stevelawson.net

Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



Social Media thoughts Pt 1 – my background and history.

May 15th, 2008 · 3 Comments

The last couple of months have been a really interesting time for me in terms of getting to experiment with, understand and conceptualise about the world of interactive web tools refered to as ‘Social Media’. Next week is the first London Social Media Cafe Musicians get together (we need a new title!) – so I thought I’d throw in some thoughts on social media and music over the next few days:

It’s not as if the idea is new – I’ve been interacting, networking and building knowledge about what I do as a musician on the web since the late 90s via email discussion lists (I joined The Bottom Line in early ’98, I think), forums (been on talkbass since early 2000, IM and music chatrooms. But two things have changed drastically since then – firstly an understanding, both academically and amongst users, of ‘social networking’ as an enterprise in its own right, and secondly the range of tools and web resources to make it happen.

A lot of what’s happening now was happening in a secondary way ages ago – your profile page on a web forum wasn’t that different, conceptually, from your Myspace page, but no-one thought of it in that way. Very few people sought to build an identity there and promote it as a site to visit to find out what they were into. There was no social capital in directing people to your talkbass.com profile page, for example.

Myspace was one of the first to really go huge with the whole Social Networking thing, and invert it from the web forum thing – they made it possible (in a hideously clunky way) for people to build their own page as a shop front for the world, and then to promote that via the various groups on the site, which all had message boards and discussion sections. The groups and forums on myspace have been a relative failure, for a number of reasons – firstly, the design is horrible, but more importantly, Myspace has always been about branded space: people customising their page to make it say something about them. The hook-up with music and bands was what sent them over the edge – they weren’t the best by any stretch, and are no hopelessly behind the game in every conceivable way, they just have 150 million registered users. That helps!

So I got a myspace page in late 2005, and started to search for people who were listening to people I liked, and add them as friends. I did this with about 3-4000 people, over a period of almost a year, with fairly diminished returns. I sold a few CDs as a result, and the general level of awareness of what I do in the bass community was certainly heightened, but it was a scattershot approach, and crucially, when I finally realised that MySpace worked best as an interactive media, not a broadcast one, I was left with a completely unmanageable, uncategorisable list of people I knew very little about, with no way of grouping them geographically, or by their level of interest (I couldn’t tell who’d added me and who I’d added). So my Myspace page, en masse, is still a pool of hideously underused potential, thanks to the completely rubbish way the site itself makes data available. I did a fairly major purge at one point, deleting a couple of thousand ‘friends’ who weren’t interacting and appeared to have nothing in common with what I was doing, but the numbers are now back up close to 8000…

The other social network I joined before Myspace was Last.fm – a much more focussed site, infinitely better designed, MUCH harder to spam, and built to slowly proliferate music that is considered ‘good’ by the regular users. Thanks to me getting in early on last.fm, my music is heavily tagged and associated with some fairly well-listened artists, so my music crops up on a relatively high number of people’s personal radio stations there.

Fast forward 3 years, and I now have a ‘portfolio’ of social networks, including Myspace, Last.fm, ReverbNation, Facebook and Twitter. I’m still involved in a few discussion forums, but largely, I prefer the friend/contact culture of social networks to the bear-pit/lowest common denominator world of most web forums.

For musicians, the onset of the ‘Social Media Age’ has meant an end to the tyranny of broadcast media, to our potential career and audience being in the hands of record execs, radio and TV programmers and big concert agents. We can build relationships with our audience, talk to them, ask for their help spreading the word about music they love, and also help out the musicians we love. The traffic is now moving in every direction, from us to fans, from fan to fan, from fan to us, and even via facebook from our non-music friends and family, to their friends as they use their connection with ‘real musicians’ as social capital on their facebook profile. The flow of information has been somewhat democratised, and the potential for us is huge.

I’ve been talking about this in universities and colleges for a couple of years now, and in the last few months have had the chance to start to conceptualise about Social Media with curious participants and thinkers from other worlds – from the mainstream media, from business, from hi tech industries, from marketing companies – via the various networks of geeks, primarily the weekly marvels that are the London Social Media Cafe and Creative Coffee Club – but that’s part 2…

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

Twitter-peoples: welcome to my e-world, dive right in!

May 7th, 2008 · 12 Comments

Image cut from Steve Lawson's Twitter page, illustrating this page about twitterOK, so you arrived here via my twitter page, and want to know more?

Short version – I’m a musician, music teacher/lecturer, 1/5th of New Music Strategies, writer and social media tinkerer. I blog about my music life, specifically the various things that are now possible for musicians thanks to the joys of ‘tinternet. I’m also a consultant/thinker about Social media in a wider context, particularly as it relates to creatives. I co-run a social media event help organisation called Amplified.

Your best places to start finding out what I do are my blog (set aside a while, there’s a lot of it!), and the music pages. It’s worth having a listen, honest, cos all this other nonsense is related to the music – that’s the centre of the wheel, the hub around which all the other stuffs rotates.

After that, you might want to find me elsehwere: Facebook, Last.fm, YouTube and some other places.

You’re also welcome to check out the gigs page in case I’m out and about.

Oh, and if I followed you first, the chances I found you were recommended to me, or retweeted by someone. It may also have been that I found you via something you tweeted about music… Whichever, it’s just that your feed looked interesting, so I’m checking it out – feel free to follow back or not! If you do follow me, and I tweet too much, I shan’t be in the slightest bit offended if you unfollow. My own sister did :)

If you followed me in the hope that I’d follow back and I haven’t, it’ll be because of two things – firstly, I don’t get notifications of new followers – there were too many, and it was taking up loads of time. I do go and have a look about once a week to delete all the spam and wrongness, so then I follow people I know.

The number of people I’m already following (2000-and-change as I write this) is already functionally too high, so I’m only adding people that REALLY interest me. If I’m not following you, it doesn’t, of course, mean that you can’t reply to things, or ‘@’ me for specific things – that’s all cool, and if we get a conversation happening, it may well be that I end up following you. But please don’t be offended if I don’t. It’s honestly nothing personal, I assure you :) x

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Interaction, Conversation, Respect: the death of broadcast marketing on the web…

April 29th, 2008 · 1 Comment

I’m just back from a visit to Internet World – a trade show/expo at Earls Court for internet business peoples. It sounded interesting, so I thought I’d head down for a look.

I guess it didn’t help that they were sharing the hall with a direct marketing expo, but the feeing that one was in the belly of mammon, in a space largely devoid of creative thought or concern for human interaction and anything other than statistical dominance in a given field was pretty overwhelming.

Actually, that’s not strictly fair. A lot of the companies there were touting content management software, e-commerce solutions (no bad thing in an of themselves) and a couple of speculative social networking start ups. But there were loads that were selling a model of internet usage that just seemed sooo archaic – the basic message still seemed to be that it’s all about emailing millions of people, getting to the top of the search engines, getting google adwords in the right place, and then whatever you’re doing online will be a success…

I suppose it’s the nature of the show that it can’t really be concerned with content, because the content could be anything from health information to porn, ethical shoe-shops to online gambling, but the total lack of any visible discussion about making the net a nicer environment in which to work and play, the focus on spreading ones marketing message by whatever means made for a pretty sickly experience (I had one bloke accost me in an aisle and ask me if I wanted to buy email addresses! WTF? So spammers now have their own stands at expos??)

Bottom line was, the expo looked for all the world like a shop front saying ‘for your business you don’t have to interact with your audience/community/end users; you just have to pay us stacks of cash to put together a slick looking site for you, virally market via BS videos and downloadable games, crass adverts and paid-for email lists, and you can get on with being scared of the web and thinking Myspace is the big news in the future of internet usage, safe in the knowledge that we’ll sell any old crap just by spamming so many people that one click in a million will yield results…’

Which is bollocks. And it’s bollocks despite it supposedly ‘working’ for a lot of people. It’s bollocks because it’s intrusive in its methodology, hopelessly inefficient in terms of the amount of hours of people’s time it wastes compared to the return (time spent filtering out unwanted email, watching endlessly forwarded viral nonsense etc.) and because it’s a distraction from what those of us who actually CARE about a) what we’re producing and b) the environment in which we live and work on line actually need to do to enhance the lives of the people who come into contact with what we do.

I’m not in the marketing business. I USE elements of marketing strategy to try and make my music – and information about my music life – available to the people who want to find it. I don’t want to have to send unwanted emails to 1,000,000 people in order to reach 600 who might like what I do. Even though those are 600 people who might otherwise not find it. Why? Because I’m sick of being one of the 1,000,000 people who get spammed with BS hundreds of times a day just on the off-chance that my address might lead to someone who’s interested in the product. That ruins the web for all of us. And I don’t really care whether the address list is pure (illegal) spam, or some kind of crappy opt-in list that’s 99.9% full of people who just forgot to click the right check box, it’s still generating way too much negative web-karma for it to be of interest to me.

I try to operate online the way a rather wise man once suggested we carry out all our human interaction; ‘treat people the way you’d like them to treat you’. I don’t want to be spammed, I don’t want my email address to be a salable commodity, I don’t want to be seen as part of a wall to throw mud at in the hope that some of it sticks.

Here’s where Social media comes into its own – I can set up an interconnected network of pages, sub-communities and widgets whereby anyone who is interested can find my music, try it, engage with it on whatever level they want to and then share it with others if they think it’s of value. I’m not throwing it at them, I’m asking them if they’re interested, and offering information about the how, what, where, and why in as many mediums as I can. I can do videos explaining my methodology, I can blog about the processes involved in the music making, I can provide widgets so people can share my music with people who visit their sites or blogs or facebook pages or whatever if they are interested, and each time it’s driven by real interaction.

There’s the scattershot stuff as well – Seth Godin posted this great piece about unfocussed web-traffic – sure it makes us feel great to have 10,000 visits a day, but in all honesty I’m much better off with the coupla hundred people who actually read my blog each time I post over and above the thousands who have found my blog over the years looking for stuff about David Beckham or Bernie Clifton. They, as Seth points out, are gone in a couple of seconds.

That’s not to say that search engine traffic is bad, or stumble upon, or even adwords or whatever. The problem comes when the purpose of your site/blog/enterprise is traffic. Where what you’re making becomes about getting people to look at it, download it, buy it.

The joy of social media is that it removes the need to obsess over ‘bigger better faster more’ – it allows us to focus on deeper, richer, more important, personal, engaging, thoughtful, nuanced creation than we ever could have if we were relying on record companies, radio, TV and newspapers to spread the word about it. In the language of barcamp, it enables us to engage in UnMarketing. To tell the story around our art, our creativity, or lives and our services, and allow an informed, liberated audience to choose whether or not they want to be a part of that, and on what level they want to be a part of it.

There are loads of ways in which internet professionals can help content providers – this isn’t a rant against web designers, CMS companies or e-commerce specialists. We just need to get our priorities right, and if art is of any importance to us, then the marketing should be there to connect with a willing, searching audience and free us up to do our art better, not force us to dumb down in order to fit some loser’s ‘projection’ of the kind of big money we could make if only we targeted our content a little more specifically ‘Steve, you could clean up in smooth jazz, if only you’d get a quartet and start grooving more….’

Keeping our sights set on that which made us want to get into art/music/creativity in the first place is vital to understanding the magic that social media can facilitate. That means keeping a tight rein on those who would seek to make your art the content that drives their business venture… Or at least being honest about that relationship and understanding it for what it is (again, before I get accused of being some kind of purist, I don’t have a problem with people who make music commercially for a living, or indeed an objection to making commercial music where people want me to do it, it’s just that it’s a WHOLE other world to making ‘me-music’, and requires a very different approach…)

So for me, the kind of marketing-driven, spammalicious devoid-of-community BS I was hearing at Internet World fails in every way that the Social Media Cafe succeeds. I’ll blog more about the SMC later, as it deserves its own post, but suffice to say as a community of webby social media lovelies, it’s provided me with more inspiration, information, connections and ideas in the upstairs room of a pub in soho than the amassed fortune spent on Internet World could have done if I’d spent all three of the days there trawling for quality…

Tags: Geek

The strange ways people find my music!

July 18th, 2003 · Comments Off on The strange ways people find my music!

as you know, my CDs are on the cdbaby.com site, and one of the things you can get from cdbaby as an artist is a list of where people came from to find your site – and this is one of the links that someone used to find me –

http://search.msn.com/results.aspx?q=hear+baby+chicken+sounds+&FORM=SMCRT

so, buy my CDs and hear baby chicken sounds – simple as that!

…anyway, this reminds me that I need to send another box of CDs to CDBaby as they’ve just about sold out of Not Dancing CDs… there’s been a mini-rush of sales to Japan, which is rather cool… must get a japanese language page up on this site somewhere… hmmm, time to email Chi, methinks…

Soundtrack – right now, Mary Chapin Carpenter, ‘Time Sex Love’ – one of the most consistently fantastic singer/songwriters around, rarely does anything edgy or groundbreaking, but just focusses on write fantastic songs and using great musicians. Is also blessed with a gorgeous voice… Before that was listening to Ma, ‘Links’ – Ma is a French electronica/dancey stuff artist, who came over the London to buy an Echoplex from me last week (still got a couple left is anyone’s interested – drop me an email…) – she’s just sent me her CDs which are really really good. Great sounds, great voice… ….and before that, Morphine, ‘B-Sides And Otherwise’, which is genius.

Tags: Uncategorized