Best Practices In Social Media.

Weeks and weeks ago, I was ‘tagged’ by the very lovely and talented Ben Ellis of RedCatCo, in a blog-meme about best practices in social media. It’s a great subject, because with social media stuff being as young as it is, we’re not as clued up on how to ‘use’ it as we are with say, a phone. No-one talks about ‘using the phone‘ as a business strategy, and people who misuse the phone (prerecorded spam calls) are generally vilified for being a total pain in the arse. The same could largely be said of email.

But social media has a different engagement curve than phone or email – the one-to-many nature of the conversations lends itself rather too well to getting the balance wrong.

So my suggestion for best practice surrounds the idea of parity. Parity in terms of messages out to messages in, followers to followees and the nature of the information you throw out there. So much of the strategising people do with social media (be it facebook, twitter, myspace, linkedin, or whatever else) still treats these platforms as a broadcast medium. I can’t stress strongly enough, social media is crap for broadcast. If you want to carpet-bomb web-users with info about your product, just buy some dodgy email spam software, and stop misusing twitter as an ad medium. It’s not designed for it, it doesn’t facilitate it, and the rubbish lengths you have to go to to try and shoe-horn your strategy into the platform make you look like a berk.

So, if you’re lost in the midde of it all, try to keep a degree of parity in terms of the numbers of people who follow you and you are following. Moreover, with Twitter, don’t follow more people than the number of tweets you’ve sent – it’s not a hard and fast rule, more a best practice for easing your way in. The excitement of joining in with the fun on twitter often leads to people ‘following’ tonnes of people before actually posting anything, but it just makes you look like a spammer. So slow down, use the ‘reply’ button liberally, don’t feel the desperate need to tweet the link to your site every third tweet. Just have fun, and talk to people.

If you see it as a conversation, and talk the way you’d want to be talked to. If you get annoyed with people who do nothing but talk about their business, don’t become that person.

So beginners best practice?

  • Back off,
  • seek a degree of parity,
  • listen as much as you speak,
  • follow as much as you’re followed,
  • give as much information as you take,
  • offer more free advice than the amount of service-related tweets you do for your own product.

Bottom line – friends are more likely to be into what you do than strangers. So make friends first, and let the other stuffs take care of itself for now.

Social Media – first principles for musicians (Pt 2)

House Concert in BournemouthOK, let’s jump straight into part 2 with a few of the fears musicians have when making ourselves available to talk directly with our audience.

We’ll look at 3 areas we often get wrong when interacting with our audience, which are:

  • How to treat your audience like friends rather than your ‘target market’. (notice I keep using the more neutral term ‘audience’ rather than ‘fans’ – I’ve never been all that comfortable with the word ‘fans’, seems a little patronising in some contexts, but substitute it if you wish…).
  • allowing people to comment on what you do doesn’t mean you have to put up with insults and slander.
  • don’t confuse inviting comment with asking for advice.

These three are biggies in terms of HOW we actually treat our audience.

  • If You Treat Them Like Friends, They’ll Stick Around Longer. I was going through some old letters earlier today (we’re moving house) and found one from a guy I knew when I was a kid. It was the first letter I’d got from him in almost 2 years, and he was trying to sell me insurance! No introductory message, no catch-up, no context. Just ‘I’ve got a new job selling insurance; want some?’ It all came flooding back to me how used I felt when I got the letter, how insane it seemed, even back in those pre-spam days.The parallels with talking to your audience like friends are obvious. If all you ever say is ‘buy my shit!’, there’s no level of which it’s a friendship. Think about it in terms of ‘how would you feel if everyone you talk to on social media started behaving like you back at you?’ – if you’d be getting hundreds of adverts a day, it’s time to change your approach
  • Allowing People To Comment On What You Do Doesn’t Mean You Have To Put Up With Insults And Slander – this is probably a bigger issue for Americans than Brits, given that you guys have a much stronger attachment to the notion of ‘freedom of speech’.I was chatting with Ben Walker last night over curry, about all the things that happened around the viral explosion of his Twitter Song video. One of the things that he got that seems to be endemic on Youtube was the hateful, nasty comments. Hundreds of them. From people who hadn’t even watched the video, but just spend their time posting hateful comments for absolutely no reason. Fortunately Ben found it funny. His girlfriend, less so. I never allow insulting comments to stay on any site that I moderate. Disagreement is fine, but politeness is a must.My rule is, if someone said it to me in a pub, would I walk out? I’ve stopped posting on a couple of bass-related forums because I was being insulted by a handful of posters. It’s not that I get upset by it, but it does become a waste of my time. I’m not one to court negativity or ‘controversy’ by getting into arguments with internet trolls. I’m happy to chat with people who don’t ‘get’ my music, but insult me and I leave the conversation – as the person in the conversation who has a reputation of sorts, you’ll never win. So the lesson is, keep such discussions to places you can moderate – Myspace, twitter, facebook fan-page, Ning pages, reverbnation comments, self-hosted forums : all of those are places you can keep the atmosphere at a level you’re socially comfortable with. Don’t feel like you owe airtime to people with a grievance. Deleting insulting posts isn’t censorship, it’s selection – censorship suggests you’re denying them a voice, when actually you’re just choosing not to allow them to hijack YOUR audience. Anyone can set up a blog posting about how much they dislike whoever, they just can’t do it in my forum. Simple as.
  • Don’t Confuse Inviting Comment With Asking For Advice – a lot of musicians, in order to stimulate conversation, ask their audience for their opinion on their work, be it released work or ‘works in progress’. It’s a good way to start a discussion, but there is a fine line between inviting people to pick their favourites, and getting completely unqualified criticism of your work from people with no idea what you’re actually trying to do.
    Crowd-sourcing advice for your music is a sure way of
    a) confusing yourself, and
    b) losing any sense of a coherent narrative to what you do.
    I make it as plain as I can without sounding stuck-up that I don’t make music FOR anyone except me. Not because I don’t care what they think, but because I can’t. I can only soundtrack the world as I see it, as best I can. Someone else telling me what I could do differently to best suit their aesthetic, their view of the world is completely futile.

    That’s not to say that I don’t have people whose opinion I trust who can comment and critique what I do – I have a whole list of them – it just that each of them have earned that place over years of listening and conversation. It has context. It’s also certainly not to say that I don’t like hearing what people like and don’t like about what I do. It’s fascinating to hear, and hugely encouraging when people ‘get it’, on whatever level. But as an example, we recently had a letter back from a record label about the Lawson/Dodds/Wood album (have you bought it yet? 🙂 ) The guy said he really like it, but threw in ‘maybe it needs a female vocal?’ – why? Why would it ‘need’ anything? Why do we need telling that? because we don’t know any female vocalists? The last few gigs we’ve done as a trio have featured one of the finest female vocalists I’ve ever worked with, and if we felt like we needed to add her voice to the album, we’d have done it. I’ve no idea who this dude is, I’m glad he likes the record, but have no real interest in whether or not the album sounds like it needs samples of dogs barking or clowns being kicked squarely in the nuts on it, in his estimations. It’s not that his opinions aren’t valid to him, they just lack context in relation to how and why WE made OUR record.

Talk to your audience like friends
don’t patronise them
don’t shout at them
listen to them but don’t pretend they’re your producers
share things of value with them
invite them into your creative pathway
give away information and ideas that have currency
help them and they’ll help you.

I’ve said before on a number of occasions, my audience is almost always entirely made up of people I’d love to go out for a curry with after the gig and chat to for hours. Demographically, my favourite people in the world are the ones that go to Steve Lawson gigs. If I wasn’t Steve Lawson, I’d be hanging out at his gigs to meet cool people. Somewhere along the line the approach to drawing an audience into your world that I’ve outlined above has worked pretty much perfectly for me.

Take the principles and examples, think about them, discuss them, adapt them, play with them, jump in and try chatting to your fans. See what happens. Please post and thoughts, comments or questions below.

Part 3 I’ll look at some of the software and hardware tools that work best.

Solobassteve's Social Media Surgery

I’ve finally got round to writing a page on this site about social media consulting – helping out other artists, labels, students etc. with understanding how having a conversation with your audience is preferable to shouting at them.

I’ve been doing this kind of work for years – over the last 7 or 8 years, I’ve had various musicians come to me asking for help with releasing their own music, both the logistics of getting CDs pressed etc. and then how to make their music available and talk to their audience. A lot of people confused new tools with old media, and spent ages trying to rack up as many 10s of thousands of Myspace friends as they could before realising that all of those friends were using them in the way they themselves were being used – as someone to try and broadcast at.

So after the disappointment of trying that, a fair few musicians – from singer-songwriters to fellow solo bassists came to me for some help.

More recently, I’ve been talking about this stuff in Universities, writing about it here and on sites like MusicThinkTank and Creative Choices, and running informal sessions with groups of musicians, as well as continuing to consult with individuals.

And then this week I’ve been helping out on a PR job with a new digital download service, finding bloggers and social media enthusiasts with a connection to the subject who might want to check it out. Having the huge range of connections I’ve made through the disparate bits of my career – all the way back to my days writing for Bassist, Guitarist, Total Guitar etc – has really come into its own. 🙂

So I’ve written a page, bringing all that stuff together – if you or someone you know needs some help and advice on such things, read the page, then drop me a line!

Video, Greenbelt, blogging and being yourself

OK, I promised a greenbelt round-up, and that’s still on the way, but first (this is backwards, I know) some thoughts on how video worked for us at Greenbelt. By ‘us’, I mean the social media monkeys that were trying to get Greenbelt’s web-presence away from just being a static website into something a little more granular, diffuse, community based and embeddable as conversation-starters…

Greenbelters have been using Flickr in a co-ordinated way for years – there are over 15,000 photos tagged at Greenbelt2006, Greenbelt2007 or Greenbelt2008! But the festival presence hadn’t really gone beyond that. So I, along with JennyBee, James Stewart, Lobelia and Mike Radcliffe set about building a video presence for the festival.

Jenny was already involved in a more structured, formal process of collecting video interviews and whatnot for promotional usage, but we were all looking for a much more guerilla feel to our social media footage: lots of chatting to camera, unedited interviews, fun stuff from around the site. And, crucially, we wanted a fair bit of it to be watchable live.

After about a month of trying, we finally found a contact at WomWorld – a Nokia promo blog, who would lend us the hardware we needed to do the project – namely, 4 Nokia N82s and one Nokia N95. Yay for Nokia and their lovely bloggers! It all happened so late in the day that the phones were sent direct to the festival site, and we had very little time to trail what we were doing, or to get conversant with everything that the phones could do. Still, we’ve managed, so far, to rack up well over 8000 views on the Greenbelt Group at Qik.com and Mike opted to record video at higher quality and post it to his YouTube Channel – he produced some great video.

Here’s my Qik Channel – the first 50 vids on here are from the festival:

So I did all the interviews you’ve seen embedded here over the last 10 days, and a whole load more footage, had some great feedback to it all, and it’s already cropped up being embedded and linked to on a range of sites, providing a talking point for those who were and those who weren’t at the festival.

It was a fantastic validation of two things – firstly, the importance of embeddable, linkable social media for starting conversations about any event. And secondly, the importance of video in getting the ‘feel‘ of any event across. blogging, texting, tweeting, even audio recordings go some way to creating a ‘buzz’, but nothing has the impact that video has… if Greenbelt are bright, they’ll get behind this nexy year, resource it, promote it, and they could have a virtual attendance bigger than that actual attendance…

I’ve just written a post about the honesty of video for Creative-Choices.co.uk, and started a discussion about it at Phreadz. Sadly you can’t embed video on the Creative Choices blog, but here’s the Phreadz conversation about it –

The question at the end of the Creative Choices blog is ‘how is video working for you?’ – feel free to drop by over there and answer it

Buzz experiment thoughts: Measuring Levels Of Connection…

The other day I wrote my first post for MusicThinkTank.com – a really great collaborative blog with contributors from across the spectrum of ‘what’s happening in the music industry these days?’ – I was really excited to be asked to blog for them, as there are some fantastic thinkers writing for the site that I’ve learned a lot from over the years. (please feel free to read the post and comment over there)

One of the really nice things about writing for them is the brief to be brief. So my first post is just that – short and to the point. But it does mean that I get to expand on the thoughts over here 🙂

So, as I say over there, one of the things that the buzz exercises are making me think about and be more aware of is the whole area of ‘level of connection’ or ‘depth of impact’. There are two vague levels on which this stuff can be measured – abstract and metric. The abstract level is probably best summed up as ‘your own perception of the level of ambient awareness’ – or just the sense that more people seem to be clocking who you are and what you do.

The metric level is actually a whole series of interlocking metrics measuring LOADS of different ways that people engage with what you do: from audience attendance at gigs, CD and download sales, free download hits, web page hits, return visits, RSS feed subscribers, mentions on other people’s blogs and web forums, quantity of email interactions… etc. etc.

What’s vitally important to remember here is that what you’re dealing with is not a set of statistics that need improving, but a number of unique individuals who are all engaging what an aspect or aspects of ‘that thing you do’ in subtle and unique ways, and are all in a position to be drawn closer into what you do, if only it is presented to them in a way that is relevant and of value.

But in order to understand and quantify where each of those people are in their relationship with you, we first need to come up with some vague staging posts along the way, from no knowledge of even the area you work in to becoming a patron/sponsor/financier of what you do.

Let’s have a look at a few of those introductory stages:

Notice that a person’s level of connection with you begins before they even know who you are: knowing something about your field is a level of connection – it’s latent, but can prove vital to them a) finding you and b) understanding what you do. So for me, it really helps whenever anyone else is successful as a solo bassist and/or musician using looping. Every time KT Tunstall or Imogen Heap does some live looping on TV, it expands my pool of latent connection. Every time Victor Wooten plays a solo spot in a Flecktones gig, and a bunch of non-bassists see how cool solo bass can be, my pool of latent connection expands.

As and when those people are drawn into my orbit, they’ll have some frame of reference for what it is that I do, something to relate it to, a peg on which to hang their labels for it, beyond ‘nice music’. They’ll see it as a cool hip thing, and I’ll piggy-back on the residual level of cool that solo bass or looping has for them. This, in my experience, has way more real-world lasting value than the pretense that what you’re doing is utterly unique and groundbreaking. The majority of people connect better with familiarity than they do with ‘extreme novelty’…

The first level of actualised connection is name recognition. How many times have you had a conversation with someone who says ‘do you know ******’ and you say ‘I’ve heard the name’… and often you have. You know precious little about them, if anything, but their name is there, in your sphere somewhere.

If that happens 2 or 3 times with the same person, your curiosity is tweaked and you may google them, especially if you’re sat in front of a computer when it happens. And name recognition turns to first level engagement with what you do – finding whichever web-presence ranks highest in google for you and checking it out… So they’ve found you, and have done so based on the feeling that they might be missing out by not knowing about you…

The obvious point to make here is that this relies on them meeting 2 or 3 people who are inspired to talk about what you do – something that is latent in a lot of your audience, most likely. There’ll be a whole load of people who like what you do who don’t think to talk about it, cos they don’t realise you need it. As I’ve said many times, and will keep saying til people realise it’s true, I’m utterly reliant on word of mouth to get people to hear about what I do – both because I can’t afford broadcast ad-space and because I dip under the radar of most mainstream music media channels… the occasional play on Radio 3 or 6Music and the very occasional article in the national press can’t sustain any level of buzz enough to help support a career – though it’s great to have listeners now who first heard me on Late Junction or read about me in a mag (I’ve been interviewed by, reviewed by or featured in The Sunday Times, Jazzwise, Bassist, Guitarist, Bass Player, Bass Frontiers, Total Guitar… etc. etc. and lots of music related websites. Sounds a lot bunched together like that, but means precious little when spread out over 9 years in the context of building a career… …more on the real importance of reviews and interviews coming soon!)

But how is that measured? We as musicians need to make ourselves available for feedback – whether it be email, forums, tweets, myspace comments, blog comments, last.fm shout-box comments… Encouraging a culture of “letting artists know that we’ve found them and we like them” is a huge part of making music ‘sticky’, so that it pollenates beyond our ‘primary reach’.

So, comment thread: other than me (though if you’ve just discovered me, you can tell me where too!), who was the last independent artist you heard that got you excited? Feel free to video comment and play some of the music in the background 🙂

The foolishness of Copying Radiohead (or 'why poor people vote for lower taxes')

[This started out as being my first post for MusicThinkTank.com, a site I’ve been invited to blog for, but ended up far too long to post there, so I’ll put it here, and post something else there… 🙂 ]

So Trent Reznor has gone one step further than he did with Ghosts, and is giving all of his new album away TOTALLY for free. No high dollar packages – at least for now – just free downloads, including putting massively hi-res versions on Bit Torrent, with a CD/Vinyl release to follow in July. (No mention yet of extra tracks on the physical release)…

Since Radiohead and Prince ‘gave albums away’ last year, we’ve all been talking endlessly about whether or not all music should be ‘free’, whether this is the new model that we should all adopt.

Two things are clear about Radiohead, Prince and Trent Reznor – (1) they’re all massively wealthy, and (2) all could guarantee massive press coverage for a move as ‘bold’ as giving a record away.

From those two points, I think it’s easy to see why modeling our marketing strategies against these artists is a non-starter. Unless you’re independently wealthy, or have the kind of day-job that affords you both the time and resources to tour heavily to symbiotically promote YOU via the free downloads and the tour, there’s not really a comparison financially.

And as anyone knows who’s ever paid for print advertising, column inches are incredibly valuable – the value of the coverage that Radiohead got for ‘giving their music away for free’ must’ve run into millions of pounds worldwide – a new Radiohead album is frontpage news in Q and Spin, but not in all the national newspapers around the world that covered it as a lead story, or on the television news programmes that led with it.

Copying the actions of celebrity millionaires is a bizarre kind of aspirational living – similar to that which drives Grazia-buying women to copy the fashions of the wives of sportsmen, and which causes millions of Americans vote for a political system that will leave them considerably financially worse off, ‘just in case they ever get rich’ – the myth of the American Dream, that anyone can get rich, keeps a lot of poor people voting for low taxation & lower government spending, because they’d hate to have their money taken off them when they get rich, despite the statistics showing that a minute number of people ever make the kind of quantum leaps in earnings that take even middle-income workers into the world of the super-rich. [I know there are a lot of other reasons why people might vote Republican or Libertarian, so please, no political comments on this one 😉 ]

Musicians are following suit, taking at face value the idea that Radiohead, NIN et al. gave away their music for ‘free’ and not looking at the massive value it carried as a press-generator for them in a way that just doesn’t work if you haven’t already had millions spent on you over years and years to get you to the place where your ‘free’ album is front page news.

Clearly, me ‘giving my music away’ and Radiohead ‘giving their music away’ are not comparable situations. Not at all.

For one thing, I’m a solo bass player. In a world where ‘pop’ music is driven by two main things – singing and drumming – I play instrumental music without a drummer, often without a fixed rhythm at all. Copying the broadcast-focussed actions of a bunch of zeitgeist-defining millionaire pop-stars is about as useful to me understanding my audience as putting videos of me reading Shakespeare on Youtube would be, just because a lot of people like Shakespeare.

Getting sidetracked by the aspiration to be a rock ‘n’ roll superstar is career suicide for an artist still needing to generate an audience to be monetized. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, in the new music economy, any strategy that relies on Broadcast media but doesn’t have millions of dollars to invest to get that rolling is doomed to failure.

Yes, there’s the chance that something you ‘give away’ will ‘go viral’. There’s also a chance that you’ll win the lottery and be able to pay for all that lovely broadcast airtime you so crave. Neither happen anywhere near frequently enough to be statistically significant when planning how to build an audience and connect with them.

[this is the point that this post becomes ‘Social Media Thoughts Pt 5’]

No, we need to think differently, and the bit that we do have control over is the conversation. The back-and-forth with our audience, our friends and our peers about what we do and why we do it, framing out art in a dialogue about what it is, why it exists and the ways that people who like it have to support it.

That’s what social media presents us with. I can answer in-depth questions about what I do on the forum, I can invite comment about what I do, here on the blog via comments, I can answer one-line questions and field comments about gigs via twitter, creating a buzz about it amongst those people who get to hear about it.

Last Tuesday I did a gig at Darbucka, with Lobelia, and with the Lawson/Dodds/Wood trio (apparently we’re changing the order of the names in the band name – it’s getting very Spinal Tap! 🙂 ), and with special guests Lloyd Davis and Miriam Jones. Almost everyone there got in for free. The guestlist was HUGE. We made so little on the door as to be insignificant. However, the audience were, for the first time in AGES, largely people who’d never seen me play before, and as a result I sold more CDs at the gig that I have in ages at a Darbucka show. Miriam sold some CDs too, and the buzz afterwards on Twitter was huge – way more people talking about that gig via Twitter than any previous gig I’ve done. I got a lot of messages from people who were really sorry to have missed it, wanting to know when we’re playing again, and a lot of people downloading the free albums, and others buying Cds and downloads from the shop off the back of the gig. And there’s a LOT of talk about the forthcoming albums from both Lobelia and I and the trio…

So am I anti-free? Clearly not, the gig was essentially ‘free’, for most of the audience, but it was a different kind of free. It was free with context, free with value, in that everyone who was put on the guestlist was grateful, came with a sense of excitement and expectation, and went home talking about the gig. The music became a social object, something with value and cache, all of which is there to be monetized at a later date.

The bottom line is Don’t give it away for nothing, but the currency you trade in doesn’t have to be money

The gig, the music and my relationship with the people there was framed within the context of a series of social media-enabled conversations. I’m not suddenly going to fill Wembley by doing this, but the desire to fill Wembley is a destructive greedy pipe dream that ignores the beauty and value in where my music, career, and relationship with my audience is at NOW. I may one day fill Wembley, but I may also one day meet a benevolent billionaire on a plane who decides to sponsor my music to the tune of £200,000 a year, expecting nothing in return. Neither are a good plan to base a marketing strategy on.

So, forget about the mis-use of the word ‘free’ as applied to the ‘music in exchange for press coverage and gig promotion’ that already-successful multi-million-selling Rock stars do, and start focussing on the conversation you can have with your audience, using your music as a social object around which to build value, cache, excitement, events and value added product/scarcity-based revenue streams.

(A LOT of the stuff in this post is talked about in the Creative Coffee Club podcast That I recorded with Penny Jackson – If you’re interested in this stuff, you really ought to listen to it… )

Social Media thoughts Pt 3 – the ongoing conversation…

So, from my own ill-formed thoughts on how to use Social Media as a way of connecting with an audience, I started reading more about the way other people were doing the same thing, and watching what other musicians did. There’s been a lot of cross-pollenation, as musicians who’ve taken some of my ideas have gone further with them in a much shorter space of time than I ever have – Jeff Schmidt is a good example of this.

Jeff’s got a pretty huge profile given the very short space of time in which he’s been doing this solo bass stuff. He went from exploring solo bass ideas at a masterclass I was giving to winning international competitions and building an online fanbase in just a few months. A lot of his spread was via the social media of Myspace, his blog, bass forums and videos. His playing is at times really immediately impressive which got a lot of people embedding clips of his music in a ‘wow, check this dude out!’ kind of way, and word spread fast. A lot faster than it ever has for me online… And from his thinking about this stuff, I’ve picked up all kinds of great ideas and thoughts. Our ongoing conversations on how all this works, via blog comments, twitter and sporadic podcasting – as well as chatting whenever we get to meet up – are a vital part in how I process all this stuff.

Again, the information flow is non-linear – it’s back and forth, it involves a lot of tributaries and cul-de-sacs and hours of mucking about and exploring what’s happening. Both Jeff and I are having conversations with other people, and bring those to the table when we get together. His thinking on it is very much shaped by him having a pretty demanding day job, which frees him up in terms of making money from his music, but ties him down in terms of time spent on music-related stuff… And around us, we’ve built a growing community of musicians – many of them, not surprisingly, solo bassists – who are talking about and using this stuff.

Recently, something fundamentally shifted for me. I started to discuss my ideas on this with non-musicians. Twitter was a big catalyst in the beginning of this, starting to have mini-discussions with people who were actively integrating social media into their daily public dialogue. From there, I discovered about the London Social Media Cafe, and started to have weekly conversations with people from other businesses and artistic disciplines about how the conversation enables us to do what we do, and find an audience, clients, business partners, inspiration and resources.

The format of the Social Media Cafe is so simple, a room is booked upstairs in a pub, a load of curious people turn up, drink coffee, eat croissants and chat about social media stuff. Sometimes it’s about making friends and feeling less isolated. Sometimes it’s about getting work. Sometimes it’s about helping other people process their thoughts on a particular subject. Sometimes it’s about giving and receiving encouragement. Or having a sounding board. And it’s all about the Moo Cards. 🙂

The founder, Lloyd Davis, is very much the personality archetype for the SMC – he’s curious, creative, tech-savvy, self employed as a social media consultant and enabler… and loves a good natter!

What is clear from the SMC (and the spin-off gatherings, like the fantastic Creative Coffee Club) is that the level of thinking and dialogue that goes on is pretty much the leading edge of thinking on the subject of social media and it’s relationship to work, innovation, entrepreneurship, the arts, creativity etc. – certainly that I’ve ever come across. I’ve listened to keynote speeches from expos and new media gatherings around the world and often things that are presented as revolutionary and new in those settings are just taken as read at the SMC and are part of the way we daily live. If I worked for a media agency or corporation, I’d be biting Lloyd’s hand off to pay for access to the collective minds of the SMC! I can’t imagine a better group to bounce ideas off, or get feedback from. The various sponsors of the Friday morning get togethers understand this.

The other key part of it for me has been about reinvention – a lot of my geek friends that I’ve known for years have watched me go from a website with scrolling text and animated gifs with a blog just written in HTML, through all of my new media mistakes and false starts, and so are less likely to be invigorated by my take on Social Media. They’ve heard all of my thoughts in their ill-formed half-baked state and as such, hear what I’m saying now in that light. That’s a useful thing, in that it stops me from thinking I’m the business when in fact I’m just writing up here what happens in my life, but it does mean that taking the more refined, nuanced, considered version of it into an environment where the tall bloke with the big hair and furry coats is a new face on the geek-scene is a good testing ground for it as a body of thought.

I’m getting to abstract from a musical context the principles behind the social media interaction discussion and instead of solo bass, to talk about film or books, computer games or education, and see how those scenarios throw light on the process, on the concept, on the whole area of looking at the failure of broadcast media to engage an audience, and the need for pathways of interaction between ‘content providers’ and consumers.

Another key piece in my thinking on this over the last 6 weeks or so has been David Jennings brilliant book Net, Blog And Rock ‘n’ Roll, which is a wonderful look at the way that people find information and how that plays out on the web in relation to music. I’ll not write a full review yet, as I still haven’t finished it, but suffice to say it is utterly vital reading for anyone thinking about this stuff, from any field.

So, what’s the value in the SMC/CCC/Social Media Geek-world for me then? Well, it works on many many levels. It’s a test-bed for ideas, it’s a place where I get to contribute to other people’s conversations, as well as starting my own. My, uhm, esoteric place as a musician makes for a great perspective provider, in that I’m clearly never looking to make millions, but am fiercely protective of my own creative space. I’m a good foil for conversations about the place that ‘meeting the needs of a market’ takes in any business/marketing plan, and maybe that will spill over into some consulting work on that.

I’m also able to collect stories and info from all these various worlds that are hugely useful for talking to music students about this stuff. I’m really looking forward to doing more university sessions on this, and helping music students plan a strategy of engagement, of interaction, of story telling and ‘real’ buzz-building around their music. I’m getting enquiries now from people wanting me to go and talk to their bands about this, which will be a lot of fun too!

And on top of all that, I’ve met a load of really amazing people, who inspire and energise me, who challenge me to up my game, and who encourage me. As well as a whole new load of listeners to my music – that last bit alone makes a lot of this worthwhile, but is actually just an added bonus!

So where do I go from here? I keep talking, keep sharing stories, keep helping musicians, keep learning from the mega-minds at the SMC/CCC/London geek world community, and carry on making the best music I can!

Are you an SMC/CCC attendee? What does it mean to you? What have you got from it?

Thoughts and Questions on Originality.

Been having some fantastic conversations with creative people of late on the subject of originality. It’s a subject that seems to lead to wildly different comments and responses from creative people, but rather too often seems to become deified or fetishised to the detriment of the resultant art.

With solo bass being such a niche musical pursuit, I often end up with people thinking that what I do is ‘completely original’, in that listeners outside of the solo bass/looping/etc. cognoscenti have probably never heard anyone doing anything quite like what I’m doing before. It would be very easy for me to claim that I came up with the whole idea and convince people – at least in the moment – that I’m some kind of pioneer in a way that I’m not.

But, it’s also worth noting that some of what I do has been described as ‘pioneering’ and even folks within the ‘scenes’ from which I draw most of my influence have recognised bits of it as being in some way ‘original’.

So what is one to do with that? In both situations the result is that the people involved have another level on which to engage with what I do, but it’s one that holds precious little ‘real’ value.

The first question that comes from this is a) ‘how many records have you ever bought just because the artist was flagged up as ‘original’?’ – and part b) of that question is: of those, how many did you stick with just because it was ‘original’?

The answer to the first bit is probably – if you’re an early adopter and enthusiast like me – ‘a few’. There are a few things I’ve checked out (though these days more via downloads/myspace etc.) that I’ve being pointed to because the persons approach to music making was in some way novel. However, it’s the second half that concerns us – Long term engagement with an artist’s output is based on quality, value and integrity, not gimmick.

This is something that we’re all too aware of when it comes to the marketing aspect of what we do – trying to rebrand dogturds as caviar isn’t going to make people enjoy the taste of dogturds – but originality is trickier because it’s a) less easy to quantify and b) it feels like an artistic consideration first and not a marketing gimmick.

So, here’s the question that will help you to gauge your own reaction to concepts of originality – if everyone in the world did things the way you do, would what you do still have value? In otherwords, when your schtick ceases to be a schtick and just becomes a creative model like ‘being in a band’ or ‘taking photographs’, what is the innate value in the way your story informs the output?

For me, it becomes this – if all the world were solo bassists, would my music as a solo bassist still be worth anything? Or, to frame it in now, ‘what’s the value of what I do to an audience saturated with looped solo bassists?’ This last question is a key one when it comes to putting on ‘branded’ gigs – if I put on a solo bass night, does it water down my brand to the detriment of people’s perception of how ‘original’ I am, or does it just remove the ‘originality/novelty’ element from how they engage with it, and cut to the storytelling?

The reality for me is, as I’ve been telling my students for years, it’s way more important to be ‘good’ than it is to be ‘original’ – a whole load of the willfully obscure experiments that one can end up with when looking for a ‘new sound’ are things that other people have tried and dismissed before inflicting them on an audience.

Influence seems to be the dirty word in so many discussions about originality. The equation seems to go thusly –

Being original is key to my success, therefor I mustn’t experience anyone else’s art that may shape what I do in an overt way because if I hear them, I’ll want to sound like them, and that will ruin my USP (unique selling point), and I’ll be finished as an artist. So as a result, I’ll live my life in seclusion from talented people operating in the same field as me.

This, dear bloglings, is what’s known in the trade as UTTER BOLLOCKS. I’ve seen a few people’s musical paths really messed up due to their phobia of influence. I’ve seen people torture themselves when another band came up with a title similar to the one they wanted for their next album! It’s crippling creatively, but more than that it bears no relation at all to how we relate to art on any non-superficial level.

So from my observation of my own and other people’s reactions to these questions, here are a few thoughts on the creative process as it relates to originality and influence:

  • We are all aggregators: or as Bono put it (possibly quoting someone else) ‘Every artist is a cannibal’. Very very little in the development and progress of human existence has appeared in an intellectual vacuum. Our progress on a macro and micro level is way more often than not evolutionary rather than eureka-moment-driven. We take in our observations of what’s going on around us, filter them through eachother, through the world as we see it, through a complex-but-contained set of experiences and ever-growing opinions and tastes, and decide what to do, what to create, how to create, how to tell our story. Those Eureka moments that do happen are too random to be factorable in steering our creative path. What influences we choose to subject ourselves to is something we’re very much in control of.
  • Influence is influence, whether the influence is from within your own discipline or outside: If I stopped listening to all music, I’d still be shaped in my music making by politics, art, comedy, love, life, illness, nature etc… Everything I do as a musician is shaped by influences, millions of them. Influences won’t negatively impact my art, only unhealthy obsessions will.
  • The problem isn’t influence/no influence, it’s self-awareness or the lack-thereof: People who make great music in isolation won’t suddenly start making crap derivative music if they open themselves up to influence, and likewise people who are so unable to figure out what they want that they just ape someone else’s process to the point of plagarism aren’t suddenly going to discover their creative focus by not listening to their main influences. The problem with obsession is bigger and more fundamental than whether or not your music sounds like another band.
  • Influence is like a diet – it’s the mixture and balance that keeps us healthy: Obsession is not a healthy state to be in. Like eating only potato, or drinking nothing but tea, listening to one artist is going to mess you up. I have for a long time viewed my music listening as a diet, and as such cherish my music listening time like a meal. I avoid junk-food, and crave sumptuous filling meals that meet my dietary requirements. I don’t like eating the same thing day after day, and definitely enjoy the effects of seasonal variation.
  • Style is a medium, not a message – how you say something IS important. Vitally so. But talking shit with a soothing voice is still talking shit.
  • Speaking someone else’s language doesn’t make you think like them, it just makes you able to communicate with the same people they communicate with – this blog doesn’t come across as derivative just because it’s in English. None of us trawl the interwebs looking for ‘new languages’ just because they’re new. Language is there to communicate ideas.
  • Storytelling is an artform that exploits shared history and narrative form: If you’re telling your story through music, things that are familiar have a different resonance from things that are completley alien to both artist and listener. This is one of the reasons why so many creative musicians still find so much to stay within the confines of ‘blues’ – despite the restrictions of the form, there’s still so much great original music that’s coming out that is blues-based and blues-influenced. The language, imagery and resonance of the blues still provides a channel for so many people’s unique stories.
  • the quest to be original might actively prevent you from soundtracking your world: If I attempted to do away with my influences, most of the stuff that makes my music important to me would vanish; the melodic forms, the chord progressions derived from folk, pop and jazz idioms, the phrasing that I’ve absorbed from Joni Mitchell, Bill Frisell or Michael Manring, the bass techniques that I’ve nicked from Trip Wamsley or Victor Wooten. What makes me sound like me is the combination of everything that goes into my music. I throw it all into the mixing pot, and out comes my music. I practice to learn more about how to channel the feelings and emotions that those independent influences bring out in me, and look to find the right amount and blend of ingredients to make me feel the way the combination of all of them makes me feel.

So, where does all this leave me? Well, right now, I’m working on a new album, or at least, I’m getting ideas together to start working on a new album. Some of that involves working out what’s physically possible with the Looperlative, but a lot of it is working out what I want to say and how best to say it. So I’m putting myself on a fairly strict diet. A diet that will contain a whole range of music that generates the kind of response in me that I want from my own music. I’ll be listening to a lot of The Blue Nile, Joni Mitchell, Eric Roche, Rosie Thomas, Theo Travis, Alan Pasqua, Nels Cline, Bill Frisell, and then a whole bunch of extreme stuff in as many directions as I can to help me push back the walls that define the stylistic parameters of what I’ve done up until now.

And how I deal with notions of Originality and their value or otherwise impacts every minute of my practice time – do I get frustrated when I play something and it reminds me of some other musician, or do I use that as a model for saying something in their language? Do I get fixated with listening to other solo bassists because I am one, or do I realise that solo bass is in the grand scheme of things nothing to do with whether my music is any good or not, and look at developing the component parts of my musical narrative via influences that are best at those bits – for example, looking to singers for melodic influence, pianists for harmony, and classical guitarists for phrasing and shaping chord/melody ideas?

The end result of this is whether or not you hear those influences, the music is 100% me. It might be a different angle on me that hasn’t come out in other ways before. It might be me as expressed through the playing of other musicians on music that I’ve written for them, but it will be a combination of all the various influences that make me want to do what I do, and will at the same time be both entirely derivative and completely original.

First Podcast recorded… available ASAP.

I’ve just finished my first joint podcast with Jeff Schmidt – we recorded it via Skype, and talked for about an hour about lots of musical things (we both were expecting it to get all political/religous but it didn’t this time – it’s going to be a series, so there’s plenty of time for that!)

Jeff’s the ideal person to do this with, in that he’s a solo bassist and tech-geek, but has enough of a different take on things that we can get our teeth into it without it becoming a podcasted mutual hagiography.

I’m looking forward to listening back to it, and will make it available as soon as possible.

So, bearing in mind that it’s Jeff and I talking nonsense about bass playing, music, marketing, the web, geek-stuff, and will contain rants about religion, politics, philosophy etc… have you got any suggested titles?

If you want to follow the development of the podcast, and any other whacky ideas that Jeff and I may come up with, you can subscribe to our combined twitter feed here – that way you can read our conversations about it in real time… or you can just sign up at twitter.com and join the conversation yourself…

Steve Rodby interview from Bassist Mag, Aug 1999

Steve Rodby was, without a doubt, one of the nicest people I got to meet when writing for Bassist mag. Along with Michael Manring, Lee Sklar, Jimmy Haslip and a handful of others, he was one of the interviewees that inspired me as much by his personality, grace and enthusiasm as by his wise words and exceptional playing. His thoughts on soloing in this interview were particularly enlightening…

He’s also, bizarrely, one of the most underrated bassists on the planet. I’ve had the ‘who could replace Steve Rodby?’ conversations with loads of great bassists the world over, and no-one has yet suggested another player that does everything that Steve does as well as Steve does it in the Pat Metheny Group. His jazz upright playing is exemplary, his bowing beautiful, his rock and pop electric playing makes him sound like he’s spent the last 40 years studying nothing but great rock/pop bass playing. He’s a proper low-frequency master of all trades. So here’s the interview – again, frustratingly, it’s an edit of a very long and involved conversation that I wish I had transcribed… maybe I’ll have to start an ‘in conversation’ podcast – could be a fun project for NAMM… Anyway, have a read of this, then go and listen to any of the PMG albums that Steve plays on, and be amazed at what a great player he is. One thing to keep in mind is that when Richard Bona joined the PMG, he joined as a singer. That’s how good Steve is :o)


For 20 Years now The Pat Metheny Group has been one of the biggest selling acts on the contemporary jazz scene. It has consistently filled concert halls and arenas the world over, and produced a series of critically acclaimed albums that have touched on almost every imaginable area of contemporary music, from Latin to industrial, drum ‘n’ bass to avante garde and freeform improv.

Since 1982 Steve Rodby’s upright and electric bass grooves have driven the band’s sound, helping to define the style that is now instantly recognisable as the PMG.

Bassist collared Steve for the low down on all things Metheny-esque while they were in London earlier this year for three nights at the Shepherds Bush Empire.

SL – You started out as a Classical bassist, but made the switch to Jazz fairly early on. How did that come about?

‘I always thought I’d be a classical bassist. My father is a classical musician, so that seemed the obvious direction. I went to college to study, but I don’t think I was ever quite at the level where I would have landed a really good orchestral post.

‘Very early on I started playing pop. When I was in college I got a couple of calls for studio work and I took to those sessions extremely well. Because orchestra playing was kinda boring, I played this game with my self when I was a kid where I would imagine that there was a mic in front of my bass recording every note that I played and that someone was going to say “Rodby, come in here!” and then play the tape back and say “What were you doing there”'”

‘So when I finally got in the studio, it was a fairly stress free process as I’d been playing for imaginary tape recorders for years!!

‘I also started to play electric bass, and made the switch to playing pop easily as that’s the music I was listening to all the time.

‘I finished college got my degree in classical bass, but by half way through college I was playing fairly regularly on the Chicago jazz scene.

‘My big break came when the great bass player Rufus Reid, who played in the house band at the Jazz Showcase (prestigious Chicago jazz venue), moved to New York, so the gig was up for grabs. The owner of the club seemed to like the way I played, and I ended up playing five nights, three sets a night with all these amazing visiting musicians like Milt Jackson, Sonny Stitt and Joe Henderson. The drummer in the house band had played with Charlie Parker and the pianists were all 30 years older than me and knew so much about music. And here I was this nerdy college kid with a classical background and all I had going for me was my ear and a feel!’

How did you learn all the tunes?

‘When I first started playing bass, my dad bought would play guitar and we would play duets. To teach me a song, he would write the roots notes and bar lines down, with no information about what else to play, so I had to improvise from the very beginning.

‘On the gigs, I was doing the same thing – following roots and knowing instinctively what the rest of the notes were. The piano players would play the first few choruses very clearly until I had it. I learned on the bandstand rather than in the practice room or out of books. I never really studied as much as I wish that I had.’

How did you first hook up with Pat?

‘I’d met Pat at various jazz camps when we were younger, and had stayed in touch. He was looking to add acoustic bass to his band and was auditioning players. My name came up so he called me and I went to NY and auditioned. Shortly after that he offered me the job.

‘When I met Pat I was an unformed nobody from small town Illinois, who didn’t even know what chords were, and he was already the future of music – he was 18 and had it all figured out. He was so far ahead of the game it was unbelievable. But when we played there was something about the style of the music that I felt that I could understand that I couldn’t account for – It may have been similar backgrounds and a shared love of pop music, the Beatles. It just made sense. I used to listen to the first couple of PMG albums and say to myself – ‘that’s my music’. It really was my dream group.’

Was it intimidating to work with Pat after the succession of great bassists that he’d already worked with?

‘Mmm, not really. The only thing that could have freaked me was Pat’s relationship with Jaco. Not only because he played with Jaco, but he REALLY played with Jaco. Bright Sized Life was one of the best records ever made. The next time I saw Pat after he met Jaco he said, “Oh man, I just heard a bass player that is going to change music. He sounds like John McLaughlin and John Coltrane only better – and on bass!!” – Pat doesn’t say stuff like that lightly!

‘Once I heard Jaco I just said “forget it, I’m not even going to try!” I was one of the few bassists on the planet who loved Pat and Weather Report but didn’t get a fretless and transcribe Jaco’s licks. I’ve never transcribed a bass solo in my life! Hearing Jaco also kept me away from playing fretless. So I thought if I’m going to do anything, I’ll play acoustic bass and I’ll play fretted pop style bass. Playing acoustic bass with Pat gave me a lot of freedom because what I was doing was different to what Mark Egan, Jaco or Charlie Haden had done. That’s my way of being able to sleep at night, otherwise I would have shot myself a long time ago!!’

How did the group develop such a distinctive sound?

‘In the early days of the band, I think we had a feeling that we had to do something different from other bands, so we had a load of do’s and don’ts – don’t do fusion, don’t have a back beat. And then we spent a lot of time avoiding music that may have sounded borrowed. But now we’ve finally got to the place were we can play Happy Birthday and it’ll sound like us. So we can now do a tune like the opening track on Imaginary Day that sounds sorta Chinese, maybe a bit like Gamalan Indonesian music, but it still sounds like us.’

Live, on the standard, ‘How Insensitive’, you take the first solo that I’ve heard you play. Is this a new area for you?

‘For years I took some really bad solos, and then we started doing this tune and I began applying myself to soloing again. That’s the next thing to think about. Not just soloing, but maybe making a solo record. I’ve spent so many years not paying any attention to it, but now that I’ve finally started to do my homework, I’ve found a real satisfaction. I’ve managed to get beyond the plateau that I was on. I’m moving forward as a soloist, so maybe now’s the time to do my own record.’

What have you been studying?

‘Well, I’ve finally begun to realise that at the technical level – playing melodies and chord scales, playing faster, higher – that you need to be able to do it 20 times faster than you’ll ever need to in a song! My problem was that the fastest the highest the hardest that I ever played was in this little solo during the gig. I was always trying to reach so far over my head and it didn’t really work.

‘So I realised that I had to put in the time, getting my technique up to speed. Same with the chord scales – there is a set of musical materials that you need to know – with this chord, this set of notes are your primary musical material – you can do other things, but you need that reference point.

‘These are the things that beginning sax or piano players learn very easily, but bass players don’t seem to take to so well. Fancy bass soloists tend to learn a bunch of hot licks but often don’t learn the fundamentals of music. So I’m finally taking the time to learn what the chords are and be able to play them at soloing speed!

‘A great bass solo has to be a high quality melody that would sound like a high quality melody if it was played on another instrument. You’d go, “well, it’s down kinda low on the piano, and he’s playing a little slow, but that’s a great melody!” Most bass solos on any other instrument would sound kinda weak.

‘I have a million miles to go, but that’s what I aspire to, that’s what I’m going to work on for the next 20 years. I’m sat up there playing for myself and for the audience but I’ve also got Pat and Lyle, two of the finest melodic improvisers around, sat right behind me! I’m not going to get a smile out of them by playing fast, but my playing good strong melodies.”

Pat Metheny on Steve Rodby:

When you’ve played with the most highly respected bassists on the planet, the must be something pretty special about the guys that you keep in your band for 15 years. Here’s what Pat has to say about Steve –

‘The kinds of things I need in any musician who is going to be in the group, regardless of their role in the band, is a certain musical insight that includes, but hopefully transcends, a deep sense of what has happened on their respective instrument, particularly over the past 60 or 70 years of popular and improvised music, combined with the musical skill and vocabulary to sonically render their conception of what just what that history implies into a personal sound. Steve Rodby has the ability to do just that and so much more, and that is what makes him the perfect bass player for this band. His background in classical music combined with his extensive jazz playing and studio work has made him an exceptionally well rounded player with a genuine musical curiosity that transcends style. His relentless pursuit of just the right part, played with just the right intonation and sound are well suited for the basic musical aesthetic that our band aspires toward.’