London Songwriting Week seminar with Andrew Dubber and Tom Robinson

I’m going to be live blogging this today – here’s a link to the page about it

[12:41] It’s going to be a group seminar/workshop on collaboration in a digital age, but the sounds of things. Just had a chat with Tom and Andrew about the whole thing. Let’s see how it goes.

[12:51] Just tried to grab the feed of the Twitter search for #freshnet and embed it here, but feedburner won’t let me! How nuts is that? Anyway, if you want to follow other twitterings from today, head over to the #freshnet search.

[12:57] Looks like we’re about to start. Tom’s doing his headmaster routine. Which, I’m say, he does very well indeed.

[1:05] Starting! I’m streaming live on Qik, over at

[1:07] Qik stream is a bit slow at the moment, so will try to get it onto the network.

[1:14] really interesting to see the responses to Tom’s show of hands questions about people’s musical and digital engagement. Low level of digital engagement, it seems, but not terrible…

[1:18] Tom’s definition of community – random people, different thoughts, thrown together by circumstance. Not about agreement or even shared interest.

[1:20] Dubber introduces me, as ‘solobasssteve off twitter’, announces the live blog. Yay!

[1:23] Andrew announces the theme as Surviving in the digital age on the internet… please expand on that, Mr Dubber… 🙂

[1:24] Everyone is being assigned an animal… WTF? Ah, OK, it’s just a way of dividing people into groups… phew..

[1:28] here’s the first of the Qiks… they’re taking ages to upload…

[1:39] overhearing a conversation about lessons from Dubber’s New Music Strategies. Nice to hear it explained in layman’s terms by a songwriter struggling to get his head round this stuff.

[1:45] Burning Questions:

How do you monetize streaming music? Dubber: “It’s very difficult to make any money from streaming services like Spotify and We7. We’re talking minute micropayments. But it’s part of a distributed personality online.” [I so need to do this as a tag-team session with @dubber next time!]

[1:47] first social media naysayer – “all this story telling stuff is bollocks, people should just listen” – Tom: “it’s always been about the story. You need two things

  • THE killer song, the breakthrough song. Everyone can write one, most people don’t. Dubber: “if you write a remarkable song, people find it.” then quoting me says, “everyone is amazing until you hear them“. Dubber: “if you want people to listen to you, think ‘why should they?’ ” …followed by people trying hard to say “I’m amazing”, and then slow discovering how to sound interesting
  • Tom: [lists iconic artists]: “When Elvis invented this game, it was’t just that Heartbreak Hotel was unlike anything we’d heard before, it was the fact that he got banned on TV, he was sexy as F***. There was a HUGE story. The story idea isn’t new, we’re just telling it ourselves.”

[1:59] Dubber brings me into to talk about story telling – my story about ‘releasing a record with no money is WAY better than releasing a record and being £150K in debt on the release day‘.

[2:03] Burning Question #2 With all these online tools, how do you effectively target your music to a specific audience?

Dubber: “it’s all got more complex, but what you can do is customise everything. Take a big piece of paper and list all of the criteria of your audience, then work out how to connect with them. Understand the demographic, talk to your audience, ask them where they are. Your online strategy should not be the same as anyone else’s. The 2nd million dollar homepage didn’t work.”

Q: is there a danger we’ll be spending too much time trying stuff out and not enough time writing? Dubber: “try selectively, target your strategy, but experiment.” Tom: ‘write all the time, to write great songs, keep writing rubbish songs.’

write songs because they mean something to you“. Dubber, quoting Barry Jenkin “The best songs in the word are the song of someone’s inside on the outside” “People are hard-wired for narrative.”

Tom: “David Bowie’s Hunky Dory was part of a narrative, that would’ve communicated itself through a Myspace page.”

[2:17] Burning Question #3: How to exploit the full potential of the internet:

Dubber: “… next?

Q: “my phone rings now it’s EMi, offering a deal, should I take it?

Dubber:”if you want to flame and burn, take it. If you care about music, swear then hang up the phone

[2:28] Dubber: “Making money – almost everyone here will make more money if you give your music away.

Dubber: “you don’t have to do everything. Build your team. If you don’t want to do it, you won’t do it effectively.”

Tom: “we’ve talked about what you can do for your fans, but what can they offer you? My best ever tour manager was an eager gas-fitter and a fan.”

[3:01] 3 Audioboos from the break – the 1st two are vox-pops with people attending, the last is with Tom and Dubber:

[3:04] And we’re back in the room with some info for songwriters:

Q: “some of us are just songwriters. Most money has always been in the songwriting world.. but now we can’t get into publishing, how do we target the artists?”

Tom: “The song is king. It’s the song that’ll get you registered on the publisher radar. The hard thing is evaluating how good your stuff is. Does the song warrant the energy pushing it instead of writing more songs? Getting demos out there to get feedback, you’ll soon find out if your songs are great

Dubber: “write this down – Soundcloud and Bandcamp. Have somewhere that’s better than myspace for putting your songs up for listening to. You can send people that you talk to there to hear your music. It’s possible with myspace, but the UI is horrible. Myspace is broken

[3:11] Tom on radio-play: “Andrew is an expert in digital future, but there’s also the analogue present, which is live gigs and ‘live’ radio with a trad broadcaster. [details about Tom’s show] the BBC is doing it’s best to be part of the switch to the digital world. The BBC understand that the analogue world is coming to an end, as is the age of the big label. Previously, hype and record company interests would dominate playlists. [intro to BBC Introducing]”

Claire from BBC Introducing: “nearly every BBC station has an ‘introducing’ show. It’s there to find new artists. We want to work with you. It’s broadcast and live opportunities, festivals etc. All the BBC stages as fests come from the Introducing network. There’s a website – – your music is submitted to your local show via your postcode. Music is shared between the shows in the Introducing network. It’s worth getting in touch via the local stations. they have the first plays for most of the stuff that makes it to the national shows.

Tom: “we’re desperate for more urban music on 6Music. If a great song gets to BBC Gloucester, it’ll make it’s way to Huey or me or whoever at 6Music. You can upload tracks to the site. The more people listen to it the more it goes up in the ranking.”

[3:20] Claire: “if you upload your tracks, it goes to the show producers. Hoping to get that out to the TV producers too, and to Radio 3. One artist sent their music in, went to their local show, went via 6Music, then to Radio1, and now they’re played on there, and are heading for the festival stages.”

Tom: “I only listen to the stuff that comes through the webpage –

[discovering that it’s tricky to live-blog my own quotes when I’m talking]

Tom: “If you want to a DJ to be interested in you, be interested in them! Email with context, to the show, about the show” (reminds me of the Billy Bragg story, where he took a biryani to John Peel at the BBC, and got a play, and then a session, and then a career out of it).

Dubber: “It’s OK for people not to like your music. You might be crap. They might just not like it.”

[3:30] Tom: “the biggest failing of the music we don’t play is that the people making it don’t listen to any new music. It’s not about copying what’s new, it’s about something subtle and creative. It has to be something that’s in tune that’s out there” [I don’t agree with this at all, but it is interesting…]

Tom: “if you’re unaware of what else is going on, you’re not properly informing yourself properly. You need to understand the currents.

Dubber: “The extent to which you’re derivative will not get you noticed. if you just stick to ‘the craft’, you’ll make songs that are about as good as everyone else’s. It’s the unpredictable remarkable bit that counts. That’s what’s interesting about you. The magic spark. Surprise us.

Q: “when you’re choosing the songs to send out, how much of a track will be listened to?

Dubber:”You are not your best critic. Get friends to help

Tom: “get your band to help. You’re so much stronger working together.”

link to the Ning page –

[3:36] this is exhausting – if you’re ever live-blogging an event, get a team to do it 🙂

[3:42] here comes the wrap up… can I keep up with the best bits of this??

[quick announcement about tomorrow’s seminar by me at Imperial.]

“good advice – write a lot of rubbish songs” [laughter]
“be more creative in getting the music out there”
“going to team up with other musicians, build relationships”
“be more targeted in my communication for promotion”
“put more of my life story into my music. More personal”
“going to start using the people I know to help me. Building a team.”
“was great to meet other songwriters and hear their stories”
“going to think about how I fit with what’s out there, outside of my bubble”
“I feel a lot better about writing loads of shit songs”
“make more use of local radio to get stuff out there. and use the ning to connect”
“be more specific and targeted in my audience, and network more with musicians”
“inspired to try new unusual ways to promote”
“simplify my band strategy, plan more, delegate, narrow the focus”
“focus less on being financially stable and write more songs”
“take up the offers of friends to help”
“build a team, and learned that piracy is not the enemy”
“great to hear about creating communities.”
“will look for ways to target a niche market”
“I just feel reassured that I’m heading in the right direction, and have found some good people here”
“I want to concentrate on finding a collaborator, and will join the Ning”
“Going to use BBC Introducing”
“focus on being cutting edge”
“Be a bit more open and honest with fans, giving people more of a reason to find us”
“focus on local radio, via Introducing..”
“Great to meet other musicians, chat about their concerns, and talking to people in radio, finding out it’s easier than I thought”
“Learned not to be afraid to give away your music. Made me rethink it” [Tom: “have it for sale as well as for free – I make more on donations than I did from labels”]
“Have a good description of my music. I don’t have a short one”
“lots of useful info about local radio, and ‘what is my story?'”
“Renewed sense of positivity about my art”
“to write a killer song”
“To have a better relationship with my fan base. Quality is better than quality”
“great to hear about the mechanism of the BBC”
“building momentum on the radio – great info”
“targeting new avenues”
“feeling affirmed in asking for favours, but do it with context”
“changed my perception of being ‘unsigned’ – it’s good not a bad thing”
“I need to write more”.

[4:02] Tom: “I’ve loved it, I hope we can connect via the Ning address. Email me. Stay in touch.” … “It’s all about the song, and knowing what it really is that you want. But what you thought you want may not be the thing you really want.” [story of Posh Spice as a warning – it’s possible to just will it into being.]

Thankyou, and good night 🙂 [phew!]

12 Replies to “London Songwriting Week seminar with Andrew Dubber and Tom Robinson”

  1. Loving it. It’s almost like being there, but without hours on a bus. Or meeting anyone…

    Keep it up, Steve. From my perspective, it’s most important to capture the key points and nobody will mind if you leave a 15 minute gap because there’s nothing great to report. You are the editor. You are the gatekeeper. Etc.

    PS. Can I be a giraffe? 😉

  2. thanks Ben – I’m definitely going to be editing this. Was planning on streaming a lot more of it, but wifi at the ICA is dreadful, and Orange reception here is rubbish too.. so less video, more typing, sadly…

  3. so funny, took me a few minutes to realize I’d have to scroll down instead waiting for it to auto-update at the top, lol. Good to be part of this, great early-morning fodder for thought and great accompaniment for mic setup. (in the US) Thanks, Steve

  4. great live blogging! sounds like a great event! seems like anything involving andrew dubber has lots of valuable info-thanks everyone else too!

  5. That’s a brilliant job on the live-blogging. 🙂

    The part that resonates with me the most is the part about having the story. It really didn’t take me long to find my story: I’m broke. I have no money for gear, instruments, or software, so I’m struggling with writing my own programs, using Open Source, building my own electronics (mics and mic pres), and designing and building cheap instruments using common materials (found sound). You would actually be amazed at the sounds you can get out of some nylon cord, a PVC pipe, and a $2 piezo disc from Radio Shack.

    I do have a decent computer, and I sprang for a Zoom H4 field recorder for sample recording. That’s about it for the decent stuff. My space is about 100 square feet in the basement.

    Fun times.

    By the way, since it seems that you can no longer see my @replies to you on Twitter, due to their asinine policy change, I just wanted to say that “The Liquor Talking” remains my favorite Humphreys and Keen track. 🙂

  6. Yeah Tom did do quite a good ‘headmaster’ impression – despite claiming from the outset to not be a teacher!
    I’m sure that we all learned a great deal from this tremendously inspiring session.
    For those that weren’t there, you missed a great workshop … but at least you can read the highlights here! (Well done Steve).
    Keep on writing folks – even if they’re ‘bad songs’ (Tom says writing bad songs is OK!!).

  7. Yeah, this is really like being back there again! I thought the whole session was very informative and stimulating. But like you, i didn’t agree with everything said. I listen to new music all the time…and I still follow the charts, but i don’t necessarily get all my inspiration from that…in fact i don’t think it’s a bad thing to be inspired by the past…music from the 60s 70s seemed to be more…original. I’ve not heard many original artists in recent years. The sound i hear, coming thru loud n clear is…RETRO! Young artitst today are just emulating the sounds of the 60s, 70s and currently in vogue, the sounds of the 1980s.

    I’m so glad i went to the workshop tho’…and i met some interesting people. I’m hoping some collaborations might happen thru’ this site.

    Once i can sort out my lack of digital equipment i will join Soundcloud and Bandcamp.

    Trust me to always be the odd-one-out …i was only person in room who doesn’t own a computer!!

    Thanks for the workshop blog Steve!



  8. Hi Steve,

    This is great. You have inspired a number of people here in the States, like my father Rick Callier to begin blogging and performing live home-concerts. Cheers.


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