How to get set up for Bass Lessons on Zoom

I’ve been teaching online now for about 15 years. I started out with Skype and have used all kinds of other video conferencing tools in between. The standard now, post-pandemic, is Zoom. (click here to book a lesson)

The problem with Zoom is also it’s great strength for conversation – it’s very good at filtering out sounds that are not human voices. For bass players having lessons online, this is a big problem.

Fortunately, they also include some options for getting better fidelity with an instrument. So here are a few things that are worth sorting out if you want the best experience of having a bass lesson on Zoom.

  • firstly, don’t try and use speakers. It is technically possible to have your amp behind you and use the built in mic while you listen on speakers, but Zoom’s echo and background noise cancellation will make the bass sound choppy if it can be heard at all. So your first requirement is to be on headphones.
  • secondly, an external soundcard is a must. This allows you to attach a microphone for talking and plug your bass in directly and then balance them to each other. if you’re buying one just for this, the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 is a great place to start.
  • thirdly, make sure the settings are right. Here’s a screen shot of the settings I have in the audio section of Zoom:

screenshot of the zoom audio settings page, indicating that a soundcard has been chosen, high fidelity music sound for musicians is on and echo cancellation is off

screen shot of the audio settings screen in Zoom

  • notice I have my soundcard (K-mix) chosen for in and out, I’m not letting it automatically adjust my level, background noise removal is off, original sound for musicians and hi-fi mode plus stereo audio, are on. I’ve also turned off echo cancelation as it’s not needed if you’re on headphones.
  • Make sure there is enough of your bass signal reaching zoom – try it out before your lesson with a friend and check that you’re getting close to the top but not peaking. If you have pedals and effects, put those before it.
  • (added this a day late!) An external camera with a wider field of vision may be really helpful in getting your whole bass into the frame! I spent a long time teaching and filming with either the camera built into my Macbook or a Logitech one that was quite narrow, and it was always a compromise of either bass or face in the shot! I now have a Zoom Q2n 4K and it’s perfect for this. A super-niche hack that I use when I’m travelling is to use the mic on the Zoom as my vocal mic by running a cable from the headphone out to my K-Mix soundcard, so I can still have the direct signal from my bass but use the surprisingly high quality mics in the Zoom for talking.

If you follow these steps it should work well – make sure you have the latest version of Zoom installed, as older versions didn’t have all of these settings.

if you want to book bass lessons, see my teaching page by clicking here.

Nine Years Of My Bandcamp Subscription

Today is the NINTH anniversary of the launch of my Bandcamp Subscription. It has become a lifeline, the mechanism by which I not only fund and release music, but the context in which I get to make the specific kind of music I make, and where I get to talk about it and hear what it means to the subscriber community.

Facebook post announcing the launch of my bandcamp subscription nine years ago todayBandcamp’s subscription offering launched to the public about 8 years ago, but four artists got to trial it for a year before it went public to iron out kinks and see which features worked best. I’d already been talking to Ethan about it for a couple of years at that point – we would meet up every January while I was at NAMM and he’d ask me what worked best for me with Bandcamp and what I’d like to see – prior to the subscription offering, I imagine that most of the things that I wanted that ended up as features were things where my desire just confirmed what they were already working on, but I got to have input into the subscription idea at the ground level, and as such, as this point it’s about 80% of my perfect platform. That’s a pretty amazing percentage for a non-bespoke platform, especially one that has to meet the diverse needs of artists and labels from all over the planet.

So what’s the value of the subscription, for me and the listener? I’m acutely aware that thanks to this model, collectively the subscribers know more about what I’m up to than I do – the sheer volume of music there means that I can’t keep in mind what it all is and what I’ve done before. I’m often too busy just being me and doing me-stuff to step back from it and see what it might mean. I also have a singular take on the impact of things like adding in percussion samples and field recordings to the aesthetic, or a set of assumptions around how much music would be too much music. But across the community there are people who have specific connections with loads of the albums, who came into my orbit at a particular time and the first album they found means something special to them. They are music makers who have a particular take on the significance (or annoyance!) of aspects of what I do, and a significant number of them have been around for two decades and have a deep and enduring sense of how this life in music has evolved. There are people who devour every album and listen to it multiple times, who are deeply grateful that they aren’t expected to pay £8 for every album, even though a handful of them probably would. And there are people who love the music of a particular era in my music-life and listen mostly to that but subscribe to support me because it’s less than £3 a month and they just want to help me carry on doing what I do…

It is still, by far, the best way to access my music, to become a part of its meaning and purpose. Every album is more like an episode in a story or podcast than it is a ‘product’ to be marketed and promoted. The way its released means that the invitation is there to comment, review, discuss, question and delve into the meaning of the music and even to dig into why I made certain decisions that meant particular albums don’t work for you. Those conversations are often the most mindblowing – imagine getting to talk about the confusion that a particular album conjures with someone who has already happily paid for it to exist long before it was conceived. The difference between that and the ‘apologetics’ that one indulges in when releasing a public album that deviates from the expectations of a fanbase is night and day.

I’m grateful to every single person who has been part of that community, whether they subscribed for a year and then (quite understandably!) thought ‘that’s quite enough Steve Lawson music for one lifetime‘, or have been there since day one (shout out to JP Rangaswami, Phil Thomas and Mike K Smith for being the longest standing subscribers, still there from day one. ♥️)

If you want to join us, that would be amazing. If you want to rejoin, that would also be a truly beautiful thing. The link to subscribe will be in the comments. And I’ll do a Bandcamp Listening Party for the latest subscriber album on Friday. More news on that ASAP. 🙂

Later on, I’ll do a bit of a dive into the economics, but suffice to say, the subscription was what sustained me through Cancer, it regularly pays the rent, it has rescued me from tax bills I’d foolishly not accounted for, and it turns every break-even gig into a recording session of deep and enduring value.

Steve Lawson’s Basstopian Merchtropolis

Have I ever written anything here about my merch store? Probably not. My bad.

Anyway, here it is – t-shirts, mugs and caps, all printed on demand, available in a bunch of different colours. Give your wardrobe a refresh 😉

How To Find Music On Bandcamp

It’s Bandcamp Friday – the day each month when Bandcamp gives their share of the profits to the artists. This started as a response to the pandemic and continued in recognition of the ongoing impact on the music economy of that global shutdown and the escalating cost of living crisis. Regardless of everything else that’s happened at Bandcamp since, it’s been an absolutely transformative response to the financial hardship of independent musicians, funnelling hundreds of millions of dollars into the pockets of musicians.
photo of Steve Lawson holding a headless 6 string bass guitar, sat on the curb with a wall behind him.
So, following this week’s viral discussion about how tough it is to maintain a living as an independent musician in a streaming-dominated economy, the invitation is there to go and investigate Bandcamp. A lot of artists do discount codes for Bandcamp Friday. Those are worth looking for so we can all meet in the middle. Other music is already way cheaper than you might imagine while still being an essential part of the economic viability of the band or artist you’re helping to support. It’ll take some time, but bridging the disconnect between ‘there’s no good music any more’ and the realisation that you don’t forage for music the way you used to is a helpful place to start.
A few ways to find music on Bandcamp, from someone who spent their teens and 20s basically living in record shops:
1. Search: if you like any music that’s associated with indie labels already, you might be surprised at what’s already on there. from Tom Waits to Peter Gabriel, Al Green to Charlotte Church, PJ Harvey to The Smile, there’s a bunch of big names on there. If you’re into metal or hip hop, it’s a veritable box of delights.
2. Tags: within the search side of Bandcamp is not just looking for artist names but a tagging system. Genres, instruments, places, associated artists, emotions, all kinds of stuff gets tagged and you can narrow down your search for new music that way.
3. Listener collections : you can start with mine, linked below, but any of the little squares below an album indicating who has bought it links to someone’s Bandcamp fan page – there you’ll get to browse the virtual record collection of anyone on the site. See what people who like what you like also like. Forage for things with interesting artwork. Click follow and you’ll start getting emails with what they’ve bought in them.
4: Artist recommendations: Every artist page, if the artist has bothered to fill in the bit on their profile, has recommended albums. Find out what the people you listen to listen to. I am regularly found by that mechanism, and am HUGELY grateful to everyone who recommends an album of mine on there.
5. Subscriptions (of course I was going to say this) – Subscribing to an artist or label can get you a whole ton of diverse music for way less money per album. Economically it’s a really good mid point between single album sales and the financial wasteland of Spotify. The value proposition varies, depending on whether the artist or label in question sees it as a thing to extract maximum value from super-fans or build a broader community (I’m definitely in the latter group), but subscribing to a handful or artists or labels on Bandcamp is a lovely way to invest in music sustainably and get a ton of music to browse through in your own time (remember that with a Bandcamp subscription, you still keep the music if you unsubscribe, so you don’t need to rush through it all like it’s going to vanish at some indeterminate point – you can listen either on the website, in the app, or download it as lossless files in any format you desire).
6. The bandcamp website front page. Bandcamp is a discovery ecosystem. There’s a firehose of what’s being bought now that acts as a great lucky-dip. There’s Bandcamp Daily, New And Notable and a whole bunch of other ways to find music.
See it as an adventure where you get some new music, and the warm delicious feeling of the few quid you spend on music ending up in the pockets of artists who have bills to pay. In my case, it’ll go towards paying for the tooth extraction I had this morning. You buy music, I lose chemo-degraded teeth in an economically sustainable manner. 🙂

Remastered Album Series – Time Stops vols 1-3 All Reissued

album artwork for the album Time Stops Vol 1 by Steve Lawson.Having discovered an amazing plug-in by Baby Audio called Smooth Operator, I recently realised that my mix/mastering process for the last couple of years of releases was underselling a lot of the detail in the recordings. The more muted, introspective tone of the releases made some sense in the context of the Pandemic followed by a year of Cancer related shenanigans, but didn’t represent the music to its fullest extent. So I’ve set about remastering my most recent public albums first, and have now uploaded Time Stops vols 1-3 (vol 3 is Bandcamp subscriber-only).

album artwork for Time Stops vol 2 by Steve LawsonThe remasters are uploaded in place of the original albums, so if you’ve already bought the albums, you don’t need to pay for them again to get the new versions. If you downloaded them originally when you bought them or got them through the subscription, you’re most welcome to download them again and compare the two. If you make music yourself, it might be instructive to do so!

I’m so happy with how these sound, and the consensus in the Bandcamp Listening Parties for the albums was that they were more detailed with greater depth to the audio field.

The next one to be re-released is Rick, which will be uploaded this Friday before the listening party where you’ll get to preview the new version.

Head to the listening party RSVP page for more info on that!

Bandcamp Listening Parties – The New (weekly) Normal

Over the past two Fridays, I’ve been taking advantage of a new feature in Bandcamp and holding Listening Parties. The idea of a listening party is simple, in that it’s about simultaneous listening with a chat room for me to talk about the making and meaning of the music, and you to ask questions about it.

A screenshot of the Bandcamp listening party for Steve Lawson's album Time Stops, with the album artwork, sleevenotes and the chatroom discussion about the album.

In this format, it started as a Twitter thing during Lockdown hosted by Tim from the Charlatans, branded as Tim’s Twitter Listening Party. He would get members of celebrated bands to tweet along to their album, starting at a pre-announced time when everyone could join in. I followed along and contributed comments and questions to the ones for Tears For Fears’ Songs From The Big Chair and for the The’s Dusk. A whole lot of fun. Continue reading “Bandcamp Listening Parties – The New (weekly) Normal”

Bass Student Testimonials Pt 2 And Some Thoughts On One to One Bass Lessons.

I really should pay more attention to my website, right? Anyway, here’s the 2nd in a series of student testimonials.

A picture of Steve Lawson's hands playing a 6 string bass. He is using his fretting hand thumb to extend the chord shapeBut first a couple of thoughts on why one to one lessons are the right choice for many musicians. Coming out of the summer and re-entering the academic year, a lot of people find themselves starting to think about their music learning and what can take it to the next level.

There are a LOT of courses online, that offer top quality content and instruction via video lessons and downloadable materials. I’ve created courses like that with Scotts Bass Lessons and I do monthly bass masterclasses for Musical-U, so I’m in no way opposed to that model.

But I have realised over the years that my own gift is in helping individuals or in-person groups with specific questions, helping to guide people to where they want to be, rather than having to rummage through the stuff in a pre-recorded course and find the right theme. There’s a built in dialectic of specificness and genericness to those course – they are specific in as much as each course or module can be targeted to a particular area of playing, but equally generic in that they are a course made for everyone. And not everyone learning style is the same.

So, if you want some one-to-one lessons, they probably cos less than you think and we can start working on the specifics of your own musical journey.

Here’s a testimonial from bassist Steve Whitehouse, who I’ve been teaching weekly for a number of years:

“I’ve had the privilege of being a student of Steve Lawson’s for over two years now. I’ve been playing musical instruments for 45 years and have been lucky enough to have a wide selection of excellent teachers both contemporary and classical. Steve however is on another level altogether. What really sets Steve apart is his ability to teach *music* itself, not just how to play bass. He lives inside music and has levels of understanding I’ve never encountered elsewhere, enhanced by his encyclopaedic knowledge of players and styles. Lessons with Steve have been an absolute game changer for me, opening new horizons and pulling me out of a creative rut and much of what he’s taught me is applicable not only to the bass, but to my other instruments as well. If you are in a creative hole, Steve’s the guy to help you find your path.”

Testimonial Pt 1 can be found here.

Click here for details on lessons and to contact me and book something in.

Mo Foster: In Memoriam

Mo Foster playing a Modulus Graphite 6 string fretless bass guitar at the 2013 London Bass Guitar ShowOne of the true legends and pioneers of bass in Britain has died – Mo Foster passed away from Cancer aged 78 a couple of days ago.

His Wikipedia entry gives a pretty great overview of his career, and others have written extensively about that, so I’m just going to write about our friendship and what he meant to me.

I’m not sure exactly where and when I met Mo, but I’m pretty sure it would’ve been through Bassist Mag, probably at the National Music Show at Wembley in the late 90s. Certainly by the time I was putting my first album together, we were friends and were talking regularly. But I was already deeply familiar with Mo, not just as the bassist behind the absolutely exquisite line on Howard Jones’ No-one Is To Blame (I was silently gutted when I didn’t get to play it on tour with Howard – he did a beautiful solo vox/piano version of that song to finish the set – musically brilliant, but I desperately wanted to play Mo’s line!) and with Phil Collins, but because he wrote the bass column in ‘Making Music’ magazine – Making Music was the free music mag in the UK in the 80s and 90s, and I still remember how it felt when Mo wrote that he envied people who’d never heard Hejira because they still had that first listen to experience. His column was full of incredible advice, stories and brilliance. So meeting him was already a treat. But that wasn’t the half of it. He treated me like a peer, like a fellow pro, and was incredibly supportive of my steps into solo playing. But as anyone who knew Mo knows, he was never one to sugar-coat anything. When I sent him a copy (possibly a pre-release copy? I can’t remember) of my first solo album, And Nothing But The Bass, his first comment when I next saw him was ‘you know the first chord is out of tune, right?’ and he pressed me to find better ways to end loop tunes that just fading everything out. He was endlessly encouraging, but had no time for mindless praise. He pushed me to make better music. And given how much of an influence his solo albums Southern Reunion and Bel Assis already were by then, it was a huge fucking deal for Mo to take the time to even listen, let alone give me advice.

When it came time for Mo to make his next record, Time To Think, he was recording it in a church in Oxford (St Michaels Church, Summertown) and he invited me to call in to the sessions – to sit and listen while Mo and the band (including his closest friend and longest collaborator, Ray Russell) recorded a couple of the tracks from the album was unbelievable. And then I got to follow through the trials and tribulations of getting it mixed, fixing a fairly major recording error (to hear the beauty of the album, you’d never know that’s what happened!) and to then play it to death when it was released.

And here’s how Mo shaped my own music – when it came time to make my second album, what became Not Dancing For Chicken, I was hanging out with a lot of looping musicians, people who were really pushing looping tech in exciting and radical directions. Truly brilliant experimenters. I was absorbing their ideas, throwing in a few of my own, and the initial sessions for NDFC featured a whole ton of squeaks and bleeps and live cut up loops. I tried to record it with a mic’d amp, we did two days of recording and then I took those recordings home. At the time I was listening to two albums on repeat – one was Time To Think, the other was an album by Dyzrhythmia, featuring my other great bass mentor of the time, Danny Thompson. I was sat one afternoon after reviewing the recordings for NDFC, listening to Time To Think and it suddenly, and obviously, struck me what was missing – TUNES! I’d got so into the tech side of things that I’d lost that my great strength was playing melodies. I was good at tunes! The bleepy stuff was well done, but it lacked that essential thing that was, at the time, my real focus. And it was Mo’s album that reminded me. I immediately hit record and the first thing I recorded was a tune that I named Danny & Mo. Two incredible humans who gave me way more of their time than I could ever have hoped for and whose encouragement and endorsement was absolutely pivotal to me giving this solo bass lark a proper go. Mo was a proper legend who not only gave me the time of day and a huge amount of encouragement, but gave me the kind of critical feedback that was designed to help me make better music. And it did.

I would see Mo periodically through the years, visiting him at home on occasion, and every time he’d have another story, a joke, something to make everyone laugh. The Cliff Richard ‘dogshit dance’ story, Ted, His Cock And His Band, Stevie Shatner-Nicks… stories and jokes that anyone who knew Mo knows from the punchline… He’d email me, I’d go and see him play (I remember one particularly beautiful show at Lauderdale House), he even told me he wanted me to guest on an album he was putting together. In 2013, as per this picture, my 6 string fretless Modulus was, he said, the first 6 string bass he’d ever played, and he sounded amazing on it.

Back in May he emailed me asking about cancer treatment, and I did my best to help him with a little advice, but it would be the last time I heard from him.

I already miss Mo, and the bass world has fewer laughs in it. Farewell to one of our beloved instrument’s great advocates and finest raconteurs.

Bass Student Testimonials Part 1

So here’s a thing I’ve been meaning to do for AGES, and have never done before. A while back I asked a few of my students if they wouldn’t mind writing something about their experience studying with me, to provide some kind of sense of what it might be like for new students considering it.  I’m going to publish them here, individually because they ended up being WAY longer and more involved than I expected! Here’s the first one.

If you’re interested in lessons, please do have a look at my teaching page.

“It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly when I became a student of Steve Lawson. I could say it was when I had my first one on one lesson with him online in September of 2020 or perhaps when we shared a couple of exchanges about a set of small 6 string lessons on his Instagram stories he dubbed “down with the sixness” earlier that year. It could have also been much earlier in his courses and seminars in the academy at sbl. The more I think about it the more I realize what was actually going on. You become a student from the first time you hear Steve. It’s inevitable. Both his playing as his words are imbued with so much of himself; that relentless creativity, his generous nature, the sheer immensity of knowledge and love behind every phrase, his quirky sense of humor and joy for the unexpected, his spirit of adventure, the bold honesty behind who he knows he is and who he wants to be.

“I don’t think it’s possible to truly listen to Steve and not become his student. It is such an anomaly, his output, that it demands a closer more meticulous look while at the same time grabbing your hand and taking you on a ride where you need not think or worry only enjoy and let yourself be surprised. I often play a silly game while listening to Steve’s music where I try to imagine how one person can be solely responsible for all that I’m hearing only to find myself minutes later somewhere else, completely enthralled with the experience but with absolutely no idea how I got there. And once in this new destination I’m thrilled to realize how much I’ve grown, learned and changed (And, oh yeah!! remember that thing he did?!?!!! that weird line!! What was that!?! how did he do that?!?).

“Music has the ultimate power of representation and in the hands of a master like Steve it reaches up to its transformative potential.

“That he would also choose to be a teacher in the formal sense of the word is simply an instance of life being too good to us. In his approach of music and teaching I have found a wealth of wisdom but most importantly I have found peace. I, like most musicians and artists, deal with a considerable amount of impostor syndrome and the past 20 years of learning improvisational music through the internet have been daunting to say the least. It is here where I have found Steve’s greatest gift to me. I can clearly see a before and after in my relationship to Music from his lessons. His ability to articulate that which matters the most about your daily relationship to your instrument and your Music allows you to shed and clear away the cobwebs between your current self and your goal. The road must still be traveled and you must go alone but with Steve’s guidance you can see it clearly. Anything is truly possible.”

Rodrigo Flores Miralda
Oct 16, 2022
Tegucigalpa, Honduras

New Steve Lawson Double Solo Album, Time Stops, Out May 26th

For an artist as prolific as Steve Lawson, ‘new album’ can mean a lot of things. Time Stops, in Steve’s own words, marks the first time in a long way that the music hasn’t been catharsis-first. “It feels like a very long time since I played music for its own sake.” says Steve, going on to explain “Throughout the pandemic and then through my lymphoma diagnosis and treatment, music was very explicitly the soundtrack to a set of narratives, emotions, experiences – it produced some really lovely music, some music that is so special to me, but that association with a story means that for those who know the story, it has a whole other layer of meaning.”

The lymphoma Steve mentions was diagnosed last July and resulted in 6 months of intense chemotherapy and recovery that helps highlight just how important his Bandcamp subscriber community is. “I realised that I had a group of people who cared about me through the lens of caring about my music. That the two were intrinsically linked. I’d been aware of this for a long time, and that notion was essential in forming the community in the first place, but experiencing what it was like to make music during cancer recovery and do it for an audience who were reading the story and listening to the music within the context of that narrative, was quite extraordinary.”

The new double album, Time Stops, marks a return to a more traditional model of music making. Of course, stories and emotions and meaning are woven deep into the music as always, but its primary purpose wasn’t to soundtrack a life-changing experience for the subscriber audience. “I was just relishing getting back to exploring the music in my head outside of catastrophe and life-changing events” explains Steve, “Those experiences are here too, particularly the lightness of much of the music reflecting the feeling of currently being in remission, possibly for good, but this wasn’t ‘let’s document with music how I feel about having cancer’.”

Across the two albums, Steve draws on the latest iteration of his intricate and bafflingly complex sound-world. The album was recorded while in California, where Steve was visiting the NAMM Show for the first time since January 2020, immediately pre-pandemic. It features his Elrick SLC signature 6 string fretted bass throughout and all the sounds are from the MOD Audio DuoX – a multi-FX pedal that offers an unparalleled level of audio manipulation and experimentation. Central to all of the work is what Steve describes as “some of the best melodic inventiveness I’ve recorded in many, many years. Melody is always central to my music world, but during the soundtrack-experiments of the last few years, large scale ambient works became the dominant form. Here, tunes are back in the foreground, big time!”

The album is out now for Steve’s Bandcamp subscribers, and will be available to the public on May 26th, as two separate albums, volumes 1 & 2 exclusively via Bandcamp. A third volume of subscriber only material is also released.

“It feels really good to be back making music this way, for music to be something other than self-care. It’s still very much self-care, but with a greater outward focus.”

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