Managing Information Streams Pt 3 – Twitter for Musicians

OK, let’s get practical about the use of Twitter for musicians.

Here’s a list of possible uses, that I’ll then break down (in no particular order of significance)

  • spreading rumours
  • publishing gig dates
  • inviting discussion
  • interaction with fans
  • promoting friends
  • developing a brand
  • personalising your website
  • keeping your site updated
  • proliferating info to a lot of sites
  • integrating with other social networks
  • keeping up with the interests of your audience
  • cutting down the time needed to interact via everything else…
  • tracking the buzz about you

Let’s break those down –

Spreading Rumours – we all have bits of near-confirmed info that we’d love to tell people about, but don’t want to post as news cos we’ll look like muppets if we get it wrong… Twitter overrides that by allowing us to be a bit more vague, but to generate a buzz… post about tour plans, collaboration invites, press stuff. Create a sense of expectation for what you’re up to, and let people know you’re still working even between ‘big’ news.

Publishing Gig Dates – just a really easy way to get gig news out there fast. Yes, it still needs to go on myspace, reverb nation, your own site, and all the other gig lists, but twitter is fastest!

Inviting Discussion – ‘hey, what do you think about [xyz]?’ – do it on your forum, and you may get pages of nonsense posts from people who have an axe to grind (caveat, not on my forum – I have possibly the most lovely bunch of forum posters anyone could want. It’s not prolific, but the quality is right up there!) – post it on twitter, get funny, clever responses from people who want to engage with you. reply and make them feel special. time spent? 2 mins for a 10 reply convo..

Interaction With Fans – a safe interface for your audience to contact you. It doesn’t take much time, it’s public, and it’s managable… if people get nasty you can block them, and the public record isn’t easily linked to, so trolls are less likely to spam you for the web-kudos.

Promoting Friends – this comes back to being the kind of musician friend you want to have – post links, cross post news, re-tweet information. Help eachother out!

Developing A Brand – this can be by being funny, insightful, posting about your other interest whatever that may be, posting in a unique way (the syntax of a particular twitterer can act like a digital signature) or just by updating regularly about what you’re doing… Tweet about your practice regime or recording ideas. Share tips and get known as helpful and supportive…

Personalising Your Website – got a corporate looking 3rd person website? Well, that’s probably a bad idea, but overlooking that for now, a twitter widget embedded will allow you to add personal regularly updated info to your site. It’s contained within the widget, but it lets people know what you’re doing. (see my myspace page for an example of an embedded widget – go here for more widget options)

Keeping Your Site Updated – again, if your site is really slick looking and updating it is tricky or costly, having a twitter feed can be a great way to mean that people coming back always have something new to see.

Proliferating Info To A Lot Of SitesTwitter widgets can be put on myspace, reverbnation, your blog, your band page, your personal page.. one tweet goes to loads of pages.

Integrating With Other Social Networks – following on from the last one, It can even update your facebook status, and will probably be able to do the same for Myspace before long. You can also feed info back into it from last.fm and a few other sites…

Keeping Up With The Interests Of Your Audience – if like me, you find your audience fascinating, it’s a great way to keep up with what they’re up to. I love reading tweets from people I know, and people I don’t…

Cutting Down The Time Needed To Interact Via Everything Else – twitter is quick and easy, it’s low maintenance, high yield in terms of interaction. Use it to cut down the volume of pointless email, or forums you visit and people you google. Do as much of it via twitter as you can, and you’ll free up time and headspace for everything else.

Tracking The Buzz About You – twitter lets you ‘track’ keywords via SMS – you send an SMS to twitter that says ‘track solobasssteve’ or whatever, and it texts you every time you get mentioned. Great way to find out what’s happening outside of the people following you…

Get on it, start doing it, choose your level of interaction (from news only to deeply personal – it’s totally definable by YOU) – there’s no compulsion to blog your breakfast choice or marital strife, so don’t feel that you can’t use it because you want to keep that side private. Tweet the music, tweet the tour dates, tweet the rumours and news…

what are you waiting for? – don’t forget to follow me there too.

All four solo albums now on Amazon.com downloads

I’ve just seen that all four of my ‘proper’ release solo albums are now up on Amazon.com download store – here they are –

And Nothing But The Bass – $7.92
Not Dancing For Chicken – $8.99
Grace And Gratitude – $8.99
Behind Every Word – $8.99

that’s a pretty damn cheap way to get hold of them – and you can listen to all of them before buying over on last.fm.

The reason my stuff is now available on amazon is because it’s put there by CDbaby – if you sign up for digital distribution with then (a non-exclusive deal, BTW), they’ll ship your stuff to 50-odd digital stores. Most of them won’t sell a thing, cos they got no passing traffic, but because some of those stores include the iTunes stores worldwide, emusic, napster, amazon and a couple of others that actually shift stuff, it’s the best possible way for an indie kid like me to get his music out there. It’s cheap to set up (less than $40 per album), and they take a pretty small percentage. CDbaby are the ultimate indie long-tail company. lead the market, get everyone signed up, get a little bit of cash from tens of thousands of musicians, and make millions. We’re happy cos we get it cheap, they have leverage because they represent so many artists and labels, and everybody wins.

Seriously, if you’re indie, and you’re not with CDbaby, you’re missing out. Do it.

To The Left Of The Mainstream – new music recommendations

I’ve written before about the need for filtering in the online music world – there’s just too much music and not enough time to leave it all to chance. As Jeff Schmidt just expressed it on twitter – “curation is vital”.

Which is why I’ve just started To The Left Of The Mainstream – a twitter-based music recommendation feed. I’ll post at least once a day, sometimes more, with links to great artists, with the proviso that all the sites will provide full track on demand streaming tracks or downloads. They’ll mainly be from Myspace, last.fm and Reverb Nation

So if you’re on twitter (you should be), you can ‘follow’ TTLOTM on there, or just click the link and then grab the RSS feed to follow it in google reader or safari or wherever. I’m sure you’ll find loads of great new music through it.

Stylistically, it’ll run the gamut from singer/songwriters to ambient music, rock bands to chamber works, electronica to nu-jazz. All the kinds of things I love. There’ll be no ‘buy-ons’, as it’s only going to be of any value at all if the sole criteria is quality…

That doesn’t mean I’m not taking recommendations – make those in the comments below please (rule #325, you can’t recommend yourself! ;o)

Billy Bragg, KT Tunstall, Leo Abrahams & Foy Vance live…

So iTunes have started doing an annual festival – itunes live. This year they seem to have a thing for collaborations, which do often, it must be said, make a gig particularly special.

And is no doubt one of the main reasons why the genius that is Leo Abrahams was on the bill – his new album is pretty much all colalborations, and features KT and Foy.

The gig started with Leo on his own, playing a couple of my favourite tunes of his; Anemone (not Amoeba as I called it on twitter last night) and Kristiansand.

He was then joined by Foy for a song together, which was beautiful.

and Foy Vance (at The Luminaire tonight, if it’s not sold out) – sweet Lord, why had no-one told me about him before? Loopin’ up a storm, layering acoustic guitar (not sounding v. acoustic, but hey, it sounded amazing) and voice, and singing like a gospel preacher. Really really compelling stuff. I’ve yet to explore his recorded output to see if he’s managed to capture that magic on record, but live he was breathtaking. Didn’t know any of the songs, obviously, but all were arresting and beautiful. Amazing stuff.

Then a break, after which the ever-amazing Billy Bragg came on (Billy made some reference to using Google alerts – so if you’re reading this, hi Billy!) – one of the most consistently fantastic live performers I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen him do a bad gig, his rapport with an audience is that of someone who’s been doing this for 30 years and still loves it, is still grateful for the chance to sing his songs and weave tales. The new songs from his upcoming album, Mr Love and Justice bode incredibly well for the record – both the title track and one he played at Greenbelt last year, I Keep Faith, are singable after the first chorus… REALLY looking forward to this one…

His set ends with a duet with Foy on Woody Guthrie’s ‘I Ain’t Got No Home’ – deep, moving, spiritual in all the right ways. Billy’s lack of pretension makes him the perfect foil for an earnest gospel-tinged singer like Foy…

…or indeed, KT Tunstall. But more on their collab. in a bit.

KT’s wee band these days is her, a drummer (Luke) and two backing singers, and her ‘Wee Bastard Pedal’ (or Mk 1 Akai headrush to the geeks), and she makes a pretty incredible noise with it. Once again I’m struck by the energy, honesty, humour and passion in her writing and playing. Amazingly she completely bollocksed up ‘Black Horse And The Cherry Tree’ – a songs she’s played perhaps more than any other – tried it three times then gave up. And even then, the cock-up just made it all more human, intimate and special. as I said in my blog post about their last gig, screwing things up is never as bad as the artist thinks it is. Always make it funny, don’t try and cover it, laugh and move on. Which is what KT did, and played up a storm.

So when BB came back on, we were all set for a big finish, and we got it! Starting with a reprise of their version of ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’ as played at HMV last week, they then played a brand new co-write called ‘Don’t Do It Liza’ which is one of the most arresting, engaging, emotional songs I’ve heard in ages. Swooping harmonies, a beautiful dark tale.. and we got to hear it twice cos they wanted a better take to sell on iTunes. :o)

All in a stunning evening – four of the best live performers around on one stage. Was amazing to see Leo, having played with him at Recycle gigs, doing his own stuff to such a large non-muso crowd, and it going down a storm. Leo’s an unbelievably gifted musician, lovely bloke, and spends a lot of time making superstars sound superstar-esque, but he’s getting the breaks for his own music now, and its long overdue.

KT has -as I’ve said too many times before – always been mischaracterised as a female James Blunt, but her live shows make a mockery of that notion in a very clear way. She’s a seasoned performer, engaging and funny, and show up the depth and character in her writing in a new light. She’ll hopefully be around YEARS after Blunt, Morrison et al have disappeared to Butlins…

Anyway, the tracks should be showing up on iTunes soon, and the two KT/Billy tracks are unmissable. And if you haven’t already got Leo’s first two records – Honeytrap and Scene Memory, go and listen to them, then buy them, they’re amazing.

Also worthy of note on the night is that Last.fm were co-sponsors of the event. Given that iTunes have long been the champions of DRM (even if it was because they were bullied into it by the majors), it’s nice to see them promoting a ‘listen on demand’ service like Last.fm, which given that the it’s limited to three listens, and there’s ad-revenue sharing, is still geared towards monetizing the added exposure of streaming on demand… It’ll be interesting to see where iTunes store goes next, be it closer ties with last.fm, or their own streaming scheme…

And another thing, if you’d been following me on twitter, you’d have got much of this as it happened, as I was able to post updates between songs. Twitter makes for a great brain-log for notes for future blogs when out and about, and a way to generate instant feedback on those thoughts… join the fun!”

The randomness of Success..

Jeff Schmidt just posted a GREAT blog post entitled “Luck, timing and the randomness of getting BUZZ” – all about some stats re: what creates ‘the buzz’, why do certain artists ‘suddenly break big’ etc.

it’s a great article, and I’ve posted a lengthy response.

Jeff’s blog (here) is a great source of thinking on ‘Music 2.0’, the industry, digital stuff and being a solo bassist – his site makes a great parallel read to this because a) he works in radio, so has a whole other side to his experiences and b) he’s not trying currently trying to do music full-time, so is freed up from the need to think about making money now in his equations, so can dream a little more expansively than those of us who need to make the rent by the end of the month…

(oh, and he’s an amazing musician too – check him out on Last.fm – and his alter-ego Ruiner Severhead)

website and blog music-player updates…

OK, I’ve just added new last.fm music players to both the website frontpage and here on the blog – they’re over on the left hand side there, beneath the links. The main difference between the two is that the one on my site autostarts, the one on the blog doesn’t – I’m guessing that the majority of the visitors to the blog are here to read stuff, not necessarily listen to music, whereas visitors to the stevelawson.net homepage are far more likely to be wanting to hear something straight away. (feel free to discuss the relative merits of autostart music in the comments below – I’m open to persuasion either way. I’m definitely not putting it on on the blog – there are a couple of blogs I just never visit any more because they have music players on them that play all kinds of nonsense that I don’t really want to hear…)

The decision to go with the last.fm embeddable thingie over the reverbnation one was simply that the last.fm one was portrait and the reverbnation ones are all landscape, but not landscape enough for them to work in the main body of my site – if they did one that was 500px wide and about 80px high, I’d have probably gone for that on the website front page, but just wanted something a little tidier.

So, have a listen! Go on, you know you want to. If you do want to listen to the stuff that’s on the reverb nation page, you can do so with the player below – there are a few live things on there that are unavailable anywhere else…

Do those of you that have music pages use any other embedded widgets? Do tell…



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If you want me, you can find me…

…left of centre? well, yes, but also at these places (just as a recap, in case you missed some of them!)

Facebook
Reverb Nation
iLike
Last.fm
iSound (I’d pretty much forgotten that this one existed!)
MySpace
YouTube

and then just for buying stuff there’s

Cdbaby (there are a host of other MP3 stores linked from here).
iTunes
Emusic
Amazon.

….and also on Rhapsody, Napster and god-knows-where else!

Which of them do you use? Which sites are useful to you as a listener? Which sites have features that draw you in to spend time browsing for new music? It’s amazing that after all this time, there’s still nothing that can top Myspace, exposure-wise, shitty design or no shitty design. Last.fm is now definitely the go-to site for hearing music on demand, and emusic is my download site of choice, though the Amazon store is pretty kick-ass too..!

Which ones do you think will last? the Facebook fan-page thing doesn’t seem to have caught on all that much as yet, mainly because Facebook is ALL about connecting with people you know… I guess the artists need to do more interacting on there! Last.fm seem to have a really good thing going, and they are going to start doing subscription downloads too, it seems… What about myspace? The news about their open access API seems great if it works and we’re not just swamped with spam through it…

Thoughts please, bloglings. :o)

futuremusictalk.com launched…

A couple of months back, Sarda came up with the idea of an aggregated blog bringing together lots of the different thinkers writing about the future of the music industry. My ‘future of music’ posts are up there alongside fab thinkers and writers like Gerd Leonhard and Andrew Dubber.

…which I guess means I ought to get back to writing about the future of music! Despite not blogging about it as much of late, I’ve been doing lots of thinking about it, from a lot of different angles. Today’s fairly throw-away thought was just that ‘experience is not downloadable’ – I was walking through Time’s Square in NYC, and wondering how the big theatrical shows can afford to keep running at the level they do, here and in London. And part of it is that they offer an experience that can’t be downloaded – ACTUALLY going to the show is central to any kind of engagement with it. You could download the soundtrack, even a live video of the show, look at pics online, download and print out the sheet music, but none of that is going to mean much if you haven’t experienced it.

I’ll have to have a look and see if there are stats anywhere on how much of the income from shows is in the merchandising and licensing aspects, over and above ticket sales…

Here’s another related though slightly tangental thought – I have a friend who used to manage a cinema in London. He said that ALL the money they made was over the concession stand. The actually films were roughly a break-even venture, when the running of the place was taken into consideration, the cost of the films, against the ticket price. The real money was in selling a bucket of Coke big enough to drown Vern Troyer in – made from syrup that cost 4p – for £2.50, and a pig’s trough-sized pail of popcorn for £4, when their total outlay for the stuff was about 2% of that…

Anyway, the point is, that’s the way the entertainment industry funds itself – merchandising, adverts, providing overpriced McSwill to the McHogs that turn up to watch and gorge…

One of the big questions, and the hardest part of this whole thing is still – what do you do as a musician if you don’t want to make the majority of your money in advertising or running a snack bar at your gigs?

If you gig, it has to be an event. This new focus on musicians trying to monetize gigging again could actually be a really good thing – fewer doleful perfunctory performances, fewer tours where every night is identical. For those of us doing the indie thing, we need to be creative in making our gigs a proper night out – house concerts are great for this. A house concert has the potential to be a really special event. Lo. and I have done a number of them over the last year where the hosts have told us that months later people still ask them every time they see them when they are next going to have us back. I’m guessing that hasn’t been happening quite so much at the clubs we’ve played at (though you never know, we are rather good. ;o)

That said, I’m still loathe to let go of the wonder of recorded music, resigning it to being a give-away to entice people to shows or to get clicks on google ads, even though increasingly it seems that’s the way we’re being lead…

This became a reality for me a couple of days ago when I signed up for the new Last.fm venture to give free music to their subscribers and pay the artists in ad-sharing – it’s the first time I’m accepted an advertising revenue sharing deal… Why? Cos I’m making money for them via ads whether I take it or not. I either have my share, or they do, or I remove my music. That doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do with a site as cool as last.fm, so I’m in. But it does feel a bit weird. I guess I can console myself with the thought that unless you lovely readers all head over there and listen to loads of my streamed from their site I’m going to be making about 10c a year…

One last thing for now – for us indies, Cds aren’t going anywhere while we’re still playin live shows. People want to buy music, take a piece of it home – like the fluffy indonesian Simba that the peeps here in NYC pick up for $15 after seeing the Lion King, folks want to get some discs to listen to in the car on the way home. I wonder what the first technology that allows for the easy buying of downloads at gigs will be? a USB still is just a posh CD – what about actual transfer to iPod/phone/whatever?

In other news, I just extended my stay in NYC due to me feeling a bit too ill to fly back to London tomorrow, so I’ll be back early next week…

(Oh, Jeff Schmidt, you need to email James at futuremusictalk and get your blog on the list…)