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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



How Best To Describe Variable Pricing For Music?

October 24th, 2011 · 19 Comments

Words matter. The way we describe things are a huge part of how people think of them, even if those descriptions aren’t definitive or in any way concretely imposing on the thing we’re describing.

An example is the language around variable pricing for digital music. The most widely used variant is ‘pay what you want’ and its acronym PWYW. For some reason that grates. It feels dismissive. It feels off-hand. I’m not sure why.

Bandcampmy digital music sales platform of choice – uses the more neutral ‘name your price’. [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies

“Happy” – Our New Single!

July 5th, 2010 · Comments Off on “Happy” – Our New Single!

I’ve just added a new track to the ‘Live So Far’ album (because, in the future, you can do things like that) – It’s a version of Happy, recorded at our house concert in Plano, TX.

Here it is: [Read more →]

Tags: Uncategorized

Annotating Tracks With Soundcloud

March 20th, 2010 · Comments Off on Annotating Tracks With Soundcloud

As promised, when the 1st of the Steve Lawson/Mike Outram tracks reached 500 plays, we uploaded another one. It’s a really long one that goes through 3 or 4 very different sections, though that evolve on into the next in a lovely fluid way. In order to explain a little of what’s actually going on (it’s a pretty big noise for just a bassist and a guitarist to make live!) I’ve annotated the track, as you can see below. [Read more →]

Tags: looping · Music News

SoundCloud – Audio Online, Your Way.

October 13th, 2009 · 6 Comments

So, Part II is about Soundcloud:

Soundcloud is SUCH a great compliment to BandCamp. While BandCamp is all about the curated artifact of music, Soundcloud is all about malleable audio – there’s no restriction on file-size, or resolution, so you can put MP3s up, podcasts, entire gigs as a single embeddable file…

It works great as a sketchbook, and again, you can control whether the stuff is streamable, downloadable or whatever else… There’s also a nice social side to SoundCloud, with the usual 2.0 follower/followee relationship, as well as the option to have ‘private’ files, for sharing music amongst collaborators before making it public. Very useful. It’s got a host of other fantastic features, which you can check out here, and to see it in action, here’s the EP that Michael Manring and I made available a few weeks ago, exclusively via SoundCloud:

Steve Lawson and Michael Manring live at Don Quixotes by solobasssteve

The pairing of Bandcamp and Soundcloud is a pretty much unbeatable combo for distributing audio files online. And Bandcamp gives you to option to charge for them as well.

What is as yet un-mapped is the actual relationship between how we value music, and how artists can price their work relating to that value. Donations, like the pay what you want option in Bandcamp, work really well – we the audience get the chance to be generous if we want, and people with no money can still get the music (and if they want to ‘pay’ something, can just share it around – after all, that’s ultimately what it’s all about!) but it still the case that you either pay before you listen (in which case the donation is a guess) OR the listener has to come back and make a donation after (which requires a level of commitment to the ideal that few of us are capable of…)

One of the projects I’m working on is a platform that seeks to work out that value and allow listeners to pay based on it, and I’ll write more about that very soon…

Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

A Foray into Dark Ambient Improv (More New Music)

April 23rd, 2009 · Comments Off on A Foray into Dark Ambient Improv (More New Music)

photo of a painting from the Urban Scrawl exhibitionI spent a lovely few hours today with David Stevens, a wonderful musician working mainly with abstract drones and soundscapes, often using bowed strips of metal to create the most amazing textures.

We met through Tuttle, and have been talking for a while about recording together, and today it finally happened, though not without an hour or so of technical faffing thanks to some problematic gear… [Read more →]

Tags: Uncategorized

Donation-ware music…

March 12th, 2009 · Comments Off on Donation-ware music…

Jesus is For losers website screengrabI think blogged about this album when the first few tracks became available, but ‘Jesus Is For Losers‘ by Calamateur is now finished, all the tracks are up, along with artwork, at www.jesusisforlosers.co.uk
[Read more →]

Tags: music reviews · website recommendations

It pains me to say it, but Billy Bragg couldn't be more wrong…

July 26th, 2008 · Comments Off on It pains me to say it, but Billy Bragg couldn't be more wrong…

…And here was me hoping that the arguments over ‘flat license fees’ for music online were going away and people realised it was largely unworkable. Gerd Leonhard has been pushing this for a while as the answer – Gerd is a futurist, and as I’ve said before, he approaches the industry with the characteristic fatalism of a futurist – the trends all point in a certain way, so let’s not try and change the culture or wish for a better world, but instead just bend with the wind and squeeze some money from the listeners before they just steal it all.

And now my favourite living Englishman (OK, joint fave with Tony Benn), Billy Bragg has piled in on the discussion putting his weight behind the idea that music should be either license fee driven or ad-revenue driven.

And I, perhaps not surprisingly, disagree with him. Rather strongly. Here’s a few reasons why:

  • the cost of administrating such a scheme would be prohibitively high – the per-track margins involved in such a scheme would mean that the people who currently make a few hundred or a few thousand pounds a year in revenue from their recorded output would be likely driven out of the game, or forced to opt out of the scheme, and in order to ‘compete’ at all, would have to just give their stuff away without any come-back. There is a healthy music-world that operates outside even the spread of the MCPS/PRS licensing scheme for recorded music, where bands record their own original music, press their own CDs and sell them, because audiences are still aware of the financial value of recorded music. Destroy that, and those people are left high and dry – it would be fine if recorded music were genuinely ‘free’, but recording music takes time, resources, skills, all of which are costed on a scale – you want a better drum sound, you better go to a decent studio with great mics… That’s not going to happen if music for band start-ups is designed to be given away. So we end up back with the home-demo production values of the mid 80s, and hand the record labels another way of holding artists to hostage just because they own a studio and have access to advertising revenue…
  • how hard it would be to police – without getting deeper into a ‘big brother’ monitoring situation, it’d be damn near impossible to bring all music under that licensed umbrella.
  • how difficult it would be for smaller bands to build a ‘brand’ if their music is lost in some massive licensed distribution package – it’s hard enough for bands to carve out their own space online as it is, with most of the current retail options being centralized – iTunes, eMusic etc – they can be linked into, but it’s vital in the current climate that bands can manage their own sales. In the license-era, CDs (or whatever other new format has arrived) could still be sold online as ‘premium product’, but download sales would vanish, and download traffic, in order to fit within the license, will be moved away from the band’s site. I’m sure the widgets will be skinnable, but it’s still shifting the powerbase to whoever gets charged with handling the database (a database of ALL music??? who the hell would we trust with that, to not be gamable by the big labels???)
  • what’s the potential for growth within such a system – the Long Tail, as a concept, only works if an artist/content producer is ‘pushing’ traffic into the long tail – very little of my audience passively lands on my music – last.fm is probably the only significant traffic source for people finding me ‘by accident’. Maybe Myspace, to an extent. But I’m still pushing the traffic that way, and the idea of pushing people away from my site, into the license area (however that becomes administered) for miniscule return, just doesn’t work for me as a relatively marginal artist. It’s bloody marvellous for Madonna, Radiohead and even Billy Bragg – for artists with what I think of as an ‘ambient legacy’, a large general awareness of what they do amongst listeners, it’s a great deal – for people to be able to go and download all of Billy’s back catalogue for ‘free’, LOADS of people would do it, but even charge them £2 per album, and they’d think twice… He gets to capitalize on years of record company expenditure and media exposure…
  • what it psychologically does to the listener to perceive record music as having no value. This, for me is the crux of it – this approach actively ruins the relationship between listener and music – not listener and band, but listener and music. In order to give people the experience of learning from music, of being changed by it, of learning to love it, we need to be building better filters for discovery, not broadening access to 100,000 song archives. I know teenage kids with 10s of thousands of tracks on their computers. Most of it they’ll never ever listen to. You can’t. They have it because it’s there. It’s consumer-gluttony and benefits no-one. If they were ‘paying’ fractions of a penny per track via a license scheme for those tracks, it’s not going to make that track any more valuable for them. In fact, the value of downloading it illegally is probably higher because they need to step outside of ‘the mainstream’ to do it, there’s a frisson of excitement as doing something illegal (if they even know it’s illegal), and that adds value!

I LOVE Billy Bragg, I think he’s great, and I’m really glad he’s thinking through this stuff, but on this one, he’s many shades of wrong…

So what’s the alternative? i’ll write more later, but feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!

Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians