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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



How DO Musicians Earn Online?

April 14th, 2010 · 23 Comments

Social web has been buzzing these last couple of days with a visualisation by Information Is Beautiful, entitled “How Much Do Musicians Earn Online?” Click here to see it.

In case you’re not able to see the list, it’s a visual representation of how many instances of a range of online ‘music payment events’ you’d require to make a living wage solely from that service.

Not surprisingly, streaming services come out of it badly, especially when compared to sales of CDs.

However, the problem with presenting data in this way is that implicit within the list itself is the assumption of linearity: the list itself says “these are distinct events between which there is at least conceptual parity when comparing how many instances of that payment event are required to meet a particular sum.” [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

2008 in review – Blog posts for musicians, Pt 1

December 31st, 2008 · 1 Comment

Photo by Christian Payne AKA DocumentallyIt’s been an amazing year for me – a proper round-up of the year will be coming soon. But I thought that first I’d pull together some of the things I’ve blogged about this year. So this is part 1 of a compilation of links to my blog posts for musicians this year –

Back in May/June, I did a series of posts about Social Media for Musicians:

…ah, clearly i didn’t finish that last one… :)

Then in July, I did a series on my thoughts on bass teaching, and music teaching in general:

These had some really great comments off the back of them…

And here, in roughly chronological order, are my favourite posts from Jan – August:

There you go, that lot would make a pretty good e-book, if I ever get round to editing out the typos, and shortening some of my more overly-verbose entries :)

Next entry will cover Sept – Dec, and then the rest of what’s happened this year! If I don’t get to it til tomorrow, have a great new year, see you in ’09!

If you particularly like any of the posts, please share the links around, either via the ‘share this’ option below, or just by forwarding the URL to people who think might like to read them.

Tags: Geek · New Music Strategies · site updates · tips for musicians

Top Twitter Tips for Musicians.

December 29th, 2008 · 40 Comments

Twitter Win Fail at stevelawson.net I’ve been getting WAY too many ‘follows’ on Twitter of late from musicians who really don’t get it. So here’s my Top Tips For Musicians On Twitter. You may want to start with my Best Practices In Social Media post, or just jump straight in here.

OK, let’s start by comparing twitter with Myspace, as that’s where most musicians get their start in social media:

Like most musicians, my start on Myspace involved using the search function to find other musicians and ‘fans’ and adding them without any interaction. I accumulated thousands of ‘friends’ in no time, and for about a month was getting hundreds-sometimes-thousands of plays a day. But very little of it turned into any real interaction with them, either at gigs, buying/downloading music or just messages to say ‘hi’.

So I backed off, and stopped actively adding anyone to myspace, and recently deleted 8000 myspace friends in an attempt to make it useful.

So how does that relate to Twitter? Well, Twitter has no media player. It’s just text. It’s also asynchronous. This is crucial to understanding it. So point #1 with Twitter is:

  • ‘Following’ someone on Twitter means next to nothing. The interaction is everything.

So if you’re tempted to come onto twitter, search for ‘music’ or ‘jazz’ or ‘bass’ or whatever and hope to gain an audience. Think again. It’s not going to work. All that happens is, your timeline becomes unusable. You miss the good things other people are tweeting and you look like a spammer. Because (point #2):

  • Twitter is all about other people.

That’s right, it’s not primarily about you. It’s a very difficult interface to game anyway. You can’t turn up, post links to your own page and hope people will find you. Because everyone else is way more interesting than you are. So, tip #1 (as opposed to point #1, that was above) – Tip #1 is:

  • Be interesting.

And it stands to reason that tip #2 is:

  • hey check out my site” isn’t remotely interesting.

No, it’s not, it’s self-obsessed, dull and ultimately does you more harm than good. If you’re trying to get me to listen to you, you were in a better position when I’d never heard of you than when I saw your twitter page with 4 tweets that said ‘hey, check out my myspace‘. Now I just think you’re a tool.

No, if I go to your page, and you’re interacting (twitter interactions happen by way of ‘@’ replies – if you put an @ in front of someone’s username in your ‘tweet’, it shows up in their replies, and for other people, it links to their page. It’s creates a contextual network for what you’re saying, it means people can find out what your tweet was in response to, and more about the person you’re talking to.) then I’m more interested in talking to you, asking you questions, answering your questions and generally getting a conversation going with you. Which is good for you, because if I reply to you, the 900-or-so people that follow me are going to see it, an if they find what I’ve said to you interesting, may click through to you…

So, tip #3 relates to how to get started:

  • Start by adding people you know already and talk to them.

If you’re having normal fun interaction, you look like a human being, not a spam-generating bot, or worse, an up-their-own-arse musical narcissist. Just talk about what you’re up to. What you’re doing is placing your music within the narrative of your life. You’re letting people know what you’re about, so they may then be interested in what kind of music such an interesting person would make. And if you’re a musician, the day-to-day life of practicing, getting gigs, designing flyers, getting paid, making records etc. is fascinating. It really is. So talk about it.

Tip #4 relates to this:

  • Twitter users are largely curious people, you don’t need to post links all day to get them to find you.

There’s already a link back to your site on your twitter page. And if you’re clever, you can post a nice pretty twitter background (here’s mine) that will give them a little more info. When you are interesting, people will be interested. That’s just how it works. So be interesting.

Tip #5 follows on from this

  • Twitter users are curious, but also deeply suspicious of spammers.

Like I said at the top, if you get it wrong, it’s worse than not being there. if you look like a spammer, people will not only ignore you, they’ll block you. That’s not good. So If you

  1. interact
  2. keep close-to-parity in your followers/following ratio
  3. tweet a lot about what you’re up to without links to your site,

people may follow you back.

So, last tip – #6 – for now (I’ll do a part 2 later) is about Conversation:

  • People are far more likely to follow you because your conversation is interesting than because your music is great.

No-one knows if your music is great. Lots of links to your site won’t make them want to check it out any more than one link. However, lots of conversation makes you more interesting than no conversation.

No-one likes the guy/girl in a bar who talks about themselves all night to the exclusion of all else. Don’t be that guy on Twitter.

For reference, here are some musicians being interesting on twitter:

Lobelia, Jeff Schmidt, Imogen Heap, Warriorgrrl, Botched, Steven Guerrero, Alun Vaughan, Simon Little, Ben Walker, Graham English. They range from the hugely famous (Imogen) to the ‘tweets all the time (Graham and I), to the ‘small but important interactions’ (Botched and Steven G) – there’s a range there. Watch them, see what they do, what makes you want to listen to them, and do that.

Have fun, make friends, and post any questions you may have in the comments below! And if you want to recommend a musical twitterer (that isn’t YOU) then please do that too, but give reasons why…

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

Social Media – first principles for musicians (Pt 2)

October 21st, 2008 · 6 Comments

House Concert in BournemouthOK, let’s jump straight into part 2 with a few of the fears musicians have when making ourselves available to talk directly with our audience.

We’ll look at 3 areas we often get wrong when interacting with our audience, which are:

  • How to treat your audience like friends rather than your ‘target market’. (notice I keep using the more neutral term ‘audience’ rather than ‘fans’ – I’ve never been all that comfortable with the word ‘fans’, seems a little patronising in some contexts, but substitute it if you wish…).
  • allowing people to comment on what you do doesn’t mean you have to put up with insults and slander.
  • don’t confuse inviting comment with asking for advice.

These three are biggies in terms of HOW we actually treat our audience.

  • If You Treat Them Like Friends, They’ll Stick Around Longer. I was going through some old letters earlier today (we’re moving house) and found one from a guy I knew when I was a kid. It was the first letter I’d got from him in almost 2 years, and he was trying to sell me insurance! No introductory message, no catch-up, no context. Just ‘I’ve got a new job selling insurance; want some?’ It all came flooding back to me how used I felt when I got the letter, how insane it seemed, even back in those pre-spam days.The parallels with talking to your audience like friends are obvious. If all you ever say is ‘buy my shit!’, there’s no level of which it’s a friendship. Think about it in terms of ‘how would you feel if everyone you talk to on social media started behaving like you back at you?’ – if you’d be getting hundreds of adverts a day, it’s time to change your approach
  • Allowing People To Comment On What You Do Doesn’t Mean You Have To Put Up With Insults And Slander – this is probably a bigger issue for Americans than Brits, given that you guys have a much stronger attachment to the notion of ‘freedom of speech’.I was chatting with Ben Walker last night over curry, about all the things that happened around the viral explosion of his Twitter Song video. One of the things that he got that seems to be endemic on Youtube was the hateful, nasty comments. Hundreds of them. From people who hadn’t even watched the video, but just spend their time posting hateful comments for absolutely no reason. Fortunately Ben found it funny. His girlfriend, less so. I never allow insulting comments to stay on any site that I moderate. Disagreement is fine, but politeness is a must.My rule is, if someone said it to me in a pub, would I walk out? I’ve stopped posting on a couple of bass-related forums because I was being insulted by a handful of posters. It’s not that I get upset by it, but it does become a waste of my time. I’m not one to court negativity or ‘controversy’ by getting into arguments with internet trolls. I’m happy to chat with people who don’t ‘get’ my music, but insult me and I leave the conversation – as the person in the conversation who has a reputation of sorts, you’ll never win. So the lesson is, keep such discussions to places you can moderate – Myspace, twitter, facebook fan-page, Ning pages, reverbnation comments, self-hosted forums : all of those are places you can keep the atmosphere at a level you’re socially comfortable with. Don’t feel like you owe airtime to people with a grievance. Deleting insulting posts isn’t censorship, it’s selection – censorship suggests you’re denying them a voice, when actually you’re just choosing not to allow them to hijack YOUR audience. Anyone can set up a blog posting about how much they dislike whoever, they just can’t do it in my forum. Simple as.
  • Don’t Confuse Inviting Comment With Asking For Advice – a lot of musicians, in order to stimulate conversation, ask their audience for their opinion on their work, be it released work or ‘works in progress’. It’s a good way to start a discussion, but there is a fine line between inviting people to pick their favourites, and getting completely unqualified criticism of your work from people with no idea what you’re actually trying to do.
    Crowd-sourcing advice for your music is a sure way of
    a) confusing yourself, and
    b) losing any sense of a coherent narrative to what you do.
    I make it as plain as I can without sounding stuck-up that I don’t make music FOR anyone except me. Not because I don’t care what they think, but because I can’t. I can only soundtrack the world as I see it, as best I can. Someone else telling me what I could do differently to best suit their aesthetic, their view of the world is completely futile.

    That’s not to say that I don’t have people whose opinion I trust who can comment and critique what I do – I have a whole list of them – it just that each of them have earned that place over years of listening and conversation. It has context. It’s also certainly not to say that I don’t like hearing what people like and don’t like about what I do. It’s fascinating to hear, and hugely encouraging when people ‘get it’, on whatever level. But as an example, we recently had a letter back from a record label about the Lawson/Dodds/Wood album (have you bought it yet? :) ) The guy said he really like it, but threw in ‘maybe it needs a female vocal?’ – why? Why would it ‘need’ anything? Why do we need telling that? because we don’t know any female vocalists? The last few gigs we’ve done as a trio have featured one of the finest female vocalists I’ve ever worked with, and if we felt like we needed to add her voice to the album, we’d have done it. I’ve no idea who this dude is, I’m glad he likes the record, but have no real interest in whether or not the album sounds like it needs samples of dogs barking or clowns being kicked squarely in the nuts on it, in his estimations. It’s not that his opinions aren’t valid to him, they just lack context in relation to how and why WE made OUR record.

Talk to your audience like friends
don’t patronise them
don’t shout at them
listen to them but don’t pretend they’re your producers
share things of value with them
invite them into your creative pathway
give away information and ideas that have currency
help them and they’ll help you.

I’ve said before on a number of occasions, my audience is almost always entirely made up of people I’d love to go out for a curry with after the gig and chat to for hours. Demographically, my favourite people in the world are the ones that go to Steve Lawson gigs. If I wasn’t Steve Lawson, I’d be hanging out at his gigs to meet cool people. Somewhere along the line the approach to drawing an audience into your world that I’ve outlined above has worked pretty much perfectly for me.

Take the principles and examples, think about them, discuss them, adapt them, play with them, jump in and try chatting to your fans. See what happens. Please post and thoughts, comments or questions below.

Part 3 I’ll look at some of the software and hardware tools that work best.

Tags: Uncategorized

Working-class musicians…

August 8th, 2008 · Comments Off on Working-class musicians…

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about just who gets affected by decisions made about how music gets from performer/writer to audience – so much of the discussion on this stuff revolves around the wishes and careers of record company execs and ‘rock stars’ – those handful of the world’s musicians who are selling albums in their hundreds of thousands or millions, who for some reason seem to be the focus of talk about the music industry.

Only that’s bollocks. As with almost any industry, the interesting stuff isn’t in the top 2%, it’s in the long-tail, the 95% of musicians that are just about making a living, on the kind of wages they make as assistant manager in Cost-cutter. Working-class musicians, often reliant on a partner’s good paying job to make up the deficit in their earned contribution to the family income.

Those are the people who play the vast majority of gigs, who play behind the celebs on the TV shows and on tour… Just regular working people like shop keepers and plumbers, who happen to be plying their trade in front of 10s, 100s or sometimes-but-not-often 1000s of people.

And they are why I just wrote a piece for Creative Choices entitled The Myth Of Success

The whole post is summed up in a GENIUS comment from the ever-illuminating and wonderful Kennan Shaw who said “First Prize is 10 years on a bus.” – the quest for celebrity is clearly BS, and shouldn’t really play much of a part in us thinking about where our industry goes… have a read of the post and let me know what you think…

There’s lots more about this issue on the way very soon, I promise.

Tags: Uncategorized

Social Media Thoughts 5: Sharing the Love pt 1 – fans.

June 13th, 2008 · 2 Comments

If you listened to the podcast I’ve been talking about in the last couple of posts, you’ll know that one of the things I’ve been thinking about of late is how Social Media lets the story of what we do and why we do it be told in as many ways as there are people willing to tell it.

As an example, think of an album you like, and try and sum it up in one sentence – a slogan that would work on a bill-board. Then have a think about the diverse range of people who might listen to that music, and whether they would understand what it is that you’re describing. Are you using other music as a reference point, music they might not know? Are you referring to it technically in a way that most of the audience wouldn’t understand or even care about? Are you framing it culturally in a way that alientates parts of the potential audience? The answer is probably ‘yes’ to all of those, for some of the potential audience.

I’ve designed a few print ads in my time, most of them to run in bass magazines – easy target audience you’d think? Nope. For every bassist who gets excited over the ‘idea’ of solo bass, there are 20 who dismiss it before listening as a mindless technical wankfest. Musician-specific audiences are a mixed blessing. Sure, there’s a level of ‘wow’-factor that anything clever has for them that a lay audience may not have, but they’re also prone to listening with their eyes, so if you’re inclined to make music to be listened to rather than watched as a sport, it can be a tough crowd.

No, writing broadcast ad-copy is a nightmare, and very rarely worth the expense, if what you’re marketing isn’t a necessary utility.

Which is where the ‘viral’ aspect of social media comes into its own, and doesn’t just involve videos of cats being cute racking up 11 million views on youtube. No, I just mean us being able to talk about and share things that we think are of value to anyone else in our social networks.

There are two distinct sides to this – what we do as ‘fans’, which I’ll deal with here and what we do as fellow artists, which I’ll blog about shortly.

The fans bit is easiest – people who find what I do and like it can ‘share’ the page on facebook, ‘stumble’ it, tweet about it, or just send an ole fashioned email to a friend with a recommendation to check out a particular tune or artist. We can even buy music for them on iTunes, and can of course describe it in any way that works for us, using the promo blurb that the artist has on their site if we want, or just making it up. So someone finding me could send their friend some BS about ‘the UK’s leading solo bass guitarist’ or say something random like ‘here’s a song that REALLY reminds me of custard… can’t work out why’… either way, it’s a new story, it’s a story that has context, and history and shared language in a way that a broadcast soundbite written by a marketing person will never have.

The artist’s role in this is to resource those digging for info. Often I want to share music with a fair amount of context, especially if it’s great music made in a way that is relevant to a particular musician, so if I go to the artist’s site and find a description of how they made a particular sound or recorded a particular track, so much the better. If while I’m there, I read a bit more about why they make the music they make, and what’s going on with them, it provides even greater context for me, and also for anyone I point to the site.

The key here is understanding how and why we ‘get into’ a particular band. It’s VERY rarely through one listen to a song. Two things in particular make a big difference to the likelihood of us loving a band – context and repeat exposure.

In the bad old days, pre-internets, repeat exposure came either through radio or after we’d bought the record. So we had time to grow to love things, and often bought them based on reviewers or friends who acted as cultural gate-keepers. The need to buy on trust has gone, so the role of musical town-criers is less vital, and we can all play a part in sharing what we dig.

Three things are therefor vital for musicians to do

1. articulate the need for some assistance – in the bad old days of Web 1.0, the vast majority of ‘web-savvy’ indie musicians played the ‘faux-major’ website game. Get a super flashy (often Flash-y) website design, and make it look like you are hidden behind a team of managers, designers, pluggers, PRs and a fancy schmancy rich label. Fake it to make it. It soon became very clear that audiences value interaction with artists far more than they are ‘wowed’ by faux-corporatism. So in the new web ecomony, we need to make ourselves available to answer our audience’s questions about what we do, invite their interaction with our process, and ask for their help! I UTTERLY rely on my audience telling their friends, family and social peers about what I do when they find something in it that works for them – and, leading onto number 2,
2.I try and make it as easy as possible for them (you?) to share things – at the bottom of this post, and any other post or page on my site, you’ll see a lil’ green logo that says ‘share this’ next to it – if you click on there, it’s easy to share that page or post on any social network you happen to be a part of – Myspace, facebook, stumbleupon, digg, del.icio.us, and a bunch of others I’ve never even heard of! that’s one of the main ways that people who have never heard me get to hear what I do – you sharing it.
3. The 3rd thing we musicians need to do is Show Gratitude – I’m well aware that you don’t NEED to tell anyone about my music. You don’t NEED to listen to me, or read this blog, or anything else – it’s a tragic pit that so many musicians fall into when they forget what David Jennings refers to in Net Blogs And Rock & Roll as ‘Jennings Law’ – “people make most of their discoveries elsewhere.” – no-one is hanging around twiddling their thumbs feeling like their monthly broadband fee is wasted cos I haven’t released enough music or written enough blog posts this week. In an attention economy, the onus is on me to be interesting enough for people to come and see what I do, and to frame the music is a context that hopefully inspires people to want to share that with their friends and peers, and to get the pay-off that they see it helping me…

So, in closing, it helps. If you’ve been sharing what I do with your friends, let me know in the comments below, and I’ll show some gratitude :)

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