashing the tired and nonsensical line that they greatest bands in the history of music are Radiohead, Oasis and Nirvana (nothing against those three in particular, though I not a big fan of any of them, just that it’s pretty pointless saying it in every other issue…).

Anyway, what it meant for the gig was that Billy and KT did a whole slew of great cover versions, most of which neither of them knew particularly well. Peppered in amongst more polished versions of songs like ‘Every Day Is Like Sunday’ (KT, complete with looped vocal harmonies), ‘Ever Falling In Love With Someone (Billy’s Buzzcocks tribute) and ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ (both of them together) were really ropey versions of ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’ and ‘I Predict A Riot’.

But here’s the thing (as Trip might say), the rubbish performances were at least as affecting, engaging and entertaining as the ones that ‘worked’ – there’s something really magical about seeing musicians over-stretch themselves and not take it too seriously, not getting to precious. Billy Bragg has long been not just one of my favourite songwriters and guitarists (he is, as I’ve said before, a guitar genius, IMO) but one of my most favouritest performers, speakers, writers… he’s just great, and his sense of adventure in trying songs that he doesn’t know the right chords to etc. is just wonderful.

And KT Tunstall was always utterly mis-labelled as part of the Blunt/Morrison etc. crowd – she’s been playing live for over 10 years, playing folk clubs, coffee shops, festivals, learning her craft, and no doubt spending night after night playing requests that she barely knows and getting away with it. That Sony manage to strip away all the energy, vibe and magic from her performance on her records is both sad and a testament to her strength of character that they still manage to be far better records that the rest of the ‘nu-acoustic’ crowd can come up with, but in a situation like this she really shines. She has fun on stage, she reaches for things, she’s willing to look a bit of a muppet and as such draws everyone in.

Here are some pics that Sarda took of the gig – damn, he’s getting good at this photography business!

Anyway, the lesson is – take risks, have fun, and don’t be afraid to look a bit of a berk on stage, it’ll make you look far more human, engaging and funny to your audience…

For reference, you might want to watch mine and Lo’s version of ‘Love Is A Battlefield’ -

(and here’s a link to one of the songs they did – Don’t You Want Me Baby – but be warned the quality is REALLY bad.

Tags: music reviews · Musing on Music

If you want me, you can find me…

February 10th, 2008 · 2 Comments

…left of centre? well, yes, but also at these places (just as a recap, in case you missed some of them!)

Facebook
Reverb Nation
iLike
Last.fm
iSound (I’d pretty much forgotten that this one existed!)
MySpace
YouTube

and then just for buying stuff there’s

Cdbaby (there are a host of other MP3 stores linked from here).
iTunes
Emusic
Amazon.

….and also on Rhapsody, Napster and god-knows-where else!

Which of them do you use? Which sites are useful to you as a listener? Which sites have features that draw you in to spend time browsing for new music? It’s amazing that after all this time, there’s still nothing that can top Myspace, exposure-wise, shitty design or no shitty design. Last.fm is now definitely the go-to site for hearing music on demand, and emusic is my download site of choice, though the Amazon store is pretty kick-ass too..!

Which ones do you think will last? the Facebook fan-page thing doesn’t seem to have caught on all that much as yet, mainly because Facebook is ALL about connecting with people you know… I guess the artists need to do more interacting on there! Last.fm seem to have a really good thing going, and they are going to start doing subscription downloads too, it seems… What about myspace? The news about their open access API seems great if it works and we’re not just swamped with spam through it…

Thoughts please, bloglings. :o)

Tags: cool links · Music News · Musing on Music · New Music Strategies