Creativity and Socially Networked Marketing – the good and the bad.

So much is being written about the egalitarian nature of online distribution, it would be easy to believe that all our worries as wannabe professional musicians are now over. We all know that we can get a myspace page and a facebook music page, a reverbnation widget and a last.fm page, just like the big boys. We can also get our music onto iTunes and eMusic, Amazon and Rhapsody, just by sending a CD to CDBaby and paying them less than $40 to set it up. Easy, huh?

Well, not quite. It’s true that the music economy in the last couple of decades has shifted from hundreds of acts selling millions of records to millions of acts selling hundreds of downloads, but two things are still problematic – monetizing the attention that we’re given, and building online spaces where attention is available in units greater than 30 second chunks.

You see, the huge problem with the MySpace/Youtube/iTunes generation is that it favours instantaneous gratification. It favours music that ‘wows’ in the first few seconds over music that takes a while to grow – in much the same way that mainstream pop radio has done for decades. It’s just that now, it’s not just the top 40 sector that’s expected to fit that paradigm, it’s everyone. There’s no special version of myspace for people with long songs, where the listener knows that it’ll take a particular piece of music a good few minutes to get going and reveal its hidden magic.

It’s true that to a degree it has always been thus – playing music to your friends in a ‘hey, check this out!’ scenario has always been a less comfortable proposition if you’re introducing them to the magic of Steve Reich or Brian Eno’s Music For Airports than if you were letting them in on the hitherto-undiscovered-to-them genius of Chic or Duran Duran. Pop music is by its very nature more immediate.

No, the problem here is a slightly more insidious one – it’s that all of us, ‘pop’ acts and more difficult to classify musicians alike, are being encouraged to market what we do via these channels in the same way, and music lovers are being encouraged to look for it in that way, and it can have a negative effect on the way we create and the way we find the music we love.

The fantastic potential that Myspace/Youtube/iTunes gives us to connect with an audience that we’d previously have needed a record label and radio plugger to connect with is still largely bound up in the ‘instant gratification’ notion of where the value lies in a piece of music. 30 second previews of tracks are useless for through-composed or gradually evolving music. 30 seconds of just about anything by Michael Nyman or Philip Glass isn’t going to show where the piece goes as it unfolds over the course of minutes rather than seconds.

How do we deal with this? I think acknowledging it is the first part of the answer – once the influence has been ‘named’ we can see if for what it is, and hopefully recognise the difference between our own creative urge pushing us towards brevity or accessibility (certainly no bad thing if that’s where you’re leaning) and the crippling of a deeper more evolved sense of where a particular piece of music should be going out of a fear that it just won’t work on myspace.

Download culture is wonderful in that it frees us up from the limitations of length – in both directions – that vinyl/casette/cd/minidisc had – we can put out tiny short works and not feel like we need to pad it out to fill a CD, or we can release massive epic hours-long single pieces if that’s really where our muse is heading. There’s nothing to stop you putting out 10 hours of continuous music, other than the limitations of the download speed of the person trying to get hold of it. We’re no longer constrained by pressing cost or media size, but we are still subject to the evolution of the music-discovery culture, and we all need to be thinking hard about how we build a space where we encourage people to investigate music that takes many listens to sink in, music that doesn’t reveal any of its complex magic in a 30 second low-res preview, but given time will seep into our consciousness and affect us in a unique way.

We need filters. We need

  • people and
  • media-outlets and
  • blog groups and
  • socially networked advisors who will recommend great music to us in the way that magazines used to.

Magazines still provide some of that, but they are very limited in their scope, because they are beholden to their advertisers and the broadcast nature of what they do, so are constrained by the need to write about people their core readership already know about. Those people aren’t really our concern. The ones who already have a career, a fanbase, a stream of self-generating traffic to their sites and online store. Finding out about the new Nick Cave or Pat Metheny record is rarely going to prove difficult.

No, we need microfilter channels, groups of 5,10,20,50 friends who get excited about new music and do the research for eachother, in the same way that Google Reader lets us search out news and blog posts for eachother.

There are already music blogs like this – audioblogs that feature MP3s on a daily basis. Some of them are fabulous. Many of them are less helpful in that they are basically a mashup of bit-torrent and blogger.com – illegal giveaways of whole albums that don’t actually help the band because they direct no attention or traffic in their direction. I was talking with a guitarist friend in LA in January who found that only a week or so after his latest album had come out, someone was giving it away on an audioblog based in Holland. The sales in the first few weeks of any project are important because that’s when the publicity is focussed on, so to be offering illegal free downloads of an album that close to the release date is particularly galling.

The new currency online is attention. Time is valuable, and it is possible to monetize that, through sales of CDs, downloads, DVDs, t-shirts, gig tickets, teaching weekends, meet and greets, promotional spin-offs, advertising revenue. But directing attention is best done by communities, by trusted advisors, but bloggers and twitterers and facebookists and friends of friends who know their subject and seek out the best new music around and tell people about it. And do it because then their love for it is propogated, the artform and the creators are encouraged, make enough money to make the next record, and the cycle of soundtracking a part of our lives is completed and begun again.

BUT if you’re a musician, unless the career part of being a professional musician is more important to you than the musician part, all of that has to be at the service of getting the word out about YOUR art. That which you hold most dear. Not an advert for what you hold dear, not a truncated, MySpace-ized version of it, but the real deal, however dense, complex, mellow, subtle or otherwise it is. Which brings me back to a point I’ve made a few times on here before – BE THE KIND OF FAN YOU’D LIKE TO HAVE – musicians need to be using the attention they have from their audiene to share the love, to let their listeners know about the music they love. It’ll come back, karmic-stylee, and will solidify your position as a guru of great music, a person of taste and discernment and the hub of a music-loving community. That’s how we build RELATIONSHIPS with the people who connect with our art – relationships built on shared knowledge and an unfolding understanding of where our aesthetic tastes overlap…

That is, as the yanks like to say, all good.

Why I love David Byrne

Three great reasons to love David Byrne:

Firstly, Talking Heads are one of the greatest bands in the history of music. Right now they’re also probably the most influential band on the planet, given how many crappy indie bands are trying to sound like them and failing miserably… But that aside, they made some of the most engaging, interesting, funny and downright funky music of the 70s and 80s.

Secondly, he writes one of the most interesting blogs on the planet. My understanding of the sub-prime mortgage fiasco came from reading his blog (I’d seen all the news reports, but no-one had explained it with the same clarity as he did…) Reading it makes me want to live in NYC, not to say play bass in his band.

And Thirdly – and for now most importantly – he’s just written the best article I’ve yet read summarising what’s going on in the music world, Music 2.0, digital worlds, indie marketing etc… loads of great recorded interviews with people like Brian Eno and Radiohead’s managers… It’s utterly unmissable for anyone wanting to see where things are going.

One of the most glorious things about the internet is that people like David Byrne are emerging as creative industry polymaths – he’s a great musician, thinker, writer, cultural critic… and we can find out about all of in a way that wasn’t really possible before the interwebs. Hurrah for le net.

(thanks to Jeff Schmidt for the link to the David Byrne piece….

another Behind Every Word Review…

Another review just in of Behind Every Word – this one from Sid Smith on his blog – Sid is the author of ‘In The Court Of King Crimson’, a brilliant book about the entire history of the Crims – a very fine writer and long time supporter of all things Stevelicious.

thanks Sid

click here to read the review – the choice pull-quote from it is “sensuous melodies intertwine and fall away with the intimacy of Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden and the cinematic production values of Brian Eno”. Which is nice.

singer/songwriter genius shows Street Team how it's done…

Juliet Turner, fabulous singer/songwriter and Recyclist from Greenbelt, sent this out to her mailing list yesterday –

“Hey. For any of you who are in London, try and check out this gig. Super amazing bassist Steve Lawson gathers together GREAT musicians and they play off the cuff/of the moment/who knows whats going to happen next/ music. I did some singing with Steve at the Greenbelt festival this summer which was a lot of fun. There’s a Recycled gig on the 21st Sept at 182 St John’s St. Clerkenwell, London when Jason Yarde (saxophonist, very celebrated jazz musician) and Leo Abrahams (guitarist, Brian Eno, Ed Harcourt, Roxy Music) will be joining Steve. The music will be extraordinary. More details on their myspace site.”

How lovely is that? The date is a day late (MySpace quite often lists gig dates a day late for some reason – always click on the gig and check the ACTUAL date of any gig you get off MySpace), but that’s the kind of support and encouragement that any musician craves but rarely gets.

As I’ve said numerous times before on this ‘ere blog, you REALLY need to check out Juliet’s music – her website is julietturner.com and her myspace address is myspace.com/burntheblacksuit – all three of her albums are beautiful, and her new single is utterly gorgeous (if you were at the Greenbelt RC gig, you might recognise the words to ‘Joy’ as she used it as the basis for the improv she did with Harry Napier, Huw Warren and I.)

Recycle Collective recommended in Time Out again…

Next week’s Recycle Collective gig gets the recommended gig treatment again in Time Out this week. Here’s what they say –
Steve Lawson’s Recycle Collective/Jason Yarde/Leo Abrahams –
“Improvised, organic electronica from a fabulous trio featuring bassist and live sampler Lawson, producer/saxophonist Yarde and Brian Eno’s guitarist Abrahams.”

so there you go – we’re fabulous, it’s official, so you can’t miss it!

More recycle bookings…

Been busy over the last couple of weeks lining up the musicians for the new few RC gigs – lots of the people have had on my wish-list for ages are now booked! Yay!

August 23rdSebastian Rochford, Andy Hamill and me. This is a bit of a dream line-up. Seb’s one of my favourite drummers I’ve ever played with. We did one gig together in Brighton a couple of years ago, and he listened so well to the loop stuff, and played beautifully. An immensely creative chap, and Mercury Prize nominee last year, no less! He’s in Polar Bear and Acoustic LadyLand and plays with lots of people in the F-IRE collective.

And Andy Hamill. As well as officially being of the nicest people in jazz ever, Andy’s also one of my favourite double bassists anywhere. If you’ve heard either of Theo’s last couple of albums, he’s the low end on there, but has also played with 4 Hero, Carleen Anderson, Shea Seger, Theo Travis, Mark Murphy, Nitin Sawhney, Chris Bowden, Boris Grebenshikov, Cara Dillon, Tracey Thorn, Kylie Minogue, Ben Castle, Ursula Rucker and Harry Hill!

I’ve been wanting to try a trio with drums and double bass for ages, and feel so lucky that the first time I get to try it is with two musicians of this kind of quality. Wow.

And then, as if that wasn’t enough, on Sept 20th, we’ve got saxophonist Jason Yarde, one of the most celebrated young british jazzers of recent times. An outstanding performer, composer, improvisor – a really really interesting musician, who will add something completely new to the RC vibe, for sure. Another huge talent.

And with Jason and I, making a very welcome return, Leo Abrahams – currently out on the road playing guitar for Roxy Music, is also Brian Eno’s guitar monkey, and has worked with Imogen Heap, Nik Kershaw, Ed Harcourt, Paul Simon and a host of other great people. He was excellent last time, he’ll be just as great this time.

And at the moment, it looks like October is going to be BJ Cole and Ingrid Laubrock joining me. How lucky am I? Yay!

Tim Bowness/Steven Wilson live in Norwich

Norwich is an awful long way to go to watch a gig. Norwich is an awful long way from anywhere. Which would be fine if it was a stinking hole, but it’s a lovely city, and someone should pick it up, drag it 50 miles west and join it up with Cambridge – Camwich would be a really really lovely city.

But I digress. It’s a long way, but I went anyway. on the main bill were Tim Bowness with his band, and Steven Wilson. Tim was the singer I gigged with last Friday. This time he had a whole band with him, featuring the truly marvellous Andrew Booker on drums (the last time I saw Andrew play drums with Tim, Brian Eno was at the gig, and wanted his phone number… did he ever get it? I don’t think so… a miss opportunity methinks).

The show was opened by Andy Butler – a looping guitarist, using multiple echoplexes. Sadly, because the gig started earlier than advertised, we (by ‘we’ I mean me, Dweez and Mrs Dweez, who all went for food, planning to be back in time for advertised start) missed all but the last few minutes of Andy’s set.

Steven Wilson set was really enjoyable – I didn’t know any of the songs (for some reason, despite liking all the stuff I’ve heard of theirs, I don’t own a single Porcupine Tree album… must rectify that), no, I lie, he covered ‘Thankyou’ by Alanis Morrisette, and that I knew. Anyway, most of it was just electric guitar and voice – something that I’m always amazed more people don’t do. Billy Bragg is the absolute master of that format, but i’ve heard others do it well (Iain Archer is another that plays brilliantly with just a elec. guitar and no band). I had a brief chat with Steven afterwards (we’ve got a fair few mutual friends, not least of all Theo who has played on Porcupine Tree things and opened for them at Shepherd’s Bush).

So all in a great night, and what’s more I got to meet up with Myspace chums Jeffrey and Samantha, here from New York. Much fun.

Paul Simon – Surprise

Just got this through today, and am on my second listen. Paul Simon is in that very tiny group of people who’ve never done a bad album (caveat, I’ve never heard ‘Capeman’, the soundtrack to his ill-fated musical) – most people of his era (Joni Mitchell, Jackson Brown, Neil Young etc.) mad some fairly duff albums in the 80s, but Paul, like Tom Waits and Bruce Cockburn, has remained pretty consistent all along. Which is why it always amazes me when this album is described as a return to form – his last album, ‘You’re The One’ is outstanding! It’s a really great record, with a couple of tracks that would be in my all time Paul Simon top 10, and not a duff track on it.

It was the same when James Taylor brought out ‘Hourglass’ – ‘return to form’ says the press. Huh? His previous two albums before that were ‘Live’ (possibly the greatest live album ever recorded) and ‘New Moon Shine’, a truly beautiful album.

The problem is that critics always want a hook to hang a story on. ‘It’s brilliant, like all his other albums’ isn’t as dramatic as stories about emerging from a creative wilderness or doing your best album for 15 years… maybe I should just pretend that everything else I’ve done has been completely eclipsed by my new album… :o) I mean, I do genuinely think it’s the best thing I’ve done (I wouldn’t release it if I didn’t…), but it doesn’t make Grace And Gratitude look like an amateurish work…

So, my review – the new Paul Simon album is magic. Full of great songs, great playing, and some fantastic sonic treatments from Brian Eno. For the bass geeks amongst you, Pino’s on it, Abe Laboriel Snr’s on it, Alex Al is on it and Leo Abrahams (from the RC gig before last) is on fretless bass on one tune! That’s the kind of calibre of player we get at the RC.

But every Paul Simon album is magic. You really ought to have the set. He’s got a way with phrasing a line that make it feel like a conversation. The melody never gets in the way of the words. Like Joni Mitchell and a handful of other singers, it’s as much story-telling as it is singing.

Not only a good write up…

…but a ‘Critics Choice’ listing as well!

Says much the same thing –

‘Improvising jazz and soul vocalist explores loops and sampling with Brian Eno sidekick Leo Abrahams and bassist Steve Lawson.’

Now I’m a v. happy bunny. :o)

Should've blogged this a week ago…

It’s normally the first thing I do when Time Out arrives around the time of a Recycle Collective gig – check the entry. But I only got round to looking today, and it’s been in for a week. This is what it says –

*Cleveland Watkiss/Leo
Abrahams/Steve Lawson
Recycle
Collective at Darbucka, EC1: 7pm; £7 concs
£5.
Superb monthly concert series that
explores the relationship between live
improv and live looping (ie recycling the
song as it unfolds and using the created loop
as part of the unfolding piece). Tonight with
superb singer Watkiss, Brian Eno sidekick
Abrahams and bassist Lawson.

that’s rather nice isn’t it? No reason for you not to come along now. :o)