House Concert Hosting: a Beginner’s Guide.

Steve Lawson and Lobelia playing a house concert at Tracy Apps' house, Milwaukee, Dec 08I’ve blogged a lot of late about the whole house concert phenomenon, and Lo and I seem to have inspired a few people with our house concert tour to get out and do it themselves. On Sunday afternoon, Neil Alexander and his amazing jazz/prog/fusion/rock trio Nail played a web-cast house concert from upstate New York, watched by about 15-20 in the room, and across the course of the gig, over 100 online.
Continue reading “House Concert Hosting: a Beginner’s Guide.”

Real Life Touring. A Social Media-Fuelled Tale.

House Concert peopleSo, we’ve been back in England a few weeks. I’ve even had time to do my busiest week of masterclasses ever! (more on that later, I promise)

For now, it’s time to round up some of the lessons and tips from our house-concert-based, social-media-driven jaunt to the US over christmas/january.

A few salient points to start with:

  • most of the gigs were booked by people we know via Twitter.
  • all but one of the gigs were house concerts.
  • we did 5 masterclasses – 3 in houses, one in a pub, one in a Uni.
  • in 7 weeks, we spent 2 nights in hotels, which we didn’t pay for anyway.
  • we made more money per gig than we ever have playing clubs/coffee houses (read: we actually MADE money, net, after paying for everything.)
  • we met more amazing people on this trip than ever before.
  • very few of the people at the gigs could have named a single other solo bassist.
  • moreso, very few of the people who came to the shows had heard OF us before, let alone HEARD us. Media exposure was not a prerequisite for attendance.
  • we have about 5 hours of video to pick through of the shows.
  • we have invites back for twice as many gigs as we played.
  • nobody got rich.
  • nobody planned to get rich.

Let’s break these down:

Most Of The Gigs Were Booked By People We Know Via Twitter:

the usual method for getting gigs is something like; “google venues and promoters in an area >> email promoter or venue >> send package >> agree to do gig for door money >> minus commission >> with food included if you’re lucky >> book hotel nearby for somewhere to stay”. Add other steps if a) promoter has no idea who you are and wants to put you on a double bill with someone who’s a ‘name’. The upshot is, it can often take 3 or 4 gigs in an area before you make any money. After the show’s booked, you contact local press and radio, send CDs, bios etc, and hope they cover it, so people will hear you and then come to the gig. Sometimes this works. often, it doesn’t.

Method for our tour: “talk to lots of people on twitter >> make friends >> allow them to discover music as they get interested in who we are >> tell them we’re touring >> invite them to host gig >> Book in the dates” – the audience is a shoe-in, cos most people can fairly easily find 15-30 friends who are up for a crazy night of music making in a house. It’s a nuts idea, it’s fun, and it has the added benefit of being validated by a friend of their’s… if Tracy/Linda/Angela/Steve/Gus etc are willing to book this, it MUST  be good. The person who books the show then emails the links to what we do around (no need to send out CDs) so people have an idea what to expect. Everyone comes to the gig, eats, listens, buys CDs, and we go home with money and loads of new friends. Win-Win.

All But One Of The Gigs Were House Concerts:

if we get offered non-house-concert gigs, we take them if they’re fantastic. They have to be AT least as good as house concerts to be worth doing. We’re no longer desperate for somewhere to play. The show we did at Grace Presbyterian church in Long Beach was an amazing night. And we got to see Vicki Genfan and Jim Bybee play too. Win-Win.

We Did 5 Masterclasses – 3 In Houses, One In A Pub, One In A Uni:

masterclasses in houses are great fun, and a fab way of a) sharing knowledge on tour and b) making a lil’ more cash. We did classes on looping, bass stuff and ‘social media for musicians’ – again, arranged by the people hosting the house concerts. I usually do a pretty big bass class in Northern California, and it has in the past paid for my entire trip. I didn’t need to this time, so was able to do a much smaller, more focussed class, for people experimenting with solo bass. Win-win.

In 7 Weeks, We Spent 2 Nights In Hotels, Which We Didn’t Pay For Anyway:

at each of the house concerts, we stayed in the house where the gig was. That’s not always the case with house concerts, but on this trip, it worked really well like that. In most places, we also had another day or so to hang out and see the area. The hotel nights were a thank you from Modulus for all the masterclasses and clinics I do using their instruments all over the place.

We Made More Money Per Gig Than We Ever Have Playing Clubs/Coffee Houses:

so much of what happens on tour is built on the promise of imagined success; ‘if you do *** then *** will surely happen’ but rarely is anyone willing to underwrite it to that degree, and so the artist takes a lot of the burden of risk… With house concerts, there’s no chance at all that you’re suddenly going to find yourself making millions of dollars. But there’s also less chance that you’re going to find yourself in debt and unable to pay the bills. The financial arrangements are generally straightforward, friendly, and sensible. Guarantees are kept at a level where they work for everyone.

We Met More Amazing People On This Trip Than Ever Before:

guess that speaks for itself. My music life is full of encounters with incredible, inspiring people. At house concerts we just get way more time to get to know them, to make friendships that will last. Ultimately, I’m WAY more interested in people than ‘success’. If I can combine encounters with magical people with a sustainable touring model, I’m happy. House concerts do just that. Win-win.

Very Few Of The People At The Gigs Could Have Named A Single Other Solo Bassist:

SO often gigs by bassists are largely populated by other bassists ogling their wikkid skillz and monster tech. As much as I love spending time with bassists, it changes the gig if they’re over-represented in an audience. Singers never have to play to entire audiences of singers. It’d be weird. So to play to rooms full of people who have little idea what looping is, don’t know any other solo bassists, and so are listening to what I do as music first and last is REALLY inspiring. I love it. It makes me a better musician.

Very Few Of The People Who Came To The Shows Had Heard OF Us Before, Let Alone HEARD Us. Media Exposure Was Not A Prerequisite For Attendance:

we had precisely ZERO mainstream media coverage for these gigs. No radio, no TV, no mags no nothing. At least partly because these are private events at people’s houses, and so we weren’t about to be giving the addresses out to total strangers. There are ways for people to get to the gigs if they contact us, but it’s not about broadcast at all. No, most of the audience were friends of the host, people brought in because the host said it was good, put their house and money behind it, and believed in what we did. It paid off. We had no shows that were less than wonderful. Made loads of new friends, and sold lots of CDs. Win-win.

We Have About 5 Hours Of Video To Pick Through Of The Shows:

the digital footprint of house concerts is probably about 10 times that of a normal gig. People are excited and talk about the show. Often the attendees are geeked-out, tweeting and facebooking the show from their iPhones and N95s, filming it, taking pics and posting them online, and in many cases, streaming it. The Milwaukee show has now had nearly 300 views on Ustream.tv. Everything is amplified.

Not only that, but after watching the Milwaukee show, we were invited to play in Philly. The show was booked because of the stream. Lovely Linda Mills saw the gig, sent me a twitter message, booked it, promoted it, and the show happened. All in about 3 weeks. Win-win.

We Have Invites Back For Twice As Many Gigs As We Played:

at house concerts, everyone there is a potential booker. they all have homes they live in, and may want to book a show. Loads of people went away inspired to book us next time we came, and also to start doing shows for their friends. That’s GREAT news.

Nobody Got Rich / Nobody Planned To Get Rich:

this is so far from being driven by the rock ‘n’ roll myths it’s untrue. No-one’s getting rich doing house concerts. But no-one’s doing it to try and get rich. It’s sustainable, people-centred, low-impact, high-value touring. It’s cheap to put on, flexible, engaging, original, exciting and artistically elastic. You can do the kind of show in a house you could never get away with in a club full of drinking punters expecting to dance. And you can go home making a profit, paying your bills, with time and resources to make more music for the next time you come round.

This tour was probably my favourite tour I’ve ever done. Every gig was more fun than playing the Royal Albert Hall. The people were amazing, the hosts were incredible in their generosity and still grateful to us for coming and playing. The audiences were attentive, engaged and loved it. There really was nothing bad about it at all.
Yesterday on Twitter, someone suggested that while my soundbites were enjoyable, the reality was different. (see the whole conversation here ) Our experience on tour says this works. Says it’s real. Says it will continue to work.

So, were you there? What did you think? Have you done house concerts? how did they go? please post your thoughts on house concerts/social media/the future of touring in the comments below…

(the picture at the top is of about half the audience/musicians who played at the inauguration house concert/party we co-hosted with Kerry Getz in Newport Beach – an amazing bunch of musicians, from all over the place, playing amazing music)

Pillow Mountain Records

Pillow Mountain Records - how the site used to look...Pillow Mountain Records is a label that only exists to release music involving me. It’s not that I don’t like other people’s music, it’s just that they’d do a better job of selling it than I would.

It only really exists in name, as a brand that sort of lets you in on what to expect, both in terms of the music and the ethos behind it. It’s a back-bedroom-of-a-cottage industry. Fortunately, there’s no size-of-room to greatness-of-music coefficient. Small enterprises are responsible for most of my favourite music 🙂

It is the mechanism by which I put out my solo CDs, as well as the duo CDs I’ve made with Theo Travis, Jez Carr, Lobelia and Calamateur, all of which I’m immensely proud of.

Anyway, all that’s to say is that Pillow Mountain is me, I am it, so please don’t email me requesting to be signed by the label. No-one’s ‘signed’ to it. Not even me.

I’ve even removed the Pillow Mountain Records website (pictured), as all it did was duplicate info that can be had here.

You can expect more great music on PMR soon – for now, check out all of the releases so far in the SteveLawson.net Shop

Interview with me from Bass Guitar Magazine.

Bass Guitar Magazine article photo, cropped from the web page.I’ve been hoping this interview would surface online for a quite a while – Adrian asked a really smart set of questions and, crucially, came back with questions relating to them. Email interviews can be really dull if it’s just a questionnaire (unless it’s MEANT to be a ’20 questions’ type deal…) – because there’s no conversational flow. So as a tip for those of you interviewing online, send 2 or three questions to start with at most, preferably unrelated ones, and then develop each one with questions that follow on…

But I digress, this is about me 🙂 – anyway, it’s a great interview, and I was kinda surprised at the quote in the sell that says,

The unexpected popularity of bass looping in the UK can largely be attributed to Steve Lawson‘,

but I guess there’s some truth in that. It’s probably just that I’m more aware of my own influences than my influence.

So, either click on the photo above, or click here to read the interview

Update on my broken bass…

Anderson Page and Steve Lawson fighting over Steve's Bass. 'From My Cold Dead Hands'So, as you know, the saga so far is that British Airways smashed up my bass on the way over here back in Mid-Dec. I emailed them and rang them and was told to ‘send them the fragile tag and the bubble wrap receipt‘ – fragile tag was a generic piece of cardboard, and the request for bubble wrap receipt came off like a sick joke, if you’d seen the damage done…

Anyway, over the course of NAMM weekend, quite a few bass builders looked at it, most with a look of horror on their faces. All said it wouldn’t repair adequately, and at best would need to have the spruce top sliced off and replaced. Not good. That’s a few grand’s worth of work.

Fast forward to yesterday, and I finally get to visit the lovely geniuses at Modulus Guitars, who made the bass (and every other solid bodied electric bass I’ve played in the last 16 years). I showed the bass to their chief bass builder, designer and all-round bass building ninja-dude, Joe Perman, and he basically wrote off the body. Because the crack goes ALL THE WAY THROUGH THE BODY by the jack socket, and is right across the grain through the top, any repair is going to be a botch job at best. He said he could make it better, but not great.

So we start discussing other options, after deciding it needs a new body. At this point, the willingness of Joe and Modulus A & R guy and dude-who-sorts-things-out Anderson Page to bend over backwards to help was astounding. Ideas were thrown around, including putting the neck and electronics from my bass on a completely solid body until they had time to build a new one, and even shipping me the body to have Martin Peterson assemble it in London…

First Touch of my new bass bodyBut then a Joe has a light-bulb moment, remembering that there was in fact a semi-hollow Q6 body that had a tiny blemish (I couldn’t even see it!) that meant it couldn’t be sold (their quality control is exceptional). I looked at it, and loved the idea…

‘can I take it home on Thursday then?’ – er no, it’ll take a coupla weeks to get it finished and sprayed and for the lacquer to dry… which reminded me of a conversation I’d had last week with Steve Azola, maker of the incredible Azola upright basses, who was wondering what my bass would be like with a rubbed finish, rather than the heavy lacquer finish. “if we did that kind of finish, would that work?”

Joe’s eyes lit up – it was a plan that allowed them to use a body that couldn’t be sold, to experiment with a new finish for their basses AND I get a perfect working bass to go home with. The old body on mine becomes a write-off, but the new bass will be a whole other bass adventure for me. The wood combination is different (walnut top on an alder body) so will add a different flavour to my music. Always a nice game to play 🙂

As you can see in the photo at the top, part of me is loathe to let go of the bass that has been MY sound for a decade. It’s what happens at the end of my arms, a new limb… But that’s not going to happen, it’s not going to be fixed, BA saw to that by completely trashing the old one.

Good job bass manufacturers don’t function like airlines.

We’ll be heading back to Modulus tomorrow morning to see how they are getting on with it… More photos and blog posts then!

Blog posts coming soon, but first, some video…

Steve Lawson at a house concert in Newport BeachWell, our concert tour has come to an end. Will blog about the amazingness of the whole thing soon, but first, here’s a lil video that Geoff Hickman took at the inauguration party/house concert we had down in Newport Beach, with the lovely and amazing Kerry Getz, which also featured Jason Feddy, Matthew Von Doran, Seth Horan, Ed Sheets and a whole load of hugely talented Hawaiians:


Steve and Lobelia Live in Newport Beach, Ca. 01/20/2009 from Geoff Hickman on Vimeo.

More House Concert Adventures.

Steve Lawson with Owen Biddle at a house concert in PhiladelphiaOne of the magical things about house concerts is just how quickly they can be put together. Because there’s no ‘press’ involved, no promotional deadlines to hit, emails can be sent out to friends as soon as the gig is decided on, and an audience can be rustled up in about 2-3 weeks.

Which is exactly what happened to us for Philadelphia. Linda Mills sent me a message on Twitter just before Christmas saying ‘what would it take for you to come to Philadelphia?’ – we swapped Tweets, then emails, and it was booked! Because of Philly’s proximity to New York and New Jersey, a lot of the other twitter and social media friends in the area were up for making the trip, some musician friends were emailed, and a plot was hatched.

The date was picked because it was the day before Lo and I were going to be giving a looping masterclass at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh anyway, so we’d be out and about, and needed to have a car rented for that weekend anyway.

And once again, we were in the now-familiar situation of turning online friends into real friends, getting guided tours of cool cities, and introducing another room full of lovely people on to the delights of house concerts. (and posing for bizarre pics with lovely audience members/friends at the end, like the one above)

The gig went so well – the PA was put together from bits borrowed from Lo’s brother and from the drummer from her old band, Kevin Quickle. So the sound was fab. And Linda’s house has a through-lounge, meaning that we could do the fairly common L-shape set up, with a lovely assortment of sofas and chairs and cushions for people to sit on.

As a reference for how well house concerts work, we sold more than one album-per-person at the gig, including Lo’s first foray into selling her entire back catalogue + rarities on a 1gig memory stick. Definitely something we’ll be exploring further in the near future!

Being an audience largely drawn from the world of social media, the amount of fab technology on show was amazing, from great cameras, to Macs streaming the gig live to Ustream, two Nokia N95s taking pics and video, iPhones tweeting and twit-picking… Welcome to the future; blink and we’ll be onto something new.

We now can’t WAIT for the 3 more house concerts we’ve got in Northern California on the 22nd,23rd and 24th January – it’s going to be a LOT of fun. 🙂

..But before that, it’s NAMM, which starts tomorrow. Except for the ‘social media for musicians‘ session that I’m doing tonight. If that counts as NAMM for me, we start in about 2 hours!

…Oh, and one more thing – if you want the definitive explanation on how looping works, just watch the video below, from the Philly show:

Pre-NAMM Social Media Seminar/Workshop, in Santa Ana, Jan 14th.

Gig survival kit - it takes more than strings and cables...Finally, the details have been nailed down, and thanks to the wikkid organisational skillz of the wonderful Geoff Hickman, I’ll be doing a ‘future of social media for music makers’ masterclass in Santa Ana, the night before NAMM starts.

Date: Jan 14th
Time: 7.30pm
Venue: The Olde Ship, Santa Ana (map)
Cost: $15.00

Description:

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got… no, wait, that’s the Cheers theme-tune… anyway, it’s true that the times they have a-changed for anyone trying to make it in the music world – record labels are resorting to increasingly desperate measures to make money and artists are getting squeezed. The smart money is definitely on handling your own career, out there on the world wide interwebs. But how? There are million services promising audience reach, targeted email addresses, high profile this and big bucks that… most of which are glorified spam email campaigns. So what can we do? How can we, in the words of Rage Against The Machine, ‘Take the Power Back‘?

“Enter Steve Lawson, a solo bassist and ambient/electronic music pioneer from the UK.

“Steve’s managed to keep his career buoyant for the last decade, all via online interaction direct with his audience. He was exploring social media tools before the term ‘social media’ existed, and was using the web to connect with fans and fellow artists back in the heady days of Web 1.0.

“These days he splits his time between playing his beguiling cinematic music – at venues ranging from house concerts to the Royal Albert Hall – and teaching other musicians how to form genuine connections with their audience, to understand the new attention economy of the internet, and make the most of the opportunities that are out there. It’s not easy, it’s not a get rich quick scheme, and it probably won’t result in you making a million. But if that’s what you’re looking for, buy a lottery ticket. The music world has never been a good place to get rich. This is a chance to discuss, to ask questions and to come up with workable strategies for finding the people who want your music to soundtrack their lives. Sounds great, huh?”

There you go. Please do forward this page to any friends of yours who are going to NAMM, and may benefit from a lil’ StevieStyle social media make-over.

And if you’re at NAMM, please do drop by and say hi. Lobelia and I will be at the Looperlative, Modulus and Accugroove booths as well as around and about. And we’ll be tweeting, streaming some video, and generally having a lark!

2008 in review – Blog posts for musicians, Pt 1

Photo by Christian Payne AKA DocumentallyIt’s been an amazing year for me – a proper round-up of the year will be coming soon. But I thought that first I’d pull together some of the things I’ve blogged about this year. So this is part 1 of a compilation of links to my blog posts for musicians this year –

Back in May/June, I did a series of posts about Social Media for Musicians:

…ah, clearly i didn’t finish that last one… 🙂

Then in July, I did a series on my thoughts on bass teaching, and music teaching in general:

These had some really great comments off the back of them…

And here, in roughly chronological order, are my favourite posts from Jan – August:

There you go, that lot would make a pretty good e-book, if I ever get round to editing out the typos, and shortening some of my more overly-verbose entries 🙂

Next entry will cover Sept – Dec, and then the rest of what’s happened this year! If I don’t get to it til tomorrow, have a great new year, see you in ’09!

If you particularly like any of the posts, please share the links around, either via the ‘share this’ option below, or just by forwarding the URL to people who think might like to read them.