stevelawson.net

Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Managing information streams (Pt 1)

March 7th, 2008 · 7 Comments

This will (I think) be the first in a series of posts about this, mainly because it’s an ongoing struggle and area of conceptual development.

So, I’ll start by saying where my problem lies – a lot of the stuff online about being overwhelmed by email starts by talking about spam. Apart from when I’ve had my domain-name spoofed by spammers and suddenly had 3000 ‘user not known’ replies, spam has never been a big problem for me. If you’ve got your email on a dedicated server, then there are various very effective and ‘teachable’ spam filters out there. the Gmail one seems pretty damned good too. (if you’re still using Hotmail as your primary email interface, you’re probably sorting through spam now and not reading this…)

So, what is my problem with email? it’s largely two fold – one, it’s filtering the mass of information I get on a subject so that I get only the best information, and two, it’s how to process info as it comes in.

I’m on a few different email discussion lists, which are seeming increasingly anachronistic as a way of doing group interaction. With the web forums I read, I tend to browse via keywords in the search box on the really busy ones, and glance at the recent posts every few days on the less busy ones. That doesn’t take long, and means I can track where the things I’m interested in are being mentioned. I also have google alerts, and technorati alerts for certain words cropping up in other places. But the email ones still take time to filter.

I get a fair bit of info that relates to gigs and teaching that tends to get lost as I put it to one side while I consider what to do with it, or juggle my diary so I can fit it all in… then someone emails me and says ‘are we still on for tomorrow’s lesson?’ and I panic as I try to make it all fit… so I need a new system there, for sure. the Search box in Macmail helps a lot, as I can just do a search for ‘lessons’ or ‘tuition’ to find all the bass lesson related stuff… Maybe I should try the ‘smart mailbox’ thing.

My other big problem with email is that replying quickly creates an expectation that this is your norm, so people use email for things that are urgent. I REALLY need to get away from that… Tim Ferris has written some really useful stuff on this topic here

Anyway, I’ve not got very far with managing my information, have I (though I did just go and unsub from a couple of lists I receive but never read, so that’s good…) – as my friend Karen would say ‘Land the plane, Steve!!’

It’s about filtering. I’ve written about this WRT music recently, but it applies equally to information – the problem isn’t a lack of it, it’s a lack of quality control. If I want to keep track of what’s happening in the bass-world, I could spend all day every day reading stuff on forums, blogs, email lists, digests…. And even for an info-geek like me, less than 3 or 4% of it is useful or even particularly interesting. So I need to be able to target my info. Here are a couple of suggestions for how WE can do it.

#1 – collaborate – if you want filters, be a filter. Google shared items is such an amazing way to get someone else to filter for you. I’ve read SO many great stories that I’d have missed thanks to following Jeff Schmidt and Jyoti Mishra‘s shared items. Some of the blogs I them subscribe to, often I just leave it to them to filter them for me.

Same goes for futuremusictalk.com – a GENIUS filter for stuff about the future of the industry. Not all the info, just most of the best info. And it gets better every time sarda tweaks it. He’s a genius, and lovely, and very busy, not surprisingly.

So using ready-made filters (here are my shared items for those of you who want them) – let others do the legwork.

If you have a very specific search criteria, use Google Blogsearch – put the searc term in, then grab the feed. Google rules. Technorati provide a similar service, but it’s hopelessly flakey…

So, get google reader, and start sharing – let me know when you do, and I’ll watch what you’re linking to… and then…

#2 – be ruthless. If you subscribe to a feed that you find yourself continually paging down past, delete it. Don’t clutter your reader. get rid of it, and let the google blog or news search watch it for you for keywords. (note to self, must see if google blogsearch can handle boolean commands). Don’t put up with duplicate feeds – if you subscribe to a feed that is fed straight into futuremusictalk.com, delete the feed (with some blogs, including mine, only certain posts are cross-posted. With others more specific blogs, everything is aggregated there). I did this recently with news feeds – the beeb cross post a lot of articles to world and UK news, so I deleted one of them. Same with the guardian. strip it back, get the info you need, don’t sweat about missing some stuff – if it’s that good, someone else will share it anyway (thanks Jyoti for the political filter stuff – you rule!)

#3 – set limits. This is the bit I’m worst at, and the bit that from next week is going to get experimental. Have set times for this stuff, then click ‘all read’ – use the starring thing in google reader (do you get the idea that I think Google Reader ROCKS??) to come back to things at a later date, or share it then go read your own feed… But stick to them. I’m definitely writing this for myself now, I’m terrible at this. One thing I’ve started to do is not have feeds loading in the background. Using FluidApp.com I’ve turned Google Reader into it’s own application. I read, then close it, so its not giving me alerts all the time. I read it like a newspaper in the morning or evening. I also set my email to only check once every 30 mins, so I do it in batches. Soon, I’m hoping to switch to twice a day email too… we’ll see if that works.

And here’s the clincher, and the link to the next post (later) – I’m using twitter to do a lot of my filtering. Twitter deserves its own post, but so far my online presence has gone through the roof as a result of using it (even with a fairly modest number of followers) but I actually spend LESS time on that than I used to on forums, IM and email… next post will explain how and why.

I hope that lot helps – PLEASE post suggestions – I’m still working this one out. Blog about it, and post a link in the comments, ask questions if I’m using geek terms you don’t get. This shit is important because it threatens to swamp our time to be human, creative and alive. Help me out here…

Tags: cool links · Geek · Managing Information Streams · New Music Strategies · Random Catchup · tips for musicians · website recommendations

Billy Bragg/KT Tunstall at HMV – the value of screwing it up…

February 19th, 2008 · 2 Comments

I went to a fabulous lunchtime gig yesterday – Billy Bragg and KT Tunstall at HMV on Oxford Street. I had no idea why they were doing it before I went – I assumed it was as promo for the iTunes festival that’s coming up, where both of them are on a bill with the wonderful Leo Abrahams.

As it turned out it was as promo for Q magazine’s top 100 greatest british pop/rock albums or some such bollocks. Q magazine used to be good, but is now, sadly, largely unreadable shit. Endless top lists of either journo picked or reader-submitted stuff, rehashing the tired and nonsensical line that they greatest bands in the history of music are Radiohead, Oasis and Nirvana (nothing against those three in particular, though I not a big fan of any of them, just that it’s pretty pointless saying it in every other issue…).

Anyway, what it meant for the gig was that Billy and KT did a whole slew of great cover versions, most of which neither of them knew particularly well. Peppered in amongst more polished versions of songs like ‘Every Day Is Like Sunday’ (KT, complete with looped vocal harmonies), ‘Ever Falling In Love With Someone (Billy’s Buzzcocks tribute) and ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ (both of them together) were really ropey versions of ‘Don’t You Want Me Baby’ and ‘I Predict A Riot’.

But here’s the thing (as Trip might say), the rubbish performances were at least as affecting, engaging and entertaining as the ones that ‘worked’ – there’s something really magical about seeing musicians over-stretch themselves and not take it too seriously, not getting to precious. Billy Bragg has long been not just one of my favourite songwriters and guitarists (he is, as I’ve said before, a guitar genius, IMO) but one of my most favouritest performers, speakers, writers… he’s just great, and his sense of adventure in trying songs that he doesn’t know the right chords to etc. is just wonderful.

And KT Tunstall was always utterly mis-labelled as part of the Blunt/Morrison etc. crowd – she’s been playing live for over 10 years, playing folk clubs, coffee shops, festivals, learning her craft, and no doubt spending night after night playing requests that she barely knows and getting away with it. That Sony manage to strip away all the energy, vibe and magic from her performance on her records is both sad and a testament to her strength of character that they still manage to be far better records that the rest of the ‘nu-acoustic’ crowd can come up with, but in a situation like this she really shines. She has fun on stage, she reaches for things, she’s willing to look a bit of a muppet and as such draws everyone in.

Here are some pics that Sarda took of the gig – damn, he’s getting good at this photography business!

Anyway, the lesson is – take risks, have fun, and don’t be afraid to look a bit of a berk on stage, it’ll make you look far more human, engaging and funny to your audience…

For reference, you might want to watch mine and Lo’s version of ‘Love Is A Battlefield’ –

(and here’s a link to one of the songs they did – Don’t You Want Me Baby – but be warned the quality is REALLY bad.

Tags: music reviews · Musing on Music

futuremusictalk.com launched…

January 30th, 2008 · Comments Off on futuremusictalk.com launched…

A couple of months back, Sarda came up with the idea of an aggregated blog bringing together lots of the different thinkers writing about the future of the music industry. My ‘future of music’ posts are up there alongside fab thinkers and writers like Gerd Leonhard and Andrew Dubber.

…which I guess means I ought to get back to writing about the future of music! Despite not blogging about it as much of late, I’ve been doing lots of thinking about it, from a lot of different angles. Today’s fairly throw-away thought was just that ‘experience is not downloadable’ – I was walking through Time’s Square in NYC, and wondering how the big theatrical shows can afford to keep running at the level they do, here and in London. And part of it is that they offer an experience that can’t be downloaded – ACTUALLY going to the show is central to any kind of engagement with it. You could download the soundtrack, even a live video of the show, look at pics online, download and print out the sheet music, but none of that is going to mean much if you haven’t experienced it.

I’ll have to have a look and see if there are stats anywhere on how much of the income from shows is in the merchandising and licensing aspects, over and above ticket sales…

Here’s another related though slightly tangental thought – I have a friend who used to manage a cinema in London. He said that ALL the money they made was over the concession stand. The actually films were roughly a break-even venture, when the running of the place was taken into consideration, the cost of the films, against the ticket price. The real money was in selling a bucket of Coke big enough to drown Vern Troyer in – made from syrup that cost 4p – for £2.50, and a pig’s trough-sized pail of popcorn for £4, when their total outlay for the stuff was about 2% of that…

Anyway, the point is, that’s the way the entertainment industry funds itself – merchandising, adverts, providing overpriced McSwill to the McHogs that turn up to watch and gorge…

One of the big questions, and the hardest part of this whole thing is still – what do you do as a musician if you don’t want to make the majority of your money in advertising or running a snack bar at your gigs?

If you gig, it has to be an event. This new focus on musicians trying to monetize gigging again could actually be a really good thing – fewer doleful perfunctory performances, fewer tours where every night is identical. For those of us doing the indie thing, we need to be creative in making our gigs a proper night out – house concerts are great for this. A house concert has the potential to be a really special event. Lo. and I have done a number of them over the last year where the hosts have told us that months later people still ask them every time they see them when they are next going to have us back. I’m guessing that hasn’t been happening quite so much at the clubs we’ve played at (though you never know, we are rather good. ;o)

That said, I’m still loathe to let go of the wonder of recorded music, resigning it to being a give-away to entice people to shows or to get clicks on google ads, even though increasingly it seems that’s the way we’re being lead…

This became a reality for me a couple of days ago when I signed up for the new Last.fm venture to give free music to their subscribers and pay the artists in ad-sharing – it’s the first time I’m accepted an advertising revenue sharing deal… Why? Cos I’m making money for them via ads whether I take it or not. I either have my share, or they do, or I remove my music. That doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do with a site as cool as last.fm, so I’m in. But it does feel a bit weird. I guess I can console myself with the thought that unless you lovely readers all head over there and listen to loads of my streamed from their site I’m going to be making about 10c a year…

One last thing for now – for us indies, Cds aren’t going anywhere while we’re still playin live shows. People want to buy music, take a piece of it home – like the fluffy indonesian Simba that the peeps here in NYC pick up for $15 after seeing the Lion King, folks want to get some discs to listen to in the car on the way home. I wonder what the first technology that allows for the easy buying of downloads at gigs will be? a USB still is just a posh CD – what about actual transfer to iPod/phone/whatever?

In other news, I just extended my stay in NYC due to me feeling a bit too ill to fly back to London tomorrow, so I’ll be back early next week…

(Oh, Jeff Schmidt, you need to email James at futuremusictalk and get your blog on the list…)

Tags: cool links · Geek · New Music Strategies

Future music stats….

December 10th, 2007 · Comments Off on Future music stats….

Sarda just sent me a fab link to zdnet’s blog of digital music industry facts and figures – here are three at random –

1. Top music retailers in Q1 2007: Wal-Mart, Best Buy, iTunes, Amazon, Target
2. 72% of online Americans listen to music on their PCs
3. 10% of all music sold in Europe in 2007 will be digital music

Piecing together anything coherent by way of a response to these will require a lot of reading, extrapolating of trends, and a look at what’s happening outside the mainstream (I doubt that I’ve lost that many sales because people have gone into Walmart or Target hoping to buy my CDs and been disappointed…)

But the blog is well worth a read if you’re interested in the trends and stats in the monetization of music…

Tags: New Music Strategies

Microformats plug-in for Safari

November 26th, 2007 · Comments Off on Microformats plug-in for Safari

A few days ago Sarda sent me a link to this microformats plug-in for Safari. Basically what it does is, when there’s an microformat data on a page, it shows the lil’ green microformat symbol in the address bar (like where the orange RSS thingie is if you’re looking at this page in Safari), and when you click on it, you get the option to automatically add the hCalendar or hCard address info to iCal or your address book.

It’s very useful for adding gig details from last.fm direct into iCal, or for adding the gig dates from my gig dates page direct into iCal. Or even the gig dates posted on this ‘ere blog. If you had the plug-in installed, and are reading this on the home page of the blog, then the two previous gig date entries would be listed in the microformat thingie, and you could add them with one click.

There’s a similar plug-in for Firefox, should that be your thing.

And if you’re using MS Explorer, please switch to something else – Firefox, Opera, or even Safari for PC

Tags: cool links · Geek

live at Viva Viva

October 23rd, 2007 · Comments Off on live at Viva Viva




IMG_7153.JPG

Originally uploaded by jystewart

the lovely Sarda had just uploaded a load of pics from my gig a couple of weeks back at Viva Viva – here are the rest of them :o)

Tags: cool links · Music News

Gig dates RSS feed development…

October 23rd, 2007 · Comments Off on Gig dates RSS feed development…

As you’ll have seen yesterday, I’ve started posting my upcoming gig dates as entries on the blog – this puts them on the front page of the website, means that you get to read about them here, and also it means I can generate a separate gigs RSS feed direct from here, that contains all the microformat data (the bit that means it’ll add to a calendar apps).

….except it doesn’t… because the tag-specific pages here (here’s the one for stuff tagged as gig dates) strip out all the formatting, so you don’t get the weblinks, you don’t get the hcal mark-up, and you don’t even get the line-breaks that stop it from just looking like a jumble of text.

So, for now, it’s back to the iChat drawing board with the lovely Sarda to see if he knows how to make it work the way I want it to work. :o)

The eventual idea is that this will be the feed that is directly linked from my gig calendar page on my site, and it’ll contain the hcal information so that clever readers can extract the information and you’ll be able to add individual gigs to your calendar if you want to go to them and need a reminder.

stevelawson.net – providing for all your bassgeek needs since 1997… :o)

Tags: Geek · New Music Strategies

Music to your mobile… at a premium price…

October 22nd, 2007 · Comments Off on Music to your mobile… at a premium price…

Sarda just sent me a link to this BBC news story – AT&T are doing a deal with Napster for downloads… sounding like the music 2.0 stuff? Not when you see that they are charging $1.99 a song (about a quid) or $7.49 for 5 songs…

If Gerd is right, and we’re heading to a place where music is licensed ‘like water’ en masse for a flat fee, and possibly even included in the cost of your mobile service, there’s going to have to be a HUGE shift away from the pricing of mobile downloads and web traffic as ‘premium content’. It could happen, it’ll HAVE to happen eventually, but it does give us some leeway to see quite where it will settle – whether the per-track downloads will still exist for mobile devices, just at a lower cost, but people will pay it because of the ease of use.

The new wifi enabled Mac handhelds (ipod touch and iphone) can download straight from the web via wifi – much cheaper to use than any kind of 3G broadband mobile access… maybe that’s the way forward. And it means that the costs are still the same as they are for ‘normal’ net users, they just facilitate impulse buying on the move: think of a track on the bus you want to hear, search it on iTunes, download it, you’re away… I guess within ‘The Cloud’ in central london, that’s doable now via wifi…

all interesting stuffs. Does it mean that we should all now be looking at developing download stores for mobiles to get in ahead of the curve? They’re there already, via the providers, but seem to be mainly used for shitty ringtones…

Tags: New Music Strategies

This week in review

October 12th, 2007 · Comments Off on This week in review

So, we’ve done the Stop the War march… What was next? Ah yes, Stars at Scala – one of those bands that the kids listen to that Catster has made me aware of. The album is rather lovely, equal parts bleepy and electronic, huge and anthemic. It’s bleepy to the degree that I had no idea whether on stage they’d be a band or three peoples with laptops. As it was, they were a classic Rock 6 piece – guitar bass drums keys, and two singers who also played guitar and keys.

stars at Scala

What was sad is that they pretty much removed everything from the live sound that made the record interesting. They transformed from electronic rock pioneers into an early 90s stage-2-at-greenbelt fairly dull-sounding rock band. I stayed for about 6 song – apparently they got better after that point…

Tuesday was a lotsa fun – the evening started with Douglas Coupland at the Bloomsbury, with Sarda and Kari. We three Coupland geeks, all v. excited to hear this king of zeitgeisty cool speak. And what did we discover? That he’s a proper geek, talking in half finished phrases, jumping from topic to tangental topic, and reading extracts from his book, or rather from the book within his book, and then from the book within the book within his new book, The Gum Thief. And he was fab. I like geeks, a lot – I like being around them, finding their absence of concern for what’s cool or not comforting (as a solo bassist, one has to gravitate to places were Cool is not a Concern :o) and I found him witty and charming.

douglas coupland

The event ended slightly oddly, with Douglas looking slight uncomfortable, perhaps like he was about to cry, saying something to the effect of ‘you do know this is the last one of these I’m ever going to do. My book reading days are over, thanks, goodnight.’ He did a signing after this, but we were onto new things.

julie mckee

New Things being Julie McKee and Beth Rowley at the Troubadour (a club with which I have a long history, having recorded my first album there). Was great to see both of them play, with their lovely respective bands. All in a lovely night out (though £17 for three drinks and a two bowls of chips was insane! )

beth rowley

Wednesday night I went out to Pizza Express on Dean Street to see Robert Mitchell’s Panacea, featuring Robert on keys alongside Richard Spaven on drums, Tom Mason on bass and Deborah Jordan on vocals. ‘Twas a sublime gig, and Robert’s choice of Deborah as vocalist is inspired – the tunes are really complex jazz melodies, with big intervals and weird rhythmic twists, which in the hands of ‘normal’ jazz singer would end up sounding like Manhattan Transfer does the Elektric Band, but with the superb funky rhythm section of Richard and Tom, and Deborah transforming the jazz into soulful songs, it becomes something entirely different, and beautiful. A very fine gig.

Thursday – a me-gig, another one of these acoustic singer/songwriter nights I’ve been doing, just seeing how what I do works to an audience of acoustic music fans who have no idea who I am. Once again, it was fun and well received, but I’m probably going to knock these on the head for a while, as the way the venues are set up is to get as many acts through as possible in the hope that a) the performers themselves will drink and that b) they’ll bring friends to watch them. There’s very little concern for quality control (last night was a fairly even split between pretty good and Godawful), and a big focus on turnover at the bar. Which is understandable – with property prices being what they are in London, nowhere can really afford to have a half-empty night just for the sake of putting on a cool gig, and none of the venues have got the balls – or capital – to book only great acts, charge and entrance fee, let the bands play for longer, and wait for the night to gain a reputation… Instead they are either 20 min sets, free to get in, happy for the audience to talk, or pay to play band-gets-a-pound-back-for-each-punter-they-bring deals. Total bollocks for musicians, but fairly intractable for venue owners.

it’s why I’m so grateful to have found Darbucka, though I appreciate that I’ll not be able to book there if it gets busier during the week – they can’t afford to have music to the detriment of their business any more than any other venue…

But it’s been fun doing the acoustic nights, wowing a few people and no doubt boring the arse off a few others. :o)

Tags: Music News · music reviews · Musing on Music · Random Catchup

Geekery update…

September 13th, 2007 · Comments Off on Geekery update…

Well, the blog is all now viewable – hurrah! And ALMOST all my website is validated – I’ve learnt loads about code-monkey-ness in the last three days, with lots of help from sarda, Lovely G, Matt and Drew – Drew was particularly interesting as the validator told me my code was nonsense, and sent me over to an article about geek things, that Drew had written, and I know Drew through Greenbelt-y things – he’s another of the lovely Greenbelt Geeks.

So, where I’m at now is that it all ‘works’, and I’ve given up trying to get everything to validate, because I was having to completely rewrite java files and bits of code to try and get round the code generated by the widget-creators at last.fm, Jaiku. I’ve managed to edit all the last.fm player widgets – the one on the front page, and the ones on the MP3s page – here’s the code for the one on the front page, should you use last.fm plug-ins and want to get round the ’embed’ stuff that doesn’t validate –


<object type="application/x-shockwave-flash" data="http://panther1.
last.fm/webclient/55/defaultEmbedPlayer.swf" width="540" height="123"&rt;
<param name="movie" value="http://panther1.last.fm/webclient/55/
defaultEmbedPlayer.swf"&rt;<param name="FlashVars"
value="viral=true&lfmMode=playlist&resourceID=464639
&resourceType=10&restTitle=Best of Steve Lawson&albumArt
=http://cdn.last.fm/coverart/130x130/2420746.jpg&labelName=
Pillow+Mountain"&rt;<param name="wmode" value="transparent"&rt;
</object&rt;

the key to it is the data= bit, taken from the article by Drew. there you go, geeks!

Tags: Geek