Why Bandcamp: Part Two

Yesterday I wrote about what Bandcamp offers me as a music fan. Today it’s all about how I use it as an artist.

First some background: My solo career started before the age of download sales. My first 6 albums were all pressed as CDs, and sold via a range of online eCommerce solutions – from a shop set up by my friend Tim to help his friends sell their CDs, to CDBaby, back when it was offering a truly revolutionary solution for independent artists trying to work out how best to leverage the internet for global reach. The streaming media of choice was Real Audio – generally terribly low res, but it was the stuff that generated enough interest in my music to result in me turning those live recordings into my first album! When download sales became a thing and CDBaby worked out a deal to get our music onto iTunes, I did that too, and slowly onto the other emerging download stores – Amazon, Google Play, eMusic… I also had a self-hosted download store of my own, and mistakenly sold 128k MP3s from it… I was learning all along and made a number of fairly heinous mistakes.

Then in 2008 Bandcamp came along. I still had my hand-rolled sales site, so it took me a few months to sign up, but from mid 2009, I started selling my music on there. Immediately, the possibilities became apparent. The first things I uploaded were my existing albums, and added CD sales too, but then in mid 2010, Lo and I were on a house concert tour in the US, I’d just bought a MOTU soundcard, and we’d worked out how to multitrack record all our gigs (Geek facts: I was running Reaper on a Hackintosh’d Dell MINI 10v, and recording EIGHT TRACKS!) As the tour progressed, I was mixing the live recordings on off-days, and uploaded the first six tracks of what straight away promised to be our first updateable album. Live So Far ended up being 10 tracks long, captured a number of lovely spontaneous musical happenings along the way, and helped fund the tour as it progressed. When we eventually made a limited edition CD run, we sold that on Bandcamp too.

My first solo album to come out on Bandcamp was 11 Reasons Why 3 Is Greater Than Everything. I experimented with pricing that scaled over time, with free download codes, and found that there was a direct link between streaming numbers and sales – the more people heard it, the more were likely to buy it. So I just kept directing people to Bandcamp to hear it – no 30 second previews, no tricking people into buying shit they might not like. Just ‘here, fall in love with this…’ – and they did. Because, as we know, music is the one artform you’re more likely to spend money on it the more you experience it – listening to an album a lot so rarely causes us to get bored of it. Listening to it a lot is evidence that it means a lot to us, so encouraging people to do that invests it with increasing levels of value, not decreasing. This flies in the face of music marketing logic, but the clever people at Bandcamp understood it and we’ve been leveraging it ever since. The flipside is, of course, that a ton of people have been able to audition my music to see if it was for them and decide not to buy it, but that’s great too – I have no interest in subsisting on the poor choices of people conned by duplicitous marketing…

My next album was another live album – recorded in Minneapolis, Believe In Peace was the first album I put out exclusively on Bandcamp. In all honesty, I think I intended to put it out on all the other platforms, I just never got round to it. I was having way too much fun getting to know the people who were discovering the music.
This was possible because Bandcamp really values the relationship between artists and listeners. It has the option to have an email link on your page, it gathers together the email addresses of everyone who buys your stuff, allowing you to stay in touch with them via whatever platform works best for you. It has built in ‘tweet this’ links for albums and at the sales completion stage, and it has fan collections where you can see everything that someone has bought.

The value of this is SO much greater for niche artists than a bunch of algorithmic aggregate data. Because it’s about forming relationships not gathering information. I know what my listeners like because I follow the fan account of everyone who subscribes to me. I find a LOT of music because of their discoveries getting passed on to me. I can see what really works for them in my catalogue by how they review it – and in the stats portion of the Bandcamp For Artists App – or in the case of the subscribers by how they comment on it in the subscriber discussion thread. They’re real people not data points that represent financial transactions from months ago. I have no idea who it is that buys my music on iTunes each month (I get about £20 every couple of months from them) – I don’t know who they are or what they like. But with Bandcamp, I get to learn a bit about them.

And I get to enrich the experience of my listeners with extra info. Every Bandcamp album page has a section for a description that I fill up with sleeve-notes – I accompany everything I release with an essay. Sometimes I write track-by-track explanations of what’s going on, and I bundle those with the download as a PDF and include in the lyric field for each track. Everything gets uploaded as 24bit audio, and the listener can decide what resolution and file type works for them, knowing that whatever they get, it’ll have all the correct metadata and info with it, and they won’t be left having to pay more for a high res file like it’s 2003 or something…

Because there are few digital things that annoy me as much as buying music with either messed up – or no – metadata. Selling WAV files is completely insane, given how hard it is to attach info to them, or embed artwork (can you embed artwork in a WAV? I’ve never ever had one arrive with track data embedded, let alone artwork) – FLAC sounds identical (is genuinely lossless) but has fields for all the info you could ever need.

I occasionally get asked why I don’t run my own download site, but having never ever seen one where the experience for the buyer is even a quarter as good as Bandcamp, it strikes me as a really bizarre question. Running a successful ecommerce business if you want to sell multiple file types and resolutions with accurate metadata, streaming possibilities, payment options and have the audience trust what you’re doing is such a massive, massive task, there’s really no reason to think that it’ll be worth the 10% you’ll ‘save’ by not having Bandcamp do it. But you’ll also almost certainly make less money. Because all the stuff I said yesterday about how I find music applies to how people find me. Bandcamp is such an incredible discovery platform. It makes it so easy to share music, to find things, hear them, follow a trail of connections, browse what other people are listening to… You’ll see the players littered throughout this post and the last – imagine trying to code all the possible variations yourself. Imagine hosting all that bandwidth, imagine trying to build a platform in which your fans can show off how much they love your music on a page of their own. You can’t imagine doing it, because what you’d be imaging is Bandcamp, and it already exists.

Five years ago, I realised that my shift to all-improv shows was producing a crazy amount of release quality music. That set-up I’d started with in 2009 that allowed me to multitrack gigs had been refined with every single gig, getting better and better recordings, getting better at mixing… I did a mastering course to learn how to make the end product better, and in 2013 released a 10 album set of live recordings (all exclusively on Bandcamp), and was able to do a presale for them, sell the USB Stick physical bundle, and offer download codes to my collaborators so they could use them to add value to other sales, or just sell full sets of download codes at gigs. The pricing was wholly variable, and we could do discount codes and sales and free download days and…

Well, I’d started to meet up with Ethan Diamond, the founder of Bandcamp, every January while in California, and he mooted their idea to launch a subscription service. I was asked what kind of features I’d want, and I was then invited to be one of the three artists who trialled it, and I properly found the home for my musical output. I didn’t want what some of the subscription services were offering in terms of charging my subscribers more if I released more, instead I wanted to be able to increase the sense of value for them over time if I happened to make more great music. Gratitude is the essential currency of the indie music economy. People will pay for things they are grateful for. I didn’t want to be releasing music for the sake of it, just music that was amazing, so the actual promise of the subscription is about a third of what I actually put out in a year – the extra 200% on top is there because it deserves to be there, not because I feel obliged to release it…

But I now get the economic latitude to mix and master every quality gig that I do, release it and tell the story of its genesis. I get to throw it out to the subscribers for discussion, offer them exclusive video, essays about the motivation and technology behind the music, and even eBooks about playing music, or my novel. It’s my ever-expanding digital box set, but without the crazy premium cost that comes with reissues of classic albums.

The community of subscribers is now big enough that they almost cover our rent for the entire year. I’m about 30 subscribers short of covering it all at this point. That for me is a sustainable practice. I’m not having to pay for billboards or Facebook ads, or trying to get radio play for particular tracks or promoting a single with a promo tour… I get to make albums that I’ll never be able to play live, release them and get on with the next one. I recently put out three albums in a month, because I did three gigs that were really, really good. Subscribers got them all, and even though not many of them had time to digest all that music there and then, it’s theirs for good. They own it, whether or not they remain as subscribers. And we get to revisit not only the music, but the story that those three gigs tell in aggregate. John Coltrane would record multiple albums in a week, Miles Davis recorded Agartha and Pangea on the same day, but they were released detached from that context – presented purely as ‘albums’ not as episodes in a longer story…

I’m not trying to get rich, I’m not trying to be famous, I don’t want the audience of hundreds of thousands of listeners that I’d need to make Spotify sustainable. I really don’t. I love having a community of people who are invested in what I’m doing that I can talk to about it, that I recognise when they turn up to gigs, that I get birthday messages from, who make suggestions about what the music means to them…

Back in mid 2016, one of my subscribers sent me a set of incredibly detailed notes he’d taken about how he understood what I was doing as an improvisor and performer. It was meticulous and filled with care and attention, and he’d written it while in hospital, I still get emotional thinking about it. He died not that long after he sent it, but the sense that somehow I’d ended up in this space where the people who find the music not only get to enjoy it but may want to spend time thinking how it represents new ways to think about music making and why we release music was such an inspiring one. The feedback I get from my subscribers is irrevocably woven into the way I make music, and the permission I get from them to continue on this path is a motivator like no other.

Bandcamp is the mechanism that makes all of this possible. It doesn’t force it to happen, and I’ve not found that many other musicians who’ve managed to leverage its affordances to the same degree (I know a lot of people who sell more music than me on there, but not as many whose music life is as heavily entwined – maybe my commitment to it as a music listener as well has helped build those relationships…)

I can’t at this point imagine wanting to release music any other way. I’d rather wait til someone eventually finds a way to buy it on Bandcamp than pander to whatever preconceived notions they have about where they want to find music. The idea that we have to be ‘everywhere’ in order to reach our audience is only true if you don’t see the experience of your music as concretely wedded to the context – the words, the connection, the artwork, even the delivery mechanism. So if you currently buy music on iTunes, that’s OK, eventually you may decide that your desire to investigate my music is strong enough that working out what Bandcamp does is worthwhile. But if it doesn’t, I don’t feel any burning need to water down the experience of my music in order to put it out in an inferior form in a worse context.

I’d love it if you subscribed to me on Bandcamp. The current offering is (I think) 47 albums the moment you sign up, and then everything I release in the next 12 months – go check it out, and have a listen to the albums throughout this article to see if any of it takes your fancy. If it does, come join the party – you’ll be a tangible part of the sustainability revolution.

Why Bandcamp – Part One

It’s no secret that I really love Bandcamp. As a fan and as an artist, a huge part of my music life is spent listening to music, finding new music, buying music and of course selling music – almost all on Bandcamp. But it’s also the mechanism by which I get to email my audience, post updates to my subscribers, share videos and even eBooks. It’s why I can remaster anything at any time, change the price on anything, bundle things together and release everything at HD without having to put it on some nonsense specialist site that charges more for 24bit files.

So, I’m going to a couple of posts about just how and why I love it, starting with my experience as a music listener. I’ll preface this by saying that I’m not going to argue that the music listening experience is tangibly better, at least on the surface, than Spotify or Apple Music – the listener experience of streaming apps, at least as it pertains to finding and listening to music is pretty great (and the presence of acres of classic albums is in stark contrast to the new music focus of Bandcamp). But there’s no economic model there that works for niche music unless you use it to cross promote touring/merch/sales elsewhere/patreon, and they really don’t foreground the relationship between artists and audiences, and that REALLY doesn’t work for me. So I’m going to steer away from doing comparisons with streaming platforms for the most part, if that’s OK…

So let’s jump in with what Bandcamp gives me as a listener. When I first started buying music on Bandcamp, there was no app and the driving USP was HD downloads. With the advent of the app in 2013, Bandcamp added a whole other level of portability to both carrying your Bandcamp collection with you and to discovery. The collection part is pretty simple – everything you’ve bought on Bandcamp is there in the app, and can be streamed. Anything you’ve streamed is cached, so you can also use it on planes/the Underground, and you can either search your own collection to find things or sort the list by date added, a-z, most played or ‘history’ (what you’ve most recently played).

For each album, as well as being able to play it, you can access sleeve notes, if the artist has added any, and lyrics, read reviews by other people who’ve bought it, add your own review, browse the rest of the artist’s catalogue, and buy those – for yourself or as gifts for other people. What’s more, your collection is public on the Bandcamp site or in the app via your avatar under any album you’ve bought. So people can browse your record collection as they might when coming to your house, and (this is a really lovely touch) if they buy it after finding it through you, you get a ‘hey! you made something awesome happen!’ email from Bandcamp telling you who bought what. Which is just wonderful, and offers some useful data on just how much internal discovery within the site is worth if you can encourage your listeners to review things and make a bit of a fuss about their Bandcamp collections…

The other pure joy for me of the app is how it handles subscriptions – any time one of the artists I’m subscribed to releases a new album it’s immediately there in the app ready for me to stream, as well as available for HD download. Truth be told, I do a huge amount of my listening these days via the Bandcamp app – the streaming quality is easily good enough not to be distracting, and I just don’t get that much time to hook up my hard drive with my iTunes folder on it to a DAC and speakers… But I cherish that those HD versions are there, for good. They are mine for ever. This isn’t rented access to a bunch of metadata overlaid on a ginormous catalogue by a company lobbying to pay the artists as little as they can possibly get away with.

Instead, it’s a service that values ownership, values connecting listeners with the artists whose music soundtracks our lives, does discovery by a range of mechanisms that subvert the bland top-heaviness of an unfiltered popularity contest, but instead focus on what they describe as ‘high friction sharing’ – sending you an email digest every few days of thing things that your friends have Actually Paid For. Anyway, back to subscriptions. I get to hear from the people I’m subscribed to directly in the app. They can post messages and video and photos to either accompany the releases or just to fill me in on what’s going on, and I can comment on those posts and offer encouragement or join a discussion. It’s a joy to carry these extensive catalogues of work around with me and get to know the work of lesser known artists with the same level of detail and obsession as is often reserved for ‘legendary’ acts.

I spend hundreds of pounds a year on music, the vast majority of it on Bandcamp. A lot of what I buy I could get from a streaming service, but I would then a) not have it to download, and would be paying the company each month for the joy of having potential access to it all, and b) would be guaranteeing that the only artists whose sustainability I was contributing to were the ones I listened to pretty much non-stop, to the exclusion of all others – while my subscription fee also subsidised royalty payments to the world’s richest pop stars.

Buying albums is a model based on a bygone era when recorded music came exclusively in a container, limited by the length of audio that would fit on your format of choice. But it did give us a way of pragmatically agreeing on  a rough per-listener value for an hour of (repeatable) music. Against that, we can think about how much new music we have time for, and how we go about making sure that the artists we care about get to keep making it. We can release it in ways that seem like a total bargain, but still make us literally hundreds of times more than equivalent interactions on Streaming platforms.

In short, Bandcamp

  • Connects me to the artists,
  • Gives me the tools to interact with them and with the music in friendly ways,
  • Makes it possible to share without forcing adverts on the people I’m sharing it with or making them sign up for an account,
  • Gives me the music to archive long term,
  • And means I’m on the artists’ mailing list whether or not Bandcamp ever goes supernova (you know that if Spotify ever folds, everything you’ve curated there is gone, right? Renting access is great for convenience, but not so good for digital ecology).
  • Provides an open and transparent model that means I KNOW the vast majority of the money I’m paying is going to the artist, and the rest is building the most robust and artist-friendly environment for music sustainability the internet has yet had.

Anyway, the invitation to be a part of the ongoing viability of the music I love by artists I care about, and to discover more of it through the actual taste of the people I follow on there via my fan account (as opposed to a bunch of links they might share to music by their friends or other bands they’re doing promo-swaps with) is an amazing and beautiful thing, and dovetails really well with my own focus on needing music by artists who are trying to make sense of the world as it is, rather than spending my music listening time wallowing in nostalgia in the vague hope that the soundtrack to my teens will stave off the dread of my ever encroaching sense of mortality.

Nope, I want to connect with what people are making now, songs about the world, music inspired by all that we can do and all that we can see. And to make more of it possible. I tweeted a while ago that on Bandcamp, the value proposition is best understood as as ‘buying this album’ but ‘making the next one possible’. Arguments about what music is ‘worth’ are less interesting than questions about how we make more of the music we care about possible. Tomorrow, I’ll write about what Bandcamp means for me as an artist – the flip side of this equation… Til then, have a listen to some of the music dotted throughout this piece, or have a rummage in my Bandcamp fan collection.

How I Use The MOD Duo Pedal

Having posted a new gear page the other day, I’ve been thinking how best to represent the complexity of how I use my whole set up. The plan is to blog about different aspects of it that deserve expansion, and then link to the these blog posts from the gear page. Hopefully it’ll shed a little more light on how some of this stuff works.

I will say that the fullest exploration of my pedal set-up so far is in two of the courses that I’ve filmed for scottsbasslessons.com – the looping one and the pedals and effects one. If you’re a member there, make sure you watch those lessons!

So our first post here is going to be about the MOD Devices Duo. For almost 20 years, my main effects processor was a Lexicon MPX-G2 – despite all the leaps forward in processing power and modelling technology, until I came across the Duo, I hadn’t found anything that felt like a significant step forward from that. What I love the most about the Duo is that the signal path is configurable in any imaginable routing combination. Here’s my main pedalboard: 

If you click on it and have a look at how the signal flows through it, you’ll see a couple of interesting things – firstly the octaver runs parallel to all the overdrive, envelope filtering and modulation – so the sub octave remains clean no matter what is happening to the normal octave signal. There are definitely times when running an octaver into an overdrive can sound really cool, and I have the MXR Sub Octave Bass Fuzz on my pedal board before the Duo to deal with that. Here, I have an amazing clean sub bass signal available no matter what level of craziness is happening on top.

Then, you can see that the Shiro shimmer reverb – bottom right, pale blue – is in another side chain, with a switch before it to turn the signal going to it on and off, but not to cut off the reverb. It’s set to 60 seconds of decay, so if I send a signal into it, then cut it off, the reverb continues to sound for a whole minute before disappearing. This means I can use it to set up big synth-like chords and then play melodies or chords against it, without having to loop the whole ambient part first. I can have it evolve over time, making for much more complex interaction – I can send individual notes from whatever else I’m playing into the 60 second shimmer verb, becoming part of the harmony of that ambient pad.

The only pedal after the Duo in my pedal set up is the MXR Reverb, which I actually use in a similar way to the Shimmer verb – I have it set up in ‘buffered bypass’ mode, so that when I turn it off, any reverb tail that’s current sounding will continue to play and gradually fade, and I can continue to play without affecting that. It’s like it has a parallel path within it, and I can switch the signal to go through it or past it. A very very useful setting that exists on a number of time-based effects pedals though not all.

I have other patches that use this process in far more complex ways, which maybe I’ll write about and screengrab in the future, but for now, hopefully that gives some clue as to what’s going on. The Duo offers so many possibilities, with its library of several hundred pedals that can be inserted into any board that all come free with it (there are a handful of paid pedals, many of which I’ve bought and are incredible, but the vast majority are free). combining them, and even being able to have synths in the same patch as direct signal processing, makes the Duo easily my favourite multi-FX unit I’ve ever used.

I control it with the Keith McMillen Softstep 2 foot controller, and have 8 buttons that I can assign to turn things on and off, as well as one continuous controller pedal for wah, volume and reverb level… (the Softstep is also controlling the Looperlative, and could also control any other MIDI think I might add to the set-up!) I’ve also got my old phone set up as a MIDI-over-USB controller, but haven’t got that hooked up at the moment! There are only so many things I can think about at one time!

I hope that’s a useful explanation. If you want to hear this board in action, check out my video for the track Divinity DT & Daniel  which uses this exact board, or the one for The Field Of Strategic Possibilities which uses it for the first 7 mins, before I switch to a different pedal board (you can see where that happens in the video 🙂 ) – both of these tunes, and 47 (FORTY SEVEN!) other albums are available from my Bandcamp subscription the moment you sign up… There’s an awful lot of applied signal processing to explore there 🙂

New Podcast Interview at Music Tech Fest

Those of you who’ve been around here for a while will remember that I used to do interesting music economy stuff with a gang called New Music Strategies. NMS was originally Andrew Dubber‘s blog from the mid-noughts, on which he launched his utterly ground-breaking ‘Music In The Digital Age‘ eBook. Around 2009 he decided to use the NMS banner to launch what was loosely termed a consultancy, but was just a collective identity for a bunch of people doing smart thinking about the music economy. Our manifesto, such as it was, was ‘more music by more people in more places’, and aside from speaking at conferences and developing each other’s ideas, one of the most tangible NMS outputs was the NMS Podcast that Dubber and I had from 2011-13.

Fast forward to this year, Dubber is now Director of MTF, living in Sweden and post-academia. I’m knee-deep in PhD-land and swimming upstream in the new music economy via the exploration of subscription as a model for sustainability and improvisation in the age of streaming media…

So it was a really good time for a podcast catch-up, and as luck would have it, Dubber now hosts the rather brilliant weekly MTF Podcast. It’s properly recorded – our episode and many others were recorded at the 100th UnConvention in Salford this year – unlike our wine-pizza-ZoomH1-and-conversation approach back in the NMS days, and the result is probably the most succinct document of what I’m up to that has yet been produced (the ScottsBassLessons podcast from 2016 is also worth a listen)

So click here to listen to me on the MTF Podcast. And don’t forget to subscribe while you’re there – it’s a great listen every week.

I hope one day Dubber and I get to revive the podcast – he’s one of my best friends, and I doubt I’d be doing what I’m doing now if it wasn’t for his influence and encouragement back in the late 00s. We filled in for each other on speaking gigs and spent countless hours exploring what the digital age had to offer musicians, and the challenges it presents. In the final analysis, his influence on hundreds of thousands of musicians in the nascent social media era changed the way we do what we do. That he and I got to swap ideas and refine them while having an awful lot of fun is one of the most enjoyable things in my adult life 🙂

Catching up with LEYlines Albums So Far

As announced yesterday, there’s a new LEYlines album arriving in the next week or so (actual release dates are bourgeois and should be rejected 😉 )

band photo of the trio LEYlinesIt’ll be available initially via two mediums – to my Bandcamp subscribers (click here to subscribe via Bandcamp now), and via Phi Yaan-Zek’s Bandcamp page. This is how we’ve done all the LEYlines recordings – I get them for subscribers and Phi does the public release, sometimes with a limited edition CD run, sometimes without…

So let’s recap the albums so far – here’s our first album, recorded in 2015:

This was the first time we’d ever properly played together collectively – having taught alongside each other for a couple of years at this point, we had really done much playing as a trio at all. We did a short improv thing for the students early on, but never an entire performance, and certainly not in the studio. We had limited tech with us, and Phi had no guitar amp, so the sounds were reamped in the studio. There’s some minimal editing going on here, and Phi overdubbed keyboards in the same spirit as the original improvisations, but this was the start of something special, as well as reflecting the freshness that can happen when you don’t have your usual pile of technology.

Next up was LEYlines II, from 2016:

This was another improvised-in-the-studio-recording, but this time we had all of the toys, Andy was in a separate drum room, Phi and I were in the control room, and on a couple of occasions, Andy didn’t even know we’d hit record… This goes to some really strange places, and shows the breadth of what can happen when our different musical worlds collide…

On the same day, Phi and I recorded The Quiet After The Drums when Andy went to pick up his kids from school… This is only available currently as a subscriber exclusive, but maybe Phi will do a bundle with the upcoming releases and offer it as part of that too 🙂

Next up from the LEYlines stable was Over Time – a live duo album from Andy and I – this was initially a subscriber release, but is now public, and not part of the subscriber back catalogue – this happens with a lot of the collaborations. They go to the current subscribers at the point of release, but aren’t bundled with future sign-ups. So you need to sign up ASAP to get everything.

Which brings us to the last LEYlines album – LEYlines III, which was recorded live at The Swan in Stourport when we opened for an evening with Neil Murray – Neil is the legendary bassist with Whitesnake and Black Sabbath (amongst many others) and was playing some tracks and talking about his careeer. A pretty odd setting for an improv trio (at least, for those who don’t know about Neil’s impeccable 70s jazz-rock credentials) but the recording came out really well, and clearly a wall of dudes in Whitesnake t-shirts acted as a good audience backdrop for us to play to… 🙂

So this summer, we’ve got LEYlines IV, V and VI on the way – if you subscribe now, you’ll get them all on the day of release direct from me. If not, they’ll be available as individual albums from Phi’s Bandcamp, where you can buy the albums above too if you want to catch up… Right now, LEYlines I and III are also available in the subscription bundle, so you’ll get those too if you sign up today. BARGAIN!

Blogging As An Act Of Defiance In An Age Of Social Media Manipulation

So this website finally had an 11 year overdue overhaul. Total redesign and optimisation. If you need yours sorting out, talk to Thatch, who did this one – he did such a great job. Have a rummage around to behold the goodness and read all of the words.

There’s a bit of me that feels like announcing a website overhaul in 2019 is like shouting ‘hey, check out my MySpace page!’ or putting my ICQ number in my Twitter bio, but we desperately need some push-back against the kind of bullshit that goes on social media, and by that, I don’t just mean ‘there are Nazis on Twitter and Fake News pages on Facebook’, I mean ‘social media algorithms reward us with attention for being blunt, sensationalist, aggressive, shouty and sloganeering‘. So worse than just nazis being there is that it’s built to push us all towards confrontation, to react not reflect, to argue not discuss, to punch each other with nonsense opinions instead of collaboratively researching stuff. All the shit that leads us to Trump and Brexit

So yes, of course Twitter/FB should ban the fash, but if the entire model is set up to gift attention to people with shouty opinions and misleading headlines, we’re all the worse for having to engage with it. At which point, having your own website is an act of defiance. Writing long-form without the dopamine hit of immediate likes and shares and comments, having a comment section that doesn’t reward those commenting with that same load of bullshit, it’s just a space to expand on ideas.

So, yeah, go overhaul your neglected website/blog – we’re all here slaving away in the Zuckerberg Saltmines, churning out ‘content‘ that gets ‘monetised‘. And we think we’re smart if we have a strategy to monetise it, even if that strategy involves capitulating to the horrible terms of engagement that are promoted (man, the tragic irony of this starting out as me waffling on like this on Facebook when I could have been writing it here as a blog post on a site I own… FML)

…anyway, we need spaces to be ourselves, to be quiet, thoughtful, nuanced, unsure, to tell stories & not be baited into shouting at terrible politicians as though they’ll change their minds due to informed snark.

So, if you’re blogging on a regular or semi-regular basis, post a link in the comments here. I’m going to give Feedly another try and see if curating a diverse bunch of daily reads by thoughtful people is even possible. And if you’re a blog reader, grab the feed for this blog from https://feeds.feedburner.com/SteveLawson

BTW, there’s a lot of this theme that gets explored in the new MusicTechFest podcast that came out today, an interview with me that could be subtitled Small Is Beautiful. musictechfest.net/podcast035/  give it a listen 🙂

New LEYLines Album Coming Soon!

So it’s been a busy few months for solo work – just yesterday, I added two new tracks to an album called ‘Stepping Stones‘ – one of the joys of the subscription model is that I can make more of my process public, and albums like this are a place to gather together the new music that is leading towards becoming a new album. Often, artists will record music then sit on it for weeks or even months before they make a judgement about whether it’s good enough for whatever project it is that they are working on. Here, I’m able to upload those things that I’m considering for the consideration of my subscribers, if that’s interesting to them.

So Stepping Stones is three tracks that I’ve recorded so far while thinking about what this year’s solo studio album might be. They’re recorded exactly the same way as the live albums – all live, no edits, but obviously don’t have the presence of the audience as a factor in the music. Improvisation in front of an audience is a very vulnerable thing, in that the music is entirely dependent on the permission given by the audience to make it (hence the reason I’m looking at this for my PhD!). In the studio, the presence of the audience is actually the conception of the audience as I imagine them. And for me, that’s the subscribers. So I make the music I want to hear, but the latitude that the subscription model offers me to not be working about marketability or how it’ll work on the radio or in Spotify playlists is a very freeing thing. Paradoxically, by relying on the audience’s permission, I end up freer to pursue my own curiosity.

Which brings up to LEYlines – my trio improv project with the great Andy Edwards and Phi Yaan-Zek. We’ve got a number of recordings lined up and ready to go, including LEYlines IV – the first half of our gig last year at Tower Of Song here in Birmingham. We’ve split the gig into two separate albums just because we can. It’s a pretty long chunk of music, so spreading it out makes a lot of sense.

It’ll be released via Phi’s Bandcamp page, and to my subscribers, BUT it won’t be part of the subscriber back-catalogue. So you’ll have to be signed up before it comes out in order to get it. That’ll go for each of the collaborative albums I’m releasing this summer – there are three LEYlines albums, and more music from me, Daniel Berkman and Artemis from our 2014 tour that has already yielded Seeing Sound. Each of these albums will be given to subscribers – it’ll be yours to keep for ever, as a download and in your Bandcamp collection for streaming from the web or the app – but it won’t become part of the vast quantity of music that new subscribers get when they sign up. Miss this, and you’ll have to buy it separately if you want this.

There’s been a large amount of new music in the last couple of months – it’s been a fertile and experimental time for me, with three live albums recorded and released in a month, and my subscribers at various stages of catching up with it all. It’s fine – the joy of the Bandcamp subscription is that you’re not renting access to a catalog that at some point in the future disappears. All of the music is yours, so there’s no time limit on when you have to listen to it buy – it’s a pre-pay model for Steve’s Every Expanding Digital Box Set, and gives you access to a bunch of other stuff as well, most notably the occasional eBook and the ongoing commentary about how and why all of this music exists!

So if you want to get in on that, head to stevelawson.bandcamp.com/subscribe to find out what it all entails. The user experience of streaming tech is really good, but as an economic model, it offers precious little to niche, experimental music. The subscription is a sustainable model that has moved on from the rather bogus idea that an album’s-length of music is ‘worth’ £10, and instead looks to find a funding model that makes the continued music-making possible. Please join us 🙂

New Album Out Today – The Field Of Strategic Possibilities

With the brand new recording of Sunday night’s gig being released to subscribers today, I thought I’d put the sleevenotes here as a blog post, as an insight into the process of making it and some of the thoughts behind it. With each album, I do a series of subscriber-only posts explaining the titles and giving some other background info on the albums, but here are the actual sleevenotes. If you want to find out more about getting the music, head to stevelawson.bandcamp.com/subscribe

                                                         o^0^o

So, here we have the third album of the month! Recorded May, 2019 at Tower Of Song in Birmingham. It was another gig with Lobelia – I think our duo gigs make for a really interesting context for solo playing – maybe the knowledge that there’s going to be something a little more pop happening means I can get a little more strange? Who knows…

Anyway, as the third of three gigs in a month, I had a desire to go somewhere else with the music. As an improvisor there’s an eternal dialectic of sameness and difference that I’ve talked about elsewhere – the bits of what you play that constitute your vocabulary, your set of preferences for areas to explore, sounds to make, a harmonic and melodic language that you’re building on. This exists across pretty much all forms of improvised music, whether idiomatic or not. In my case, I see it as pan-idiomatic, so the bits that fit into a particular style are subject to the same sameness and difference considerations as anything else – so a different kind of hip hop beat have familiarity as hip hop but novelty in the change of groove.

And that process of experiencing ‘sameness’ as familiarity with a particular dispensation towards music making rather than as ‘the performance of a composition’ or ‘the rote repetition of a bunch of musical ideas’ seems pretty key from an audience point of view, and one that is hugely magnified when everything is recorded and released. If these gigs were just a tour, I don’t think anyone came to more than one of them, so I could’ve played almost identical music across the three shows and no-one’s experience of it except mine would’ve been impacted by the sameness… There would’ve been a tangible impact on the complexity of the music if I’d consciously set out to repeat ideas (repetition pretty much always leads to simplification for me, given my lack of current interest in composing complex music and the consequential reliance on recalling elements of another improvised piece, rather than the focussed attention required to learn and practice complex composed music)

But the recording process – the thing that brought us here to this release – means that what comes before is part of what is now. We hear in relation not just to what is on its own, but how it stands as another episode in a longer story. How it works as part of the mini story-arc of this month’s releases. Putting out three albums in a month is a bizarre thing to do – on par with the decision to release everything that Daniel Berkman and I recorded across two years of touring. And that closeness in time certainly causes us to condense our sense of them as a subset of the longer narrative arc of the subscriber release project.

So The Field Of Strategic Possibilities – a phrase borrowed from Michel Foucault (and an idea not without its own problems) is a reference to the fact that this music springs from a complex web of possible happenings that are shaped positively and negatively, that have valence with the friendships in the room, the acoustics, my own restlessness, my caffeine intake (!), the journey to the gig (if I arrive late and have to set up in a hurry it unequivocally alters the music that happens after it)… A whole massive field of possibilities against which decisions are made. The strategic part is only one part – there’s a cultural backdrop, a perception of what is and isn’t communicable as intention, an aesthetic of chaos and complexity that makes sense and a line that crosses into something that feels less meaningful to me in relation to you… A million parameters that bring us to here.

And now it’s fixed in time. Only it’s not, because every time you hear it, it means something else. And the second time you hear it is completely different to the first, moving from revelation to remembrance. From there on it, the remembrance is fed in new ways and the context shifts, but that first step from novelty to nostalgia is a transformative one, and one that distances you from the experience of everyone who was there at the gig.

I was talking on Twitter recently with Beardyman about the fact that sometimes things that are great in shows aren’t great as recordings (and vice versa – I’ve had things that felt really off on a gig that were amazing and greatly surprised me when I listened back!) – the Jazz Cafe gig I did with Beardyman, Andy Gangadeen and Gary Lucas was one such gig – an incredible live experience (the majority of people I spoke to after said it was one of the most amazing gigs they’d ever seen), but for some reason, didn’t hit that same high as a recording… That’s OK. It in no way diminishes the gig.

These three albums haven’t been released as part of a challenge, there are no points for being prolific. Just make the best music you can, and if that means you take 10 years to make an album – like Phi Yaan-Zek’s extraordinary project from last year – that’s great, though it’s going to be harder to fund it.

But I want to thank you for subscribing to this stuff and making it possible. The latitude to release anything that is worthwhile, that is meaningful, and not have to take – as Miles Davis did with Pangaea and Agharta – two recordings from the same day and release them a year apart, is an extraordinary blessing, it’s freeing to be able to listen to every piece of music as a worthwhile event, rather than as a marketable commodity.

Here’s to the next episode…

New Effects Course at ScottsBassLessons.com

Yesterday, a course that Scott and I filmed last year went live on SBL – titled ‘The Essential Guide To Bass Effects with Steve Lawson’. 

The course is broken up into effect types, and is a broad look at what each of the effect types do and some ideas for combining them. We talk about the influence that effect order has on your sound, why it’s often important for bass sounds to have the dry signal as well as the processed one, why there’s no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ pedal for any one type of effect, and an exploration of what’s actually going on with each effect type. 

What it doesn’t have is ‘here’s how to set this pedal to get this sound’ type demos. Partly because those kind of product demo videos are available in their thousands on YouTube, it’s also because the single most important thing you can do to your music with effects pedals is to experiment, try things out, and the more general guidelines for how to understand what a pedal type does and how it may be applied are a much better start point for that experimentation. 

Curiosity is an essential component in any creative journey. A point that Scott makes brilliantly in a recent interview with Musical U founder, Christopher Sutton – here’s a video of Christopher talking about things he’s learned from Scott, from Adam Neely and from me… It outlines a curiosity and creativity-driven pathway through music learning really well, and dovetails really well with the intended learning pathway through the effects course… 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ix6m_3v6HCo&feature=youtu.be

Music News Update – THREE New Albums???

So, as I write, I’m listening through what I think are the final mixes for the third solo album I’ve recorded this month… 

…wait, THIRD?? Yup, as you probably know, I record every gig I do, and I’ve had three in the last month – the first was at Servant Jazz Quarters in Dalston, London, then a week and a bit later, Lo and I played a house concert in Hackney, London, and then this past weekend Lo and I played together again, this time at Tower Of Song here in Birmingham. And the solo bit of each gig was good enough to release, so I have. 

Not so many years ago, the thought of putting out all that music would’ve been pretty outré… Three albums worth of new material would have had to be spread out over a couple of years – Miles Davis recorded the albums Agartha and Pangaea on the SAME DAY but they were released a year apart… 

But thanks to the deep joys of my Bandcamp subscription, I’ve been able to release these as I go along. There’s been no press fanfare, no need to send out press releases or contact radio or magazines. At least, not yet. As part of the subscription, these are recordings that have already been paid for. The time I’ve spent mixing and mastering them is time that’s covered by the amazing, brilliant, art-loving souls who keep this ship afloat. And they’ve already had albums one and two. The first was called Time Is A Broken Lens and the second is called Gift Of Patience. As I said, the third one is, I think, finished being mix, and will be out in the next week or so. 

The first two form something of a set within the set – they follow quite similar arcs, though if you read the essays that accompany them (by clicking through to Bandcamp via the links above) you’ll see that there are some differences that feel significant to me. One of the great things about the subscription as that we get to discuss this stuff in the subscriber area on Bandcamp – lil’ chats about what the music means to the listeners not just to me… 

So, anyway, if you want to join us, head over to stevelawson.bandcamp.com/subscribe and jump right in. We’d love to have you there. And if you want to spend some time listening to the music before deciding to support it in a more concrete way, that’s absolutely fine too… We’re here for the long haul… 

There have been some interesting changes in the music of late, so I’ll post more about those soon, but til then, I hope you’re enjoying the music. x