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.

N96 World Tour starts here!

A few weeks back I was contacted about a project involving the Nokia N96 – the idea was to send one round the world, getting various people to use it, upload video and photos, add apps to the phone itself, leave stuff on it, basically put it through its paces and tell a story… It’s a great fun idea, and I’m the first one to get it! So I’ve got a brand new lovely N96 to play with for a week or so.

You can follow the story by clicking here

Here’s the first video I posted as soon as I opened the case it arrived in:

And of course, you can follow the phone on Twitter

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!

Social Media Help

I have been blogging since before it was called blogging and using social media to interact with my audience since the pre-millenial days of Web 1.0. As a result, I’ve found myself, over the years, in a good place to help others connect the worlds of music and social media.

I lecture regularly in universities and music colleges – helping students understand the transformative potential for their music-life that the web offers. I’ve spoken at a few UnConvention events, and also work on social media-led projects outside of the music world with Amplified and Tuttle.

So, it seems I’m pretty good at helping people connect the world of recorded/performed music with the conversations and communities that form around music culture.

It’s been an interesting path to explore for me, drawing on over a decade of online experience running my own career and record label and using that to help others develop a greater degree of web-literacy.

If you want help, or want me to speak at your event, drop me a line.

Most of my ideas are available here for free, so if you want to read more of my thoughts on music and social media, check the blog posts here and those on MusicThinkTank.com, particularly this one about Transformative Vs Incremental Change.

But the very best way to understand what I’m talking about is to listen to the PodCast embedded downloadable below, which I recorded with Penny Jackson for the Creative Coffee Club:

[audio:http://www.lobelia.net/SteveLawsonPodCast.mp3]

Also, here’s an interview with me from Radio 5 Live’s Pods And Blogs show, from March 10th, talking about how social media has changed everything for musicians:

[audio:http://www.lobelia.net/SteveLawsonPodsAndBlogsInterview.mp3]
And lastly, two videos:
Firstly, this interview with Andrew Dubber of NewMusicStrategies.com about Twitter usage for bands:


Steve Lawson from Andrew Dubber on Vimeo.

And then this talk from the JAMES conference at Leeds Met:

Social Media – first principles for musicians (Pt 1)

Cash registers - no longer needed. There’s been a whole load of talk in the last few days, following on from the financial crash, saying that ‘Web 2.0 is dead‘.

Q #1 – what’s Web 2.0? Well, here’s the wikipedia page for it. For our purposes as musicians, it describes the use of the web for collaboration, conversation and creative empowerment, as contrasted with the old model of broadcast, one-way traffic, competitive, aggressive sales-driven stuff…

As the very wise DanLight says here, the people saying ‘web 2.0 is dead’ are actually describing a facet of the tech industry built around web 2.0 resources that is now in deep shit because its funding model is based on venture capital. VC money is deeply hooked into the world of money-markets, credit, banking and all those financial institutions who’ve finally realised that gambling can go very wrong even if you’re not in Vegas.

Clearly, the use of the web as a vehicle for collaboration and conversation is alive well and growing daily. The number of people who ‘get it’ is still growing, and loads of musicians now realise that with a little bit of care, attention and respect, their relationship with their audience can shift from being one of being “big-box producers throwing product at faceless consumers for money”, to being one of arts patronage, support and friendship.

So, just to be perverse at the Web 2.0 funeral party, I thought I’d spell out a few first principles for musicians:

  • Talking to your audience doesn’t cost big money but it does take time. In order to get the value from social media, we need to invest time in communicating with our audience. The equation is a fairly simple one – if you spend time talking to your audience about what you do, they will
    1. understand you better
    2. feel like they know you better
    3. be able to explain what you do to their friends better (peer to peer advocacy, if you will) and
    4. be FAR less likely to view your ‘art’ as something disposable to be thrown away on a P2P sharing platform.
  • Broadcasting over social media networks stands out like a dead sheep on a bowling green. People who try and use social networking sites and tools for 90s-style broadcast look really effing stupid. You become like the dude at the party who goes from group to group, looking for an audience,but leaves without even knowing anyone’s name. A HUGE part of web 2.0 for musicians is learning how to listen. I’ve met SO many fascinating people through the web, through talking to people on line, and many of them are now advocates for my music. I’m not friends with them because of that, but it stands to reason that people who are engaged by the ‘soundtrack to the inside of my head’ are going to be people I’m likely to like. My audience is almost always comprised of people I want to go out for dinner with and chat to.
  • If you don’t ‘get it’, learn from someone who does. Look, let’s be honest, a lot of people who come from a record company background [where ‘we’ make music and ‘they’ sell it for us] really struggle to understand how this works. If that’s you, GET SOME HELP. That help can come just by observing how people who do it well do it, or it could be that you hire someone to help you out. Increasingly, I’m working with bands and indie labels on strategy for social media engagement. There is no one way to do it, but there are principles to be applied in your setting. And if you don’t get it, you can end up looking like a dick. Hiring someone for a day to help you set up the right services, talk through some strategy and get you hooked up with a like-minded community that will help you move forward will be a hell of a lot cheaper than an 8th of a page ad in the back of Q magazine, and do you 50 times as much good.
  • What you’re ‘selling’ is so much bigger than the music on your CD. Think about the last time you bought a CD just because you heard a track on the radio. You didn’t know who or what it was, you just heard it and had to own it because it was so good. Been a while, huh? No-one does that any more. People are entranced by stories, and even more so, like to buy music by their ‘friends’. Even though I put ‘friends’ in inverted commas, there’s no duplicity here. Your audience become people you know, people you talk to, people who tell their friends about YOU not just your music. And you telling your story in your own words gives them the story to tell.

If your first response to this is ‘but will it make them buy more CDs?’, go back and read it again. And this time, read it because you need to know it, not because you want to disprove it so you can nestle back into ‘busness-as-usual’ safe in the knowledge that the internet is still full of know-it-all nerds who can’t actually play an instrument, but like to talk as though they can. This is all a long way from the music forums of the late 90s. This isn’t about being top dawg in a kennel of bass-nerds, it’s about inviting people who are interested in what you do to engage with it on whatever level helps them to get more from it.

I don’t know about you, but I want my music to mean something to my audience. I want to help them to find that meaning in it. I don’t need to define the meaning, just to facilitate them finding it for themselves. Next post will look at more ways of doing that, and maybe a case study or two…

Collaborating super-heroes part II

super-hero tools. Capes not includedSo, following up my thoughts about the ‘future of business‘, where I touched on this idea of collaboration between groups of experts as the way forward, where everyone has an investment in what goes on, everyone has a say within their group etc…

The first example I talked about was the Lawson/Dodds/Wood trio – 3 musicians, 3 different approaches and skill sets, lots of great skills to throw into the mix (and far too many toys to fit on the stage at Darbucka!)

The second is JFDI (our soon-to-be web-home is www.socialtakeaway.com) – this is a collective of social media thinkers and practitioners, looking at ways of pooling our skills and resources to provide social media-led solutions to whoever wants to hire our expertise. The four amigos are me, Nik Butler aka LoudMouthMan, Mike Atherton aka Sizemore and Christian Payne aka Documentally. Each of us brings different skills and spheres of expertise to the mix, but all have done a serious amount of thinking and doing in the whole area of social media, of communicating honestly and effectively with one’s audience/clients/customers/friends/competitors via the wonders of conversation-based internet tools.

We’re good at it on our own, and we’re even better when we can call on each other to fill in the blanks. No-one is the ‘boss’, no-one is calling the shots, it’s not a sealed group, in as much as we all have huge extended circles of talented people to draw on when we need other skills – it’s just that four people is a nice number for this kind of venture, and we seem to have a lot of bases (and basses) covered.

It feels slightly A-team-ish (only, this is probably a whole team of Murdochs), in that we’re for hire, we’ll make a splash and bizarrely no-one will die no matter how many pyros we set off… uhm, not sure about that last bit. (well, I’m sure we won’t kill anyone, but I’m not sure we’ll be using pyrotechnics… though with Christian involved, anything’s possible)

But still, it’s a loose collective, one that I feel pretty good about being a part of – I really like the guys I’m working with, like the things they do, and enjoy bouncing ideas and strategies around with them. We’re all still doing things on our own (it’s not like the bands and solo artists that I talk to about how to use social media to communicate with their audience are going to be able to afford to bring the four of us in), and I’ve got other collaborators in other fields, but that’s the beauty of this kind of working. I feel deeply invested in it without being chained to it. I’m there because of what I have to give, and because these are people I want to work with… Much like being in a band, really 🙂

Nokia Open Lab 08. The write-up. part 1

Nokia Open Lab - photo by http://www.flickr.com/photos/ekaiI’ve just spent 3 days geeking out in Helsinki, at the Nokia Open Lab 08. The idea was to bring together 40 social media/mobile tech/blogging geeks in Helsinki for a series of workshops, discussions, talks and brainy mash-ups. The attendees were from all kinds of backgrounds, from corporate bloggers writing about tech stuff or financial markets, to sub-cultural social media conduits, using mobile technology to bring communities together and subvert standard media channels.

The format was really interesting, in that we were kind of thrown together with very little context, and left to work out what people’s areas of expertise were based on what they were willing/pushy enough to say in each of the discussions. So those of us who are extroverts naturally spoke at greater length than our respective knowledge bases necessarily warranted. Still, much value came out of the discussions, and a lot of people seem to have been fired up to use social media applications that they’d signed up for months ago but never really found a use for.

From Nokia’s side, they got

  • a massive amount of internal and external marketing footage from the conference
  • a load of online content bigging up their products
  • some quality, focussed expert product and service feedback
  • a whole bunch of enthusiastic interaction with some of their technology’s most progressive early adopters.

I’ll hopefully write up a lot of what I thought about the conference, but I think I’ll actually start at the end, with what the whole thing meant for musicians:

It was really interesting to be brought in by a mega transnational corporation to discuss mobile technology, given that my focus is largely empowering creatives to create without recourse to the corporate world – I’m not a fan of ad-sponsored music promotion streams and clearly not into the big record label model of yore. So in a sense there was some bravery in Nokia inviting people like me in without any kind of NDA/Contractual obligation not to slam their very existence (like anyone would really give a shit if I did… but anyway…).

As a pragmatist, I liked being in a place where for a weekend, I could largely think about ‘the best we can do within this kind of corporate framework’ – what does a company like Nokia have to offer the world of creativity and progressive political interaction by way of infrastructure and support? How can we as creatives use this technology, and perhaps even work with Nokia, in promoting a culture of un-fettered art. What can they do to help?

In approaching it from that angle, there were quite a few frustrations – the biggest being the session on the ‘future of entertainment’ – the scene was set by Anne Toole, talking from her background as a very experienced ‘old media’ writer (TV/film), now moved into the games industry. She talked a lot about her notion of what ‘film’ is – I think the idea was to get us thinking conceptually about the future of ‘The Industry’ in whatever our group were going to be discussing.

However, for me, the start point would have been the antithesis of what she was saying – I would have blown the doors off any attempt to define ‘film’ beyond it being ‘a series of pictures projected as a fast enough rate as to give the appearance of motion’, and then got people to think about the deep stuff of how we can make the world of film – both that which is designed to ‘entertain’ but also the information/pure art end of the spectrum – more interesting, more engaging, more productive, more subversive, more enjoyable, through social media and mobile technology.

But the big problem wasn’t that I disagreed with what I thought she was saying, it’s that she had no way of knowing I was thinking that and therefor couldn’t clarify whether or not I’d got completely the wrong end of the stick. So problem #1 was the format of the ‘presentation’ part, not the content (disagreement is vital to progressive discussion, but it has to be open and ‘real time’…)

Problem #2 was the way we were divided up. There were four groups – music, film, games and ‘me media’ (me media being cleverly named, given Nokia’s latest ad campaign… 😉 ) – and we were arbitrarily assigned to them. We could have swapped. I could’ve just wandered over to the music camp, but I didn’t. I was stuck in the games group. I don’t think it’s any surprise to anyone that I effing hate games. Actually no, not games, I hate Games. I play games all the time – twitter, facebook, myspace, who’s going to fill the dishwasher. All fun, exciting, enjoyable games. I just couldn’t give a shit about the Games Industry.

I am however innately curious, and fairly good at conceptual abstraction, so we managed to have a cool discussion about games, gaming, and game principles abstracted from game culture. But still, there was a discussion about the future of the music industry and its relationship with social media/mob-tech, and I WASN’T IN IT.

W. T. F?

Yup, my fault for not getting up and moving. But their fault for not facilitating a coming together of people with expertise in the area. I would have LOVED to bang heads with the guys from the Nokia music store (not launched yet), to chat with people who see music as part of the ‘entertainment industry’, to people who favour ad-revenue models for ‘feels like free’ music. I’ve got about 150,000 words of stuff written on the subject 🙂

And we did have those conversations – that was the strength of the conference. As with all conferences, the conversations after the sessions were the main course. the sessions were largely high-functioning ice-breakers. The magic of Nokia Open Lab 08 started at 3pm on Saturday after the closing speech.

So post #2 will start to look at what we covered in the rest of the sessions, and where we go from here. Or maybe that’ll be post #3. Or #4… 😉

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

A new blog post and another QIK vid…

It’s only friday afternoon, the Greenbelt site isn’t even open yet, and I’m already working like crazy.

I’ve been posting loads of videos at www.qik.com/solobasssteve (damn, I’m going to HAVE to get myself a Nokia N95 after I give this trial one back. It’s WAY to useful!) and have just written another post for Creative Choices, entitled Creative Copying – have a read, and feel free to comment there.

If you follow my twitter feed, whenever a link appears that says I’m Qiking, you can log in and chat with me on the live stream… please drop in and say hi!

Here’s another qik post from this morning –

A weekend at Greenbelt – watch this space…

I’m down at the Greenbelt festival this weekend, and will be streaming a lot of video, thanks to those lovely people at Wom World lending me, Lobelia, James Stewart, JennyBee and Mike Radcliffe a pile of video-compatible phones to stream from! Hurrah.

So head to www.qik.com/solobasssteve to follow the videos, and keep an eye on www.moblog.net/greenbelt for other blogged and aggregated content from all of us!

Here’s my first QIK from the festival…