Posts Tagged ‘Steve Lawson’

Why The Major Labels Love Spotify

November 14, 2014
complete works

complete works

Oh yes, another blog post about Spotify. Just what the world needs. I’ll try [edit: and fail] to keep it brief.

There seems to be, at the moment, a massive gulf between the opinion of many artists-still-making-music and the labels that many of them are signed to. The major labels LOVE it. But artists are talking about Spotify as a wholly bad thing for artists – not enough money… ‘free’ music is bad… Rosanne Cash (a woman for whom I have an enormous amount of respect as an artist, writer, thinker and human) called Spotify ‘legalised piracy’. Why the gulf?

Here’s my take – The financial world of the major labels has, for a LONG time, been focused on back catalogue – music that’s already been successful. Reselling something that’s already in the public consciousness is WAY cheaper than marketing new, untested music. Licensing old tracks is also easier, because people know them. And there’s the simple question of scale.

Reality check: for the Majors, the vast majority of the music they will ever release has already been released.

Their model is weakening, the explosion in creative output over the last decade hasn’t been due to them, and hasn’t happened in their playing field. They still control the biggest selling artists, because they control the budgets and channels that allow artists to sell that many copies, but it’s almost tautological. They make the most money because they spend the most money on making money. They then siphon a lot of it off for executive bonuses and salaries. Some goes back into artists. Most records still fail to recoup on their advance.

So, what do those labels have as their primary asset? From the time when they released the vast majority of music, they own our nostalgia. They own our memories, the music that we grew up with.

Except, they don’t. Cos we ‘own’ it, mostly on CD and vinyl, some of it on cassette, much of it now ripped from CD to MP3. Which is worth what, to them? Nothing. They don’t get paid for us playing CDs.

So Spotify, which houses all that already-sold music, becomes a MUCH cheaper and easier way of getting paid for nostalgic listening than trying to re-format (selling us minidiscs/SACDs/remasters/any old bollocks). 500,000 songs paying $100 a year each is $50million. If you’re the label and publisher who earn that money in aggregate, from people listening to music they already own, you win massive. Especially if you’re still paying your artists a tiny ‘sales’ royalty on that stream, as though you’ve actually done anything, made anything, helped in any way.

What of new music? Well, sticking it on Spotify, for the labels that were spending BIG money to get things in shops, distributed on CD and marketed in the handful of big-box retailers that drive most high street sales, is a MUCH safer bet… you spend your ad-money online instead of paying thousands for prime positioning in Walmart or BestBuy. iTunes is great, but expecting people to pay a flat fee for an album by someone who’s painting themselves as a massive success, who is demonstrably rich, is a tall order. Why? Because it’s really hard to argue that not buying a Taylor Swift or Kanye West album is hurting the artist. It may at some point be true, it may be that they end up hiring less people because they sell fewer albums… there may be some kind of knock on economic damage down the line, but it’s a REALLY hard sell to the kind of people who buy music after seeing it on the shelves of Target or Asda.

So you stick it somewhere where the maximum number of people can hear it, you use back catalogue as the snare to get people into a listening environment, and then you do the same shit you’re doing with the old stuff, and keep the majority of the money as though the ‘stream’ is a sale. As part of your aggregate income, it works. The labels are doing GREAT out of this. They’re also the majority share holders in Spotify, having done an equity deal in exchange for their back catalogue in the first place (all without the permission of the artists).

How useful is this for any one individual artist on a label? Not so great. If you’re an indie artist, own your own recordings and publishing, and put them up there yourself, the streaming rate isn’t *terrible*. It’s not great, and you’d still need HUNDREDS of listeners for every normally-priced sale on Bandcamp, but it’s actually better than most of the headlines would make out. It can probably work for some kinds of enterprise. But if you’re signed? You’re fucked. Your label are making out like bandits on back catalogue and pretending that they have your interests at heart.

They don’t.

If your concern is the ongoing viability of new music, Spotify’s economic model is not one that supports innovation and sustainability for independent artists, on the whole. I’m not sure any other model is specifically geared to that either – it’s ALWAYS been hard to make a living as a musician, and the reduced cost of making and distributing music makes now the best time ever to be a recording musician, if you ask me, but this ‘the future is streaming’ nonsense only works if you’re only concerned with gross figures and the viability of massive record labels, and their ability to pay MASSIVE exec salaries and bonuses. For the record, I have no interest at all in supporting any industrial model that has ‘paying people millions of pounds’ as one of its primary outputs. I don’t think anyone has the ‘right’ to earn that much. Sustainability for the masses is way more important to me than riches for the few.

Last point – ad revenue. Spotify has two sources of income – subscriptions and ads. A LOT of their money, and their viability still comes from ads. Ditto YouTube and most streaming services. That means, in order for you to make money, the people listening to your stuff need to be clicking on ads for shit they don’t need, and buying things in sufficient quantities that the companies buying the ad space keep doing so. I’m not happy with that as a model for arts funding. I’m not happy with that as a model for ANYTHING funding.

So let’s find another way, eh?

Steve Lawson

Another excellent article from Steve Lawson on the music industry.

Originally posted by Steve Lawson on his blog, and reposted here and and on Medium.

Taylor Swift is the latest artist to remove all her material from spotify.

When I find artists, especially indy artists on spotify, I ask please remove your music, persuade other artists to remove their music, and ask music fans, please do not use spotify.

Please do not act as bait for spotify.

If everyone pulled the plug, spotify would collapse, and it is questionable if spotify is financially viable.

When indie artists are on spotify they are at best encouraging their fans to go to spotify, giving it a seal of approval.

The chances of anyone finding them on spotify, if not already known, is zilch.

The boss or founder of spotify recently speaking on BBC Radio 4 admitted, there may be bucket loads of indy music on spotify, but when users do a search it is for well known artists, for artists they already know.

Indy artists are often indy artists for a very good reason, they have wised up to the fact that major record labels will rip them off, chew them up and spit them out. And what do they need a record label for anyway, if they have the wherewithal to go into a recording studio, record their own music, release on bandcamp, release as physical CDs or on memory sticks, sell at gigs through bandcamp?

Steve Lawson, Amanda Palmer, Zoe Keating, Imogen Heap, Jewelia, are but a few of the many many examples I could give of artists successfully recording their own music, without the need of a record label.

There is a reason why record labels are mining past catalogue, because what they are peddling now is complete and utter garbage.

That is not to say there is not good music about, there is, but it is not mainstream.

Steve Lawson is a bass player with an extensive back catalogue. He is not on a record label. He does not release on spotify.

Synchronicty: Last night over dinner, singer-songwriter Jewelia and I were discussing this very subject, that and not being on a record label and using crowd sourcing to finance release of an album. I suggested check out what Steve Lawson may have to say, as he knows what he is talking about. And as if on cue, yes, he has something worthwhile to say.

Steve Lawson: Advice to musicians on using social media

October 12, 2014
Steve Lawson at Digital Music for Musicians

Steve Lawson at Digital Music for Musicians

There are few people who know how to make effective use of social media. Steve Lawson is one, Paulo Coelho another.

An example of how not to, was a discussion on The Bottom Line by people clueless on social media.

Another example Guildford Book Festival, who persist in sending out puerile, drooling, sycophantic tweets promoting boring celebrities.

Too many who use social media fail to understand or grasp the fundamentals of social networks.

  • social —> interaction
  • network —> many to many

If you engage PR or marketing people to handle your social media accounts, you have lost the plot.

If you are paying to promote what you have to say, then it is not worth saying.

I could not agree more with what Steve Lawson has to say on musicians using bandcamp.

Steve Lawson was a guest speaker at a Digital Music for Musicians seminar held in Leeds at the Belgrave Music Hall. A three hours talk on how jazz artists can use social media to their best advantage.

Everything Is Possible In This Best Of All Possible Worlds

December 26, 2013
Everything Is Possible In This Best Of All Possible Worlds

Everything Is Possible In This Best Of All Possible Worlds

Winter of last year, Steve Lawson and Daniel Berkman did a tour in the US, every note of which has been recorded, and released as a multi-album set FingerPainting.

Everything Is Possible In This Best Of All Possible Worlds is recorded in San Jose on 1 February 2013 at the home of Paula Chacon on the 5th date on the tour.

Everything Is Possible In This Best Of All Possible Worlds features Artemis on vocals on Kaleidoscope.

“Steve, Why Is Your Music So Cheap?”

December 7, 2013

So, at the end of my post about the FingerPainting Sessions best-of albums, I said I’d blog about why I sell my ‘complete works‘ USB Stick so cheap.

It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot. It’s even caused some skepticism about the contents from people who can’t work out why 24 albums, a 45minute live video and my novel on a USB stick would *only* cost £25.

There are a couple of different reasons, but the existence of the question, I think, stems from a somewhat strange anomaly of the old recording industry. That of there being VERY few artists as unknown as I am that have extensive back catalogues. It’s growing, because the internet makes it possible for people to do what I do (it’s made it possible for ME to do what I do!) and more artists are taking advantage of that, but it’s still pretty rare to have put out 34 albums as an artist who still sells on average a few hundred copies of anything they release… Mostly, with a label, you got to try and ‘make it’ with your first album, or sometimes two or three, but if you weren’t selling quite a few thousand by then, it just wasn’t feasible to go on making records. The fixed costs were too high…

So all of our perception of what people do with their back catalogue is based on what famous people do with their back catalogue. and for a large number of those famous people, they or their label are trying to squeeze yet more money out of their uber-fans. Boxed sets are often remastered, repackaged, even reformatted (DVD-A/Blueray Audio/108gram vinyl etc) to try and get people who already love the music to buy this ‘exclusive’ version again.

And, buried in there is often the desire on the part of the person selling it to not have to make any more music like that. If I can sell enough of these premium packages, I’ll be able to retire… Which is great if you’re Led Zep, or The Eagles or whoever.

If you’re me, the story’s a little different:

  • I don’t have anywhere near enough ‘super-fans’ to make creating ‘product’ just for them remotely viable. The wider community of people who are interested in what I do runs to several thousand. The inner core is just a handful (as far as I can tell!)
  • I have neither the desire not the likelihood of being able to retire on the sale of my music.
  • I’m actively involved in making more and more music. I’ve released over 10 hours of music in the last year, and will probably put out another 4 or 5 albums in the next 6-12 months.
  • Most of my gigs are house concerts, and at house concerts, I’m generally playing to people who haven’t heard me before but who mostly have had a fantastic evening by the end, and would often like to take some music home. A £180 25 LP set isn’t going to be that…

So a USB stick allows me to bundle it all up, at a pretty low unit cost to me (the USB sticks work out about £6 each, which is about the production cost of 3 short-run CDs) and because I put the music on them myself (it takes 8-10 minutes per stick to load them up) I can keep adding to what’s on them – I’m not stuck with those 24 albums until I’ve sold out of the current stack of merch. I can keep adding things as I release them.

But most importantly, I can make my ENTIRE back catalogue an entry point. It’s a thing that someone whose just seen me playing a support slot might buy (that’s happened a few times), it’s something that people on Twitter, who previous have downloaded an album or two for free, or for a couple of quid, might buy (that happens a lot). And at £25, it’s even an investment worth making to save yourself the trouble of downloading it all off Bandcamp. You get the stick, plug it in, drag all the music off it, and you’re left with a perfectly useful 4Gb USB Stick 🙂

£25 for 24 albums is an invitation into my musical world, a ticket onto the bus. It’s a chance to catch up, to drop it all into iTunes and put it on random while you work, switching to album-mode when you hit on a track you REALLY love. There are PDF sleevenotes, and the aforementioned video and novel. I’m sure I’ll add more as I go along.

But at it’s heart it’s a friendly, sustainable way of getting lots of music out to curious people. So it works perfectly for me.

Originally published by Steve Lawson on his blog.

There is a danger in releasing so much material of never mind the quality feel the width. So far that does not appear to be the case.

In releasing all the material from a tour, apart from aesthetics, it is also useful archival, a record of what took place.

I can write several articles, often one leads to another, all are then interlinked. Am I then churning out too much, does the quality suffer?

I was recently reading an article on how much earned per album on bandcamp. The figures became meaningless when listening to albums was included. Only by listening, can decide if like, only if like, can decide if buy.

Hope & Social, make digital downloads free, CDs are set at production cost. As for example can be seen with their album Cotton Wool and Knotted Wood. You are free to pay more if you wish.

The FingerPainting Sessions

November 25, 2013
The FingerPainting Sessions Vol I

The FingerPainting Sessions Vol I

The FingerPainting Sessions Vol II

The FingerPainting Sessions Vol II

Last winter, Steve Lawson did a tour in the US with Daniel Berkman, featuring Artemis on vocals. Until they were setting up their gear, Steve and Daniel had never met, and yet, instead of doing two separate gigs they took the risk and decided to perform as a duo. It worked.

Steve Lawson records every note he ever plays, which means by the end of the tour he had a lot of recorded material, over ten hours worth. What to do with it?

He could have released a best of, but decided to release as a multi-album set on a memory stick, plus release as individual albums on bandcamp.

Finger Painting — Steve Lawson and Daniel Berkman

Finger Painting — Steve Lawson and Daniel Berkman

Four months of mixing, mastering, writing of sleeve notes, he was able to released on a memory stick in a neat little box with sleeve notes. Five of the albums to date have been released on bandcamp.

Today, he has released on bandcamp The FingerPainting Sessions, a two volume album. Volume I and Volume II are available on bandcamp, and The FingerPainting Sessions will be released as a double CD next week.

Artemis will release an album of the vocals from the tour next week.

The opening of Familiar Territory, the first track on Volume I, could be, if I did not know, Vangelis, then half way through Pink Floyd, or to be more specific David Gilmour.

More on the background to FingerPainting, how it came about, can be found on Medium.

Triptych I (Eight for a Wish)

November 11, 2013
Triptych I (Eight for a Wish)

Triptych I (Eight for a Wish)

Released today, Triptych I (Eight for a Wish), is the first of the Triptych trilogy.

A beautiful, haunting album.

Supernova would be great at Guru, especially when sat across the road drinking a freddo cappuccino at patisserie amelie.

The three Triptych EPs are being released one at a time, and are comprised** of material Artemis wrote during Songaday 2012.

Songaday 2012, writing, recording and posting online a song every single day for the month of February.

** All except for one song, Candle and a Knife, on Triptych III, which was written during Songaday 2013

Artemis performed last winter with Daniel Berkman and Steve Lawson. Steve Lawson is releasing the tour as a multi-album set on memory stick and on bandcamp.

You can hear Steve Lawson on the last two tracks.

The cover art for Triptych I (Eight for a Wish) is a painting created by San Francisco artist Eden Gallanter, inspired by the song Supernova, which she heard the first time Artemis performed it live, at DNA Lounge in December 2012. It is well worth exploring more of Eden’s deeply intuitive art and science through her new Cheimonette Tarot deck at kickstarter. The deck includes a compilation CD of music inspired by the cards and Eden’s readings — songs from Meredith Yayanos, Jill Tracy, Unwoman, Mark Growden, Star St. Germain, Myrrh Larsen and Artemis.

The Triptych trilogy will be released as a series of limited edition albums January 2014. Triptych trilogy with three art prints is limited to five, of which only two left.

Steve Lawson talks about music

August 14, 2013

Interview Steve Lawson gave to Irish Radio Station RTE.

As always, interesting points raised.

If you have a love of music, enjoy playing music, then play what you enjoy, master your art, do not confuse with being a a No 1 hit or celebrity status. That is like basing your life on wanting to win the lottery.

Free downloads, no. Instead think of zero cost transactions.

In the good old days of CDs, you might have run off dozens, if not hundreds of promo copies of CDs. Did anyone listen to them? Probably not. They did though make a hole in your pocket.

On the other hand, every time someone shares your music on bandcamp, it goes with a recommendation, and it has not cost you a thing, apart from the time and effort putting it there.

What is music worth? What value can you put on a piece of music that sends shivers down the spine or brings tears to your eyes?

So obvious, and yet why can so few see?

Rock and Roll is Dead

March 29, 2013

Barney and the rest of the band are in this little cocoon where the label feed them information that makes them feel like they are special and are ‘going to be huge’ if only they do x y and z. But nobody ever says ‘you guys are massive, relax, it’s all cool’. 

Rock and Roll is Dead -- Steve Lawson

Rock and Roll is Dead — Steve Lawson

I am deadly serious about us having fun. — Michael Franti

Music is more precise than words — Igor Stravinsky

To pub musicians, everywhere. Especially those longing for an escape route… — Steve Lawson

This is unbelievably bad. Steve Lawson is an excellent musician, writes an excellent blog that is a joy to read, and yet Rock and Roll is Dead is turgid crap, it would make 50 Shades of Crap look like a good read, plus it is an e-book and I find no joy in reading e-books.

Or at least that was my initial reaction.

But that criticism to one side, it does contain good ideas, and that is really what it is, a book of ideas, only the format is wrong. He should have written something along the lines of Manual of the Warrior of Light, a suitable summary, followed by the details.

We start with a band that does pub gigs. They wake up one day thinking is this life, is this really what we want to do for the rest of our lives, plays gigs in pubs, the same old crap night after night to bored punters who do not give a toss?

That is the dilemma, a career in music, but what is that career. Is it playing night after night the same old crap, or is it playing what you enjoy playing, even if it is not your day job?

The drummer seems to have got it right, he plays drums, but also does IT, he enjoys both and does not have to worry abut money. When the music is slack, he does more IT, when he is playing music, he is doing it for the joy, he is not having to worry how is he going to pay the bills.

So where do they go from here? Instead of practice, they jam, try out a few ideas, see where it goes.

Then Gem throws a spanner in the works, a chance to go on tour with a band as a backing musician.

The dialogue is incomprehensible. As though written for a low budget film no one will watch.

In fact it actually reads like a script for a stage play, and would make a very good stage play.

A bit like The Archers, every day story of country folk with thrown into the story line advice on farming. Except this is an every day story of music folk.

Weird. Dialogue, sms text messages, ….

It was the weirdness that kept me reading. At first it was, it cannot be this bad then the weirdness.

What is success? What is music?

Is success being on X-Factor. Is music what is in the Top Ten?

Much of what people like, or what they think they like, is actually dictated to them, in the same way as fashion is.

Why do not people dabble, try out different music, see where it leads them, find out what they really like, not follow the rest of the lemmings.

Is success selling lots of records, being on a record label?

What is great about a record label that criminalises the people who may like your music, that wants to see them punished if they share your music with their friends, that rips you off big time because they were able to con you into a contract when you were too naïve or maybe too desperate to know or care what you were signing, but sold you a myth that does and never has existed?

Rock and Roll is Dead does for music what The Winner Stands Alone did for fashion or Two Caravans did for industrial food or Dickens did to expose the Victorian underclass.

“Very little that’s happening in rehearsals is undermining my conspiracy theory. Barney and the rest of the band are in this little cocoon where the label feed them information that makes them feel like they are special and are ‘going to be huge’ if only they do x y and z. But nobody ever says ‘you guys are massive, relax, it’s all cool’. There’s always more pressure, more made up shit to try and get them to strive further and inevitably to OK more expense that the label can take out of their advance for the album, that’s already over budget, apparently. They really do have the shittiest deal ever. They make the Stone Roses look like Ani DiFranco I can’t believe that a bunch of guys in their 30s would have bought into all this crap.”

There is nothing wrong with playing what other people have written, but focus on good, not correct.

When Jimi Hendrix performed All Along the Watchtower, he did not slavishly follow the original.

I heard a jazz quartet play a tribute to Blue Note, but they improvised.

Shadowboxer play their own stuff, but when they play other stuff, they use their own interpretation and do a better job than the original.

Or Crypt Covers, recorded literally in a crypt.

The Crypt Cover Project once a month invites musicians down into the crypt and within a day they record a song and get it on-line the next day. The song selections are crowd sourced, then random selection used for the final choice.

All bands need is a blog, and twitter, and if they record anything then release it on bandcamp. My Space is for losers, you do not need a record label. And please if you do upload something to youtube or vimeo, do not upload what your mate recorded on his phone at your gig in the pub, cos it looks and sounds crap. And if you do blog and use twitter, please not juvenile drivel. If you have something interesting to say, folks will sit up and take notice, they may then be tempted to listen to your music, they may even buy it, turn up at a gig.

If you have a website, it doesn’t need everything bar the kitchen sink. It has all that crap because some web designer has conned you into paying for it. And please, do not auto play your music.

I talk to musicians, and they say we know best, we are on all these different sites, we are not interested, you can play music on our own website, you can download. And know what, when I look, it is crap.

The ending is The Devil Wears Prada, the book not the film, where the record label is told to go and fuck themselves, but you knew that anyway.

Rock and Roll is Dead is essential reading at every music college, and especially for every X-Factor wanna be. And as it says in the book, there is more to life than Simon Fuckin Cowell, who has done more single handed to destroy music than anyone. If it is not on your reading list, ask why?

If you know anyone dumb enough to sign for one of the major record labels, tell them to read Rock and Roll is Dead, then talk to a lawyer.

Except music is not dead, it is alive and kicking, what is dead is the major record labels, it just has not got through to them yet.

What I found as interesting as the book, was the way in which it is being distributed. Originally given away as a free PDF file, Steve Lawson has published on LeanPub, yeah I know, sounds more like a pub than a publisher.

I have felt for some time there is a need for a platform for e-books and writers and publishers what bandcamp does for music. It is not a good as bandcamp, but the best I have seen so far.

I do not know if what applies to Rock and Roll is Dead is true for all their books.

A minimum price is set. But you do not have to pay it. You can move a slider up and down. You can pay more, you can pay less. Whatever you choose it tells you how much is going to the writer (90% less a nominal fee). You can choose more than one copy. You can download in multiple formats. If you do choose zero, because you do not know what you are buying if you like, I assume there is nothing to stop you going back and downloading again, this time paying. You can share with your friends, similar to the share button on bandcamp. If you do not like a book, you can get a 100% refund, but it would seem a lot easier, to down load free, then if you like, download again and pay (which is only fair as the writers have to earn a living).

The share is nowhere as good as bandcamp. Ideally a share button, with one click post onto a facebook wall, and the ability to add comments.

The embed does not work either. If it did, it would appear here and it doesn’t.

As I was reading Rock and Roll is Dead, I discussed it with my lovely friend Annie. A bit of a one way discussion as I would not tell her what I was reading, but she was intrigued, and wanted in.

Nothing Can Prepare

December 6, 2012
Nothing Can Prepare

Nothing Can Prepare

Talking in terms of “apocalypse” gets in the way of thinking clearly about the situation we’re in. The end of the world as we know it is not the end of the world full stop. What we’re facing is, very likely, the breakdown of many of the systems and ways of doing things that we (in countries like the UK or the USA) grew up taking for granted. But this is not going to play out with the speed of a Hollywood disaster movie or the finality of the Christian Day of Judgement. — Dougald Hine, co-founder of the Dark Mountain Project

Nothing Can Prepare, Steve Lawson on bass and Andy Williamson on sax.

I love the way the sax appears from the back of the church and slowly meanders to the front and the use of the acoustics of the church.

In November 2012, Lobelia and I went down to Devon for a couple of shows with Andy Williamson. Andy’s a brilliant saxophonist, best known for his Big Buzzard Boogie Band, but is also one of the most responsive, adaptive improvisors I know, so the thought of some shows with him playing a range of my tunes, Lobelia’s songs, and some completely improvised music was something to look forward to.

The gigs went very well, and the centrepiece of each show was an extended improvisation which I began solo and which, at a certain point, Andy joined in with from the back of the church (both the gigs were in beautiful old churches). He meandered to the front, filling the room with his gorgeous improvisation, and we ended together.

This is in lieu of a kickstarter project for a ‘sacred spaces’ tour – booking duo gigs in places that lend themselves to this kind of languid, stretched-out improv and to using music to explore the enormity of existence.

The first tune on here is built on a solo composition of mine – Nothing Can Prepare – which was initially a meditation on the total unexpectedness of parenting, and how nothing can really prepare you for expanding your family with a new human.

These are those two centrepiece improvisations.

In the early 1970s, a friend had an album, a saxophone recorded in Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. It was amazing in its uses of the acoustics of the building. Sadly I have never been able to find it, in part because I do not know what I am looking for. I think I have it recorded on reel-to-reel tape. Something I must check out one day.

Sacred spaces tour: Wimbledon Music Festival 2013, St John’s Church, Wimbledon, Lobelia on Steinway concert grand, Steve Lawson on bass, Zoe Keating on cello, Andy Williamson on sax. Just a thought.

Love is a battlefield

August 3, 2012

Love is a battlefield Lobelia and Steve Lawson.

Incredible vocals from Lobelia, bass player is not too bad either.

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