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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



The Only 2009 Chart That Really Counts: Your Own

December 30th, 2009 · 3 Comments

Time for some end-of-year bloggage – I’m going to do a round-up of my favourite blog-posts on here from the year in a bit, so if you have any that were particularly useful to you, please do let me know via twitter or email or a comment here…

But first, my own chart of music listening for the year. This is taken from my last.fm account, so is a pretty accurate list of what I’ve been listening to (there’s no much of my listening that doesn’t get scrobbled to Last.fm…)

I’ll add some notes into the list… (the numbers after each name are the number of plays in the year) My Top 50 most-listened artists of 2009: [Read more →]

Tags: Music News · Musing on Music

Promotion Is A Numbers Game (Get Heard!)

July 14th, 2009 · 10 Comments

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

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

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

Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Youtube Vs. The PRS: A very 2.0 Solution

March 20th, 2009 · Comments Off on Youtube Vs. The PRS: A very 2.0 Solution

Screengrab of Coldplay's official youtube channel, tell us we can't see their videos in the UKScreengrab of Coldplay's official youtube channel, tell us we can't see their videos in the UKOne of the biggest “music on the web” stories in recent months has been the breakdown in relationship between the UK Performing Right Society (PRS) and Youtube (owned by Google). It’s over the share of Google’s ad revenue that should go to the writers of the songs in ‘premium content’ videos on Youtube. (for some background, here’s An article from The Guardian, and the PRS’s latest statement).

So, who’s in the wrong? Not surprisingly, both are, at least partly.
[Read more →]

Tags: Geek · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

The problem of time. The eternal crisis of music-based social networks.

February 2nd, 2009 · Comments Off on The problem of time. The eternal crisis of music-based social networks.

TOO MUCH CHOICE! Photo of Lobelia in Mother's health food store, Costa Mesa, California, by steve lawsonSo, context: I’m on Myspace, ReverbNation, Last.fm, Facebook and Twitter. Oh, and Youtube, Vimeo, Seesmic, Phreadz…etc. etc.

All of them are social networks. On all of them, not surprisingly, I get followed/added/friended by a lot of musicians and bands.

Which is all well and good, except that I can’t listen to them. Not ‘won’t‘, ‘can’t‘ – the numbers don’t add up. Even if we ignore the 8000 myspace friends I deleted before christmas, we’re still looking and thousands of interactions. Even if I only listened to one song from each, that’s upwards of 4000 minutes of listening time, just to grant each of them a cursory ear. And given that a handful of them will really catch my imagination, I’ll probably end up listening to them a lot over time.

Add in that my listening time is already taken up by copious amounts of the music I love and a fair chunk of trusted friend recommendations, and the amount of time I have available to check out random stuff thrown at me on Myspace is tiny.

So what are we to do?

Let’s use me as TWO case studies. First as a music fan/listener.

Some facts about music-listening-Stevie:

  • I love discovering new music
  • Other than ‘it’s great’, it’s pretty tough for me to define a type of music I like. The one nearly-unifying element is that I tend to go for music with a story, whether vocal or instrumental.
  • [As it relates to the second point, ‘Solo bass’ is not, as far as I can tell, a genre. Neither should it be.]
  • I listen to an awful lot of music by people I know/have met.
  • I discover a lot of music from friends recommending it.
  • I have online a list of ALL the music I’ve listened to over the last 5 years.
  • Meeting an artist quite often moves their music from ‘have heard‘ to ‘required listening‘ in my estimations.
  • That being said, the majority of my music listening time is spent listening to things I already love.

So, what does all that mean?

It means I’m not going to listen to a band just because they ‘add’ me. I resent the idea that I should spend my valuable time on music without context. The worst culprits of this (it’s why I included it in the list above) are solo bass players. I say ‘worst’ – to be fair, it makes sense that they would send stuff my way. After all, I am a solo bass player and am interested in what’s going on within the field of solo bass performance, but only as it over-laps with great music! I’ve never been into the gymnastic, technical side of music. If it doesn’t work as a straight recording, without explanation, it doesn’t work for me.

Right, so just sending me a message saying ‘check out my solo bass stuff‘ isn’t going to cut it. which of those other points give us angles to work?

What we need to look for are where the filters are, and how to get into those filter-streams. So what flags music for me as being worth investigating? largly these two:

  • My friends recommend it,
  • or I know the artist…

It’s pretty safe to say that ALL the musicians on twitter that I’ve bothered to click through and listen to are those who I find interesting apart from their music.

Is it an efficient way of finding great music? Possibly, possibly not. But it does provide me with a few things:

  • a way of just cutting down the sheer numbers. Relatively arbitrarily, but it works.
  • a way into one of those things I like about music: the story – I’m actually getting the story first, then the soundtrack…
  • a way of making sure I’m less likely to listen to music by people I don’t like. There’s SO MUCH amazing music out there, I might as well limit myself to listening to the ones I really like as people 🙂
  • a way of encouraging people AWAY from spam and TOWARDS engagement. It’s what I want, it’s what I do, it’s what works.

And In Part II of ‘The Problem Of Time’, I’ll talk about what this does for me as a musician.

How does this chime with your experience of finding music online? Similar? Completely different? How much GREAT music have you found? I’d love to hear your experiences.

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

Listen to the Lawson/Dodds/Wood album now (if you want to :) )

October 8th, 2008 · Comments Off on Listen to the Lawson/Dodds/Wood album now (if you want to :) )

First up, a HUGE thanks to everyone who’s bought the album already – thanks for the feedback, and thanks for investing in the music. It means that (if sales continue as they are) we’ll be able to pay for the pressing of the CD without going into any kind of debt… makes the whole process of being a musician who releases the kind of music that takes more than an hour to record MUCH more viable.

So, yeah, thanks. You all rule.

For those of you who, understandably, have been waiting to hear the album before dropping your money on it, your wait is over! Hurrah!

Via the wonders of last.fm, you can now listen to the album in its entirety before choosing whether to buy it. Just click on each track in turn in the player below –

We really hope you enjoy it.

I love the way releasing new music can inspire all kinds of other stuff around it – one of the nice things it does is it causes an upsurge in sales of back catalogue albums (sold more of my solo CDs in the last week than in the previous 2 months of online sales – and it means that Grace And Gratitude is now properly out of print on CD, but still available as a download 🙂 ), but it also gets me to do the things I should’ve done ages ago. Like uploading the Steve Lawson and Lobelia Live In Nebraska EP to Last.fm as well. It’s uploaded, and as I write is ‘processing’, but should be there before you read this…

Also, in more geeky news, for those of you that want to point friends to where they can get the album, the short URL www.stevelawson.net/ldw now goes to the shop page (which has the player embedded, and links to all the youtube videos too…)

Tags: Music News · Musing on Music · site updates

Paradigm is no measure of quality – what to do when you're 'different'…

July 20th, 2008 · Comments Off on Paradigm is no measure of quality – what to do when you're 'different'…

This post is inspired by two things – firstly, a conversation I had recently with the very lovely Laura Kidd. We’d known each other quite a few weeks before she finally bothered to listen to any of the music I did, assuming that because it was solo bass it would be a load of techno-wank bass cleverness and therefor not something she’d be interested in. She eventually listened to it, probably as much out of politeness as anything, and said with a large degree of surprise the next time I saw her how much she liked it.

She was quite embarrassed, but actually her response is pretty much mine whenever I get an email or get given a CD and told ‘you’ll really like this, it’s solo bass’.

The problem is that solo bass is neither a style of music, not does it carry any indication of quality. And, for the most part, I’m not hugely into what happens on solo bass. There are some very notable exceptions to this, and some of my favourite musicians in the world are indeed solo bassists, but as a ‘draw’, solo bass doesn’t really work for me without some evidence that there’s more to it than the tools of the trade.

Same goes for ‘loop music’, ‘ambient music’, or any other vague classification I might fit into. It’s one of the reasons I find it so tricky to accurately sum up what I do in a single sentence…

The 2nd thing that inspired this as a topic was thinking about mine and Lobelia‘s upcoming gig at Darbucka. Going out to live shows in a city as big as London can be such a chore, and venues are, by and large, becoming less and less pleasant places to hang out. I don’t want to stand around in a dark smelly hall surrounded by drunk people shouting waiting for a band to come on only to find that I can’t hear them play anyway… I’m immediately wary of any gig in a venue I haven’t heard of, and I’m guessing that most of the people who would enjoy my gigs feel similarly.

So how do you get it across to people that a night out at Darbucka is ‘not like other gigs’? That the venue is cool enough to be worth a night out on its own, that the food is great, the ambience is really mellow, the sound is always cracking, it’s a fun night, people listen, the audience are generally lovely, and there’ll be the return of the lovely bloke playing Ukulele and singing, as well as all the usual Steve ‘n’ Lobelia loveliness.

That, dear readers, is where you lot come in. Cos nothing at all beats word of mouth in spreading that kind of info. I can rant til I’m blue in the face about how fab my own gigs are, but hey, they’re my gigs, I’m bound to say that. Why should anyone believe me when I have a vested interest in them being there?

…I hope that for most of you reading this, that last bit is rhetorical, that it’s clear I do try to be honest about what I’m doing, and definitely go out of my way to put on the best gig I can (despite Darbucka having it’s own PA, and me not owning a car, I still take my own PA down there cos the sound is better, for example 🙂 )

So, if you’ve been to see us before, take the next couple of mins to tell someone about it – post a comment on last.fm or Myspace, or hey, just post a comment on here! Tweet about it, blog about it, or call up some friends if you’re in London and bring ’em along. If you’re bringing loads, email me for a group discount 🙂

Hope to see you at Darbucka on Tuesday 29th July – it’ll be a really lovely mellow, fun night out, I promise!

Tags: gig dates · Music News · Musing on Music · tips for musicians

measurable last.fm stat (short post alert!)

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: Geek · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Buzz experiment thoughts: Measuring Levels Of Connection…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 19th, 2008 · 1 Comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The experiment Pt 2 – Last.fm-Buzzing

June 18th, 2008 · Comments Off on The experiment Pt 2 – Last.fm-Buzzing

OK, Pt II of the experiment is an easy-ish one, if you’re already on Last.fm.

In case you don’t know, Last.fm is an online radio/playlist/social network site – the heart of it is an ENORMOUS catalogue of songs, many of which can be streamed on demand, and all of which crop up in radio stations, based on the music that people who like what you like like. 🙂

There are also artist-specific stations, (you can go there and listen to ‘artists similar to Steve Lawson’, for example, and will get a play list of stuff that’s listened to by people who listen to me…)

So, here’s today’s experiment (feel free to sign up to last.fm if you’re not on there already).

there are four bits to this –
1) Listening
2) Tagging
3) “Loving”
4) Commenting

A little more detail on each:
Listening is easy – just head to my last.fm artist page and hit play – for the track to register, you need to listen to at least a minute of it I think, so if you do skip around a few tracks, do play more than a few seconds of each one.

Tagging is also dead simple – when you go to my artist page, you’ll see ‘User Tags’ in the top right of the screen. Click on ‘Tag This Artist’ underneath it, and start by clicking on each of the ‘popular tags for this artist’ that you agree with. The more times a particular tag is used for an artist, the higher they ‘rank’ in the radio stations associated with this tag – more taggers=more radio play. Feel free to add your own tags too, by typing them in the box.

Loving a particular track can be done either in the embedded player on the site, or via the downloaded Last.fm client – just click the big heart button when you’re listening to a tune you love, and it’ll bring it up more often in your radio station, and log it as something worth listening to.

And Commenting is again, I guess, self explanatory – you can comment on any page on last.fm – artist, album or song, so feel free to add more than one comment – a short comment on the artist page would be great, some more specific stuff on your favourite album of mine would be even better.

The purpose of this experiment is to see how deep the connection goes with Last.fm listeners, and also how much the radio stations are affected by this kind of thing – I get pretty accurate stats back from last.fm about how many radio listeners I’ve had, and can see the ‘recent listeners’ list for me as an artist, as well as individually for each track and album.

So go to it – you can even do a lot of the listening and loving here on the MP3s page, but you’ll have to head to last.fm for the tagging and commenting.

thanks so much! Those who comment and listen to the most tunes this week, that’ll add towards the Cd prizes, for sure!

I’m working on bringing some thoughts together about how we measure the quality of connection/interaction with our web-audience… will blog that soon.

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