As you’ll have seen by now (unless you’re reading this in an RSS reader), there’ve been a lot of changes round here – the design of stevelawson.net has now shifted into wordpress, the shop is still zencart, but has been given a facelift and most significantly, the blog is now hosted here too, integrated into the rest of the site.
The task of getting everything to forward to the right place was pretty huge – given how highly this blog indexes in google, it was vital that all those link redirected properly to this one, and I had SO much help from my herd of sure-footed trusty geeks: James Stewart, Rev. Gareth, Mike Arthur and The Captain. Gentleman and scholars to a man. I now fully understand why properly trained geeks get paid so much money – they can save you so much money. James did a couple of things this afternoon that quite literally saved me 3-4 complete days of editing URLs and stuff…
The tags from the old site still haven’t copied across, and a lot of the little pages that are littered around the old design still need to be imported and linked to (old gig reviews etc), but we’re getting there, slowly.
I hope you like the new design. Feel free to try out the new shop – if anything does go a bit weird, just email me, and we’ll sort it out – there’s no way you’re going to lose money on the deal, cos it’s actually me who runs it, so if there’s a problem, I can just FTP you the files for the download or pop a CD in an envelope, no worries
Right, I’ve got loads of fascinating stuff to blog about (no, really), but that can wait, cos right now, I’ve got loads of great free music to tell you about. First up, Lobelia is giving away a whole album of voice ‘n’ piano stuff on Reverb Nation. The album, called 040515 (the date it was recorded, in Canadian apparently), was recorded live at Power Base Studio in Nebraska, which is where she and I recorded our fantastic live E.P last summer.
It’s a really beautiful record, and was the first thing I heard from her ages ago. The track ‘Wake Up And Lose You’ is particularly amazing. Some of the songs you might recognise if you’ve seen us live over the last year and a half, but perhaps not in this format…
Anway, downloading it is v. easy, either via her Reverb Nation page or via the widget embedded below – just click on ‘songs’, and the downloadable ones start with Wake Up And Lose You… You’ll have to sign up to her mailing list, if you’re not already, but you’ll want to anyway, cos she’s amazing. )
OK, let’s contrast this with a distinction I’ve pointed out quite a few times over the years between bands from the US and bands from the UK. As a general rule (and there are exceptions on both sides, but it pretty much stands) American bands are ‘better’ live, while British bands are more creative in the studio. The reason for this is one of necessity and scale: the live circuit in the US means that you could quite easily play 250 nights a year and not repeat yourself for a couple of years. It’s quite possible for a coffee-shop-sized artist to literally ‘live on the road’ – if you want to know more about that, I seriously advise that you get Seth Horan’s ‘Between Two Oceans’ DVD – this isn’t a slick presentation about how touring works. It’s a fly on the wall look at actual life on the road. Some of it’s funny, some of it’s silly, some of it looks like proper fun, some of it looks like purile nonsense. All wrapped around Seth’s fantastic music…
The thing with Seth’s DVD is that it looks like some kind of weird fairy tale from this side of the Atlantic. Here’s why. if you are gigging in the UK alone, VERY few bands ever get to do more than 30 or so gigs a year. I asked a Live Nation employee recently about the bands they promote here, and who is doing more shows than that. Off the top of her head, the only name she could think of was Status Quo. Not one ‘new’ artist.
So, unless you’re clearing at least £500 a night as a solo artist, you aren’t going to be making a living out of gigs. The musicians I know who make sensible money playing live music in the UK are playing weddings, jazz or are in tribute bands.
So, giving away your recorded music as a way of getting more gigs makes far less sense in the UK than it does in the US. A lot of British bands get signed without having played even 15 or 20 gigs together. The standard model was to put together a band, play a few local shows, then try and get a ‘showcase’ at some shitty venue in Camden in order to ‘get signed’. (If you see footage of really early Coldplay, Stone Roses or Travis TV appearances, you’ll see what happens when a band doesn’t do the road work… painful…)
One possible answer to this is ‘well, tour abroad then!’ – which is a great suggestion, and one that some artists are able to take up. Sadly, the cost of being on the road away from home is ramped up that much higher than if you’re near friends and family that will put you up, so the chances of you making money at it are negligible. In fact, what you need in order to make money abroad are merch sales… including CDs…
As for UK artists touring in the US, that costs a HECK of a lot of money. Seriously big money. You need a major following at home, or a US record label to make it work, or to do what I do, which is to only do things that are sponsored by a European company and not get paid for gigs, but for ‘demos’ and trade shows like NAMM or bass-day events. That’s not an option for ‘bands’ or people who don’t have those kind of relationships with gear companies…
OK, that said, what’s the value of ‘free’ for us then, given that we need to make some money off this. A few observations on the current trends in ‘free’ music:
Radiohead didn’t ‘give away their album for free’: no, what they did was use a low-ish resolution copy of most of the tracks from the album as a way of generating MASSIVE publicity for a normal CD release, but also monetized their obsessional fan-base by selling vinyl to people who don’t even own record players. They used the leverage they had from already being one of the world’s most successful bands to create MILLIONS of pounds worth of column inches and airtime in every conceivable media channel. The amount of money they ‘made’ from their venture HAS to have factored in the amount of money they SAVED that they would normally have spent on advertising, and the amount over and above any ad campaign they could ever afford that they got from the stunt.
Ditto Nine Inch Nails. Trent Reznor putting out an instrumental album is not a particularly ‘newsworthy’ event. Trent Reznor ‘reinventing the way bands market and sell their product’ is. The fact that it was a 5 album set of instrumental stuff is neither here nor there. Just like Radiohead, Trent leveraged and amplified the residual level of interest there was in him as an artist already associated with the zeitgeist, albeit one quite a few steps down the food chain from Radiohead in terms of mainstream public perception. So Trent made his own album newsworthy by coming up with a payment pyramid that again leveraged his obsessional fans’ commitment to the band by offering massively overpriced limited edition packages (back to scarcity as a selling point…) and making the price on the download so cheap that the teaser ‘free’ bit of it drew people in.
Both bands got huge exposure, but still relied on it being any good for word of mouth to sustain it or for the success of the record to spill over into live success – Neither made a loss on the music in order to promote gigs: I think in the final analysis, both bands will have made more money from these ‘upscaling’ adventures in progressive scarcity than in any previous album… but that’s a guess. We’ll see when the stats come in.
The bit of this that can be drawn out for a starting artist to use is the pyramid –
at the bottom is freely downloadable lower resolution partial release/live set/older material/live video compilation etc. that provides the curious with something that gets them involved in what you do. It gets clicking, it demands time and means they’re more likely to stay than click away.
Next up is ad-supported listening – napster/last.fm/rhapsody/reverb nation – you get a coupla cents for each play, but often they’ll show up on playlists or in tag clouds and you’ll reach people who might never have heard of you that way…
From there we have low priced download albums – higher res than the freebies, easy to get (either from your own site or via iTunes/eMusic/CDbaby/Amazon – those are the big four) and coming with extra tracks not in the free version, sleeve notes, photos, printable artwork etc… drawing people in…
Next up from there is CDs – the old faithful. Audiences still want something to take home! The value of CDs at gigs is massive. Feel free to do USB sticks/MP3 players/DVD discs/whatever as well, but good old fashioned CDs might be declining, but for the next few years, you’re going to make more money on gigs if you’ve got something physical to sell. A lot more if they’re any good!
Then we’re into the tip of the pyramid and what goes on here depends on your audience. Some possible options – 24bit audiophile downloads :: CD/tshirt/poster packages :: CD/DVD double packs :: boxed-sets of your entire catalogue :: street-team-only dinners :: fanclub only gigs :: weird freebies (food, stickers, domestic items relating to the name of the band or the artwork etc.) :: instructional material :: remixable files :: anything personalised…
Free is all about attention. Making product available for free is utterly VITAL in the current climate. However, there HAS to be a degree of subtlety and nuance in how it is applied, how you make it work, how you reach your audience, and how you move them on from the ‘gateway drug’ of free low-res MP3s to Class A merch-buying.
And on that note, you need some free stuff, so go Here and Here to download over 2 hours of free fabulous music!. Go on, you know you want to…
And if you’ve already done that and want some more, there’s The webshop here for CDs and other downloads. )
And for Part 2, you have to go to my Reverb Nation Page – and sign up for the mailing list there, then you can download all of that one too!
Anyway, that’s about two hours of lovely tunes for you!
Why am I giving them away? Have I suddenly decided that paying for music is a bad idea? Is it that I think they’re too bad to be worth selling? Perhaps there’s a third option – I released 10 full length CDs on Pillow Mountain Records since 2000 – 7 completely solo ones and 3 collaborative. Four of them were very limited edition CDs – only ever 100 copies made on CD – which were given away at the time to people who pre-ordered the CD they accompanied. The three that I did with solo albums were called ‘Lessons Learned From An Aged Feline’ Pts 1, 2 & 3. The title came from my love of all things Cat – I had a very old cat during the time I recorded the first two volumes, and two elderly cats by the time of the 3rd, so just chose titles for the tracks that were inspired by the cats. And a few other silly things thrown in.
The tracks themselves were largely things that were recorded at the same time as the album they came with, but just didn’t fit within the flow of the record. I tend to record up to 3 or 4 hours of releasable material around the time of an album, and so can often get a double album of CD-worthy stuff. The LLFAAF series gave me a chance to put some of that out, without it breaking the continuity of the ‘proper’ releases. I’ve had some emails from people suggesting they prefer some of the Lessons Learned tunes to the stuff on the CDs…
Anyway, they were free to start with, but limited. Many years have gone by, they’re available via my webshop for cheaps, but their value as a way of getting people who have maybe heard of me but not bothered to buy anything to have a listen is greater than the few quid a year I make by selling them. It’s also the case that the versions that are free to download are, I think, 128k MP3s. I’m going to switch everything on my webshop to 320K VBR files pretty soon, so if someone wanted the hi-res versions, they’d still have to get them there.
So these are either a way to get people listening (and in the case of Pt 2, to sign up to my mailing list via my Reverb Nation Page) or they are a thankyou to the people who’ve been buying my stuff all along and are patiently waiting for my long-overdue next solo album. Here’s some stuff to fill that gap.
And of course, if that’s still not enough to satiate your need for Steveness, then head to www.stevelawson.net and click on any of the album sleeves at the top of the page to go to the shop to buy downloads or CDs, or head to iTunes or eMusic and search for me – CDs and downloads are always available to buy. I particularly recommend the EP with Lobelia – the songs with here are definitely among the best musical things I’ve ever been involved with. And it’s only £3.50 )
Then, feel free to post reviews, links, tweets and spread the word – that’s what I’d like from you in return. It’s not compulsory, I shan’t be checking up on you. I’d just be grateful.
It’s over half an hour long, and the track list is
i’m lost 5:11
jimmy james 6:51
and it’s fab – if you go to my myspace page you can hear the first song from it.
anyway, you can get it as a download, it’s fab, you’ll love it, I’m sure. )
It’s worth noting that in general, I still sell way more CDs from the online store than I do downloads. I sell more downloads from itunes than I do here, though probably the highest volume of track sales is from emusic, though the unit price is much lower… I’m guessing, I’ve said before, that is at least partly because as a solo bassist/jazz/ambient/whatever artist, my core audience is that bit older, and not comprised of the digital natives in the 15-25 age-group that seem to dominate so much of the discussion around online music. I have a number of listeners who would be unhappy even with 198kbps MP3s (the new ones are 256k VBR), and so still want CD for the quality… I think the next full album will come out on high res MP3 and flac… I may do what Trent Reznor and Saul Williams did and put out a free low-res version, and a paid download much higher res version… we’ll see…
We’ll start with last weekend – two gigs, Saturday/Sunday.
Saturday’s was a gig with Lobelia in Brighton at the Sanctuary Cafe, opening for MAP – that’s and Peter Harris – both incredible acoustic guitarists, writers of sublime melodies and fantastic performers. Also on the bill before us was a marvellous singer/songwriter, Conrad Vingoe – as well as having one of the most rock ‘n’ roll names ever (not much chance of that domain name being taken), he writes great songs and has a gorgeous voice. All good. ‘Twas a small crowd, but the venue was intimate and sounded good, the people lovely and a fine time was had by all… I’ll put photos from it up on Flickr soon.
Sunday’s gig was back at Smollensky’s with Luca Sirianni, this time with Sophie Alloway on drums. The gig with Luca is becoming a fairly regular thing, and a whole lot of fun – the chance to play a lot of pop/latin/jazz tunes, do some interesting arrangements, get funky and get paid (a bit). Luca’s a fine guitarist, who does enough ‘dinner jazz’ gigs to know just the right kind of things to play, but also likes to stretch out, improvise and have some fun. It was the first time I’d played with Sophie, and she was a treat to play with – not having come the usual ’3 years at music school’ route, she plays with the maturity of a player who’s been gigging twice as long as she has, because she learnt on gigs. One of my main gripes with so many drummers is the don’t listen well – they establish a beat and stick with it, instead of letting the grooves grow and expand. Sophie listened really well, and also – crucially – understood the space a drummer has to occupy in a trio. As usual, I hit my stride about half way through the second set, but that’s the price I pay for not playing with drummers often enough…
…Though that’s not the case right now – I’m in the middle of a really fun recording session with Patrick Wood and Roy Dodds – if you saw the last Recycle gig, you’ll know this is a pretty special trio… We spent most of yesterday setting up, but got about 20 minutes of amazing music recorded last night, and will spend much of today on it as well… except the time that I’m teaching – thanks to my going away for Christmas and January to the US, I’m having to fit in as much teaching as possible before I go, partly because lots of students want lessons before I go and partly because I need to earn as much as I can in order to be able to pay my rent, and renew my car tax in january…
in between all that, I’m booking things to do in the US (masterclasses and gigs in California), sorting out my tax return (spending a lot of time buried under piles of receipts) and somewhere this week, I need to fit in a few hours to record some tracks for an italian electronica project that I’ve been meaning to record some stuff for for over a year, and HAVE to have done before Christmas…
Add to that regular trips to the post office to send off CD orders for the new EP and people ordering other stuff as christmas presents, and you’ve got yourself one seriously overworked Stevie.
For quite a while now, Lessons Learned From An Aged Feline Pt 2 has been free to download from last.fm – I’m not sure how many people have downloaded it, but it’s there.
Anyway, here are all the tracks, streamable in their entirety from here, and by clicking the ‘download free track’ link in the player as each track is playing, it’ll start downloading. If you really want to, you can also send me a couple of quid for it, by clicking the button below. No pressure though, just if you want to.
so here are the tracks. Listen, and then download the ones you like! )
It’s something we’ve done in a small way over in the forum for a couple of years, but I thought I’d copy it over here as a comment thread this year – giving Christmas presents is often expensive and perhaps almost as often, pointless. You spend ages trying to find something that is adequate as a gift, not that is either useful or of benefit, or something where the purchasing in the first place is for the greater good…
We can talk about fair trade presents (and beautiful solo bass cds) later but for now, we’re looking for free online pressies. They can be as simple as recommendations for cool websites, or links to sites with free (legal) MP3s, or cartoons, films. Please don’t post links to anything where the legality or morality of the derivation is questionable, like MP3 blogs not sanctioned by the artists etc. but links to last.fm pages with free mp3s are good, or even last.fm pages where albums are streamable if not downloadable.
This is your chance to offer a free gift of something fun and useful and artsy and cool to all the readers of this ‘ere blog…
So here are my three for you – one or two of which I may have mentioned before -
The End of Control – on ongoing ebook, readable as a blog or downloadable as PDF chapters, on the changes in the music industry. Free Culture – another e-book about the nature of copyright, ownership and the proliferation of ideas and content in a digital age. New Music Strategies – a third e-book about the changes in the music industry. More deeply thought out stuff on where it’s all going.
So there you go, three books for Christmas (or for you Americans, you can see them as a Thanksgiving present too, should you wish to, along with this thought and this thought about what Thanksgiving is).
So post away, comments are open – give a freebie web-gift for Christmas! )
This post started out as a response on the stevelawson.net forum to a comment from lovely Tom who said, “Perhaps the last few decades have been an anomaly and we will go back to live concerts being the mainstay of the music industry”
To which I responded thusly (i’m cross-posting it here, because the notion that records can be given away by all musicians as a way of publicising gigs has become the standard answer to why file-sharing is ‘great!’, even though that’s not what Tom – a vinyl junkie and great supporter of musicians – meant)
Steely Dan would be screwed then… no more Peter Gabriel or Blue Nile albums, no more records that take 3 years of writing and experimentation to come up with…
I think the thing that is being missed here is that recorded music is already an ‘advert’ for live music! And vice versa. A lot of times, the only money I make on a gig is CD money. Take that away, and I don’t make anything. The idea that we’re moving back to a live music economy would be just fine if there was a commensurate shift in the way venues viewed music, but the vast majority of gigging opportunities in cities are about selling beer. So the musicians are in the bar area (or at least ‘a’ bar area), playing to people who are drinking and talking, aren’t paid to be there, and get to do 30 mins max because the higher turnover of musicians means that each of them bring friends along who drink… So the bar makes a few hundred (or a few thousand, in some cases) quid, and pays nothing (and then complains that the PRS are robbing bastards because they charge them a licence for broadcasting music – hah!)
The way that musicians make money is fragmented already – I get paid for gigs, I get paid for CDs, I get paid for teaching, for masterclasses and clinics, occasionally for session work (live or studio, though most of my live work outside of my own music is pro bono for friends), royalties for live performance and radio airplay (thank God for the BBC/PRS) and very occasionally for writing about music. I’ve made money on t-shirts before now (not much), and i’ve received a fair amount of payment in kind from music equipment manufacturers, but precious little towards keeping a roof over my head…
In any one year those levels change throughout the year. This year has been a lot about gigs, music gear demos (did a fair bit for looperlative earlier in the year in Italy and Germany), and so far, not much about music sales (the Calamateur Vs. Steve Lawson album has sold a few copies, but certainly nothing to compare with a ‘proper’ CD release, sadly…)
The beauty of the music scene is its breadth – there are people who are all about the gigs, and people who are all about the studio creations, there are bands who manage to come up with an image and brand that means they make literally thousands a night on merch and live off that money (the Stourbridge scene of the late 80s/early 90s).
If recorded music just becomes an advert for gigs, it will not only be the death of an income stream for musicians, it’ll mean the death of an artform, as album-as-work-of-art become album-as-advert. (whoever heard of a 30 minute ambient advert?) As a synonym, imagine what it would mean for world cinema if all films were given away for free, and paid for by product placement and TV-style ad-breaks?
I seriously want to do more gigs, play more live music, and I would indeed be happy to spend my life just playing live and releasing documents of that process. At least, at the moment I would, because all my albums are essentially live anyway. But there are LOADS of great artists whose contribution to the artistic quilt is their remarkable skill in the studio, a skill that requires time, and money and expertise and training and years of trial and error. All of which need to be paid for somehow, and won’t happen if they are playing 250 nights a year in order to make some dough…
it’s funny how in the course of the discussion some people look forward to a golden age when all musicians are paid via some kind of music license (Gerd Leonhard et al), despite it meaning that there are going to yet again be middle men creaming it off – interesting that Gerd talks about this being a way for artists to get remunerated directly, but hasn’t yet mentioned the need for a multi-billion dollar intermediary such as google, yahoo, news corps etc…. unless he’s suggesting the setting up of a global non-profit organisation whose sole purpose is to make sure that the new music license (which lots of people will see as a tax) gets distributed fairly… meanwhile, the musicians at the very end of the long tail will just drop off…
One possible scenario that scares me is that we see a ‘mainstream’ licensing scheme, so you can get all the James Blunt you want as part of that license, but running along side it is a sub culture of ‘art music’ performers and recording artists, who still charge, and who operate within a community of arts patrons. To some extent it’s already happening (I’m guessing that people who buy my CDs and downloads, either here or at gigs, do so with a very different sense of investment in what’s going on that even those who by a David Sylvian, Bill Frisell or Blue Nile record in HMV), but the idea of such a schism is unappealing purely due to the implied elitism of the mainstream/art-music split – I don’t really want to be part of some elitist musical world, but I REALLY don’t want to be told by ‘the market’ that need to play shorter snappier tunes, and maybe start singing, in order for my music to connect with an audience fast enough for them to ‘get it’ and come and see me live…