stevelawson.net

Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Quoted In The Observer – More On the Myspace Redesign

November 1st, 2010 · 3 Comments

I was quoted in yesterday’s Observer, in an article by Jemima Kiss about the Myspace redesign.

Jemima contacted me via Twitter after I told her about ‘Quit Myspace Day’, and asked me a whole pile of really good questions. As is always the way with such things, she could only use a tiny fraction of what I wrote, so I’ll put the rest of it here. Enjoy! (I’ve paraphrased her questions, for the most part)

J: How useful was MySpace in the early days? How did you use it?

In the mid 2000s, MySpace accidentally filled a gap – the whole idea of adding a band as a ‘friend’ was revolutionary, and all of a sudden you had artists talking to their audience. For a whole load of tech-shy musos, the basics were there – music player, photo upload, gig list and a blog that acted as a newsletter. That it was happening at the heart of a youth social network was a double bonus – the sharing potential of that was massive, as kids put their favourite bands in their ‘top friends’ as a status symbol. [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies

Why I Quit MySpace.

October 24th, 2010 · 15 Comments

Today, in case you were unaware, is ‘Quit Myspace Day‘. It’s an entirely voluntary, rather mischievous and unexpectedly cathartic thing to be a part of. A year ago, Andrew Dubber proposed the idea, suggesting that MySpace had one year to become useful, meaningful, helpful, music-ful again or we should all bail out en masse. [Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies

A Decade In Music: The Internet And Me

December 24th, 2009 · 3 Comments

I was on the internet before my first album came out (this is what it looked like back then). In fact, much of the momentum that my first album had was to do with my good standing in the various bass-related web communities that I was a part of. As a player, teacher and journalist, I had a bit of a profile, and the web was a MUCH smaller place in the late 90s.

And that all made it so much easier to decide to do my album completely on my own. I never even entertained the idea of trying to get a ‘deal’. The economics didn’t make sense even then, and I had a hunch that the future was indie… [Read more →]

Tags: Gig stuff · Music News · Musing on Music · New Music Strategies

London gig on Aug 25th – the Singers Of Twitter :)

July 31st, 2009 · 6 Comments

This is the first proper London show in AGES for Lobelia and I, so we’re making it a special one. We’ve asked 3 of our favourite singers to join us for an amazing night of singer-songwriter-ness… and genius Ukulele magic. It’ll be on Aug 25th, doors at 7pm, music from 7.30, at Darbucka World Music Bar, on St John’s Street in Clerkenwell, London. [Read more →]

Tags: gig dates · Gig stuff · Music News

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

Open Letter To The UK Jazz Community Pt V – Blogging.

May 11th, 2009 · Comments Off on Open Letter To The UK Jazz Community Pt V – Blogging.

photo of Corey Mwamba at the BarbicanAt the end of Pt IV, I said that band leaders could consider not hiring musicians who don’t blog to help promote the music. A few of you didn’t like that idea, suggesting that it’s all about the music, and why should someone have to be a writer in order to play music?

To which my answer is twofold:

  • Firstly, I did say ‘it’s not a hard and fast rule – you don’t want to, you don’t have to. But…
  • Secondly, you don’t have to be a writer to have a blog. You just have to want to tell people about cool stuff that’s going on around you. Some of the best blogs are a collection of really short posts – they’re a little bit of information, and some kind of embedded media. If you feel inspired to elaborate, or to write in the kind of long form article-based way that I do, that’s great, but that’s not why musicians should be blogging.

[Read more →]

Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

The Problem Of Time Pt II – Social Networks for Social Musicians

February 5th, 2009 · Comments Off on The Problem Of Time Pt II – Social Networks for Social Musicians

Steve Lawson talking in the Ustream chatroom between sets, Milwaukee House concert Dec 2008So, as I outlined in Pt 1, Social networks can be a really tough place to inhabit as a musician, because you’re going to get a LOT of artists sending you friend requests expecting you to check out their music.

The idea for the artist, in that case, is that numbers mean everything. If I have 80,000 Myspace friends I must be doing something right, right? Surely that means that a percentage of them are going to become fans, tell their friends and then go and buy my CDs. Surely those kind of numbers will land me a record deal? Any label that knows I’ve got 80,000 devoted Myspace ‘fans’ will surely snap me up?

Wrong. As anyone knows whose spent any time on Myspace, there’s no correlation at all between numbers of myspace friends and any real-world metric of success, be that sales, gigs, quality or measurable commercial potential. There are some truly dire musicians on myspace with 80,000 friends, who clearly didn’t get the memo that said ‘oi! stop adding myspace friends and go and practice, your music sucks!
And sadly for musicians on other social networks, the numbers game of the old industry – and myspace – still carries over, and there are bands spamming everyone and anyone on Twitter, ReverbNation, Facebook, Last.Fm and anywhere else they can find to pimp their music. The internet equivalent of aggressively flyering in the street.

Only, as I wrote in part 1, that’s just not how people find music. If you want to know how people find music online, read ‘Net, Blogs And Rock ‘n’ Roll‘ by David Jennings. It’s by far the best book ever written on the subject. It’s brilliant, and you need to read it if you want to be were you audience are likely to be. David outlines the ways that communities form around musical artists and styles, and what the tools are online that are facilitating that. His book is vital reading for anyone working in the industry, and would make fascinating reading for anyone interested in any level of community formation online.

But what I’ll add to it is about the value of being social on social media platforms.

I know, it sounds flippin’ obvious. And it is. It is obvious. So why do so many morons persist in ‘following’ 3000 people on twitter in the hope of picking up listeners? Why the inability to hold a conversation with anyone?

Lobelia and I just booked a whole series of house concerts in the US, almost entirely through Twitter. The vast majority of the hosts of the concerts were twitter-friends of ours, and between us and them, we promoted the shows via Twitter. Loads of our twitter friends showed up, almost all of whom found out about ‘us’ before they found out about our music. They were people we’d chatted with about everything, who listened to the music we make because we were interesting to them.

The conversation was what gave them cause to listen, not the description of what we do. I would hazard a guess that well over 90% of our audience on this tour couldn’t name you another solo bassist (except at the shows that featured other solo bassists!). We didn’t end up playing to rooms full of bass and looping geeks. We played to people who were already caught up in the story of who were are, and were the only too eager to become part of the event, and bring their friends.

We still had to be really good at what we do. Moreso, given that the person hosting each gig was putting their reputation on the line by hosting our gig (in most venues, the owner couldn’t care less what you sound like if you can guarantee beer-drinking punters. House concerts obviously aren’t like that!).

So how does this idea of conversing with your audience transfer to social network activity? Here are some key points:

  • Myspace friends are a cheap (near-worthless) currency, in and of themselves. Most of the people who add you on myspace only do so to get you to listen to them. The only value is the interaction.
  • There are only so many superlatives in the world, and all of them have been claimed by other musicians. Telling me in your bio how universe-conqueringly amazing you are counts for nothing.
  • Your audience are far more likely to talk about you once they’ve made friends with you. ‘Hey guess what, I met this really cool guitar player on twitter, we were chatting about his dog, then I listened to his tunes – amazing stuff’ – etc.
  • Pretending to be an aloof detached rock star doesn’t work unless you’ve got the kind of money it takes to make you into a rock star. ‘Fame’ is way too expensive for very little pay-off – ignore it.
  • If all you talk about is your own music, you’ll bore people pretty quick. Frame it in the context of the rest of your interests. Use the platform you have to share info that’s of value (at this point, if you haven’t read my top twitter tips for musicians, do it!)
  • Time is precious, you have to earn the right to the time it takes people to listen to your music. Take that responsibility seriously, talk up to your audience not down to them, listen, chat, answer questions, ask them, and you never know, you might even end up getting more out of social networking personally than you do professionally 😉
  • Don’t get lost in the numbers – communities of properly connected people take time to grow. Give it time. You’ve got plenty of it.

It’s vital to not get distracted by the over-hyped, bankrupt ideas of the old school record industry. The cost of turning records into hits vs the chances of making it back made for pretty crappy odds for each artist – the labels eventually did OK by making it all back on the ones that went supernova, while the rest were left in debt, and the stars often ended up drugged out and fucked up.

We have the chance to do this differently. If we understand what’s going on, reject the giantism of the friend-list-size-obsessed spam culture and instead invest our time in making great music and inviting people into the world where that music is made, we have much less to lose and much more to gain.

Win-win.

(BTW, the picture at the top is me on Tracy Apps‘ laptop, chatting to the people who were in the chat room watching the live stream of our house concert from Tracy’s place, on Ustream.tv – gettin’ social on yo ass!)

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

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 3 – going Mobile.

December 12th, 2008 · Comments Off on Social Media first principles for Musicians Pt 3 – going Mobile.

Steve Lawson and his N95 as taken by Benjamin Ellis. Finally… part 3! The timing is prescient for two reasons. Firstly, last Monday I was invited to be a panelist at a discussion hosted by Mobile Mondays (MoMo) on the whole area of Mobile tech and Social Media.

Secondly, it’s because today I’m heading to Leicester to De Montfort University Business School to help put together a social media toolkit that small businesses can use. (In case you’d let it slip your mind, being a pro or semi-pro musician IS a small business – makes for a great case study, in fact…)

So, cutting to the chase, our two Sesame Street-esque words of the day are:

Mobile‘ and ‘Transparent‘.

As I said to the lovely suits at MoMo, one of the big problems for non-uber-geeks using mobile social tools at the moment is the lack of transparent interface.

What the hell does that mean? OK, if you take a picture, click a button and quietly in the background it then uploads to Flickr for you (or to Facebook, Ovi, or if you want to post it to lots of places at once, Phreadz), that’s transparent. If, however, you take a picture, scroll through 100 menus, click a button, tell it to upload and then have to watch the screen for 5 mins because the connection keeps dropping and your phone might crash… that’s what I like to call ‘Not Transparent‘. That’s a pain in the arse, and unless you have a dedicated Social Media monitor (like a library monitor in school, but with cooler toys), it makes it very difficult to be spontaneous.

And spontaneity is key to the value of mobile for a musician. If you’re touring, all kinds of fun and crazy things are happening all the time. Lots of them (the ones that aren’t borderline illegal), when photographed, filmed or recorded, have enormous shareability. They’re funny, engaging, interesting and easily become part of the narrative. Even more importantly, they are something free you can GIVE to your audience, expecting nothing in return. You’re just inviting them into your world, to see a glimpse of the life you live on the road. Or in the studio, out shopping for music gear, or – if you’re comfortable with it – bits of your day to day life.

So where are we up to with the tech? Well, it is, not surprisingly, getting better and better. Hardware-wise, the front-runners are the Nokia N95 (my own smartphone of choice) and the iPhone… I’m not a huge fan of the iPhone, but I do appreciate the feature set it has, and it is a great device for playing around with mobile social media.

My reason for loving the N95 is that it’s as close to an all-in-one tool as I’ve seen yet
. The camera – and more importantly, the video capture – is the best I’ve come across in a mobile phone (even the world’s biggest cynic about such things, PhotoMonkeySteve, was impressed by the quality…). It has wifi, 3G and a whole slew of great apps developed for it. It’s a pretty good media playback device (if you rip films in the right format, you can even use it as a portable DVR, hook it up to your TV and watch films on the big screen…)

For me, being able to record gigs (I’ve currently got about 3.5 hours of Lobelia and I playing house concerts on the phone, waiting to be edited and uploaded to YouTube…) stream little bits of my daily life and upload photos direct to flickr (or, using TwitPic, to Twitter) is really cool. I can even blog direct to this WordPress blog from the phone.

The connection your audience will feel with what you’re doing is multiplied by a pretty large factor when you talk to them ‘in the moment’
– not ‘last night I played a gig’, but ‘I’m about to go on stage, wish me luck!’ – I posted that very message on Twitter last night before I played with Lawson/Dodds/Wood and got LOADS of replies from people who wouldn’t drop in to say ‘hey, really glad you had a good gig’ on my blog, but feel all warm and snuggly, and again, importantly, ‘like they’re missing something’ because I tell them what I’m doing right then.

So here’s what you need to get going with your Mobile social media life:

  • A Nokia N95 (or N82, or iPhone, or any other smartphone that has the features listed above)
  • A twitter account (twittering on the go makes bus and train journeys so much more fun. Most of the members of Jars Of Clay are now on Twitter, and their tour-banter is a lovely glimpse of life on the road)
  • A flickr account (you should have one of these already – I’ll post more about flickr soon…)
  • A youtube account (be warned, if you get an iPhone, the current version does NOT do video. I know, it’s insane, why the hell not?) – you can upload directly to your youtube account from the Nokia N series phones, via the youtube app. Same goes for Seesmic and Phreadz.

You can also post to Facebook, Myspace and a raft of other social sites from your phone.

Bottom line, you can double your social media footprint and quadruple your connection with your audience by going Mobile.

What’s more, it’s only going to get better from here. Be warned, a few of these things have a bit of a learning curve attached, mainly to get round the foibles of the hardware and software (by far the best feature-set of the upload apps is ShoZu… it’s just a shame that it makes my phone impossible to use when it’s running… I met the VP of Marketing at Shozu at MoMo, so will report back on my communication with her soon – she’s eager to help…)

4 years from now, social networking is going to be predominantly mobile and very much driven by rich media (photos, videos, audio) – get in there now and you’ll have a bigger slice of the audience, have made all your mistakes while most people don’t even know what you’re doing, and be in a position to innovate as soon as the tech comes along that lets you do it.

So, off you go and upgrade your phone (just don’t forget to recycle the old one…)

Tags: Geek · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians