This year, we’ve been introducing our musicians to a range of influential figures from the creative industries. Whether it’s marketing your work, nailing performances, or improving your practise; each speaker brings a unique set of insights and experiences for contemporary musicians at the onset of their careers.
With over two decades of performing, seventy albums in the bank, and literally hundreds of collaborations, Steve Lawson has taken his followers on a musical journey like no other. Steve’s cinematic soundscapes, improvised live with nothing but a 6-string bass guitar, an MPC-style MIDI controller and a bewildering array of pedals have helped make him one of the most celebrated solo bassist in the UK.
Known for his friendly, warm stage presence, Steve has also travelled the world as a clinician and educator passing on his unique approach to music making and performance.
Having recognised many years ago that the streaming economy offers nothing for the sustainability of niche artists, Steve’s pioneering Bandcamp subscription offering serves as, in his words, ‘an ever-expanding digital box set’ – releasing upwards of ten albums a year exclusively to his subscriber community, and complimenting those releases with a rich narrative that follows the process of making them.
Alongside Lawson’s extensive solo projects, his relentless work ethic has stimulated a raft of collaborations, that include: Divinity Roxx, Beardyman, Reeves Gabrels, Jason Cooper (The Cure), Andy Gangadeen, Bryan Corbett, Andy Edwards, Emre Ramazanoglu, Mike Outram, Jon Thorne (Lamb), Rob Turner (GoGo Penguin), Jem Godfrey (Frost*), Tanya Donelly, Briana Corrigan, Mark Kelly (Marillion), Roy Dodds (Fairground Attraction) and many more.
In between all the music making, he somehow finds time to give regular masterclasses at universities across the UK and Europe, and is working on a PhD, exploring the audience experience of his improvised music, due for completion in 2021.
At a time where everyone has their own online “brand”, what makes a musician’s profile stand out?
In a social media environment where it feels like literally everyone is crying out for your attention, finding ways to present your work as an authentic expression of who you are, in a way that builds a compelling story for your audience to follow, will bring about greater long term relationships and require less of a reliance on the sensational to be noticed above the din. That authenticity can include sharing insights from your practice, creative problems you’ve encountered and dealt with, and the stories behind the songs and your relationships with collaborators. Being generous with your support for other musicians will also help you to avoid the pitfall of appearing desperate for an audience.
What are the biggest don’ts when promoting yourself online?
Building a name for yourself as someone who is constantly critical and negative will rarely inspire people to investigate your music. There are a number of musicians I can think of whose social media presence is almost entirely comprised of often offensive complaints about other artists, venues, the music economy… It’s OK to be constructively critical and can actually really help other artists navigate the complexities of their professional life if you explore problems and offer support or solutions, but constant negativity doesn’t nothing to build an interest in your music. The other one that constantly amazes me is musicians whose conversations about music online unfailingly reinforce the idea that all the good music happened decades ago, only ever talking about classic records from the 50s, 60s and 70s, constantly praising the pioneers but never ever making reference to vibrant, exciting music happening now. To couple this with an expectation that anyone should be interested in your music, when you’ve so successfully trained them to ignore all new music in favour of ‘the classics’ is foolhardy in the extreme.
When struggling to create, it can be overwhelming to see other artists sharing their music online. How can young musicians stay motivated in the fast-paced modern music world?
Set yourself attainable goals, and try to make your creative life serve as the source material for your social media presence. Setting up photoshoots solely for future Instagram posts is both draining and expensive, but documenting your creative journey, posting practice videos and photos of new equipment or conversations about the music you’re learning for a gig can help motivate you to get stuck into the work. It also gives you space to get better at photography, think about lighting and framing without the need to do a photography college course! Seeing all the skills you’re developing as part of your creative life can really help ease the anxiety.
Do you think it is easier to make it in the music industry now than it was 20 years ago?
What we might think of as ‘the industry’ has changed so much. I think it’s definitely easier to engage with music economically now than it was, but much of the music economy doesn’t really touch the structures that we previously thought of as ‘the industry’. The tricky bit stems from that huge range of ways to think about what it is that musicians are even doing. From understanding sync rights to organising online gigs; setting up subscription services and planning a social media campaign; to promoting an album; there are myriad ways to think about the tasks of being in music, and trying to stay focused is hard. Big labels, managers and other support organisations can still help with all of this to a high degree, if you find the ones that are right for you and understand what it is you’re trying to do creatively.
We’d like to thank Steve for giving up his time to speak to us. We know for a fact that our band-members loved this session and we look forward to seeing him again very soon!
For all things Steve Lawson, you can check out his BandCamp page here!