Steve Lawson - SoloBassSteve

by Music Tech Fest | MTF Podcast

Steve Lawson creates music that he describes as “tricky to pin down”…

He’s an ambient experimenter with something of a pop sensibility, creating a strange hybrid of jazz, electronica, ambient, new age, hip hop and ‘new acoustic’ influences - or as his website has it: “the soundtrack to the day you wish you’d had”.

Technology is central to that artistic journey - not just in terms of the gear he uses, but also the way in which he connects with his audience and distributes his music. Steve has spent much of his professional life explaining how and why he makes much of his living playing entirely improvised music on the bass by himself in front of an audience and releasing the results.

This conversation captures and condenses those ideas.

You can listen to Steve’s music and subscribe to his prolific output at his Bandcamp page.

AI Transcription

SUMMARY KEYWORDS

people, music, audience, record, play, gig, albums, life, writing, listening, felt, improvised, point, bass player, musicians, sound, improviser, solo, talk, sat

SPEAKERS

Andrew Dubber, Steve Lawson

 

Andrew Dubber 

Hi, I’m Dubber. I’m the Director of Music tech Fest, and this is the MTF podcast. Now, I haven’t always been the director of music tech Fest, of course. And for a long time, one of the many things that I did was to run a blog focusing on independent music online, and a consultancy, both called New Music strategies. I started it in 2005. And it was especially active for about eight to 10 years, much less so these days. Along the way, one of the key people I encountered who ended up becoming a part of New Music strategies was Steve Lawson, also known as SoloBassSteve, off the internet, Steve and I spent a lot of time in each other’s company and he’s been massively influential in my thinking around independent music online, as well as the thinking of thousands of other people around the world. We’ve spoken at music industry events together and we’ve stood in for each other as fairly reasonable substitutes when one or the other of us wasn’t available at a particular perspective on the internet was sought after. along the way. We’ve written blog posts consulted, advised, presented, researched, lectured, and also podcasted. For the most part, though, Steve’s a bass player, a really good one, one that ends up on the front cover of magazines for bass players, one that has Signature Series bass guitars made for him by guitar manufacturers. He’s not in a band, though, Steve has the unusual distinction of being a solo bassist. When he plays music. It’s usually just him. He’s also a music educator, an academic, a tech enthusiast apparent and one of the most prolific recording artists you’re ever likely to encounter. An album a week from Steve is not unheard of. Recorded at an conventions 10th anniversary event in Manchester a few months back. This is SoloBassSteve. Steve Lawson, thank you so much for doing this. It’s like we’ve never had a conversation.

 

Steve Lawson 

It’s like we’ve never done a podcast in the whole world. It’s very funny. So

 

Andrew Dubber 

we should probably explain. We have done this before in the past, but probably not in this organised fashion.

 

Steve Lawson 

No, no, we never had microphones we kind of we normally sit around it with a bottle of wine and talk rubbish into a laptop or zoom kind of recorder with a mic built in. So actually sitting with a proper mic and a camera. Yeah. Like this is this. I don’t maybe maybe I won’t make any Well, the context for this, I think is different because I think so

 

Andrew Dubber 

for this I let’s kind of introduce who you are and what your story is you. You play the bass by yourself for a living.

 

Steve Lawson 

I do, which is like the worst thing anyone could possibly do. Yeah, I do. I started out as a kind of bass player and bands and things. But it was always very restless in terms of sort of wanting to do more experimentation. And lucked into a solo gig at the end of the 90s where somebody just saw me do a solo thing with a band and said, Have you got a holster? And I said yes, which was a lie. But I got a gig booked anyway. And it just it just did quite well. And I kind of had a take on what I was doing with a bass and a looper, which was kind of unusual at the time, it wasn’t certainly wasn’t the first person to do it, you know, but for my most of my audience, it was a new thing. And so I kind of built a sound around that. And the burgeoning career that was me playing with other people stopped because nobody wants to hire a bass player who plays on his own. You’re not coming in my band and ruining it. And so yeah, that became my thing. So for the last almost 20 years, I’ve been predominantly a solo artist,

 

Andrew Dubber 

your thing is more than just I play the bass by myself that your thing has been becoming about being a sustainable artist in the world where we have an internet.

 

Steve Lawson 

Yeah, again, and that was kind of that was never the big plan. That was the way of enabling me to do what I do. And I think that because so I just I’ve just done a panel here on convention about kind of the headline was a job for life. And it’s kind of thinking about a life in music. For me, it was always about how to maintain what I was doing. But I realised that what I was doing wasn’t actually about music, that music was one aspect of it. I’m just professionally curious, I find things interesting. And so the mechanism by which I got to make that music and the mechanism by which I got to pay my rent while I was making that music and the way that I built an audience and the tools that enabled that all became part of that curious exploration. So as well as making music, making that music available to people was part of the big project. So it wasn’t that I saw it as fragmented. It was more of a kind of gestalt approach to to the creative life. And so yeah, as tools emerged, as new internet happenings, created an affordance for a certain kind of interaction with the people who were listening to it. I embraced those fairly quickly. And I’ve had some really terrible observations about it early on my blog archive, which now goes back to 2003 is full of my terrible first takes on things as they appeared. There’s me ranting about piracy back in 2004. This is all about people stealing needed point when that was how I saw it. And it was what

 

Andrew Dubber 

was the change view and when did you kind of figure out actually, there’s something more interesting that is going on?

 

Steve Lawson 

I can no it was all emergent. I mean, I think I think when when you and I first connected and talked 2008. And I think because I think by then I’d the experience of being on Myspace was one, it was a great learning experience, I joined MySpace in the same way that musicians did with this incredibly narcissistic focus to kind of just friendly to people and build a big audience. And the futility of that, and the way that that killed the conversation about the music became apparent very quickly. And so at that point, I started to conceive of a use of social media that was genuinely social. And that wasn’t a marketing tool. And it wasn’t all the things that are the kind of people writing about this great new way for musicians to network and do this, it’s like, well, no, it’s just about creating a story around what you do. And so I think the whole idea of storytelling came in fairly, fairly early on. And one of the big advantages I had on that sort of, in that sort of mid noughties period, when blogging was an incredibly important resource for musicians was that I’m a writer as well, I’m a journalist I’ve been, I was not trained as a journalist, but my partner in from back in the 90s, she was a, she was a sub editor, and a very good journalist. And so she taught me how to write and she would edit what I was doing, and you can’t write 150 words sentence, that’s ridiculous. And, and so I became, so I developed this set of skills, and I got to practice in magazines, and harness that for this process of storytelling. So as that storytelling process, fragmented away from being about long blocks of text on a blog, and became about Twitter and Facebook and MySpace updates, I got pretty good at writing in small chunks and, and kind of die arising my musical life in a way that people could engage with as an unfolding story, rather than as a set of marketing tools that were, were kind of cynically plans to promote a product, the idea that the music was the end destination of a conversation, that at the end of people finding out what I was about, they might go, oh, maybe I should have listened to what he what he does, rather than kind of putting that at the front end. And now it’s sort of classic marketing, thinking, it’s, it was very much kind of fit the model of the marketing funnel that you start with awareness and work your way down to there. But but I wasn’t thinking about that, I was just thinking, I want to be able to make the music that I care about. And that requires some context, because without me explaining what I’m trying to do, people are going to try and squeeze it into a box and they’ll either come at it and go is this this is not very good jazz, or this is not very successful ambient music or this is not weird enough to be prog, or this is not, there’s no word

 

Andrew Dubber 

so Okay, so how do you describe your music to other people who haven’t heard it?

 

Steve Lawson 

I describe it as cinematic instrumental music. So the cinematic bit being that there’s, there’s, there is loosely a kind of a purpose to it, that I tend to be soundtracking things in a obviously a very abstract way. I don’t actually have there’s no narrative. I don’t know, I don’t write stories that accompany it. But I do like sleep notes. And so a big part of the experience for me is that is that people can if they buy on bandcamp, so my stuff is only available on Bandcamp these days, because that’s where I can do that rich, that sort of more rich media presentation of it and so that in the lyric field on all the files is the story behind the track. And so the title isn’t just me going, what what kind of cool this piece of music that doesn’t sound embarrassing. It’s me going What is this? What was I thinking about when I was playing this? What was I trying to

 

Andrew Dubber 

get across? To be clear that this is improvisational music? Yeah.

 

Steve Lawson 

So so everything I do is improvised. So that’s the other thing that I mean, even even my forays into songwriting have been my contribution to it has been improvised, and I send it to someone else and they go great. Alright, I think over the top of that, so I was co writing recently with Tanya Donnelly off of Belly and throwing music. And my contribution to the song that we wrote together took 15 minutes, including uploading it. She just went, do you want to send me a thing? And

 

Andrew Dubber 

I want to be fair, I took 35 years plus.

 

Steve Lawson 

Yeah, so it was absolutely perfect for that. But But I sat down and I literally hit record and started playing thing and it went through for about three minutes and I stopped and went okay, well, I’ll do an overdub. And so I just hit record again and overdub the thing. And I couldn’t remember what I just played. So I was responding to it like an improviser. And then well, that’s quite nice. I’ll send that to her and see what she thinks. Right. And she went great, and just wrote over the top of that, so my, you know, that, that even at the point when I could have developed a kind of a much more sort of structured approach to songwriting, I wasn’t allowed to because I was too good at improv it. Just kind of it’s kind of nice and comical. But yes, I am an improviser. And so, this whole thing about storytelling, it’s not that I write soundtracks to things it’s that I play with the thing in mind. And I only get to talk about what that thing is. And sometimes that’s emergent. I’m not I’m not aware of that at the time, I was listening back to it, I kind of go, Okay, this is this has a sense to it. That is, whatever it is. And so having a platform for storytelling was always important to me. And having a way to connect that to an audience and even to to kind of to prompt my audience to think about what it might mean that what they’re listening to that when the second time they listened to it, they have more knowledge of what’s about to happen than I had when I was recording it for example. So in a record, the first time you listen to recorded piece, you’re Exactly the same state I was when I played it. And I don’t know how it’s gonna win.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Is that important to you? What the audience thinks of your music while you’re listening to it?

 

Steve Lawson 

Well, it’s interesting to me. I don’t know. I don’t know important because I mean, yeah, you know, is important. I let us listen, no covers to the Master, I know, we know is important. And it’s, but it’s important in a way. That is about the fact that that that’s half of the experience. There’s a great quote from Paddy McAloon, on the Sodajerker podcast where he says that the listener finishes the song that his song doesn’t exist until it’s been heard that he’s got that sort of, you know, I’m not sure if he’s meaning that as a,

 

Andrew Dubber 

as that reader response criticism, sort of Umberto Eco

 

Steve Lawson 

Yeah, yes, yeah. Or even the kind of you know, it’s it’s, Roland Barthes is the death of the author, it’s going you know, that you as the creator is not, that’s not the fundamental thing. It’s how it’s received. And so I’m fascinated by that, and particularly as an improviser, because increasingly, more and more of my work is recorded live in front of an audience, right. And therefore, they are present within the music because it’s different, because there is the music that I make, in front of any given audience is made in consideration with and in response to their that their their gesture, or things that they can do if an audience suddenly start fidgeting and getting bored in the middle of a piece, I’m going to be consciously aware of that, I’m gonna notice that and I’m going to play differently as a result, if somebody starts shouting at me in the middle of a gig, I did a gig recently where some friends had bought their 18 month old kid who was stood at the front. And as we started, as I started playing, he started randomly shouting the titles to Kraftwerk tunes at me.

 

Andrew Dubber 

That’s surely that’s got to be taught.

 

Steve Lawson 

It’s just Yeah. You know, obviously, dad’s music fan and kind of played in these things. But they wish I said, No, no, if I’d had it because I use a MIDI controller to kind of play samples, and some of them found sound, and some of them with drum sounds. But if I had a sample set that was toddler shouting Kraftwerk tunes and I started playing that people would think I was a genius, right. So that wasn’t an interruption. That was a collaboration. And sadly, it’s not on the recording, I didn’t accidentally pick up on a mic, which is a real shame, I kind of need to use room mics. But but the music that happened after that happened in response to that having been the beginning of the show. So there is a sense in which I want to invite the audience to experience themselves within the music rather than just as passive observers of it, they are part of that process that in a epistemological sense, they they finish the song because we don’t know what it is until somebody heard it. And the context, they’re listening to it in quick shapes, how they receive it, but but in a live setting, they are palpably influential on the actual sounds that are being made. Right?

 

Andrew Dubber 

You’re clearly not just somebody who makes music and writes about music. you’re somebody who thinks about music, and and that’s led you towards academia. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that? That journey? Yeah,

 

Steve Lawson 

so so I’ve said that the end point, I will start at the endpoint, which is that I’m in the middle of a PhD about the audience experience of improv, as you can tell from the ridiculous language I used to describe it. That journey began. I mean, I started teaching while I was still at college in the early 90s. So teaching and explaining what I do and how I do it, even from the point of view of being, I play these notes here. And this is how rhythm works to another bass player. That has been central to my thought process, since I was 1819. And over time, that that I got, towards the end of the 90s, I was getting some acclaim as a performer that that I then guess I got into universities to do master classes. And as I transitioned from session play the solo player, I would get to the end of the question and answer bit and they go, Yeah, all that looping stuff. Well, good. But how do you make a living? Right? Yeah. And so I then have to start talking about that and start talking about which

 

Andrew Dubber 

is actually kind of my next question. Yeah.

 

Steve Lawson 

And it was, it was kind of that it became a thing where I would start trying to explain how you carve out a space to do the thing you care about, rather than pursuing a chunk of money. Because if what your concern is, is making X amount of money and having x kind of housing car, you don’t play solo bass, you’d be a moron, did you choose that as your path to it, not the greatest get rich, quick scheme in the world. And so you, you, you have your minimum viable infrastructure for your life is minute, and it has to be. And so I got talking about that. And then with the whole social media thing, I think, because I was writing about it, and I was writing about it in a way that was, I guess, fairly unusually clear. I mean, we connected because we were two of the people that were doing that and, and our names will put alongside one another quite often at that time as

 

Andrew Dubber 

well. It got to the point where we’re quoting each other and not quite written what

 

Steve Lawson 

exactly I mean, there was there was a point when we, I remember having that conversation, it was just like, let’s just we wrote it together. Like we came up with this stuff. And there were certain things that are obviously you know, that that we you, you wrote in the book. But a lot of the ideas that we came up with were things that one of us said and the other one fleshed out, and then when we actually met because this was before we met, and then we met and there was a very strong sense That actually what we heard was a thing that we could go and explain to people, you know, in a more structured way. And you were working in academia at the time. So for me, that was a your, your influence as a big root into actually doing it. So, so the the speaking gig where I get asked to do a PhD was one that you’ve been asked to do, and it turned down. So there are a couple of things said that there were two things that would happen back then one of which was that there were places where you were banned. Me, because you were too controversial. And it was like, but I’m saying the same stuff. I just happen to be a musician. So I don’t like I’m being disruptive. Yeah. So which is kind of interesting. But there were also just gigs that you were too busy for. And one of them was this James conference, that joint audio medium education service in Leeds. And I went into this talk about a new way of thinking about music careers and stuff. And if you watch the video on YouTube, it’s half me talking in half kind of me stuttering and mumbling and sort of terrible ideas, odd impersonation, but there’s there’s some useful stuff in there. And I found out years later that actually the department and Leeds week rewrote their business offering based on that talk, they went, this is what we should be getting used to think about, right? But they also said at the time, why don’t you come and do a PhD? And I was like, what really I don’t even have a degree like I did, I did an agency like a level four course back in, in 93. And I don’t even know if I pass that because somebody puked on the certificate before I forgot to read it. It was in a bag at a party and someone bombed in the back. So I don’t I, you know, I was not somebody who was who’s was credentialed at all right, I was experienced, but no credentials. And so they said that, and I was like, Oh, that sounds like a great idea. We started talking about it. And then the financial crisis hit education in 2010. And everything went quiet. It was a couple of years. But I but I think through the work that you and I were doing, I got connected to a network of academics. And so there was there was another pivotal moment when I got invited to speak at the Microsoft Research conference in New York through someone else I’d met through working in social media. So I kind of transitioned alongside my music career for a large chunk of sort of 2009 to about 2014. I’d taken the social media lessons that I’d learned to do my music career and was applying them to charity sector and government and all kinds of stuff on was getting paid to talk about this stuff. Through that I met a woman who invited me to go and talk about bandcamp. And the idea of the gratitude economy, which is funny, because it kind of came out about the same time that Amanda Palmer was talking about that stuff in her book. And I mean, I think my take on it is slightly less like, like, if you do this, you can get really rich from it. Because I’ve never done a million pound Kickstarter campaign.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say monetize my audience. No,

 

Steve Lawson 

no, no, no, that’s there were there were things about the way that she explained it, that I that certainly didn’t jive with what I was doing. But there were but there were certainly similarities in this, this notion that people pay for things they’re grateful for, and building relationships with the audience, right. And you can invite them to do that. And I think there was less an LP in mine. And I was wasn’t kind of actually, well, I didn’t felt less manipulative. So I got to go and talk about this in New York and against another network of academics who were incredibly supportive of what I was up to. And, and so and just after that, the leads, people got back in touch and said, how about that PhD. And so I and at the time, by that point, I was diversifying what I thought of what I was doing as a performer, I’d formed this trio with two actors called Torycore where we take conservative political speeches and set them to kind of death metal, and just make kind of provide a context that’s as evil as the words that are being said. But it made me think about performance in a completely different way. And I was hanging out with a lot of theatre makers, and people who were doing audience Pacific theatre and I suddenly started to think about the audience in a totally different way, and felt that music audiences were, were being condescended to the whole time this idea that what we do is we make a noise, but we chop it into five minute chunks. So people have time to clap in between like, and they sit and look at us. And the present. The presentational model was basically like church from the mediaeval days, it was like a guy at the front and on a platform because that makes them visible and audible and unquestionable. And then you declare your truth to the audience, and they lap it up. And that felt like a kind of just a really mundane assumption for how we should perform. And so I wanted to interrogate what it was that was going on with audiences. So I went back to the Leeds people is that instead of doing a PhD about solo performance, I actually want to do it about the audience experience of that performance, and particularly the improv bit because I was getting more and more. By that point, it had been a couple of years, it’s I’ve done a gig of play replaying my tunes. Because for for 12 or 13 years, my solo career was I would improvise in the studio, create this lovely complex music and then play a simplified version of it live, because I’d have to try and learn it. But obviously, because it’s improvised, it was sufficiently complex to be unlivable. So I would have to simplify the start point and then then improvise off the back of it. But it was there was a sort of jarring thing where the origin of this music was this open, free place, and then the live presentation of it was this sort of, I don’t know, it’s a sort of condescension. nostalgia, this idea that people needed to hear tunes they already knew. And I don’t think my audience was there. And I don’t think that was I mean, I do occasionally get people going, can you play that song? Right? Because there will be a thing on the record that they really like. So this is the other part that’s interesting for me about about it is that what I do doesn’t always sound improvised, because it’s not idiomatically or stylistically, kind of fixed to the what people think of as improv. Yeah, like it’s not free jazz. And because I use a looper, there is inherent structure within that there’s repetition. And so yes, I was really fascinated by what it meant to the audience to to be a present at the genesis of a piece of music. Be to recognise someone’s language within that. Yeah, so the fact that, you know, I don’t, I don’t suddenly get on stage and start playing saxophone or, you know, playing drums or making an omelette like there is a consistency to what I do on stage show. And there’s a language and a sonic imprint to that that people recognise. So there isn’t, it’s not alienating.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Right. So Steve Lawson record sounds like a Steve Lawson record.

 

Steve Lawson 

yeah, and then so it’s kind of working out what that familiarity means for them in turn as much in terms of why someone would show up, because we go to gigs to hear songs we know. Like most most of the time, when we go to a performance setting in pop music, we go because there’s a setlist or a record that somebody is touring. And we’d like that thing. And it’s why Greatest Hits tours are always more popular than, you know, you, Bob Mould can go out and play to 200 people doing his new record or him fill Brixton Academy playing Zen arcade with a compilation of musicians who may have had some association with Hüsker Dü that, you know, that, that we have that that nostalgic attachment to music that we know and love? And so as a performer who is a shoot that has moved away from that, I want to understand what it is about what I do audiences get because the other the other flipside of this is that musicians are constantly making massive assumptions about their audiences. Usually, we just think oh, yeah, my audience thinks this mostly Yeah. Have you ever polled them to out do you know this? Right? But I think I’m largely I’m in a place where I have a level of familiarity with my audience. And friendliness with my audience is unusual. Can I ask

 

Andrew Dubber 

if somebody who knew you at high school saw you today? Would they go? Of course, that’s what he ended up doing? Or would this be a complete surprise?

 

Steve Lawson 

I haven’t asked that question to people who I was at high school with on Facebook early, there’s a range of responses. So there’s a couple of people who when I found you, and I was like, amazed that this is where you ended up, and then other people were like, this is exactly what I thought you’d be doing, you weirdo. So So what was the journey? I mean, this the shorthand is jumpy or saved my life so that growing up I moved from Wimbledon to Berwick on tweed, which is a tiny town on the Scottish border when I was 13. And so my coming of age as a music fan happened in a fishing town on just English side of the scotch border. So access to music was the record shop stopped Bon Jovi albums and Def Leppard albums. So I went from a position where my walls were covered in these largely homoerotic pictures of Jon Bon Jovi, and Joey Tempest from Europe and men who looked like beautiful women. And to suddenly discovering the Pixies and Napalm Death and the Bundy boys at a state and the burgeoning acid house thing as well. And so I had this musical explosion that happened at the same time I took up bass, right, so I had this this so as a bass player, I never really got into just learning a bunch of other people’s songs like that was never my whenever I’m on panels with other musicians talking about this, there’s bass players banging on about transcribing other people’s work. I’m like, I didn’t really I can do that. I can learn gigs for songs for a gig. But it was never part of how I became who I am as a player. And so so there was a moment in my teens when I just kind of went when the two connected and when I stopped playing songs by the who and cream and started trying to make weird music that matched this mashup of things that were going on in my head that could have been you know, at any given day I might be listening to Yes, and the cure and mechanic when you Okay, and King Tubby and you know, and then and then I think though that when there were a number of of hugely significant records for me interestingly enough, spirit of Eden by talk talk was absolutely one of those and if you listen to my particularly my earlier solo work, like it’s so present, there were very few things I ever wanted to make music that made me feel the way that music made me feel, but that was one of them. But that Hejira by Joni Mitchell, high by the Blue Nile there were kind of handful of these things where it’s not like sound like them, but there was an emotional resonance and a connection with the artist. I was like I want my music to be my voice in the way that that is their voice. Right? How does

 

Andrew Dubber 

technology play a role in that for you and not just in terms of I use the internet to tell people about it but but technology from the ground up?

 

Steve Lawson 

Yeah. So as a music maker that’s that my my curiosity journey has been exactly the same as a music practitioners it has been as a storyteller outside about the music so so I bought my first effects multi effects unit in 294. And I’ve been gradually upgrading since then, so I and living technology did this Same thing, kind of I would use it until I hit it, what felt like its limitations and then swap to something else and go, Okay, well, I need to be able to do that function. So I need that box, a guy in Santa Cruz came to a gig of mine and said, I’m going to make one of those would have been 2003, he would have said it. And then it was finished at the end of 2004. And he built this multi channel loop device that is still the most elaborate, fully featured hardware looping device called the loop relative. And he built it. And he sent me the first one. And I came up with a bunch of features for it, and a couple of other people contributed his ideas to that as well. And so I, you know, I’ve been involved in product development like that. And so yeah, Tech has been hugely important. And then when I made the transition in 2015, I was working on a project with a bass player, and MC called Divinity Roxx, who was formerly been in Beyonce’s band. And we have this duo that happens every now and again. And when we were playing, she pulled out a keyboard and plugged it in and started playing drums on the keyboard, no, and that’s great. Because it, it suddenly felt like I could do loops and beats, but without them being pre recorded, because I always wanted the sense that anything could happen. For me live music is about the potential for it to get deleted, even if the songs get played the way they want it to, I want that possibility to be there. So technology suddenly made a whole new Sonic palette available. And again, I kind of I’ve collaborated with hardware and software developers over the years to build the tools that make it possible. But also the progressive iteration of the ability to record at higher and higher fidelity my life set, so I can now so now this, you can’t tell that my live records are live until you get to the end of this and applause, right? You go well, really what that was in front of an audience, you know, so I can do these impeccable recordings of me and whoever I’m working with, because I decided to stick a multi channel sound card at the heart of my library. So my studio and my life setup identical. It’s just depends where they’re set up. And so so yeah, and that was about recognising that what I was aiming for as a performer was not that I had, there was a sort of sloppy crappy version of of the music that happened live. And then the pristine version of in the studio, that I wanted everything I did to be at that kind of quality. And, and so it was, it was getting to the end of gigs and going wow, I should have I should have had that I should have been had to release that because that felt really good. And then I started recording them and went okay, really was that good. It wasn’t I’m not just tricking myself or not listening through rose tinted ears. And you are actually releasing all of that stuff now.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Yeah, but subscription, which I think is really interesting. Tell me a little bit about that.

 

Steve Lawson 

Yeah, so I so I started, I went from CDs. In the sort of myself, my first album came out in 2000, it was recorded that my first two or three solo shows, I recorded those two mini disc and mix them and put it out as a CD. And for the next five or six years, I would, I would release a CD, put 1000 copies, press 1000 copies of a CD, recoup it and try make some money on it and then make the next one until 2006. And then start thinking about the possibility of digital only releases just because I didn’t I couldn’t be bothered with the process of recouping. And so then I would make records and release them. And in 2009 Bandcamp came online. And so it was like, Okay, so this is a platform where I can actually host it, I don’t have to put it on iTunes, or CD Baby or whatever I can actually control live the environment that this is in and you know, vancamp has, has a visual layout that makes it so that people who use Bandcamp know what they’re looking at. But I can adjust the colour scheme and the artwork, and I can bundle other things with it, I can put those leave notes, those stories that I wanted to tell, can be both in the lyric field and gathered together as a PDF. So people get a book. And so every time vancamp would it would introduce a new possibility I would explore it. And I started to meet up with Ethan diamond founder after you introduce us. And I would meet up with him every January and he’d go What do you want the site to do. And it got to a point where there was probably three or 4% of the features of bank and with things that I’d suggested at some point or another, which is that’s kind of that felt amazing to kind of get a hold. That was my idea, or at least I had that idea of somebody else had it as well. And I helped to confirm that that was a good thing. So when they started this subscription offer, which was about people being able to charge monthly or annually for stuff, it was kind of a response to crowdfunding being this bottleneck of attention and pressure around a project and actually going no this for some artists. That’s not how it works. But actually their work is episodic. And so you shouldn’t have to kind of go nuts on Kickstarter, or pledge music for a month while you’re kind of desperately trying to get them to pay for a thing, but actually spread it out over time. Yeah. And so I was one of the three eyes chosen to test that in the first place, along with candy says and lowercase noises, I think. And it was great. And straightaway It was like, This is amazing. This is a totally new way to think about what I do. And I my initial offering was I said I promised people two albums, two public albums and two exclusive recordings a year and I put out eight in my first year 10 in my second year and 12 in my third year so now 12 albums a year and I Have this enormous backlog of recordings because as an improviser, who’s good at what they do? Every gig that I do is potentially now I don’t release everything I’m not, you know, if I record something and it’s bad, I don’t go, Oh, I need junk for the subscribers. The response and the subscribers, the beautiful thing is they kind of go, how do you do this? How do you maintain this quality? I did practice a lot. This wasn’t I didn’t wake up with a hangover one morning and go, Oh, God, I’ve got to make records, that this is very much feels like the conclusion of that creative journey. Because I didn’t ever want to be stuck with someone else’s timeframe. For this, I’m gonna be talking to bands who would finished an album and the label would say, yeah, this is coming out in a year and a half time because that’s what our schedule is, right. And there was a Brian Eno quote, where he once said that, you know, he’s, it’s, I never read reviews, because reviews are of something that I finished three years ago, like, I don’t care what they think about that. But whereas I can finish an album, and it’s out the next day,

 

Andrew Dubber 

and is that now a sustainable model for you is this sort of the the economic solution to the artistic journey that you’ve chosen?

 

Steve Lawson 

Yeah, so the amount of money that I’ve now made on on Bandcamp off of it, so I have, I have a couple of hundred subscribers. It’s not a huge amount. But between them, and so all in, I’ve had just over 2000 people ever give me money on, on Bandcamp, like, I don’t have that statistic available to me. And it’s just over 2000 people, between those 2000 people, they’ve given me as much money as it would have required 11 million streams on Spotify to get that same amount of money. So I would have to be the single most successful, independent instrumentalist on the planet in order to make the same money as I’ve made, as you know, a moderately successful solo bass player on Bandcamp. So as a way of resourcing this without having to build on it, because I don’t want 100,000 listeners, I don’t want the social pressure that comes with that, I don’t want the sense that I’m talking having to talk to that many people about what I do. I don’t think that’s healthy. For me as a person, I don’t think that’s a good thing for us as human beings to be given that responsibility. I haven’t earned that responsibility. being good at music doesn’t mean that I should also have a voice to talk to that many people. And what I want is a community of people to care about what I’m doing. And in days gone by that would have been a bardic role, or just something that I would have, you know, I would have been sat in a town playing songs for the people in that town about the people in that town, right. And the internet makes it possible for that to not be geographically delineated. I don’t know, they don’t always people don’t have to live near me anymore. But I still want that community. And so my 200 people, I mean, it’s back to the idea that you have this kind of central body of fans, and whether the number is 200, or 1000. They’re the ones who make what you do sustainable. And I mean, if I got to the point, if I had 500, people doing that, I could basically live on it. Imagine that being an artist, whose entire music life is sustainable on 500 200 people, my creative practices sustainable, I just do a bunch of other stuff around it. But I don’t want to stop doing that stuff. I want to stop teaching, I don’t want to stop writing. I really enjoy those things. Because I reposition myself as not a professional musician, but as professionally curious. And all those things are, I mean, there’s bad teaching, and there’s bad journalism, and that I try and move away from. But for the most part, the things that I maintain are the things that I really enjoy. And I feel incredibly fortunate to get to do that.

 

Andrew Dubber 

until you’re happy.

 

Steve Lawson 

Yeah, I am. I mean, this because this is all the other stuff that goes alongside this, there’s, there’s the intersection between your creative life and your real life. And occasionally, you know, when your real life takes a nosedive, you then have to decide where how much of that is reflected in the narrative around your creative work, because I could just be talking about music all the time. But actually, my music is deeply embedded in who I am and where I come from,

 

Andrew Dubber 

politically as well as

 

Steve Lawson 

politically socially, and and yeah, metaphysically you know, it’s all in there. And so a couple of years ago, my marriage went through a rocky patch and my wife wrote an album about me being an ass. And so like, it was like that was I’m work, I’m absolutely fine with that. I don’t, I don’t, my my construct of who I am doesn’t require me to pretend to be anything other than what I am to my audience. And that is it. That’s a real luxury for that not to be tabloid fodder, but to actually be about two people finding out who they are in the wake of whatever, you know, it’s kind of happening in their life, but being able to do it semi publicly, because it’s, I say semi public because it’s public, but most people aren’t interested. So the semi public nature is that we’ve we’ve both consciously chosen to talk to a smaller group of people, we don’t market it to 10s of thousands people at a time.

 

Andrew Dubber 

You might very, very different Oh, at least you approach music very, very different

 

Steve Lawson 

completely. So she’s so she doesn’t record the old way. She goes in the studio with a producer and makes things and I think next time I think our producer will be herself. Because I mean, Lois is extraordinary ideas person and sonically very adventurous and an amazing guitar player. But yet she’s not she doesn’t just kind of sit down and go, Oh, look, I’ve got three albums and there was there was a mistake or you know, Which I do, I can record there were times when I recorded two albums in a day. And so yes, we have different practices. But we both we both give each other latitude to make music about the world that we we occupy together. And again, that’s not a thing that scales well at all. I don’t want to tell that story to 200,000 people, they don’t, they don’t have a right to hear that. I want to tell it to accumulate people who care about what we’re doing and want and are interested in now that’s reflected in the work itself.

 

Andrew Dubber 

And one more thing, because I know, we can talk forever, but you have a child growing up in the midst of this and and our conscious, are you of the example that you set in terms of this is my creative life? Is my public life? This is my personal life, those sorts of things?

 

Steve Lawson 

Oh, yeah, that’s a really great question. Because it’s absolutely to the forefront of it. And so he is fully aware of all of that stuff. So we talked about that. And so, so even to the point where whenever I put a picture of him on Instagram, I asked him, and if he says no, so if I take a great picture of him mucking about in the park, I’ll go, do you want me putting on Instagram? No, no, I’ll go really, it’s a great picture, you look amazing. No. And I regret I respect that, I’m not going to do that. And so he sees it, and he sees what we do. And he, you know, he’s nine. So there’s times when he understands it. And times when it’s like living with a tiny Nazi, if that’s, that’s, that’s what being nine is, you know, you have this nine year old perception of the world but, but I’m absolutely conscious of the way that that being a parent dovetails with being a creative practitioner, and I don’t separate the two out at all. But he’s fully integrated into that, because I see the create my creative practices as a as a secondary narrative. Alongside the rest of my life, it’s all it’s ecosystemic rather than kind of, you know, a plowing a commercial furrow to make it I’m not based on my, I’m not fixated on monetizing a product. I’m living your life and trying to understand what it is to be human at this time. And this place in history, and a big part of how I manifest that is I make music about it, right. So music when I’m when I went out of words, and so he sees that, so he has the words as well. And we talked about it and he goes, and he but he goes to sleep at night listening to me when he’s not listening to Bootsy. Obsessive Bootsy Collins fan is great. I nearly cried when he heard the books, he wasn’t gonna play live again. But so he has this kind of it. He’s been exposed to music all along. And some of it quite conspicuously, we’ll kind of go listen to this. It’s great. And the guy’s Talking Heads because I don’t look great. And he does, he loves him. But he also really enjoys what I do, because he understands where it comes from. It’s not just music. So he will remember when a thing was recorded.

 

Andrew Dubber 

Where does this all go? And he’s your age, you’re retired? What does your life look like? what’s what’s the end goal?

 

Steve Lawson 

Like, work is more fun than fun. So I don’t see myself retiring. If I retire, I’m gonna go somewhere where I can make more music, right? Like the because none of this is physically demanding, like carrying an AMP is occasionally. But like, I don’t have to do that at home. So so my, my retirement is me sat in a certain room making music. I can imagine me making infinitely more music as a retiree. Because I could just because I would hopefully by that point, you know, I won’t be as near as reliant on it for me, maybe I will maybe maybe my pension plan will collapse. And so I don’t know. But But no, I don’t I don’t. I don’t have an endgame in terms of stopping doing this. But this is how I talk to the world. And I feel incredibly privileged to get to do that. I mean, it’s funny, because the description of what I do just sounds more like a dad than anything else. Like you get on stage with a bass and just play. Yeah, with no band. No. And you make it up. Yeah, people go. That’s terrifying. Oh, no, that was terrifying. He’s trying to remember a bunch of tunes for a wedding gig. How does this Bruno Mars song go? That’s really complicated. That’s for me. It’s hard work. I enjoy doing it. But it’s hard work. The rest of it is just, it’s my dialogue with with the universe. And it’s, I feel fortunate I get to

 

Andrew Dubber 

do that. Fantastic. Steve, thanks so much for your time. And it’s really good to sort of talk to you about the stuff in a way that isn’t just us continuing an ongoing conversation, but to sort of capture it.

 

Steve Lawson 

Yeah, no, it’s it’s a very lovely thing, and for which I’m most grateful

 

Andrew Dubber 

that Steve Lawson you’ll find him at stevelawson.net. And at SoloBassSteve on Twitter. And that’s the MTF podcast. If you want to get involved in MTF go to music tech fest dotnet slash register. You can follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn. We’re at music tech fest absolutely everywhere. And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast so that the next one turns up automatically for free in your podcast player of choice next Friday, and every Friday after that. And in the meantime, have a great week, and we’ll talk soon. Cheers.

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