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.

Thunder and Rainbows – the heaven and hell of life on the road.

Thunder and Rainbows - from chrislev2001's flickr streamOK, before I start, this post is going to get VERY sad indeed. So if you’re just reading this for a light-hearted update of what’s going on in my life, during your lunch hour at work. Probably best to leave it til later. Bookmark it and come back.

So anyway, we’re 2 shows into our house-concert tour now. Currently in Milwaukee, with the very lovely Tracy Apps. we played a house concert here last night. More on that in a moment.

The night before, we were in Toledo, at the home of Steven Guerrero – an amazing solo bassist and good friend who helped us find a gig last time we were in the area, and this time offered to host the house concert. He had another solo bassist friend – Trentin Lee Manning – that they’d been planning to do a house concert with, so it seemed perfect to hook the two up and do a solo bass (+ lobelia) night. I’d not met Trentin, but had heard really good things about him and was looking forward to meeting him and hearing him play.

We got there and set up, but no sign of Trentin. We left messages on his phone, but gig time arrived and we’d heard nothing, so got on with the show – maybe he’d canceled but run out of battery on his phone. Whatever, we were sure we’d find out later.

The gig went SO well – I’d not seen Steven play before, and was genuinely floored by how good his set was. Great sounds, great playing but above all, some seriously beautiful melody playing and writing. Some of my favourite solo bass stuff I’ve heard in a long time.

Lo and I played a great gig too – really lovely audience, great connection, all good.

That is, until about an hour after the show when I checked my email to find a message from Pete Skjold, the bass builder that Trentin had been visiting on his way to see us, saying that Trentin had been killed in a car accident that afternoon. As you can imagine, the four of us (Lo, me, Steven G and his wife) were so shocked. What on earth do you do with that? Steven rang Pete, and got a few more details, but the shock was overwhelming. What a horrible, tragic, awful thing to happen. Trentin was 22 years old, Steven had met and played with him, and had been telling us how great a player he was, how much potential he had. Now we’d never get to meet him.

And for his family… Beyond words. We were shocked, upset and saddened. Their lives would never be the same again.

So we were there still feeling the warmth and friendship of our amazing hosts, glowing from such a lovely gig to such friendly people and now reeling from such a tragic and shocking piece of news.

And what’s more, we had hundreds more miles of snowy driving to do. Not really the best prospect to face after news like that.

So it was with some trepidation that we made our way back out onto the roads the next morning, still unable to properly process the news of the night before. I’m not sure there is a place to properly file all the feelings associated with such a random even, such a tragic event of someone you nearly met.

Thank God, the roads were as clear as can be all the way from Toledo up here to Milwaukee. We were late arriving, but we weren’t about to rush it.

So we walked in and the looping ideas/solo performance masterclass started as soon as I’d taken my coat off. I talked while setting up my gear about what a whole range of things relating to the possibilities, pitfalls and audience engagement ideas of looped music (and looped video). A really fascinating conversation with a lovely diverse group of musicians and performers. Great stuff.

Great stuff, followed by another really lovely gig. One in which we were able to talk a little about the tragedy of the day before. It’s one of the things I love about house concerts – it’s a conversation between performer and audience in a way that bigger gigs can’t be. You can chat, you can change things around, you can hold a conversation about things that matter. (the entire gig is archived here) – again, we played pretty well, and got to hang out with a load of lovely, interesting, engaging friendly people. In the midst of the sadness surrounding Trentin’s passing, we have two amazing shows, make lots of great new friends and find that the significance of what we do, both for us and in terms of the people it brings us into contact with, is huge. This really is the best playing environment I can imagine, especially when you have to deal with the ‘thunder and rainbows’ that life throws at us, even when on tour.

And today we got to spend the day with Tracy – we’ve known tapps for a long time in the virtual realm, but getting to sit round and chat, eat, and even play some music at her church this morning brings friendships to another level. It’s been another great day.

Tomorrow we drive to Chicago, for gig #3. Another amazing group of people no doubt await, but, God-willing, no more tragedy.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Trentin’s family and friends. Listen to him and read more about him on Myspace.

…oh, and the title? That’s from a song by Martyn Joseph (the words are, I think, by Martyn Joseph and Stewart Henderson) – I can’t find a link to the song or a paid download of it, though it may be on iTunes. here are the words:

The light or the shade, concealed or displayed
Enemies, friends, opposite ends
Bitter or sweet, ruffled or neat
Feathers or lead, silent or said
Generous or mean, corporate or green
Vagrant or lord, the dove or the sword
Distinct or obscure, prosperous or poor
Devil or saint, we are and we ain’t

Intricate mysteries
Life’s secret code
Cul-de-sac signposts
On yellow brickroads
Ambiguous answers
The question’s still “Why”
Thunder and rainbows
From the same sky

Champagne or dust, banquet or crust
Authentic or fake, angel or snake
Flower or thorn, prestine or torn
Desert or sea, the throne and the tree

Intricate mysteries
Life’s secret code
Cul-de-sac signposts
On yellow brickroads
Ambiguous answers
The question’s still “Why”
Thunder and rainbows
From the same sky

The light or the shade, concealed or displayed
Enemies, friends, opposite ends
Flower or thorn, prestine or torn
Desert or sea, the throne and the tree

Intricate mysteries
Life’s secret code
Cul-de-sac signposts
On yellow brickroads
Ambiguous answers
The question’s still “Why”
Thunder and rainbows

(and the photo at the top is by ChrisLev2001 – here’s a link to the original )

Featured Artist at Reverb Nation…

steve lawson featured on reverb nation's front page. Monday night’s album launch was amazing – thanks to all who came along. More on that v. soon, as well as all the other blog posts I’ve been promising to write for so long…

But in the news dept, I’ve just had an email telling me that I’m a featured artist this week on the front page of Reverb NationReverb Nation is what Myspace should have been like if they hadn’t found it more interesting to give old dudes a way to hit on teenage girls instead of making a site where people can actually find new music. It’s a great platform, and the speed at which it is evolving, growing and improving is remarkable. Do check it out if you haven’t seen it before.

They also get how information posted on social networks needs to be ‘tearable’, portable and aggregate-able, so just about all the data you put on there can be embedded anywhere else as widgets, and you can add your twitter account as a status update on there, and link it to other services (including myspace).

Anyway, my Reverb Nation page is at www.reverbnation.com/stevelawson – and from there you can download an ENTIRE free album – Lessons Learned From An Aged Feline Pt II. It’s a pretty good introduction to what I do when I play solo.

(you can download another free album from Last.fm here

Lawson/Dodds/Wood – Numbers: Available to order and download NOW!

Lawson/Dodds/Wood - Numbers, album sleeve imageHurrah! Finally! It’s up.

Yes, I know it took me flippin ages, but it’s there now, in the shop – Click here to go to the store and buy it!

Q – OK, so what do you get for your money?

A – an immediate digital download of the album – encoded at 256kbps (VBR*), beautifully and lovingly mixed, mastered and sounding amazing. PLUS an extra 45 minutes (give or take 2) of extra material: There are 3 of the raw improv tracks that Roy, Patrick and I recorded in the studio, exactly as we recorded them before they got mixed and mastered, and one completely exclusive track from the improv sessions, that’s not on the album (I’ll talk about that in a video later on today).

AND, of course, you get the CD, including world-wide postage, which will be sent out on or before November 24th 2008. It’ll be in the usual Pillow Mountain Records deluxe gatefold all-cardboard packaging, designed by the genius that is Kenny Laurenson

Q – and how much will all this cost me
A – £12.00 (as I said, including postage)
Right, so why should you order it now? Well, obviously, it’s not available anywhere else yet, so if you’re dying to hear it, this is the only place you’ll be able to get it for now – it won’t be up on iTunes/eMusic/whichever other digital store you usually use for months. Srsly. And the extras aren’t available anywhere. And won’t be for a very long time. Certainly not for ‘free’.

But more than that, it’s about future investment. If you order it now, we can cover the cost of pressing the CDs before we even put the record out. No debts, no loans, just sending the music to the people who want to hear it without any record companies or distribution companies getting in the way. We get to make the music we love, you get to hear the music we make, and no-one has to go without food to make it happen.

Think of it as arts patronage if you like, only you’re not giving ‘a donation’, you’re just buying direct from the artist to make your arts-money go further.

We’re also happy to sign any advance order CDs that you want signing, so feel free to indicate that in with your order (once the CDs out, it’ll be much harder for us to make sure we’re in a position to do that, given that we don’t live in some Monkees-esque fun-palace of gorgeous improv. We do lead normal lives… so consider it another added bonus)

Thanks so much! We’re REALLY excited about the album, as it seems is pretty much everyone who’s heard it.

And don’t forget that I will be carrying a digital copy with me, so should you have any kind of laptop or whatever with you, I can drag a copy onto your computer if you want to buy it there and then, and I’ll take your address and send you the CD when it comes out, same as if you ordered it online.

New solo tune on video – Don't Stop Believin'

For last week’s Freedom Of Expression gig in Gipsy Hill, I took a mini-set-up. I couldn’t really face packing up my whole rack to take on the bus, so I took my Line 6 DL4 (thanks Mike!) and my Akai Headrush – both loop pedals, but the DL4 also has a load of Delay sounds on it. I’ve only used them in conjunction with one another a few times, so it was a chance to experiment a little.

And experiment I did – the video below starts out as ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ ‘ by Journey, then goes all spacey and ambient.. for 13 minutes. It was pretty creatively inspiring to be a) limited by what those two pedals are capable of and b) not have any kind of ‘routine’ worked out, so to be throwing sounds out there and reacting to what came back… I’m happy with the results, hence the video post!


Steve Lawson – solo bass. Don’t Stop Believin’ from Steve Lawson on Vimeo.

Given the choice, I’d still use my Looperlative/Lexicon set-up at any gig, thanks very much – but it’s great to be reminded once in a while that improv can extend to form and structure as much as to notes…

The inspiration to try this tune in the first place was two-fold – firstly, I LOVE the Petra Haden version of this tune that’s on her MySpace page – she’s a genius. And secondly, one of my students, Dan, arrived at his lesson last week playing pretty much the chordal loop that I use for the main body of the tune – same progression, slightly different rhythm and fingering, I think… anyway, we were playing around with an arrangement of this tune in his lesson, and the challenge was we’d both go away and work on it… so I did, only I did it on stage 🙂

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it half as much as I enjoyed playing i!

A virtual gig – Geeknbury in your living room!

This weekend, the social media marvel that is Christian Payne hosted a lil’ festival out in wilds of Surrey called Geeknbury – I REALLY wanted to go, but it was just dreadful timing for me, work-wise, so I had to make do with checking out the happenings from the fest via the festival channel on Phreadz, at geeknbury.phreadz.com

Phreadz is a multi-media threaded conversational platform, so you can have chats like on twitter or a message board, but videos can be replied to with MP3s or pictures, and text can be added to anything posted. The threading works like a ‘family tree’, with all the sub-conversations viewable, and everything can be tagged and searched, as well as viewed within topical channels.

It’s still in ‘closed-beetroot’ mode at the moment, while all the coding is done by the mastermind behind it, Kosso, but a load of us are on there as beta-testers, and I love it.

Fortunately, the Geeknbury channel is open to the public, and as Lobelia and I couldn’t get to the fest, we decided to extend the festival via Phreadz, posting a load of songs as posts in the geeknbury channel, so people anywhere in the world could tune in and watch.

We had LOADS of fun doing it, and the embedded widgets below have each track, plus the conversation that happened embedded in them, so you can enjoy it too!

This was just a test, a trial run, for something much slicker, with proper streaming as well as the archived tracks, and a chatroom etc. We need to talk to Kosso about what’s possible, but we’ll let you know what happens next… Til then, enjoy, and don’t forget that you can see us ‘really live’ at Darbucka on Tuesday night (that’s probably today for most of you reading this!!)

Track 1 – I’m Lost

Track 2 – Happy

Track 3 – Grace And Gratitude

Track 4 – I’m In

Track 5 – Tea In The Sahara

Track 6 – Love Is A Battlefield

Telling Stories (new post on Creative-Choices.co.uk )

I’ve put another post up at Creative-Choices.co.uk, titled “Telling Stories…”

The premise behind it is that everything we do as musicians has a story attached, and if you’re not telling it, someone else is. It’s a theme I hope to develop more here, or there, but for now, head over to the Creative Choices site to read it. And feel free to comment – you’ll have to log in there, but it doesn’t take long 🙂

Paradigm is no measure of quality – what to do when you're 'different'…

This post is inspired by two things – firstly, a conversation I had recently with the very lovely Laura Kidd. We’d known each other quite a few weeks before she finally bothered to listen to any of the music I did, assuming that because it was solo bass it would be a load of techno-wank bass cleverness and therefor not something she’d be interested in. She eventually listened to it, probably as much out of politeness as anything, and said with a large degree of surprise the next time I saw her how much she liked it.

She was quite embarrassed, but actually her response is pretty much mine whenever I get an email or get given a CD and told ‘you’ll really like this, it’s solo bass’.

The problem is that solo bass is neither a style of music, not does it carry any indication of quality. And, for the most part, I’m not hugely into what happens on solo bass. There are some very notable exceptions to this, and some of my favourite musicians in the world are indeed solo bassists, but as a ‘draw’, solo bass doesn’t really work for me without some evidence that there’s more to it than the tools of the trade.

Same goes for ‘loop music’, ‘ambient music’, or any other vague classification I might fit into. It’s one of the reasons I find it so tricky to accurately sum up what I do in a single sentence…

The 2nd thing that inspired this as a topic was thinking about mine and Lobelia‘s upcoming gig at Darbucka. Going out to live shows in a city as big as London can be such a chore, and venues are, by and large, becoming less and less pleasant places to hang out. I don’t want to stand around in a dark smelly hall surrounded by drunk people shouting waiting for a band to come on only to find that I can’t hear them play anyway… I’m immediately wary of any gig in a venue I haven’t heard of, and I’m guessing that most of the people who would enjoy my gigs feel similarly.

So how do you get it across to people that a night out at Darbucka is ‘not like other gigs’? That the venue is cool enough to be worth a night out on its own, that the food is great, the ambience is really mellow, the sound is always cracking, it’s a fun night, people listen, the audience are generally lovely, and there’ll be the return of the lovely bloke playing Ukulele and singing, as well as all the usual Steve ‘n’ Lobelia loveliness.

That, dear readers, is where you lot come in. Cos nothing at all beats word of mouth in spreading that kind of info. I can rant til I’m blue in the face about how fab my own gigs are, but hey, they’re my gigs, I’m bound to say that. Why should anyone believe me when I have a vested interest in them being there?

…I hope that for most of you reading this, that last bit is rhetorical, that it’s clear I do try to be honest about what I’m doing, and definitely go out of my way to put on the best gig I can (despite Darbucka having it’s own PA, and me not owning a car, I still take my own PA down there cos the sound is better, for example 🙂 )

So, if you’ve been to see us before, take the next couple of mins to tell someone about it – post a comment on last.fm or Myspace, or hey, just post a comment on here! Tweet about it, blog about it, or call up some friends if you’re in London and bring ’em along. If you’re bringing loads, email me for a group discount 🙂

Hope to see you at Darbucka on Tuesday 29th July – it’ll be a really lovely mellow, fun night out, I promise!

Last.fm-buzzing – day one results + free stuff :)

OK, one day into the last.fm buzzing experiment, and the first thing that’s clear is that this is going to take a little longer. Twitter buzzing takes a maximum of 20 seconds beyond reading the blog post. You find a link, you twurl it, you tweet it. Simple As.

I did, however, have twice as many listeners on last.fm yesterday, compared to my daily average, and also visits to this site are also still up way above the average… Not sure how much of that is interest in me or interest in the results of the experiment. Either is good!

The Last.fm thing has a bigger pay-off – you’re listening to a load of music you presumably find interesting – but it takes a LOT more time, from the actual listening time, to navigating the site, to deciding where to comment, to finding out how this ‘loving tracks’ thing works.

So, here’s the first ‘prize’ for those of you that haven’t got it already: A free album to download from Last.fm – it’s my most ‘ambient’ album yet, with two massive long ambient epics, and a few shorter tracks, all to be downloaded and listened to in your own time. All I ask is that you sign up for last.fm and listen to them with the plug in switched on (once you’ve got it, if you set it to auto-load when you turn your computer on, you don’t even have to think about it, it just logs what you listen to, and when you want it to, can suggest interesting new music, or generate radio stations for you – all for freebs, how cool is that?)

What’s also note-worthy is that no-one has – as far as I can see – commented on there yet – I guess there are too many choices. So today, if you read this, please comment on the artist front page

I’m trying to find a way in their ‘music manager’ software of tracking when tracks are ‘loved’… the most obvious page for me to follow is the Fans page – which auto-updates whenever anyone plays some stuff on there. It’s great to see in real-time what people are listening to (though also slightly alarming when people start with my earlier albums – for some reason, the top two most played tunes on there are from Not Dancing For Chicken, which came out in 2002… guess you can’t control what people listen to 🙂

Anyway, the experiment goes on, please, join in today if you’re on last.fm, or fancy signing up, download the free album, and enjoy!

The experiment Pt 2 – Last.fm-Buzzing

OK, Pt II of the experiment is an easy-ish one, if you’re already on Last.fm.

In case you don’t know, Last.fm is an online radio/playlist/social network site – the heart of it is an ENORMOUS catalogue of songs, many of which can be streamed on demand, and all of which crop up in radio stations, based on the music that people who like what you like like. 🙂

There are also artist-specific stations, (you can go there and listen to ‘artists similar to Steve Lawson’, for example, and will get a play list of stuff that’s listened to by people who listen to me…)

So, here’s today’s experiment (feel free to sign up to last.fm if you’re not on there already).

there are four bits to this –
1) Listening
2) Tagging
3) “Loving”
4) Commenting

A little more detail on each:
Listening is easy – just head to my last.fm artist page and hit play – for the track to register, you need to listen to at least a minute of it I think, so if you do skip around a few tracks, do play more than a few seconds of each one.

Tagging is also dead simple – when you go to my artist page, you’ll see ‘User Tags’ in the top right of the screen. Click on ‘Tag This Artist’ underneath it, and start by clicking on each of the ‘popular tags for this artist’ that you agree with. The more times a particular tag is used for an artist, the higher they ‘rank’ in the radio stations associated with this tag – more taggers=more radio play. Feel free to add your own tags too, by typing them in the box.

Loving a particular track can be done either in the embedded player on the site, or via the downloaded Last.fm client – just click the big heart button when you’re listening to a tune you love, and it’ll bring it up more often in your radio station, and log it as something worth listening to.

And Commenting is again, I guess, self explanatory – you can comment on any page on last.fm – artist, album or song, so feel free to add more than one comment – a short comment on the artist page would be great, some more specific stuff on your favourite album of mine would be even better.

The purpose of this experiment is to see how deep the connection goes with Last.fm listeners, and also how much the radio stations are affected by this kind of thing – I get pretty accurate stats back from last.fm about how many radio listeners I’ve had, and can see the ‘recent listeners’ list for me as an artist, as well as individually for each track and album.

So go to it – you can even do a lot of the listening and loving here on the MP3s page, but you’ll have to head to last.fm for the tagging and commenting.

thanks so much! Those who comment and listen to the most tunes this week, that’ll add towards the Cd prizes, for sure!

I’m working on bringing some thoughts together about how we measure the quality of connection/interaction with our web-audience… will blog that soon.