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.

Those of you’ve who’ve followed my career for a very long time will know that I was actually a journalist before I was a solo artist – I was writing for Bassist Magazine 2 years before I ever released an album under my own name. That was back in the late 90s. So the ‘reporting’ side of what’s going on with Amplified runs deep in my psyche. I’d hesitate to call what I’m doing ‘journalism’, just because I spend a lot of time these days hanging out with ‘proper’ journalists, fabulous journalists, and journalistic method is substantially different in approach to social-media methodology. Not to say that they can’t cross over, or that the skills from one don’t help in the other sphere, but there is a tangible difference. (Jemimah Knight – herself an excellent and inspiring journalist – wrote a fab blog post about this a while back…)

So, once I started playing solo, I had to develop a whole load of ancillary skills to enable me to do my ‘core’ business as well as I could – playing bass.

  • I learned about design (the hard way – I owe the world an apology for the over-abundance of comic sans on the cover of my second solo album 😉 ),
  • I learned about event organising,
  • I learned about distribution,
  • about collection agencies,
  • about dealing with the press from the other side…

And in all this I was driven by the same forces that were beginning to shape my music:

  • The desire to see just how much I could get away with on my own, and
  • An impetus to create spaces where people working together get to have equal ownership of what they are working on, where everyone benefits, everyone learns, everyone wins.

In music, the former was clearly the objective when looping and layering my bass into mini-symphonic works. The latter found its ultimate expression in the Recycle Collective – a monthly music night I put on for over a year that brought together improvising musicians for some of the greatest gigs I’ve ever been a part of. No one was told what to play, how to play or even when to play. We just got together with the aim of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

Fast forward a couple of years, and all of those principles, skills and lessons are now being applied to myriad social media projects. The ongoing experiment of finding the people who enjoy my music via social media channels is going great guns, making friends and finding ‘fans’ via Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, YouTube etc. etc. and on each of them, I’m able to promote the work of musicians whose music I love, as well my own. Everybody wins.

Working alongside Toby, Lucy, Joanne, Mike, Christian and Benjamin on the Amplified events is a lot like being in a really great band
– lots of improv, some fascinating gigs, way too many tech-toys, and everything getting done by the person best equipped to do it at the time. Hence me getting asked to fix a bus with a power-cut while at the Civil Service Live conference last week – the power on a coach is pretty much the same as on a boat; find the fuse box, flip the switches of the circuit that’s tripped. Job done.

Taking what I’ve learned in the last decade and applying it to any area of life where social media has enabled people to cut out the middle men and talk direct to their customers /end-users /partners /collaborators /etc. is a wonderful privilege. The same curiosity that makes me wonder if it’s possible to make engaging, deep, music with just a bass and some toys makes me wonder if it’s possible to make politics more truly democratic by using social media tools to talk directly to politicians. And if it’s possible to help charitable organisations tell their stories more effectively, and cheaply, by talking direct rather than through the press and through printed newsletters.

It’s one big long prototype of an idea. A proof of concept experiment that’s all about building up evidence by JFDI. And it’s all connected. So I hope the rest of my weird life proves at least partially as interesting as the music 🙂

(the photo at the top is by Benjamin Ellis )

© 2008 Steve Lawson and developed by Pretentia. | login