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Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



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

Social Media thoughts Pt 3 – the ongoing conversation…

May 22nd, 2008 · 6 Comments

So, from my own ill-formed thoughts on how to use Social Media as a way of connecting with an audience, I started reading more about the way other people were doing the same thing, and watching what other musicians did. There’s been a lot of cross-pollenation, as musicians who’ve taken some of my ideas have gone further with them in a much shorter space of time than I ever have – Jeff Schmidt is a good example of this.

Jeff’s got a pretty huge profile given the very short space of time in which he’s been doing this solo bass stuff. He went from exploring solo bass ideas at a masterclass I was giving to winning international competitions and building an online fanbase in just a few months. A lot of his spread was via the social media of Myspace, his blog, bass forums and videos. His playing is at times really immediately impressive which got a lot of people embedding clips of his music in a ‘wow, check this dude out!’ kind of way, and word spread fast. A lot faster than it ever has for me online… And from his thinking about this stuff, I’ve picked up all kinds of great ideas and thoughts. Our ongoing conversations on how all this works, via blog comments, twitter and sporadic podcasting – as well as chatting whenever we get to meet up – are a vital part in how I process all this stuff.

Again, the information flow is non-linear – it’s back and forth, it involves a lot of tributaries and cul-de-sacs and hours of mucking about and exploring what’s happening. Both Jeff and I are having conversations with other people, and bring those to the table when we get together. His thinking on it is very much shaped by him having a pretty demanding day job, which frees him up in terms of making money from his music, but ties him down in terms of time spent on music-related stuff… And around us, we’ve built a growing community of musicians – many of them, not surprisingly, solo bassists – who are talking about and using this stuff.

Recently, something fundamentally shifted for me. I started to discuss my ideas on this with non-musicians. Twitter was a big catalyst in the beginning of this, starting to have mini-discussions with people who were actively integrating social media into their daily public dialogue. From there, I discovered about the London Social Media Cafe, and started to have weekly conversations with people from other businesses and artistic disciplines about how the conversation enables us to do what we do, and find an audience, clients, business partners, inspiration and resources.

The format of the Social Media Cafe is so simple, a room is booked upstairs in a pub, a load of curious people turn up, drink coffee, eat croissants and chat about social media stuff. Sometimes it’s about making friends and feeling less isolated. Sometimes it’s about getting work. Sometimes it’s about helping other people process their thoughts on a particular subject. Sometimes it’s about giving and receiving encouragement. Or having a sounding board. And it’s all about the Moo Cards. 🙂

The founder, Lloyd Davis, is very much the personality archetype for the SMC – he’s curious, creative, tech-savvy, self employed as a social media consultant and enabler… and loves a good natter!

What is clear from the SMC (and the spin-off gatherings, like the fantastic Creative Coffee Club) is that the level of thinking and dialogue that goes on is pretty much the leading edge of thinking on the subject of social media and it’s relationship to work, innovation, entrepreneurship, the arts, creativity etc. – certainly that I’ve ever come across. I’ve listened to keynote speeches from expos and new media gatherings around the world and often things that are presented as revolutionary and new in those settings are just taken as read at the SMC and are part of the way we daily live. If I worked for a media agency or corporation, I’d be biting Lloyd’s hand off to pay for access to the collective minds of the SMC! I can’t imagine a better group to bounce ideas off, or get feedback from. The various sponsors of the Friday morning get togethers understand this.

The other key part of it for me has been about reinvention – a lot of my geek friends that I’ve known for years have watched me go from a website with scrolling text and animated gifs with a blog just written in HTML, through all of my new media mistakes and false starts, and so are less likely to be invigorated by my take on Social Media. They’ve heard all of my thoughts in their ill-formed half-baked state and as such, hear what I’m saying now in that light. That’s a useful thing, in that it stops me from thinking I’m the business when in fact I’m just writing up here what happens in my life, but it does mean that taking the more refined, nuanced, considered version of it into an environment where the tall bloke with the big hair and furry coats is a new face on the geek-scene is a good testing ground for it as a body of thought.

I’m getting to abstract from a musical context the principles behind the social media interaction discussion and instead of solo bass, to talk about film or books, computer games or education, and see how those scenarios throw light on the process, on the concept, on the whole area of looking at the failure of broadcast media to engage an audience, and the need for pathways of interaction between ‘content providers’ and consumers.

Another key piece in my thinking on this over the last 6 weeks or so has been David Jennings brilliant book Net, Blog And Rock ‘n’ Roll, which is a wonderful look at the way that people find information and how that plays out on the web in relation to music. I’ll not write a full review yet, as I still haven’t finished it, but suffice to say it is utterly vital reading for anyone thinking about this stuff, from any field.

So, what’s the value in the SMC/CCC/Social Media Geek-world for me then? Well, it works on many many levels. It’s a test-bed for ideas, it’s a place where I get to contribute to other people’s conversations, as well as starting my own. My, uhm, esoteric place as a musician makes for a great perspective provider, in that I’m clearly never looking to make millions, but am fiercely protective of my own creative space. I’m a good foil for conversations about the place that ‘meeting the needs of a market’ takes in any business/marketing plan, and maybe that will spill over into some consulting work on that.

I’m also able to collect stories and info from all these various worlds that are hugely useful for talking to music students about this stuff. I’m really looking forward to doing more university sessions on this, and helping music students plan a strategy of engagement, of interaction, of story telling and ‘real’ buzz-building around their music. I’m getting enquiries now from people wanting me to go and talk to their bands about this, which will be a lot of fun too!

And on top of all that, I’ve met a load of really amazing people, who inspire and energise me, who challenge me to up my game, and who encourage me. As well as a whole new load of listeners to my music – that last bit alone makes a lot of this worthwhile, but is actually just an added bonus!

So where do I go from here? I keep talking, keep sharing stories, keep helping musicians, keep learning from the mega-minds at the SMC/CCC/London geek world community, and carry on making the best music I can!

Are you an SMC/CCC attendee? What does it mean to you? What have you got from it?

Tags: Geek · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians