stevelawson.net

Steve's Blog: Solo Bass & Beyond



The great "Twitter-Buzz experiment"!

June 16th, 2008 · 5 Comments

OK, here’s the plan – I’m interested to see how much of a buzz a modest number of twitter-followers can create about a particular site/service/artist/whatever, so I’m running a competition, in which y’all get to come up with whatever ideas you like to send your twitter-readers back to my site, or to my videos on youtube, or music on last.fm. You could pick a fave song, video or blog-post and link to it, you could use it as an example of something, you could even just tell your twit-friends about the experiment (this isn’t a clandestine thing at all!) – it’s just to see how well twitter works for generating buzz…

The key to this is that a) the links are put on twitter, b) you use http://twurl.nl to shorten your url, and c) you tweet me the shortened url so I can retweet it and be able to follow the number of times its clicked as a result.

And yes, there will be prizes, which will include a few of my CDs, and some never-before-heard unreleased stuff, as well as previews of forthcoming albums (again, unavailable anywhere else) – a lot depends on just how effective the competition is – there’ll certainly be a top prize for the most amount of ‘buzz’ created, as measured in number of people clicking your link, which can be to a blog post, or some of the media, or the front page of my site, or whatever, and you can get other to re-tweet the same link, and it’ll count as yours…

If the results are interesting (and I’ll publish them all here), we’ll try the same with blogging about it, and then again with embedded widgets, with stumbleupon, and so on, and see if we can find which is the most effective form of ‘buzz creation’. And hopefully everyone will win – you’ll have some fun coming up with interesting ways to point people to what I do, I’ll get lots of new visitors to the site, a few people will get a load of great new music for nothing and we’ll all find out a little more about how this works. Oh, and whoever wins can write a guest-post here, outlining what they did… Does that sound like fun? Feel free to register your intention to join in in the comments below, then get tweeting.

Remember:
1. Use http://twurl.nl to shorten the URL (web address – you paste the address into the right field on the site, and it gives you an alternate one, that’s easier for me to track)
2. link to my website, a blog post here, a last.fm track, youtube vid, my myspace or reverbnation page.
3. only link to it on twitter
4. direct message me on there with the URL so I can retweet it, and then track it via tweetburner.
5. sit back and watch the prizes roll in.

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

Seesmic goes celeb crazy

May 17th, 2008 · Comments Off on Seesmic goes celeb crazy

Things got very exciting this morning on Seesmic, the video conversation site, as a few of the regular posters got to interview some MASSIVE cinema celebs at the Cannes film festival… Something v. interesting occured, but as this is a post about seesmic, I think I’ll use seesmic to comment on it – and you can use seesmic to comment back, whether or not you’re logged in – via the link at the bottom of this post. {seesmic_video:{“url_thumbnail”:{“value”:”http://t.seesmic.com/thumbnail/WA5KOeAjm5_th1.jpg”}”title”:{“value”:”Seesmic goes celeb crazy “}”videoUri”:{“value”:”http://www.seesmic.com/video/fn9WLeaa9q”}}}

There you go – what fun! Please do add a video or a text comment, especially if you were part of the Seesmic frenzy this morning – what fun that was!

(here’s Jemima Kiss from the Guardian talking about it in their PDA column.)

Tags: film/tv · Geek

Get in touch

May 12th, 2008 · Comments Off on Get in touch

If you’ve got a music related question, it nice if those are asked publicly so other people can benefit from the answer and I don’t need to keep repeating myself. I need a ‘questions’ page here for that, but my Facebook Page probably works pretty well. Or Twitter.

If you’re wanting to:

  • organise a gig
  • find out about bass lessons
  • or college/uni/music industry/social media lecture-stuff
  • hire me for a project
  • pretty much anything else

you can email me via the form below, and I’ll endeavour to get back to you, (if your email isn’t filtered off as spam before it gets to me!)

Failing that, if you’re on Twitter, you can Tweet Me!

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)

Subject

Your Message

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Review – Conversations (Loopers Delight)

May 7th, 2008 · No Comments

“From the beginning of the first track’s languid fretless, grooving, melodicism it’s a feast of inventive looping. Hey, and it’s so lush and “pretty” that my wife doesn’t even ask me to “please turn it down” — which has got to be some kind of a first for a ‘”looping” CD.

Jez Carr’s spare, pointalistic pianisms are the perfect compliment for what Steve offers. Which is a combination of lyrical bass that reminds me of the best of a Mark Eagan or an Eberhard Weber, with some almost “Frisellian,” skittering loopsterizing weaving in and out from time to time.

Steve’s use of loops are integral, organic, and essential to the proceedings too. They inject a lot of humor into what might have been something more like a chilly, ECM record without them. Not that ECM is a bad thing. Some of my favorite music is on ECM. But most of you may know what I mean.

Examples: after establishing the first track with a loooose and laaaazy fretless groove Steve introduces twittering, backwards (and sped up) chipmunk bass noises in the middle so that it sounds like the duet has been visited (and joined) by a passing band of musical insects on a flyby.

The second starts right out with a rhythmic figure of looped bass harmonic “pops and clicks” that reminds me of either Copland’s “The Grand Canyon Suite” or the fellow with the coconuts who follows King Arthur around in “Monty Python and The Holy Grail.” In the middle of the same track, are some wonderfully “loopy” bass glissandi that sound for all the world like a theremin in a ’50s B-horror film (think faux spooky, haunted-house “ghost” sounds). Whacky huh?

This not to say that this isn’t serious music. It’s just that this duo seems to be continually reminding us that they are ALSO having fun and don’t take themselves TOO terribly seriously.

The 3rd track is a brief (1:12) sensitive piano solo . . . no bass, no loops. Just a short interlude of very pretty piano. But, it also underscores the true spontaneousness of the improvisations going on elsewhere on the disc, for these ARE improvisations in the truest sense. No studio editing “trickery.”

I could go on (and on) with each track but I think I’ve given a pretty good “gist” of what this disc is like. There aren’t any cut’s on this CD that are rollicking, uptempo, or show-offy — though they definitely “groove” an percolate at times. The overall mood is a pretty consistent one — of understated and sophisticated interplay — with superb instrumental chops and communication which often verges on the telepathic — with large doses of humor and grace.

Steve Lawson exhibits a very “organic” and creative use of live looping and real-time tweaking of effects that should be an example to any of us “loopfolk” . . . no matter what instrument we play. I can’t say enough to recommend his CD adequately. Just do yourself a favor and get it if you haven’t already.”

– Ted Killian

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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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Etiquette for soliciting press-quotes from people…

April 26th, 2008 · Comments Off on Etiquette for soliciting press-quotes from people…

I’ve been asked a few times lately to give quotes to people to use for promo purposes, so I thought it would be a good time to offer some thoughts on the process. Largely because it’s something I’ve done myself from time to time, and continue to do when the conditions are right…

Firstly, it’s worth thinking about why we do this, and what value it carries as a promotional tool. Like most promo ideas, it has nowhere near as much influence as we’d like to think, but it can provide context for people who have found our websites or press-packs via other routes, and can also be good for putting on posters and flyers. The value lies in a few different areas –

  • firstly in the quote itself; having anyone say that you’re a badass is helpful, especially if it provides some context as to how they think you’re a badass – some kind of stylistic reference, a particular skill they are into etc.
  • Secondly, there’s the association with that artist – if fans of artist [a] see that they are a fan of you, they may well be inspired to check you out. More often than not they won’t, unless artist [a] is actively promoting what you do, but a few will…
  • and Thirdly, quotes are most useful en masse – have a body of evidence from different sources provides people with a framework for understanding your place in the scheme of things.

OK, so that’s why they are useful – what of how to get them? Here’s my rules that I work by –

  • I never ask anyone for a quote who hasn’t already expressed – privately or publicly – a positive opinion about what I do. Cold-calling someone you’ve never had any contact with is not only bad manners, it’s a recipe for getting either criticism or worse, a lame half-quote that will ultimately make you look like an amateur (no one wants to read a lame quote about you, no matter who said it – you’d be better off getting one from your high-school music teacher or your mum than that).
  • I never quote anything said to me in a conversation, without getting permission in writing, and offering the person a chance to write something else instead.
  • if I’m re-quoting what someone has said about me elsewhere, I try and give context for it.
  • When asking someone who has previously liked what I do for a quote about a new product, I explicitly let them know that I’m totally fine with them not saying anything if they don’t like it, or don’t want to say anything about it.
  • My default is to expect to not get a quote. If I do, and all the conditions are right I’ll use it.
  • I never push people on it – I have a fair few musician friends who’ve expressed a liking for what I do in person, some of whom have offered to give me a quote, who I never pressure for them. They may happen in time, but if they don’t, my career isn’t built or crushed on whether or not some bassist or whatever says what I do is cool….

OK, that’s how I go about getting them, what about what I do about giving them – here’s the list:

  • If I really like what you do, I’ve probably sent you one already – I spend a large amount of my online time putting the word out about music I love. And by love I mean ‘love’, not ‘music by people who might be able to do favours or who are just mates of mine but aren’t very good’.
  • As a recommender of music, I’m building a brand, a brand that I actively protect from the accusation that I’ll give a quote to anything. So my default for people who ask is ‘no’, just because I only push things I think are fantastic. It’s like my policy for inviting people to play at Recycle Collective gigs – only my most favouritest musicians are in there. I might like what you do, but just not be into it enough to put my weight behind it (and, to be honest, a quote from me REALLY isn’t worth that much…)
  • That said, I’m very much aware that there are a growing number of people who DO buy albums that I recommend (most of my recommendations are made either here, on my forum or via my Twitter music recommendation feed, To The Left Of The Mainstream – if you find your music on TTLOTM, I REALLY like it, and am willing to put whatever reputation and credibility I may have behind it.
  • Getting a random email out of the blue asking me ‘for a quote’ that you can use, without having any idea whether I’m remotely into what you do puts me in an awkward position. I’m left with four options – I can lie and say I love it, I can give you a weedy quote that means nothing, I can email you and tell you I don’t like it, or I can ignore it and not reply. None of those are ideal, and certainly none of those are likely to get me to do what you want, even if I like what you’re doing. A little interaction first, and maybe even asking for my honest opinion privately might make more sense than a ‘hey’ gimme a quote. I’m well aware that a lot of people aren’t going to like what I do. Same goes for what you do. I may not like it. That doesn’t mean I don’t like you, and it doesn’t mean you’re rubbish, it just means it’s not my kind of thing, and would be misleading for me to be pointing people towards what you do.

In terms of measurable value, I find that the support, encouragement and advice of musician friends is infinitely more value than a public quote from them – I have an unofficial ‘council of reference’ of older experienced musicians who seem to get what I do, and are willing to offer support, advice and encouragement. Most of them haven’t ever said anything publicly about what I do, although one or two of them have got me gigs, and in one case taken a whole pile of my CDs out to Japan to get me some radio play and work on gig promo…

Of the quotes that I do have on my quotes page – all of the non-printed media ones are from people who had said either to me or elsewhere that they like what I do. I then dropped them an email thanking them for the encouragement and asked if they wouldn’t mind giving me something that I can use publicly, always with the caveat that I’m fine with it if they don’t want to.

As I said before, you put people in a tricky spot asking stuff like this, so choose your people well, and start with some normal polite human interaction before asking for a press quote… …I don’t mean to come off like a curmudgeon, and it’s always nice to get a message from someone who wants to know what I think of what they do, but spam and marketing BS definitely trigger the red flag with me.

…and if you want to know what I’m digging right now, do check out To The Left Of The Mainstream and comment on the artists there my forum…

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

Seth Godin on spam, email and right to contact…

April 13th, 2008 · 2 Comments

Thanks to this post on lovely Valerie Gonyea’s blog, I’ve found very cool quote from this great post by Seth Godin:

“Here, it’s simple:

You can contact just about anyone you want. The only rule is you need to contact them personally, with respect, and do it months before you need their help! Contact them about them, not about you. Engage. Contribute. Question. Pay attention. Read. Interact.

Then, when you’ve earned the right to attention and respect, months and months later, sure, ask. It takes a lot of time and effort, which is why volume isn’t the answer for you, quality is.

That’s a great way to get a job, promote a site, make a friend, spread the word or just be a human.”

I’ve been telling people this for years – the ONLY way to get any kind of meaningful interaction with people is to earn the right to meaningful interaction. Requesting interaction via spam, or demanding it without context is not only rude, it’s entirely unproductive.

The two worst places for this online at the moment are Myspace and Twitter – Myspace is particularly crass, with the mass email spam machines that often ask a lot of you but can’t be bothered to interact at all. The Twitter variation is to ‘follow’ people, post a load of links to products and marketing crap and somehow expect people to take notice. Bollocks. It’s SO not going to happen. If you’ve got 15,000 fans on myspace and the only conversation on your page is endless formularised ‘thanks for the add’ comments, I’m going to ignore you.

Likewise on Twitter, if you’re following 3,000 people, never reply to anyone else’s comments and only ever post obscured links to marketing stuff, there’s no way I’m going to follow you.

Here’s my musicians addendum to Seth’s comment: Nobody owes you any attention at all. You don’t respond well to spam, so why on earth would you expect anyone else to? It doesn’t matter how important you think your music is, you’ve still got to earn the right to request attention from your audience. Likewise, the chances of people finding your music and falling in love with it are miniscule unless you’re inviting people in and providing context for understanding what you do and an environment for interaction with you as they get into you and your noises.

Web 2.0 is neither about a collection of static info sheets, nor scatter-shot spam broadcasting. It’s about interaction, communication, discussion, sharing, conversation, context, experience, experiment and fun.

Anyway, read Seth’s post, it’s great, and go interactive!

Tags: cool links · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

Topping the Charts…

April 9th, 2008 · Comments Off on Topping the Charts…

Much to blog about, but real life getting in the way of cyber-time at the moment. All good (if you want to keep track of that stuff, sign up for Twitter and follow me.

Anyway, what is worth mentioning just now is that all the recent activity on my Reverb Nation page, with the free album and the mailing list migration, has sent me to the top of the Reverb Nation jazz charts!

It’s a little surprising, and largely to do with the fact that Reverb Nation, as yet, as precious little internal traffic, and I’m therefor doing a better job of actively sending traffic to my page than, say, Jamie Cullum or Will Calhoun, despite them in any measurable real terms being massively more successful than me. But I guess that’s the advantage of being a social media early adopter. :o)

Still, it is nice, and you can keep it going if you want to by downloading the free album on there after signing up for the mailing list! How cool is that – a completely free kick-ass album in exchange for an email address that I promise not to ever pass on to anyone else, and only to email you when I’ve got something useful to tell you…? Sounds great, I know. So, using the widget below, go get the freebies!


Steve%20LawsonQuantcast

Tags: cool links · Music News · Musing on Music · New Music Strategies · tips for musicians

The Musical Mechanics of 'Feeling': Wordless Story Telling

April 5th, 2008 · 1 Comment

Right, here’s a blog post I promised on Twitter at the beginning of the week, but have only just got round to writing. Here were my original ‘tweets’ –

solobasssteve “Blog post idea – the musical mechanics of ‘feeling’: ambiguity, journey, wordless story-telling and narrative/soundtrack quality…”
solobasssteve “Gifted singers routinely sing like they’re still discovering the unfolding tale of the song. Instrumentalists rarely play like that…”

One of the things I work most hard on in my music is developing the relationship between phrasing and feeling. Learning how to play a tune as though it has words and is telling a story. For that reason, most of my biggest influences are singers; the musicians I try and emulate are those whose music strikes me on an emotional, feeling level rather than a technical, heady one.

I often find myself left cold by instrumental music that on the surface I’m impressed by, but which doesn’t seem to soundtrack any part of my life, does reflect anything about the way I think or see the world. And I think I know why…

The big problem with most of what gets lumped together as ‘fusion’ or ‘electric jazz’ is that the way the music is played makes it sound like the artist has all the answers. Like there’s no search, no journey, just an arrival point. And that arrival point is one of dexterity and chops, with the compositions often stemming from a similar place. Or even with the compositions actually being pretty deep, but still being played from a position of having it all sown up before the tune starts.

Great singers never do that. They tell stories, the adopt characters, they emote according to the narrative. They often sing like they are discovering for the first time the unfolding tale of the song. It’s way more important to communicate than it is to show of their wikkid skillz. Having a big range in your voice is part of the singers emotional palette, and is rarely used for shredding (Maria/Celine etc. aside…)

So it’s no coincidence that my favourite instrumentalists also play like that. Bill Frisell is a fantastic case in point – a phenomenally gifted guitar player, who has leant his wide ranging guitar skills to a whole load of different projects, but who always digs deep emotionally. He plays guitar like a world-weary country singer, or a heart-broken torch singer. He does the full range of emotions, rather than sticking with the slightly smug, self-satisfied gymnastic displays of many instrumentalists.

Nels Cline is the same – he can be sad, angry, playful, child-like, inquisitive, tearful, tender… all in the same solo.

And of course there’s John Coltrane, the Godfather of story telling improvisors, unfolding the story of his spiritual quest on the stage each night via his sax. Phenomenal technical skill, completely at the service of the music, or the story, and always stretching, searching, telling stories as they occured to him, risking the blind allies, crying and screaming through his music when it was required.

Q – “So how do I as a bassist head in that direction? What are the mechanics of feeling? How do I move away from dextrous but lifeless technical cleverness and start telling stories?”

The start point is listening and a little analysis. Take a singer you love, a singer that moves you, a singer that connects – what are they ACTUALLY doing? What’s happening in terms of dynamics and phrasing? Where do the notes sit on the beat? Take 16 bars that you really like and learn them. Start by singing them, then play what you sing. Not just the notes, but the dynamics, phrasing, articulation. The whole works. As close as you can get. How far is that from how you usually play?

Here are a few musical elements that aid us in sounding a little more ambiguous, discursive, narrative:

  • stop playing everything on the beat: Bassists are the worst for this, but a lot of jazzers too – we end up drawing a metric grid in our minds and stick to it. Divide the bar into 8/16/32 and play those subdivisions. Go and have a listen to Joni Mitchell and tell me how often she’s on the beat. How often her phrasing is metric. Pretty much never.
  • Start using dynamics: I’m amazed at how few melody players in jazz – particularly guitarists and bassists – rarely vary the dynamics of what they do.Have a listen to this Bartok solo sonata for violin – hear what’s being done with the phrasing and dynamics? It’s incredible.

    Alternatively, have a listen to Sinatra, to the way he pulled the melodies around, and used his amazing control of dynamics. Remarkable stuff. In the rock world, check out Doug Pinnick’s vocals with King’s X. He’s closer to singing in time, but exploits the variation in being ahead of or behind the beat beautifully to spell out the emotion of a song.

  • Vary your technique – again, very few singers sing in one ‘tone’ through everything. Those that do usually get tiresome pretty quick. Most of them use tonal variety the way we do when we talk. Getting louder will vary the tone automatically. Same with your instrument. The number of bassists who play with their thumb planted on top of the pickup, using their first two fingers in strict alternation even for playing tunes is bizarre. Bassmonkeys, Your right hand is your primary tone control – forget EQing, and work with the source, where the subtle variations are from note to note. moment to moment, phrase to phrase. Experiment, keeping in mind what you’re trying to do – tell a story!
  • Play less notes – At NAMM every year, I get other bassists – often pretty famous ones – coming up and asking me how I play so ‘soulfully’, or so ‘deeply’ or whatever. Admittedly, their reaction to what I do is going to be exaggerated by the lunacy of all the shredding going on, but the simplest answer is often that I play less notes than most of what they are used to listenin to. Again, it’s a singer-thing. Very few of my favourite vocal melodies are technically hard to play. Some have some pretty big intervals in them (Jonatha Brooke, one of my favourite singer/songwriters on the planet, writes some of the most amazing melodies, and has an incredible way of delivering them. She uses really unusual intervals but never sounds like the cleverness of the tune is getting in the way of what’s being said…) So just learn some vocal tunes. Actually, not just ‘some’, learn loads! Get deep into what singers do. Take songs and listen closely to how the tune develops from one verse to the next. Again, great story tellers adapt the phrasing to the emotion of the story, they don’t feel the need to add more and more notes as it goes on…
  • Play simply… even the super fast stuff! – the genius of Coltrane was that he very rarely sounded like he was struggling with his sax. He was wrestling with music, and emotion through his sax, he was digging deep to find the soundtrack to his inner journey, but his horn was at the service of that journey, not directing it in a ‘check out this clever shit’ way. Dexterity is a wonderful thing. There’s nothing at all wrong with being able to sing or play really fast. It’s just that it’s not an end in and of itself. Some things sound fantastic when you play them really fast. There are tracks by Michael Manring and Matthew Garrison that have an incredible energy rush to them because of the pace. They wouldn’t have that if they were slower. But neither player sounds like the tunes are a vehicle for a load of mindless shredding. Im always looking to improve my technique by deepening it. Speed is definitely part of that. But it’s just one aspect of control. And control is the key.

I find it really odd when I hear musicians that site Miles Davis as a big influence and then proceed to play like the entire story of the tune was set in stone years ago. Like there’s nothing to add, nowhere new to go, no need to dig deep. Miles is the Yin to Coltrane’s Yang. Miles was a pretty good be-bop trumpeter in the late 40s/early 50s, but he didn’t really have the chops of Dizzie or Chet Baker. And yet he had a quality to his playing, even on crazy-fast bebop stuff, that drew you in, that took you with him… That got deeper and deeper as his life went on. With a cracked and broken sound, he told stories, and wrung out old melodies to find new tales. He also never went backwards, constantly searching for new things in music. The narrative of each solo was reflected in the meta-narrative of the arc of his career. No resting on laurels, lots of progressive work, and not a few false starts along the way. But he was integral to just about every new thing that happened in jazz from the early 50s onwards.

We need to dig deep to find this stuff. It’s not something you just do. Its not something easy, it’s not a lick you can learn and regurgitate, or a solo by such and such a player that you can transcribe. It’s a desire and a search and a longing to tell stories that comes out in our playing, that shapes the way we practice, the kind of musicians we choose to work with, and the risks we take. If you want some inspiration, try looking up some of the following on last.fm:

Guitarists: Bill Frisell, Nels Cline, David Torn, Mark Ribot
Bassists: Michael Manring, Matthew Garrison, Gary Peacock, Charlie Haden
Pianists: Keith Jarrett, Herbie Hancock, Jez Carr, Alan Pasqua
Singer/songwriters: Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Paul Simon, Gillian Welch, Jonatha Brooke, Lobelia, David Sylvian, Kelly Joe Phelps, Robert Smith (The Cure), Frank Black (The Pixies)

Music is about way more than impressing other musicians. There’s nothing wrong with musicians being impressed by what you do, any more than there’s anything wrong with people thinking you’ve got a cute accent when you talk… but what you say is what will sustain the value in the long run… Dig deep.

Tags: bass ideas · cool links · Musing on Music · tips for musicians

One True Fan – thoughts on Street Teams.

April 2nd, 2008 · Comments Off on One True Fan – thoughts on Street Teams.

One of the most linked to blog posts in the last few months in the musical blogosphere is Kevin Kelly’s piece on 1000 True Fans – it’s a great piece of writing, and quite inspiring too.

However, I’d like to get away from the numbers for a moment and talk about this whole thing of connecting with and relating to ‘true fans’. Or ‘friends’ as I like to think of them.

I’ve commented before that I really like my audience. Not because they’re my audience, but because my music seems to draw in the kind of people I want to hang out with. That is a good thing. For sure.

What often happens is that ‘fans’ turn into ‘friends’ long before any level of ‘wow I’m getting to hang out with the guy on the CDs’ kicks in. This, on a human level is also a good thing, given that the ‘wow’ factor is BS anyway. It’s a great way to make money if you can make people think that you’re somehow special/elite/of more value than ‘normal’ people – they’re probably more likely to buy t-shirts and pay high dollar ticket prices (or stupid money ‘meet-and-greet prices) but it’s pretty much total bollocks. So the switch from fan to friend is a good one.

However, those new friends who dig your music are a VITAL part of the propagation and proliferation of your music around the world. They provide a few things that are integral to any marketing strategy, paid or otherwise – experience, enthusiasm, motivation, trust, social connection, the opportunity to acquire social capital through your music (what Hugh MacLeod likes to call A Social Object).

What’s also true is that most people don’t do that stuff on their own. When prompted, they often go ‘of course!’, but unless they are a) musicians doing it for themselves, b) work in marketing, or c) are just incredibly self-motivated and externally-aware, they are unlikely to take it on themselves to start promoting what you do. The chances are that most people who listen to your music aren’t aware that telling their friends about what you do is a vital part of your ongoing income stream, and perhaps, as a result, your ability to keep producing music that they love…

So you need a place where you can let them know about that stuff, and that’s were the idea of a ‘street team’ comes in.

Street Teams have been around for years. They’re an extension of the idea of fan clubs, where people who dig what you do are actively encouraged to – and given the tools to – tell other people about what you do. The name obviously comes from the idea of getting out there and handing out flyers and sticking up posters – and people who are willing to do that are worth their weight in gold to an indie – but more useful and immediate, and certainly a more accessible form of support and interaction for the ‘regular’ fan would be the idea of street team as social media team.

In our culture of attention, people need peer approval to find where the cool shit is on line. Most of my new music discovery these goes comes via links sent to me on twitter, facebook, email and IM. There are people who act as new music filters for me and send me the stuff they like. I do it for my friends all the time, currently through To The Left Of The Mainstream.

So creating a space where you can share ideas with those people, offer suggestions, keep track of actions carried out, and hopefully get some community happening is a good thing. And gives you the chance to reward people who help you out a lot.

I’ve had a street team for years. My street teamers have access to a whole load of MP3s unavailable elsewhere, and some of them have been able to get on the guestlist for sold out shows and such like. They get to order CDs earlier than everyone else, and in exchange, I ask them to spread the word.

Up until yesterday, my main point of contact with my street team was an email list, where I would send out all-too-sporadic emails asking them to do things. It got some stuff done, but gave no room for feedback and cross pollenation. I had a street teamers forum on my site too, but because of the mailing list, I neglected it, and so, largely did they…

So yesterday I sent out a message saying it was moving there permanently. I’m not going to send out the emails any more, and instead will interact with anyone who wants to help me out in the Street/Social Media Team forum on my site.

So, if you want to sign up, head over the forum on my site sign up for the forum, then send me a message via email or forum PM and tell me why you want to join. It’s not a cryptic question, it just stops the list from being an impersonal opt in.

The question here is not one of building 1000 true fans, but is about giving the people who like what I do but don’t think like marketers a space to explore how they can help me out. Ideas for spreading the word, and some insight into how it works. Not many people know that just by adding a blog post or website page to stumble upon, they can send upwards of 500 new people to see my site. If 10 people stumble it, it can have a massive impact. Same goes for fowarding pages to facebook an myspace friends, reTweeting information about new blog posts etc. on Twitter, and posting links to stuff on their own blogs.

As well as all the more traditional street team stuff such as sticking up posters, emailing radio stations and magazines, handing out flyers and bringing friends to gigs.

I’m thinking later this year of doing a Street-Team only gig in London… will have to see how that pans out.

A blog like this one, or even Twitter can act as an informal Social Media Team suggestion place, where your listeners and friends can get links to click, or can forward posts like my post about the two free albums to their friends, but it’s definitely a good idea to provide a space for clearer discussion about actual promotion…

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