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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Music Is Worthless Part 2 – a Response to Jeff Schmidt

October 16th, 2010 · 26 Comments

This post started out as a comment on my previous post, in reply to one from Jeff Schmidt. But it’s too long for that, so it’s now its own post.

Here’s Jeff’s comment:

4 years ago – I could have said this exact thing -probably word for word.

Today – not so much.

If I was on the cutting edge of music market thinking then, maybe I’m on the cutting edge now with the complete opposite opinion. Is the tide is turning that much? I think so.

Pay what you want is a cop out.

Stand up for your work and put a value on it. [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies

Social Media thoughts Pt 3 – the ongoing conversation…

May 22nd, 2008 · 6 Comments

So, from my own ill-formed thoughts on how to use Social Media as a way of connecting with an audience, I started reading more about the way other people were doing the same thing, and watching what other musicians did. There’s been a lot of cross-pollenation, as musicians who’ve taken some of my ideas have gone further with them in a much shorter space of time than I ever have – Jeff Schmidt is a good example of this.

Jeff’s got a pretty huge profile given the very short space of time in which he’s been doing this solo bass stuff. He went from exploring solo bass ideas at a masterclass I was giving to winning international competitions and building an online fanbase in just a few months. A lot of his spread was via the social media of Myspace, his blog, bass forums and videos. His playing is at times really immediately impressive which got a lot of people embedding clips of his music in a ‘wow, check this dude out!’ kind of way, and word spread fast. A lot faster than it ever has for me online… And from his thinking about this stuff, I’ve picked up all kinds of great ideas and thoughts. Our ongoing conversations on how all this works, via blog comments, twitter and sporadic podcasting – as well as chatting whenever we get to meet up – are a vital part in how I process all this stuff.

Again, the information flow is non-linear – it’s back and forth, it involves a lot of tributaries and cul-de-sacs and hours of mucking about and exploring what’s happening. Both Jeff and I are having conversations with other people, and bring those to the table when we get together. His thinking on it is very much shaped by him having a pretty demanding day job, which frees him up in terms of making money from his music, but ties him down in terms of time spent on music-related stuff… And around us, we’ve built a growing community of musicians – many of them, not surprisingly, solo bassists – who are talking about and using this stuff.

Recently, something fundamentally shifted for me. I started to discuss my ideas on this with non-musicians. Twitter was a big catalyst in the beginning of this, starting to have mini-discussions with people who were actively integrating social media into their daily public dialogue. From there, I discovered about the London Social Media Cafe, and started to have weekly conversations with people from other businesses and artistic disciplines about how the conversation enables us to do what we do, and find an audience, clients, business partners, inspiration and resources.

The format of the Social Media Cafe is so simple, a room is booked upstairs in a pub, a load of curious people turn up, drink coffee, eat croissants and chat about social media stuff. Sometimes it’s about making friends and feeling less isolated. Sometimes it’s about getting work. Sometimes it’s about helping other people process their thoughts on a particular subject. Sometimes it’s about giving and receiving encouragement. Or having a sounding board. And it’s all about the Moo Cards. :)

The founder, Lloyd Davis, is very much the personality archetype for the SMC – he’s curious, creative, tech-savvy, self employed as a social media consultant and enabler… and loves a good natter!

What is clear from the SMC (and the spin-off gatherings, like the fantastic Creative Coffee Club) is that the level of thinking and dialogue that goes on is pretty much the leading edge of thinking on the subject of social media and it’s relationship to work, innovation, entrepreneurship, the arts, creativity etc. – certainly that I’ve ever come across. I’ve listened to keynote speeches from expos and new media gatherings around the world and often things that are presented as revolutionary and new in those settings are just taken as read at the SMC and are part of the way we daily live. If I worked for a media agency or corporation, I’d be biting Lloyd’s hand off to pay for access to the collective minds of the SMC! I can’t imagine a better group to bounce ideas off, or get feedback from. The various sponsors of the Friday morning get togethers understand this.

The other key part of it for me has been about reinvention – a lot of my geek friends that I’ve known for years have watched me go from a website with scrolling text and animated gifs with a blog just written in HTML, through all of my new media mistakes and false starts, and so are less likely to be invigorated by my take on Social Media. They’ve heard all of my thoughts in their ill-formed half-baked state and as such, hear what I’m saying now in that light. That’s a useful thing, in that it stops me from thinking I’m the business when in fact I’m just writing up here what happens in my life, but it does mean that taking the more refined, nuanced, considered version of it into an environment where the tall bloke with the big hair and furry coats is a new face on the geek-scene is a good testing ground for it as a body of thought.

I’m getting to abstract from a musical context the principles behind the social media interaction discussion and instead of solo bass, to talk about film or books, computer games or education, and see how those scenarios throw light on the process, on the concept, on the whole area of looking at the failure of broadcast media to engage an audience, and the need for pathways of interaction between ‘content providers’ and consumers.

Another key piece in my thinking on this over the last 6 weeks or so has been David Jennings brilliant book Net, Blog And Rock ‘n’ Roll, which is a wonderful look at the way that people find information and how that plays out on the web in relation to music. I’ll not write a full review yet, as I still haven’t finished it, but suffice to say it is utterly vital reading for anyone thinking about this stuff, from any field.

So, what’s the value in the SMC/CCC/Social Media Geek-world for me then? Well, it works on many many levels. It’s a test-bed for ideas, it’s a place where I get to contribute to other people’s conversations, as well as starting my own. My, uhm, esoteric place as a musician makes for a great perspective provider, in that I’m clearly never looking to make millions, but am fiercely protective of my own creative space. I’m a good foil for conversations about the place that ‘meeting the needs of a market’ takes in any business/marketing plan, and maybe that will spill over into some consulting work on that.

I’m also able to collect stories and info from all these various worlds that are hugely useful for talking to music students about this stuff. I’m really looking forward to doing more university sessions on this, and helping music students plan a strategy of engagement, of interaction, of story telling and ‘real’ buzz-building around their music. I’m getting enquiries now from people wanting me to go and talk to their bands about this, which will be a lot of fun too!

And on top of all that, I’ve met a load of really amazing people, who inspire and energise me, who challenge me to up my game, and who encourage me. As well as a whole new load of listeners to my music – that last bit alone makes a lot of this worthwhile, but is actually just an added bonus!

So where do I go from here? I keep talking, keep sharing stories, keep helping musicians, keep learning from the mega-minds at the SMC/CCC/London geek world community, and carry on making the best music I can!

Are you an SMC/CCC attendee? What does it mean to you? What have you got from it?

Tags: Geek · 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

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

the ecosystem is wrong… why facebook for music still doesn't beat Myspace…

March 1st, 2008 · 3 Comments

Jeff Schmidt just linked to this article via his Google Shared Items (find them in the side bar on his blog and grab the RSS feed) –

Facebook Music Rocks, in which the author waxes lyrical about how functional the Facebook music pages are. Which is true, they are, functionally, kicking the ass of MySpace, with the option to embed lots of stuff, and present it in a facebook profile-like way, so the target audience understand it.

We know that, I’ve blogged about that before (click the ‘facebook’ tag at the bottom of this post for all the stuff I’ve written about facebook… grab the feed for that tag too, if all you’re interested in are facebook stories… :o) – the problem is about ecosystems, and facebook is about connecting with people you already know. Facebook doesn’t have anything like the internal friend-adding currency that Myspace has. If I see someone with 1000+ facebook friends, I assume they’re a bit of a tool.

I, and the vast majority of the people I talk to, use facebook to keep up with friends news, whereabouts, photos and to play scrabulous. I deny almost all the event and application requests I get, I only put stuff on my page that says something about me, and have never that I can remember added f’ing pirates or vampires or werewolves or whatever other nonsense is on there… I don’t even use it for sanctimonious bragging about how green I am to my friends (despite that being my conversation-of-choice in most circumstances… ;o) – it’s about real world connections played out in web-time, and less-so, about finding out about online friends you have from elsewhere. I think I have maybe 3 friends that I first met on facebook, through other friends.

So, what of the musician pages? Worth having? definitely. Especially for indie musicians. Here’s why – your friends are a really important part of your audience. Look, we all know that having a stranger buy your CD or download is way more impressive and thrilling than your mum buying copies for the family for Christmas, but money is money, audience is audience, and your friends are predisposed to give you a fairer hearing than most. And – here’s the facebook catch – they have social currency to gain by telling their friends about their connection to you – almost every artist I am a fan of on Facebook is one I know personally. They are people I’m proud to know, regard as friends and want to help out.

So use facebook music, now, to mobilise friends. It may well be – in fact, it’s likely – that the facebook ecosystem will shift, and more people will embrace the idea of finding music there, of searching for great music etc. At which time you HAVE to have your ‘ducks in a row’ – your page set up, your core base of REAL WORLD FRIENDS (and family members) on there using it, and spreading the word.

Make the most of your friends as a fan-base and defacto street-team. That’s where facebook works REALLY well right now.

click here to go to my musician page on facebook
and here for To The Left Of The Mainstream

(oh, and grab my google reader shared items from the side bar on the front page here while you’re at it – there’s some great stuff there…)

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

Critical, pragmatic, self-belief – an artist's life-blood…

February 27th, 2008 · 4 Comments

Had a lovely morning giving a lecture/masterclass at the ACM today. It was extra-fun because I was given a topic I hadn’t spoken on before, but was given it at too short notice to have time to prepare so I had to wing it. And it went great, at least from where I was stood (which as we’ll discover, is the best place to judge it from…)

I was asked to talk about putting together a set list, and preparing ‘programme notes’ or promotional material… we didn’t spend much time on the last bit, as I got really into the theme of the first bit.

The first thing I highlighted was the danger of mechanistic formulae for ‘how things work’ – in any creative pursuit, following the tried-and-tested paths to the letter is a recipe for mediocrity, for blending in, disappearing into the general morass of non-descript music. This doesn’t mean that learning about those formulae was a bad thing, just that there is no ‘if you do this, then you’ll be great’ about any creative pursuit. Everybody wants the ‘one piece of advice‘ that’s going to send you over the edge – as I mentioned in the Bull-Schmidt podcast I once heard a kid ask John Scofield what kind of things he’d play over a Dmin7 chord, obviously hoping for some magical one line key to unlock sounding like Sco… clearly, that’s bollocks. It doesn’t mean that you couldn’t find within Sco’s phrasiology some repeated ideas that are common to the way he plays over min7 chords, it just means that those aren’t what makes his playing connect… Using the 9th a lot isn’t a formula for sounding great, even if it is what a particular soloist does a lot…

So where do we start? Well we start with a guiding principle, but instead of it being one to lock things up and give us a tidy outcome, it’s wildly open ended, and ultimately a call to being mindful of every bit of music or performance you come into contact with… The principle is one of ultimately trusting your instinct, your gut, your own taste.

Why? Why trust your own taste? Primarily because it’s pretty much all you’ve got. There are so few people in the world who can successfully and repeatedly second-guess the taste of a particular music buying audience, that it’s fairly safe to assume that you’re not one of them. And, as Jeff Schmidt pointed out here, so much of it is completely random anway… So, your own taste – why go with it? Because unless you’re the kind of person who gets off on the sound of the fridge door opening and closing, the chances are there’s something pretty standard, broad and interesting about the music that excites you. It probably won’t be completely ‘mainstream’ (serious musicians with completely mainstream taste scare me) but will probably feature an appreciation of some stuff that your more snobbish listening-only friends would dismiss as ‘too pop’…

So you embrace your own taste, you reconise that there’s a reason why you like the things you do, there’s a way they make you feel, there’s a way that the music you choose to put on soundtracks your world (here comes the pay-off) – and you attempt to write and perform music that makes you feel the way that music makes you fee. That’s a very different thing from trying to sound like someone else. Soundalikes are generally compared unfavorably to their primary influence. You might convince some short-termist record company goon that you’re worth a punt because the band you’re ripping off are successful. You might even sell millions of records. But it’s phenomenally unlikely, and not really a good bet, given that your stake is ‘every waking hour’…

No, if you go with your taste, and aim to write and perform music that soundtracks your life in the way that the music you love does, you’ll be writing music you love, but music that tells your story. You’ll be combining the emotional imprint of the different things that inspire you, and building up a range of emotions and stories and feelings to soundtrack.

However (there’s always an however), what needs to happen then is to critique your own taste and filters. To critique your perception of what you do. Because as well as being most in touch with your own taste, you’re also the one most likely to be seduced by the idea of what you’re doing do the point where you mis-judge your own execution of that idea.

And that, dear bloglings, is a life long process of refinement. Of listening, playing, resting, listening, of being surprised and disappointed, restless, enthralled, of peaks and troughs and plateaus. And advice.

The advice bit is a real headache. Why? Because everyone will want to give you their opinion on what you do and most of them will be a waste of oxygen. Again you ask, why? Because precious few people will take the time to try and understand what you’re trying to do, to offer advice that helps you reach for your goals. So few people realise that their taste has pretty much nothing to do with whether what you do is ‘right’ or ‘good enough’ or whatever.

It’s why posting your music on a web forum and asking ‘what do you think?’ can be a very effective promotional method, but is worse than useless as part of the critical process. It just provides taste-based opinions entirely without context and as we’ve said many times before context is everything. It’s quite possible for people to say that great music is great for all the wrong reasons. It’s possible for positive feedback to be deeply unhelpful.

The interwebs are full of people who will tell you why they don’t like what you do, what you’re doing wrong, why your songs are too fast/slow/ repetitive/poppy/ rocky/obscure/ bassy/trebly/ spikey/dull/complex… the list is endless, and the ascii-rendered brain-vomit that they produce is pointless.

What you should really be trying to build is a council of referencea group of people who have demonstrated beyond doubt that they get what you’re trying to do, who are sympathetic to your approach, desires, inspiration and goals, and who want to help. A few groups of people are immediately disqualified –

  • anyone with a dispensation towards jealousy when they hear other great music, *anyone who’s on your pay-roll (if they feel their job is at risk if they piss you off, no-one’s going to tell you you need to work harder),
  • people who are always telling you how other people should be doing their thing.

Finding those people who have a desire to help, to support encourage and to push you to be the best you can be is a rare rare treasure. Hold onto them. And perhaps even more importantly – both in terms of the learning exercise and the karmic fall-out – BE THAT PERSON TO THOSE WHOSE MUSIC YOU HOLD DEAR.

What does all this have to do with putting a set list together? Everything. Getting, as our ‘merkin friends say, your ‘ducks in a row’ is vital before starting to decide things like this. Guiding principles are vital because our thoughts need guiding.

When you’re thinking about what the first song in your set should be, there are loads of things to consider. Firstly, who your audience is – do they know who you are? Do you have a reputation to them that is bigger in their minds than their actual knowledge of what you do? Are they already onside? Is it a genre-specific event? From those and other related questions, you can deduce an approach, based on whether you want to confirm or confound those expectations. Do you want to ease in gently, or lay your cards on the table?

Gigging to a new or new-ish audience is the art of seduction, you’re trying to draw people in, get them interested, get them feeling positive about what you do, and expectant for what’s coming next. You can lay out a manifesto in your first song, or just put them at ease. You can be confrontational in a ‘this is us, screw you if you don’t get it’ kind of way, or your can say ‘come on in, the water’s lovely’ and invite people to join you in your soundtracked smiley world.

And from thence the journey continues – how long is the set? do you have a long time to do the slow build, or do you only have four songs to wow them? is there a ballad or two that you want to fit in. Where do you fit the freaky song in? do you want to throw in a curve ball, and do a song just bass, spoons and four part harmonies, even though you’re a screamo band?

It can all work, there are no hard and fast rules, and for every formula there’s a breath-takingly great band that have printed out said formula and wiped their arses with it.

Do what works, but constantly critique what it is that you think works. The key to keeping a balance (and well done if you’ve read this far!) is a principle I apply to just about everything, that of ‘pragmatic self-assurance’ – I assume I’m right and operate as though I am, whilst being constantly open to the possibility that I’m wrong. Any criticism that has context, that is shared by someone who wants you to grow not fail, who has proven they understand your goals and wants to help you towards them, is to be cherished and heeded. Reviews in fanzines and critiques from muppets on web-forums and email-lists, who write to belittle what you do for whatever odd pointless reasons are to be avoided. Don’t even read them. Go elsewhere for the critique you need, to a deeper place.

And never stop learning. (this’ll be my last point in this hugely overly-long blog post) – for any music student, it’s catastrophic for you to study music with the idea that there is some kind of difference between what you’re trying to do and what your teachers or other pro musicians should be doing. We’re all trying to play the best music we can, and to communicate it as best we can to an audience. Passing exams is neither here nor there. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s also no indicator of whether you’re going to be ‘successful’ at what you do. It can provide a useful framework for learning, I’m not suggesting that formalised education is a bad thing, but it has to be about you as a musician growing, learning and more fully realising who you already are. I didn’t stop studying when I left college, and I didn’t start being a creative musician when I ‘turned pro’ – whatever that means. All that changed was how the bills got paid. On an epistemological level, I’m doing the same thing now as I did when I first picked up a bass and started whacking the strings with a thumb pick. I’m trying to develop the control and awareness I need to make music that soundtracks the world around me.

It’s simple in concept, and lifelong in execution. Enjoy the journey.

Tags: journalism · Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc. · tips for musicians

To The Left Of The Mainstream – new music recommendations

February 25th, 2008 · 4 Comments

I’ve written before about the need for filtering in the online music world – there’s just too much music and not enough time to leave it all to chance. As Jeff Schmidt just expressed it on twitter – “curation is vital”.

Which is why I’ve just started To The Left Of The Mainstream – a twitter-based music recommendation feed. I’ll post at least once a day, sometimes more, with links to great artists, with the proviso that all the sites will provide full track on demand streaming tracks or downloads. They’ll mainly be from Myspace, last.fm and Reverb Nation

So if you’re on twitter (you should be), you can ‘follow’ TTLOTM on there, or just click the link and then grab the RSS feed to follow it in google reader or safari or wherever. I’m sure you’ll find loads of great new music through it.

Stylistically, it’ll run the gamut from singer/songwriters to ambient music, rock bands to chamber works, electronica to nu-jazz. All the kinds of things I love. There’ll be no ‘buy-ons’, as it’s only going to be of any value at all if the sole criteria is quality…

That doesn’t mean I’m not taking recommendations – make those in the comments below please (rule #325, you can’t recommend yourself! ;o)

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

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

The randomness of Success..

February 18th, 2008 · 1 Comment

Jeff Schmidt just posted a GREAT blog post entitled “Luck, timing and the randomness of getting BUZZ” – all about some stats re: what creates ‘the buzz’, why do certain artists ‘suddenly break big’ etc.

it’s a great article, and I’ve posted a lengthy response.

Jeff’s blog (here) is a great source of thinking on ‘Music 2.0′, the industry, digital stuff and being a solo bassist – his site makes a great parallel read to this because a) he works in radio, so has a whole other side to his experiences and b) he’s not trying currently trying to do music full-time, so is freed up from the need to think about making money now in his equations, so can dream a little more expansively than those of us who need to make the rent by the end of the month…

(oh, and he’s an amazing musician too – check him out on Last.fm – and his alter-ego Ruiner Severhead)

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

Twittering…

February 16th, 2008 · Comments Off on Twittering…

so I’ve joined Twitter. You may remember I joined it’s main rival Jaiku a while ago, and you may also have seen the Jaiku widgets on the blog and on my site front page… Sadly, Jaiku just didn’t have the user-base that Twitter has (they probably even had to take Murray’s advice from flight of the Conchords and ‘put -base on the end, makes it look like there’s more of them’) and I was basically just posting one line updates to my website front page. I did get quite a few clicks through the blog from it, and may still find a way to use Jaiku just for posting weblinks or something (something I also do via the del.icio.us feed I’ve got embedded at the bottom of my links page.)

So when Jeff Schmidt (who was the person that told me about Jaiku in the first place) jumped from Jaiku to Twitter, it seemed common sense to admit that Jaiku wasn’t about suddenly become de rigueur.

So I’m twittering here – if you’re on Twitter, you can ‘follow’ me, and perhaps I’ll follow you. It’s quite fun the way you can comment on people’s twitterings, but just including their name with an @ in front in your response…

…yes, you’re right, I really do need to get out more.

Tags: cool links · Geek