Etiquette for soliciting press-quotes from people…

I’ve been asked a few times lately to give quotes to people to use for promo purposes, so I thought it would be a good time to offer some thoughts on the process. Largely because it’s something I’ve done myself from time to time, and continue to do when the conditions are right…

Firstly, it’s worth thinking about why we do this, and what value it carries as a promotional tool. Like most promo ideas, it has nowhere near as much influence as we’d like to think, but it can provide context for people who have found our websites or press-packs via other routes, and can also be good for putting on posters and flyers. The value lies in a few different areas –

  • firstly in the quote itself; having anyone say that you’re a badass is helpful, especially if it provides some context as to how they think you’re a badass – some kind of stylistic reference, a particular skill they are into etc.
  • Secondly, there’s the association with that artist – if fans of artist [a] see that they are a fan of you, they may well be inspired to check you out. More often than not they won’t, unless artist [a] is actively promoting what you do, but a few will…
  • and Thirdly, quotes are most useful en masse – have a body of evidence from different sources provides people with a framework for understanding your place in the scheme of things.

OK, so that’s why they are useful – what of how to get them? Here’s my rules that I work by –

  • I never ask anyone for a quote who hasn’t already expressed – privately or publicly – a positive opinion about what I do. Cold-calling someone you’ve never had any contact with is not only bad manners, it’s a recipe for getting either criticism or worse, a lame half-quote that will ultimately make you look like an amateur (no one wants to read a lame quote about you, no matter who said it – you’d be better off getting one from your high-school music teacher or your mum than that).
  • I never quote anything said to me in a conversation, without getting permission in writing, and offering the person a chance to write something else instead.
  • if I’m re-quoting what someone has said about me elsewhere, I try and give context for it.
  • When asking someone who has previously liked what I do for a quote about a new product, I explicitly let them know that I’m totally fine with them not saying anything if they don’t like it, or don’t want to say anything about it.
  • My default is to expect to not get a quote. If I do, and all the conditions are right I’ll use it.
  • I never push people on it – I have a fair few musician friends who’ve expressed a liking for what I do in person, some of whom have offered to give me a quote, who I never pressure for them. They may happen in time, but if they don’t, my career isn’t built or crushed on whether or not some bassist or whatever says what I do is cool….

OK, that’s how I go about getting them, what about what I do about giving them – here’s the list:

  • If I really like what you do, I’ve probably sent you one already – I spend a large amount of my online time putting the word out about music I love. And by love I mean ‘love’, not ‘music by people who might be able to do favours or who are just mates of mine but aren’t very good’.
  • As a recommender of music, I’m building a brand, a brand that I actively protect from the accusation that I’ll give a quote to anything. So my default for people who ask is ‘no’, just because I only push things I think are fantastic. It’s like my policy for inviting people to play at Recycle Collective gigs – only my most favouritest musicians are in there. I might like what you do, but just not be into it enough to put my weight behind it (and, to be honest, a quote from me REALLY isn’t worth that much…)
  • That said, I’m very much aware that there are a growing number of people who DO buy albums that I recommend (most of my recommendations are made either here, on my forum or via my Twitter music recommendation feed, To The Left Of The Mainstream – if you find your music on TTLOTM, I REALLY like it, and am willing to put whatever reputation and credibility I may have behind it.
  • Getting a random email out of the blue asking me ‘for a quote’ that you can use, without having any idea whether I’m remotely into what you do puts me in an awkward position. I’m left with four options – I can lie and say I love it, I can give you a weedy quote that means nothing, I can email you and tell you I don’t like it, or I can ignore it and not reply. None of those are ideal, and certainly none of those are likely to get me to do what you want, even if I like what you’re doing. A little interaction first, and maybe even asking for my honest opinion privately might make more sense than a ‘hey’ gimme a quote. I’m well aware that a lot of people aren’t going to like what I do. Same goes for what you do. I may not like it. That doesn’t mean I don’t like you, and it doesn’t mean you’re rubbish, it just means it’s not my kind of thing, and would be misleading for me to be pointing people towards what you do.

In terms of measurable value, I find that the support, encouragement and advice of musician friends is infinitely more value than a public quote from them – I have an unofficial ‘council of reference’ of older experienced musicians who seem to get what I do, and are willing to offer support, advice and encouragement. Most of them haven’t ever said anything publicly about what I do, although one or two of them have got me gigs, and in one case taken a whole pile of my CDs out to Japan to get me some radio play and work on gig promo…

Of the quotes that I do have on my quotes page – all of the non-printed media ones are from people who had said either to me or elsewhere that they like what I do. I then dropped them an email thanking them for the encouragement and asked if they wouldn’t mind giving me something that I can use publicly, always with the caveat that I’m fine with it if they don’t want to.

As I said before, you put people in a tricky spot asking stuff like this, so choose your people well, and start with some normal polite human interaction before asking for a press quote… …I don’t mean to come off like a curmudgeon, and it’s always nice to get a message from someone who wants to know what I think of what they do, but spam and marketing BS definitely trigger the red flag with me.

…and if you want to know what I’m digging right now, do check out To The Left Of The Mainstream and comment on the artists there my forum…

Critical, pragmatic, self-belief – an artist's life-blood…

Had a lovely morning giving a lecture/masterclass at the ACM today. It was extra-fun because I was given a topic I hadn’t spoken on before, but was given it at too short notice to have time to prepare so I had to wing it. And it went great, at least from where I was stood (which as we’ll discover, is the best place to judge it from…)

I was asked to talk about putting together a set list, and preparing ‘programme notes’ or promotional material… we didn’t spend much time on the last bit, as I got really into the theme of the first bit.

The first thing I highlighted was the danger of mechanistic formulae for ‘how things work’ – in any creative pursuit, following the tried-and-tested paths to the letter is a recipe for mediocrity, for blending in, disappearing into the general morass of non-descript music. This doesn’t mean that learning about those formulae was a bad thing, just that there is no ‘if you do this, then you’ll be great’ about any creative pursuit. Everybody wants the ‘one piece of advice‘ that’s going to send you over the edge – as I mentioned in the Bull-Schmidt podcast I once heard a kid ask John Scofield what kind of things he’d play over a Dmin7 chord, obviously hoping for some magical one line key to unlock sounding like Sco… clearly, that’s bollocks. It doesn’t mean that you couldn’t find within Sco’s phrasiology some repeated ideas that are common to the way he plays over min7 chords, it just means that those aren’t what makes his playing connect… Using the 9th a lot isn’t a formula for sounding great, even if it is what a particular soloist does a lot…

So where do we start? Well we start with a guiding principle, but instead of it being one to lock things up and give us a tidy outcome, it’s wildly open ended, and ultimately a call to being mindful of every bit of music or performance you come into contact with… The principle is one of ultimately trusting your instinct, your gut, your own taste.

Why? Why trust your own taste? Primarily because it’s pretty much all you’ve got. There are so few people in the world who can successfully and repeatedly second-guess the taste of a particular music buying audience, that it’s fairly safe to assume that you’re not one of them. And, as Jeff Schmidt pointed out here, so much of it is completely random anway… So, your own taste – why go with it? Because unless you’re the kind of person who gets off on the sound of the fridge door opening and closing, the chances are there’s something pretty standard, broad and interesting about the music that excites you. It probably won’t be completely ‘mainstream’ (serious musicians with completely mainstream taste scare me) but will probably feature an appreciation of some stuff that your more snobbish listening-only friends would dismiss as ‘too pop’…

So you embrace your own taste, you reconise that there’s a reason why you like the things you do, there’s a way they make you feel, there’s a way that the music you choose to put on soundtracks your world (here comes the pay-off) – and you attempt to write and perform music that makes you feel the way that music makes you fee. That’s a very different thing from trying to sound like someone else. Soundalikes are generally compared unfavorably to their primary influence. You might convince some short-termist record company goon that you’re worth a punt because the band you’re ripping off are successful. You might even sell millions of records. But it’s phenomenally unlikely, and not really a good bet, given that your stake is ‘every waking hour’…

No, if you go with your taste, and aim to write and perform music that soundtracks your life in the way that the music you love does, you’ll be writing music you love, but music that tells your story. You’ll be combining the emotional imprint of the different things that inspire you, and building up a range of emotions and stories and feelings to soundtrack.

However (there’s always an however), what needs to happen then is to critique your own taste and filters. To critique your perception of what you do. Because as well as being most in touch with your own taste, you’re also the one most likely to be seduced by the idea of what you’re doing do the point where you mis-judge your own execution of that idea.

And that, dear bloglings, is a life long process of refinement. Of listening, playing, resting, listening, of being surprised and disappointed, restless, enthralled, of peaks and troughs and plateaus. And advice.

The advice bit is a real headache. Why? Because everyone will want to give you their opinion on what you do and most of them will be a waste of oxygen. Again you ask, why? Because precious few people will take the time to try and understand what you’re trying to do, to offer advice that helps you reach for your goals. So few people realise that their taste has pretty much nothing to do with whether what you do is ‘right’ or ‘good enough’ or whatever.

It’s why posting your music on a web forum and asking ‘what do you think?’ can be a very effective promotional method, but is worse than useless as part of the critical process. It just provides taste-based opinions entirely without context and as we’ve said many times before context is everything. It’s quite possible for people to say that great music is great for all the wrong reasons. It’s possible for positive feedback to be deeply unhelpful.

The interwebs are full of people who will tell you why they don’t like what you do, what you’re doing wrong, why your songs are too fast/slow/ repetitive/poppy/ rocky/obscure/ bassy/trebly/ spikey/dull/complex… the list is endless, and the ascii-rendered brain-vomit that they produce is pointless.

What you should really be trying to build is a council of referencea group of people who have demonstrated beyond doubt that they get what you’re trying to do, who are sympathetic to your approach, desires, inspiration and goals, and who want to help. A few groups of people are immediately disqualified –

  • anyone with a dispensation towards jealousy when they hear other great music, *anyone who’s on your pay-roll (if they feel their job is at risk if they piss you off, no-one’s going to tell you you need to work harder),
  • people who are always telling you how other people should be doing their thing.

Finding those people who have a desire to help, to support encourage and to push you to be the best you can be is a rare rare treasure. Hold onto them. And perhaps even more importantly – both in terms of the learning exercise and the karmic fall-out – BE THAT PERSON TO THOSE WHOSE MUSIC YOU HOLD DEAR.

What does all this have to do with putting a set list together? Everything. Getting, as our ‘merkin friends say, your ‘ducks in a row’ is vital before starting to decide things like this. Guiding principles are vital because our thoughts need guiding.

When you’re thinking about what the first song in your set should be, there are loads of things to consider. Firstly, who your audience is – do they know who you are? Do you have a reputation to them that is bigger in their minds than their actual knowledge of what you do? Are they already onside? Is it a genre-specific event? From those and other related questions, you can deduce an approach, based on whether you want to confirm or confound those expectations. Do you want to ease in gently, or lay your cards on the table?

Gigging to a new or new-ish audience is the art of seduction, you’re trying to draw people in, get them interested, get them feeling positive about what you do, and expectant for what’s coming next. You can lay out a manifesto in your first song, or just put them at ease. You can be confrontational in a ‘this is us, screw you if you don’t get it’ kind of way, or your can say ‘come on in, the water’s lovely’ and invite people to join you in your soundtracked smiley world.

And from thence the journey continues – how long is the set? do you have a long time to do the slow build, or do you only have four songs to wow them? is there a ballad or two that you want to fit in. Where do you fit the freaky song in? do you want to throw in a curve ball, and do a song just bass, spoons and four part harmonies, even though you’re a screamo band?

It can all work, there are no hard and fast rules, and for every formula there’s a breath-takingly great band that have printed out said formula and wiped their arses with it.

Do what works, but constantly critique what it is that you think works. The key to keeping a balance (and well done if you’ve read this far!) is a principle I apply to just about everything, that of ‘pragmatic self-assurance’ – I assume I’m right and operate as though I am, whilst being constantly open to the possibility that I’m wrong. Any criticism that has context, that is shared by someone who wants you to grow not fail, who has proven they understand your goals and wants to help you towards them, is to be cherished and heeded. Reviews in fanzines and critiques from muppets on web-forums and email-lists, who write to belittle what you do for whatever odd pointless reasons are to be avoided. Don’t even read them. Go elsewhere for the critique you need, to a deeper place.

And never stop learning. (this’ll be my last point in this hugely overly-long blog post) – for any music student, it’s catastrophic for you to study music with the idea that there is some kind of difference between what you’re trying to do and what your teachers or other pro musicians should be doing. We’re all trying to play the best music we can, and to communicate it as best we can to an audience. Passing exams is neither here nor there. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s also no indicator of whether you’re going to be ‘successful’ at what you do. It can provide a useful framework for learning, I’m not suggesting that formalised education is a bad thing, but it has to be about you as a musician growing, learning and more fully realising who you already are. I didn’t stop studying when I left college, and I didn’t start being a creative musician when I ‘turned pro’ – whatever that means. All that changed was how the bills got paid. On an epistemological level, I’m doing the same thing now as I did when I first picked up a bass and started whacking the strings with a thumb pick. I’m trying to develop the control and awareness I need to make music that soundtracks the world around me.

It’s simple in concept, and lifelong in execution. Enjoy the journey.

Dallas House concert…

A lovely day in Dallas yesterday – it began late, with a walk up to the Whole Foods market – just under a mile away, in this heat it felt like about three miles, but we made it there and back, and got lots of lovely stuffs for lunch (Jeff Kaiser’s tempe scramble recipe, if you must know, and a delish salad…)

Got back and started setting up for the house concert – because we haven’t been able to fit an AccuGroove rig into the car for this trip, the house concerts have mostly been through various types of Studio monitors (well, Richmond was through a badass Mackie rig with a huge sub, but that was a little out of the ordinary for such things… :o) ) – at Trip’s it was some Tannoy Reveals, i think, which sounded lovely, and last night was a pair of KRKs, which again sounded great. Brian’s house (the host of the gig) is pretty much the ideal house concert venue – plenty of space, good acoustics, and a pool out the back (which we took advantage of in the afternoon before the gig).

One of the fun things about house concerts is chatting to people before the gig starts, or just listening to other people chat, which they do in a friendly ‘having mates over for dinner’ kind of way that doesn’t happen in club gigs, or even coffee shops. All good cultural exchange fun. :o)

The gig itself went v. well – lots of fine playing, another couple of successful improv tunes (I’ve been doing one or two made-up-on-the-spot things on the shows here, and last night did one of them on Brian’s Rick Turner Model 1 bass, which sounded and played beautifully…) L played really well, and the duo stuff was once again my favourite part of the evening.

All good nothing bad.

Of To Austin today, which I hear is a bit of a music town… we’ll see about that…!

Last night's gig with BJ and Emily

Lovely little gig with BJ Cole and Emily Burridge last night – the Enterprise in Camden. It does have the steepest stairs in London, and after loading my stuff in, I wasn’t sure if my arms would be working in time for the gig, but they were. I also nearly brought the scaled down travel rig, but I’d have been in deep shit if I had because the PA there isn’t even close to being up to the task of reproducing StevieSounds. So Emily ran her cello through my rig as well, and BJ had his most beautiful fender amp with him, which always sounds like the music of heaven.

It’s a little room, and we had a little audience, but they were most appreciative. Nicest surprise for me was that during the afternoon I’d been thinking about older tunes I haven’t played for a while at gigs, and decided to do Danny And Mo from ‘Not Dancing For Chicken’ – a tune dedicated to Mo Foster and Danny Thompson. And who should walk in just as I started playing but Mo Foster. Always nice when the inspiration for a song is there to hear you explain why they’re so fantastic. Do you want to know the story behind the tune? OK – when I first started working on the tunes that would become Not Dancing For Chicken, I had just got a Gibson Echoplex, which offered loads more looping options – I was rather inspired by a guitarist in California called Andre LaFosse who was doing some amazing unique things with the echoplex, and was certainly a very long way from the long chord progressions, melodies and ambience that I was working on at the time.

So when I went into Jez’s studio to record the first version of the album, I was experimenting with a lot of really spikey angular electronica – using the replace and sus functions in the EDP all over the place, and getting some fairly cool effects.

however, when I got home after the sessions, I was listening to ‘Time To Think’ by Mo Foster, and had an epiphany, realising what was missing from the record – TUNES! I had nothing with any of the big romantic melodies that are what I do best, and all the ambient stuff was punctuated by bleeps and squeaks, some of which was great (and ended up on Lessons Learned Pt I) most of which wasn’t that good…

So I went back to the drawing board, and the first thing I wrote, straight after listening to that album of Mo’s was ‘Danny And Mo’. So there.

Anyway, back to the gig – I played Behind Every Word (with a huge cock-up on the B-section first time round – just had a brain freeze), then Danny And Mo, Despite My Worst Intentions, MMFSOG, What A Wonderful World and Deeper Still. I’d planned to do a whole load of improv, but went with sweet tunes instead. :o) And ’twas v. well received, which is most heartening.

Bj and Emily’s set was, as expected, beautiful. There’s an amazing empathy between them as players, and the classical arrangements work better than any rearranged classical works I’ve ever heard. It’s usually a recipe for disaster, but them playing Satie is a thing of great beauty. Emily’s a fab Cellist, with an amazing tone and touch. And BJ’s, well, BJ – a completely unique figure in the world of music.

in the second set they got me up for an improv, which started out as a gentle naive duet between BJ and I, swapped to a duet between Emily and I, then I looped a progression in D, and BJ and I started building up the ambience while Emily played beautiful melodic lines over it… and the fade got really dark with my big Sigur Ros guitar sound, and BJ’s twisted MoogerFooger distorted steel… amazing.

And so you have it, the story of gigs in london – small appreciative crowds listening to world-beating music. It’s the kind of thing that should be filling concert halls the world over. I guess it will… patience, dear boy.

Sunday in CA

Starting any day with a tofu and tortilla scramble is a good way to ensure it’s going to be a good day. Yum – must get recipe from Jeff.

Lazy breakfast followed by recording – an hour’s duo material, looped and processed trumpet and me doing my looperlative thing. Some amazing music – Jeff uses a looping/processing rig on his laptop, programmed in Max/MSP, which is an unbelieveably versatile set-up. loads of great sounds and ideas coming out – I’m listening the the CDR of it at the moment, unmixed, and the only downer is that Jeff’s signal picked up some radio interference at points. It’s rarely a problem, and in a couple of places sounds very cool, but it’s a shame it’s there… we’ll work with it, edit where necessary. All in all, it’s some great music, and will probably crop up as a download album in the online shop soon.

Also bought myself a US phone today – last year I ran up a MASSIVE mobile phone bill, without actually spending long online at all! So I’ve just bought a prepay phone and a load of minutes, to save me lots of pennies when calling TSP and also phoning chums in the US.

Time for sleeps now.

September's blog search terms…

Here’s the top 20 search terms for the blog – not surprisingly, Eric was by far the most searched for query that lead people to the site. the others aren’t that exciting, though I love the idea of somebody being so bored that they’d search the internet for ‘strange things’. And for some reason ‘etymology of dude’ crops up every month in the list – how weird is that??

1 eric roche
2 steve lawson
3 tal wilkenfeld
4 brooklyn beckham
5 background images for myspace
6 myspace people
7 eric roche illness
8 love press ex-curio
9 strange things
10 joe perman
11 myspace background images
12 narcissim
13 amy kohn
14 bangla ringtone
15 bassworld
16 charlie peacock love press ex curio review
17 do nothing til you hear from me
18 etymology of dude
19 laws on piracy
20 link 182

…and here’s a handful of the more bizarre search strings that led to www.stevelawson.net over the last month – the mind boggles!

german chicken dance download
when did robbie williams play at la scala in london
steve lawson afc wimbledon
supergluing cuts
garmet sawing machine
guestbook northampton 2005
telephone number st columba s church johnstone terrace edinburgh
fingers vinegar callouses -leroy
e=mc2 mks
electric archlute
died from hiccups
dr fox hypothesis
finley quaye = kevin bacon
i like to go bowling with my friend bert mp3
houmus recipe

The Crepe'd Crusader

certainly brings out mixed emotions in most people. Firstly he’s the loveable cheeky cockney chap, naked chef, bringing new life to TV cooking. Then he became the overexposed Sainsbury’s poster boy, in all the ads, doing voice overs and generally overstaying his welcome. So he reinvents himself as the crowned king of worthwhile reality TV.

What did he get right? He picks things he cares about. Unlike, say, Gordon Ramsay, who just came across as a miserable bag of turd, belittling B-list celebs live on TV (all the ones with any backbone walked out – respect to the late great Tommy Vance for that!), Jamie picked subjects that would change the lives of ordinary people for the better. In , he took a bunch of relative no-hopers from rough backgrounds and gave them the chance to train to be top chefs. They’ve still got jobs. Their lives are on a different path. Magic.

His next project was in a whole different league. Jamie took on Britain’s school dinners in . It took months to film, and started in one school, with Jamie trying to get the kids to eat properly. What they were eating was truly shocking. The worst kind of junk food, the same crap every day, zero nutritional content. Just rubbish, rubbish that will eventually kill them. And Jamie cared. Really, not for a moment did even the most cynical of hacks question his motives. Watching the programme, it’s inconceiveable how parents have let it get to this stage. The kids couldn’t recognise vegetables!

So he goes on a crusade, getting 55 schools in Greenwich to move over to his new menu. He works within the insane food budget that he’s set, he convinces dinner ladies to work unpaid overtime, he wrecks his homelife in order to make this happen.

Suddenly pain-in-the-arse Jamie is transformed into we-need-more-people-like-you-on-TV Jamie. A hero, fighting the beaurocrats who will sell the kids of the nation’s health for 15p a day.

It’s riveting viewing, and I really really hope things change. Things already are changing. The teachers report back a total turn-around in the kids’ concentration levels, attentiveness and behaviour patterns, just through the change of diet.

Come on, Ruth Kelly, get it together!! As Education Secretary, she’s responsible for the decisions, the one with the purse strings. Jamie’s done the work, written the handbook, drawn up the recipes. All you need to do is ban the junk, and pay for the training.

It’ll reap HUGE rewards in the future when these kids aren’t all rotting in hospital from preventable diseases.

So, let’s get behind Jamie, sign petitions, campaign, make a fuss. The future of the kids’ health depends on it. Go to the campaign homepage, and start kicking up a fuss.

Soundtrack – David Sylvian, ‘Secrets Of The Beehive’ (Evil Harv is generally a malicious and sinister presence in the world, but all is forgiven for introducing me to this album a couple of years ago).