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“I’ve Got Enough Music!” – Finding An Audience In An Age Of Saturation

November 18th, 2010 · 40 Comments

[ This is a very long post. Probably too long. You can be the judge of whether it’s worth the effort to read it. I clearly think it is, or I’d have edited it :) ]

First, some historical context:

Back when I was in my teens, my music collection was never big enough. I was avidly looking for new music to expand it, being acutely aware of the gaps in it, both in terms of ‘classic’ records that I’d missed, and emotional states of being that were ill-represented. I was interested in music – any music – that might meet that. I listened to the radio – mainly John Peel on Radio One and whatever weirdness I could find on Radio Three – watched pretty much every music show that was on TV (we only had four channels in the UK back then, so it was easy to watch it all) from Young Musician Of The Year to The Power Hour, The Chart Show To The Hit Man And Her (yes, really) – I was voraciously foraging for music that filled a ‘need’ in my quest for a soundtrack to me.

Music that I imagined to be the holy grail, but which I couldn’t find, became mythologically awesome in my mind. Occasionally, it lived up to that promise, like the first time I finally got to hear Michael Manring (I bought Thonk on CD at Sam Goody in the Harlequin Centre in Watford in 95 – I still remember the feeling of elation when I saw it on the shelf…) More often than not, the hype was unjustified, and I just carried on foraging.

Fast-forward to 2011 and I, like so many other people, have near ubiquitous access to music. I have a lifetime of curated music – 18,886 tracks in my iTunes (that’s 62 days, 16 hours and 35 minutes of continuous listening) plus the combined powers of Spotify and Youtube to give me access to the nostalgic soundtrack of my youth – music I’d never buy, but often go looking for for a myriad reasons. In short, I have no pressing and desperate ‘need‘ of new music.

So how – and more importantly, why – do I discover new music now? I no longer ‘need’ it – I’ve got pretty much everything covered in one way or another, and the ongoing releases by those bands I’m already familiar with could supply me with more than enough music to keep me going for many many years to come.

Now, music is about connection. It’s about meaning, belonging and relationship – it always was, even though that wasn’t my expressed intention when searching – now, that’s pretty much the only thing that means anything. Making sense of the world through music.

Music that

  • makes me feel connected,
  • Music that makes me happy,
  • Music that allows me to delight in the creativity and ingenuity of my friends and people I admire.
  • Music that allows me to see my chosen instrument grow beyond the circus-trick nonsense of so much bass-led music from the last 30 years, and into a rich emergent seam of music exploring the sonic potential of the bass.
  • Music that speaks of a changing world, that’s inspired by and celebratory or critical of the way things are heading.
  • Music that gives hope.

And none of that is communicated by me seeing a link and clicking on it. All of it comes through relationship, either with the artist, or with someone who digs it. The spread of that music, and the meaning it carries, is not primarily through press releases and hyperbole. It’s through conversation, recommendation and the excitement of music fans whose taste I trust.

One of the biggest mistakes any musician can make is to assume that there are millions of fans out there just waiting to hear you, desperate for your music to show them what music is really all about. If the ubiquity of music has changed anything, it has leveled the playing field to such a degree that superlatives are meaningless. Everyone is a genius until you listen to them.

The upside to ‘saturation’ is that the music you’ve never heard of simply doesn’t exist. People who aren’t actively looking for music aren’t ‘swamped’ with it, they aren’t wading through 6 million myspace pages trying to find you. People use Google to find the things they’re looking for, and unless your band has a hopelessly generic name, or you’re a solo artist that shares their name with one or more famous musicians, search engines do a pretty good job of bringing the audience to you who are looking for you.

So, how do we connect with people who aren’t looking for us? One of the things that happens to me on a fairly regular basis – though much less so now that I’ve deleted my MySpace page – is bands or artists emailing or ‘tweeting’ me a link saying ‘hey, check us out’. To which my immediate response is ‘Why?’

Here’s the foundation fact of discovery – your desire to be discovered is of no interest or consequence to me at all. Everyone wants to be heard, that’s a given. Being pushy is no indication that I’m likely to enjoy what I hear. And I neither have the time nor the inclination to check out a band based on their brazenness.

Let’s think for a moment about what happens if I do decide to click the link:

  • I’m entering the deal expecting it to be shit. After all, most music is. Being great is really difficult. Even amongst music that is demonstrably ‘great’, there’s still a lot I’m not particularly interested in listening to.
  • I’m unlikely to listen past the first few seconds if it doesn’t grab me. That’s an awful way to engage with your audience. iTunes has conned us into thinking that you can make a decision about a piece of music in 30 seconds. Bollocks. For a lot of my most beloved music, 30 seconds at the start of the tune might be one chord, or one repeated bass phrase, or a drum intro. It’s not even close to being indicative of what’s to come.
  • I’m not listening with any context at all – I’m hearing your music purely as an exercise in music making. No story, no relationship, no sense of where to place it, what to expect. And the number of times that I’ve heard and fallen in love with music in that way can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Seriously, if you’re banking on being that good, you’re insane. You aren’t that good. I’m not that good. Statistically speaking, no-one is that good. The exceptions prove the rule.

Q: So how do I, and you and people like us, find music?

A: It’s all about the interesting.

I’ve said this hundreds of times before – people won’t find you because you’re good (or pushy) they’ll find you because you’re interesting. And what I find interesting is best represented by the people I allow into my life, the ones I’ve chosen to filter ‘in’ – my friends, my peers, the people I follow on Twitter, the people I’m (good) friends with on Facebook. If I get a recommendation through them, I’m roughly a thousand times more likely to act on it than if it comes through any other channel. If one of my friends who I trust puts out some music, I’ll listen to it. I’ll listen to it all, even if it doesn’t grab me first time. I’ll do that because I WANT to like it. It’s in my best interests to like it, so I’ll give it as much time as I can. If those same people recommend something – especially if I already like the music they make – I’ll listen. I’ll listen expectantly, fully open to the possibility that what I’m about to hear may be awesome.

None of my discovery methods involve people I don’t know shouting at me or spamming me with links to their music and requests that I check out their shit. Anyone who does that is LESS likely to get heard, not moreso. If you’ve spammed me, and soon after someone else that I know says ‘check out this band’, my suspicions are up that they’re just doing it as a favour to you because you’ve been as pushy with them as you tried to be with me.

In short. Discovery happens

  • in conversation,
  • in communities,
  • with context.
  • It takes time,
  • it’s personal,
  • and the right to recommend things is an earned one.

This doesn’t mean, of course that you can’t talk about what you do and your love of it to people who’ve chosen to follow you. The people who are following you on Twitter, or have clicked your ‘like’ button on Facebook have selected you as being worth hearing from. That’s a very good thing, so don’t cock it up by abusing the privilege. I talk about my own music on Twitter a lot. But I talk MORE about other people’s music. On Facebook I talk about my music a lot. But I ask interesting questions that invite people to tell the stories of their relationship with music too.

Context is everything. Relationship is everything. Spam and pushines are less than nothing.

Q for musicians – what does this post mean to you? Is it frustrating and annoying, because you think I should be listening to you? Is it comforting to know that you don’t have to go round spamming people to try and get heard? Are you still lost for what kind of strategic approach is going to work for you and your music? Feel free to vent in the comments :)

Tags: New Music Strategies

50,000 Tweets – A Love Story

September 24th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Tonight, I clocked up my 50,000th tweet. It looked like this:

It’s no secret that I REALLY dig Twitter. It solved a whole lot of online communication questions for me when I found it. I cut back on my posting on forums, and eventually even deleted the forum on my own site in favour of encouraging the regular posters there to head over to Twitter and talk in a more democratic environment.

I loved the fact that I was no longer stuck in a subject-specific space, or one where I people had to sign up to be in my gang before joining the conversation. It’s not my conversation, after all, it’s a global free-for-all.

Except it isn’t. I mean, technically it is, but actually the only bit of Twitter that concerns me at all is the people I follow and the people who follow me. And occasionally the people who tweet using a hashtag I happen to be following.

I am, as the 50K Tweets would suggest, a power-user. I document my life in this way. I use it to:

  • Talk with my audience in a way that has replaced my email list,
  • Talk with musicians in way that has replaced myspace,
  • Talk with my family in a way that has replaced email,
  • Talk with my colleagues in Amplified in a way that has replaced wikis
  • Talk with anyone who’s interested in a way that’s replaced chatrooms/generic forums.

…and by ‘talk with’ I mean all the myriad forms of communication that go on there – chat, debate, encourage, learn from, teach, swap links, post news… anything that’ll fit in 140 characters.

    It’s clearly an open, messy, FUN way of communicating that I love. I don’t have to keep track of loads of different websites – I do have 10 different twitter accounts, but most of them lie dormant at the moment. SoloBassSteve is where pretty much everything happens, and for some unknown reason there are (currently) 4836 people who have seen fit to follow me. Some may be spammers, but I’ve blocked and deleted AT LEAST 3 times as many followers as I’ve allowed to stay. Any spam accounts I cleared out… I’ve definitely had well in excess of 12-13,000 follow notifications, I just didn’t want either a misleading amount of followers, or to leave those accounts without some registering a ‘spam’ click next to them…

    But, in the last 3 years, most of the good things that have happened for Lobelia and I have happened through Twitter.

    • We’ve met some of our best friends
    • We’ve planned tours
    • We’ve organised recordings
    • We gleaned information
    • We had support and congratulations on the birth of our baby
    • We shared our holidays
    • We found people to help us move house
    • and We had LOADS of work, new listeners, and – crucially – amazing people willing to talk about what we do as musicians time and time again.

    I spend a lot – most – of my time on Twitter talking about other people’s music, encouraging and connection musicians to eachother, helping people get their heads around this brave, heady new disintermediated world we’re in. I’m trying to model the way I think the distruptive awesome internet of the future should work. Cos the future is now. We’re in it, it’s great, and Twitter is quite possibly THE game changer.

    Youtube was big, Myspace was big. WordPress was big. Bandcamp is HUGE. Soundcloud is awesome. But as the glue that makes all of them workable, manageable and connected, Twitter for me is THE killer app. The reason the internets was invented.

    So, 50 Thousand Tweets on, I’m still all about it. Here, if you’re interested, is my twitter-list of people I chat to, day in, day out: The Awesome Squad.

    -o0o-

    This evening someone asked me (on Twitter) which was the classic Steve Lawson album. So I asked my friends (on Twitter) to answer. So far the answer has come back, overwhelmingly, Grace And Gratitude. Which is fitting. Because I’m hugely grateful for all the good things that have happened through the amazing people I’m connected to on there. Please have a listen, and feel free to download it – don’t feel obliged to pay for it, but if you want to pay whatever you think it’s worth, that would also be hugely appreciated:

    Tags: Geek · New Music Strategies

    Third Preview Track From forthcoming Steve Lawson/Mike Outram album

    April 29th, 2010 · 2 Comments

    So, Mike Outram and I have been releasing a new preview track each time the play-count on the previous one reaches 500 – the last two are on Souncloud, and are both past that benchmark, so we’ve made another available.

    BUT.

    It’s not on Soundcloud. It’s available for free in exchange for a Tweet.

    Head to http://stevelawson.net/tft/ to get it. [Read more →]

    Tags: Music News · New Music Strategies

    Dear Rock Stars…

    January 6th, 2010 · 27 Comments

    Pete Waterman holds a press conference, yesterday2010 is – rather tragically – shaping up to be the year when Rock Stars (and old-industry millionaires) complain about the state of music on behalf of ‘the little people’.

    Here are three examples:

    Peter Waterman, in an interview with The Times, said that Spotify was a terrible thing. It, he says

    “devalue[s] our artists, they damage this country economically, culturally and morally”

    Why’s that then, Pete?

    “The big stars are a tiny percentage; the rest are broke, including a lot of well-known faces. Who is developing new talent? Without money, new acts are strangled before they mature. We all suffer.” [Read more →]

    Tags: New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

    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

    NaNoWriMo – Steve Writes A Novel (possibly)

    November 1st, 2009 · 11 Comments

    For the last couple of Novembers I’ve been aware of friends of mine being a part of ‘National Novel Writing Month‘, more often referred to (at least, on twitter) as NaNoWriMo.

    So this afternoon, on a whim, I thought ‘I wonder if I can write a novel about some musicians who in some imaginary world start a cultural revolution, accidentally’ – I realised that it would be fun to have a go at writing a long-form hypothetical case study on how the world of music might work out. After all, it’s how a lot of novels work – either romantic or dystopic visions of an imaginary future for people and planet. [Read more →]

    Tags: Geek · journalism · Random Catchup

    U2 And The Feast Of Enoughness

    October 4th, 2009 · 11 Comments

    In response to This article about the scale of U2’s current tour, I posted this on twitter and facebook:

    U2, knocking years of the length of time earth can sustain human life, one gig at a time

    The discussion on Facebook then got as far as one friend suggesting that people who objected to the planet-trashing excesses of U2’s tour wanted us to “email [all the gig-goers] to stay home and make organic muffins…..” – the kind of Richard Littlejohn-esque reductionist, lazy thinking that leads someone to say such things, often stems from the feeling that something they value highly has been questioned – in this case, it was a friend who was deeply moved by the U2 gig he went to, so any attempt to frame them as irresponsible needs refuting and debunking. [Read more →]

    Tags: New Music Strategies · Rant - Politics, Spirituality, etc. · tips for musicians

    New London Gig: Singers Of Twitter II – Oct 6th!

    September 21st, 2009 · Comments Off on New London Gig: Singers Of Twitter II – Oct 6th!

    After the huge success of the last ‘Singers Of Twitter’ gig at Darbucka last month, we’ve got another one coming up! Yay!

    We’ll be back at Darbucka, and this time, it’ll feature Ben Walker AKA @ihatemornings out of Twitter, as the musical sandwich filling in between the gluten-free bread slices of the ever-wonderful Lloyd Davis on first and lovely Lobelia and I on at the end! Hurrah! It’s on Tuesday Oct 6th, doors at 7pm, music from 7.30, at Darbucka World Music Bar, on St John’s Street in Clerkenwell, London. [Read more →]

    Tags: Geek · gig dates

    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

    My Weird Life, or ‘How I Ended Up Fixing a Bus For the Civil Service’

    July 16th, 2009 · Comments Off on My Weird Life, or ‘How I Ended Up Fixing a Bus For the Civil Service’

    So, if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll have noticed over the last week or two that the ratio of ‘music’ to ‘non-music’ tweets has tipped hugely in favour of ‘non…’.

    Thanks to my involvement in the Amplified project, I’ve been to a range of different events, talking about social media, capturing conversations around those events and writing it up afterwards. [Read more →]

    Tags: Geek · Random Catchup