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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



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

Social Media Thoughts Pt 2 – The Playground Of The Curious.

May 16th, 2008 · Comments Off on Social Media Thoughts Pt 2 – The Playground Of The Curious.

I wrote off the idea of chasing a record deal before I even put out my first album. After a series of pretty uninspiring encounters with labels via artists I was working with in the 90s, and the simple fact that as far as I could see, no-one was making any money via a label playing solo bass, I decided before my first album that I’d do it all myself.

Back then, there was a lot of nebulous, unfocussed talk about how the internet was going to change everything, but so much of the traffic that musicians were getting back then was as a result of there being precious little about music online. As an example, I was the only bass teacher in Europe with a website for over a year when I first set my site up, and would get student enquiries from all over the continent, from bassists wanting to fly to england for lessons!

The bass-stuff on the web was pretty limited, and as I had a site, was teaching at a London music college, was involved with The Bottom Line (by far the biggest bass-related web-thing around in the 90s) I had a profile. So when I put up some real audio files (real audio!!) of my first solo gig, it got a surprising amount of traffic and interest. Not because it was the greatest thing ever (only some of it was 😉 ), but just because of the huge amount of novelty-driven, bass-related web traffic that was passing through my site. If I gave people something to do online for half an hour that felt vaguely worthwhile, then my site validated the time they were spending on this great new toy of theirs.

But the tools weren’t really in place to build a career online, just a reputation. However, it was a great environment in which to forge a model for dealing with promoting hard-to-pigeonhole music online – the model being one of curious play – whenever I came across something new, I jumped in and had a play. I chatted to the current users of a particular forum or chatroom, I posted music clips on MP3.com (where unbeknownst to me, Lobelia was racking up over a million plays!) and splashed around in the web-pool, looking for interesting things to happen…

So as social media evolved, my play-approach helped me – along with a whole load of other musicians disillusioned with ‘the mainstream’ – fairly unconsciously develop a way of engaging with my audience via conversation, interaction and availability, rather than broadcast, spam and rock-star seclusion. Again, web forums had been doing this for a while, and I had hosted a forum at talkbass.com in their ‘ask the pros’ section for ages, but Myspace, commentable blogs and self-hosted forums started to make that kind of conversation portable to our own branded space via the comments option.

I remember in the early days of MySpace hearing the rumours that some big name musicians were actually running their own myspace pages, and being nonplussed by everyone’s surprise. Why wouldn’t David Byrne or Robert Smith or Peter Hook or whoever want to communicate direct with their audience? The problem for them was that Myspace got so big that the interaction become meaningless when they received thousands of comments a day. The smart ones started blogging on Myspace, and eventually (years after the novelty value had passed) myspace started promoting celeb blogs… (even then, a lot of musicians kept writing their blogs in the third person, as though a PA was doing it for them, not getting how important it is for audiences these days to hear your story in your voice…) Blog comment threads became a great way for big name artists to ‘host’ the discussion about their thoughts and writing without having to answer individual queries and comments.

The big mistake that so many musicians make with Social Media is to see it as a stop-gap, as what you do ‘until you make it’, as the thing that bands do who can’t get ‘a proper deal’. The lure of becoming a millionaire rock star is still so inexplicably strong that it blinds most pop and rock musicians to the opportunity staring them in the face to bypass all that other BS altogether.

The bit they’ve got lost in is the feeling that broadcast is where its at, is the measure of success, rather than grasping that all but the most refined of broadcast media have an incredibly low recognition ratio for stuff that’s played in the people listening. The simple fact is that I’ve sold WAY more CDs to the coupla hundred people who’ve seen me play in, say, Petersfield in Hampshire, than I have to the hundreds of thousands who’ve heard me on The Late Junction on Radio 3 – a show that’s been playing my music pretty regularly over the last however many years.

What Social Media allows artists to do is have the kind of in-depth conversations that previously could only happen at live events, with their audience in their own homes. If I post here on the blog, the people who are interested in what I do can read it and understand what I do in a way they’re never going to get from the lovely Verity and Fiona giving it a 15 second intro at midnight on the radio. And with so much music the story around the music is what gives it context, and provides and entry point for the audience, an understanding of where the artist sees their music. painters, photographers and sculptors have been contextualising their work within narratives for years, but for any music that is assumed to be in some way ‘pop’ music, it’s tough to get people to do the digging. Social media allows us to place the conversation about what we do right alongside the art itself, inviting responses, questions and discussion.

The future for musicians is in the artist/audience conversation and interaction that social media facilitates. And this is a concept that is now spilling over into business and PR and Marketing and even politics… but that’s Pt III. 🙂

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