Connect4: A Twitter-Twist On Follow-Friday.

For those of you that are familiar with Twitter, you’ll know all about Follow Friday already – the idea is that on a Friday, you post a tweet or two recommending a few of the people that you follow to the people who follow you – ‘hey check out ***’s tweets, she’s funny/clever/whatever’ – that kind of thing, and use the hashtag #followfriday or #ff.

It’s a fairly fun Friday ritual, and certain names crop up time and time again and eventually I check ’em out. But the volume of possible Follow Friday recommendations is so high as to be functionally useless to me.

So I came up with a twist: #Connect4

Continue reading “Connect4: A Twitter-Twist On Follow-Friday.”

Cloud Culture – The Obvious Obstacle?

The tendency for people to shift their computing life into ‘the cloud’ is rolling on at great pace. More and more people are trusting

• their email to Gmail,
• their photos to Flickr,
• their back-up to Amazon or Dropbox,
• their documents to Google Docs

and are using collaborative platforms for sharing data, from Soundcloud for music files to Google Docs for spreadsheets and text.

This has been matched by a corresponding conversation about the impact of ‘Cloud’ ideas, technolgy and infrastructure on our ideas of culture and creativity. There are wonderful conversations happening about notions of ownership, what happens when a cultural entity can be made freely available to all, when people can actually build on the work of artists in every field, remix and mash-up other people’s work… Continue reading “Cloud Culture – The Obvious Obstacle?”

Open Letter to Lib-Dem Lord Clement-Jones re: Web Blocking.

[I just sent this in response to the Open Rights Group’s call to contact the Lib-Dem and Conservative Lords over their proposed amendment to the Digital Economy bill allowing sites to be blocked under suspicion of enabling the transfer of copyright materials.]

Dear Lord Clement-Jones,

Along with everyone I know who works in IT/the internet and the music industry (yes, ‘everyone’), I am entirely opposed to the digital economy bill – the assumptions it makes about the relationship between people making a living online and the rights of media conglomorates to continue peddling an outmoded understanding of how digital assets are best exploited in a world where distribution and even marketing can be done for free and revenue gathered at many different stages of the process.

As a musician, writer, teacher, university lecturer and owner of an independent record label, I have found the free flow of information online to be utterly vital in freeing me from the inethical, counter-creative and monopolistic practices of the big media entities (such as major record labels) and allowing me to build a SME, to partner with other SMEs in broadening the base of the UK online economy.

The web is enabling a switch in the recording industry away from a state where a tiny percentage of ‘lottery winners’ sell millions of records and everyone else remains hopelessly in debt to a label who lend them money, spend it on themselves and hold onto copyright beyond the point where the loans have been paid back. It’s unsustainable and the wonder of the digital economy is that artists are able to manage that themselves – that we’ve moved from hundreds of people selling millions of records to thousands upon thousands of individuals selling hundreds or thousands of recordings, but more importantly, doing so in a creatively and economically sustainable way without giving away their rights.

For those people, the distribution networks on the web that the Digitial Economy Bill with either explicitly or inadvertently shut down are a vital resource for connecting with an audience at a time when the cost of conventional marketing channels (often owned by those same media giants that were acting in such an anti-creative way under the old model) are prohibitively high, enough so to guarantee that all projects beyond those with outside leverage (read: big media backing) will lose money.

In the new economy that doesn’t need to happen. I and my peers can make the music we love, find and audience and allow a range of entry points for them to contribute financially to the ongoing production and performance of that music, and it works. It works time and time again.

At a time when major label entities who are fighting the internet are falling apart (look at EMI’s current crisis), independent musicians are thriving. No-one is making millions, but no-one needs to. The right to become insanely rich by exploiting the intellectual property of others is not something that should be enshrined in law to the detriment of the sustainability of the tens of thousands of people making a healthy, legal, creative and culturally significant living through the internet.

The Digital Economy Bill threatens tens of thousands of people’s livelihoods, while protecting the interests of a handful of very rich people at the top of the big media food-chain, while peddling a series of falsehoods and misused statistics about the state of play for Britain’s creative industries. Please, withdraw the nonsensical amendment with regard to ‘web blocking’ – it’s counter to the good of Britain’s digital economy,

Yours sincerely,

Steve Lawson

iPad – Why Bad Marketing Is Worse Than Bad Product Design.

Of course I’m going to write a post about the iPad – isn’t it obligatory if you’re a blogger?

First up, I need to say that I don’t really get the way that people feel affronted when a product falls short of their expectations. Crap products are made all the time, and in a supply and demand environment, we’re all free not to buy them. If the iPad turns out to be a pile of crap, we don’t have to buy it, Apple will be left with loads of them unsold and will have to go back, do some better market research and make something we want.

That said, I do take issue with the way things are marketed – marketing is a very powerful force, and not generally held as a conversation. So when someone makes statements about something that are patently untrue, and does it with the weight of a multi-million dollar marketing budget behind them, I get a little antsy.

So, the iPad – what don’t I like about it? Continue reading “iPad – Why Bad Marketing Is Worse Than Bad Product Design.”

MP3s, eBooks, Digitizing and ‘The Experience’

So, the iPad is here – massive Dom Joly iPhone? half a laptop? eReader? The Daily Prophet for Muggles…?

I read a couple of people on Twitter making claims that it was going to ‘kill books’. In response I tweeted this quote from Douglas Adams, which I got via Neil Gaiman:

“Nothing is as good at being a book as a book is.”

And commented that eBooks ≠ MP3s for written words.

So what’s the difference? Why are book-sellers in a different position to those who were in the business of selling music-in-bits-of-plastic that are now crapping themselves that their livelihood is vanishing?

Firstly, digitally downloadable music is the most malleable, useful format ever for music, and we lose nothing in the quality of experience by going that route. Sure, the quality of files sold on iTunes is lower than CD, but don’t forget that CDs are just containers for digital music – they’re overly large computer discs – and that the audio on them is of a quality deemed acceptable to all but the most audiophile of listeners. With digital downloads, there’s nothing to stop us upping the quality to the point where the changes are undetectable – 24bit, 96k files are probably about as good as you need to go before the changes are imperceptible. We can do that, and once the headphones are on, or the speakers are playing the music, the experience is the same as any other format for listening to recorded stereo (or in the case of DVD-A, 5.1) music. Nothing is lost, portability and positively variable quality is gained. If you want the experience of popping something flat and physical in a slot while listening, you can make a piece of toast at the same time.

eBooks are a whole different proposition – the act of reading requires us to continually look at the thing we’re reading from. That’s what reading is. Otherwise, it’s memorising, and the act of memorising requires us to read – or listen to – the words before we learn them.

So books and eBooks aren’t just a delivery mechanism – they are the stereo system as well as the record. They are carried around as part of the experience.

This isn’t to say that eBooks ‘aren’t as good as books’, just that they AREN’T books. They are a wholly different way to consume the written word, with all kinds of fun multimedia potential too, but also with all kinds of issues surrounding readability, shareability, discovery, portability, flexibility, the ability to scribble notes in the margins and the format for gifting.

Comparing once again with music – if I want to give someone a CD, it’s quite possible for me to record a digital file onto any kind of transferable media I like and pass it on without losing anything. The same can be done with an eBook, but it’s much tougher to transfer from eBook to book – the cost of printing a document of book length at home is not comparitive with the cost of dubbing a CD and printing a nice picture on it.

Readability is a huge issue – the Kindle gets round it by using ‘E ink’ or ‘virtual ink’, rendering it much easier on the eyes, but making the screen much less multi-purpose. As far as I know, no-one yet has done a hybrid E-ink/normal screen. So you have the variable use of an iPad-style screen with its eye-strain issues for longer documents, or the Kindle which is a one-trick pony, all be it a fairly brilliant one trick pony.

The Kindle is utilitarian – it does its one function very well, without too many concessions to pointless stylization. The iPad may well be used by a lot of people as an eReader, but the experience won’t be the same as reading a book, it won’t be any more portable than an individual book, won’t fit in your back pocket and even if it did, would break if you sat on it.

This isn’t an anti eBook rant – I love the idea of downloadable, sharable books, I love the idea of subscribable news, of blogs and newspapers and novels living side by side in harmony, like Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney, but it’s worth considering the fundamental differences and why, as I said at the top, eBooks ≠ to MP3s for the written word.

….if you don’t believe you, go and download my eBook… for free! 🙂

2009: The Year Of The Blog Commenter

This post is by way of a massive THANKS! to everyone who contributed on my various, and here on solobasssteve.com2009 was the year that the comments on my blog became the main reason for blogging.

More often that not, the real value in what I was writing came from the discussion that ensued – I’d throw an idea or two out (some better formed than others) and the amazing people that took the time to comment, discuss, disagree, encourage, expand and generally riff on my ideas were the ones who took those ideas into a more useful place.

When speaking in Universities about the changes in the music industry, no small number of my main points are ideas that were first germinated as comments on the blog. Some of the smartest insights into the big music industry stories of the year came via those comments, and much of the smarter blogging towards the end of the year was shaped by the melding of ideas and comments earlier on in the year.

As I wander around the web, like anyone, I find that comments on blogs are a curates egg. On most of the national papers, the comments are a battle-ground for ill-conceived fundamentalisms of all stripes, with no-one seeking consensus or respecting difference. Such that any wisdom gets lost in the noise.

And on many ‘pro’ blogs, the ad-revenue-driven need for ‘hits’ above all else means that posts are often written as ‘link-bait’, and any notion of a sensible discussion disappears out of the window in a gust of sensationalism and crass over-statement.

Contrast that with the gracious disagreements that have happened here, the questioning, probing and quest for some kind of middle ground, understanding and learning that has happened across these blogs, and I feel SO grateful to you. It’s not like I did anything special to deserve it.

I always have it in my mind that I have no fear in moderating out angry, insulting or malicious comments. But I’ve done so little of it this year as to not be able to recall any instances. I’m guessing I must’ve done it once or twice, but I can’t remember!

So here’s to 2010, more discussions, more learning, and here on, lots more guest writers – a huge thanks to:

Hannah Nicklin, Tom Alves, Wulf F-B, John Sargent, Steve Uccello, Lisa Harding, Jennifer Moore, Sam Hallam, Anders Faerch and Jemimah Knight,

who wrote guest posts either here or, in the case of Jennifer, Anders and Jemimah, over on – your contributions were a huge help, and greatly appreciated.


“Rock And Roll Is Dead”: What Happens Next?

Nope, this isn’t a brainstorm on the future of the music industry. Well, at least, not directly.

You’ve read my novel, right? If you haven’t, click here to read about it and download it for free. (probably best to go read it, then come back here to read the comments, as there may well be spoilers implicit within what people write…)

It’s about a band. They go through a bit of a crisis, and a change, and things happen.

I’m really proud of it, enjoyed writing it and enjoy reading it back. I like the characters, so am wondering what to do next with them.

So I thought it’d be fun to ask you lot what you think should happen in Vol II.

So, have at it – the comments are yours. If I end up using any of them in the book, I’ll send you a free CD. 🙂

RATM Christmas Follow-up: Was It A Fix?

I’ve started mentally drafting this a few times, but almost all of them just ended up with me reiterating everything I said in my ‘Futility Of Fighting Fire With Fire‘ post over on

However, this evening, someone linked on Twitter to This blog post claiming that it was a campaign masterminded by Sony. And now the process of saying ‘is it?’ and ‘if it is, how dare they!‘ has started. I’ve been asked my opinion on it, both the veracity and the meaning of it, so I thought I’d scribble down some thoughts.
Continue reading “RATM Christmas Follow-up: Was It A Fix?”

The X Factor – the death of real music?

My first post on here (yes i finally got round to it!)!

I spend most of my time blogging profusely in my main cyber home ( but thought that this post might be relevant here and I was motivated enough to throw the missive out there for comment!

I finally relented this evening and put the X Factor final on. Boy do I wish I had not bothered. What a travesty. None of the final three acts were in any way outstanding and worthy of the attention that is being thrown at them from all quarters of the media, music and otherwise. Now call me a musical snob, but there is a lot to be said for musicians working their way up the music tree and earning their stripes in the pubs and clubs of the land until they make it to a larger audience. There are hundreds of hard working musicians around the country plying their trade and trying to use every avenue open to them to get their music heard by the masses.

The Internet and the growth of social media has made their challenge a little easier in some respects and meant that they no longer have to rely on the major labels to get them into peoples ear space. For far too long the major labels have dictated who and what we should listen to. Years ago, when I left college, I couldn’t get the job I wanted in the design industry (took me ten years to get there) and instead i took a job with my second passion and worked for Our Price Records in Waterloo Station. In those days though the labels had a lot of control, we were still able in our stores, to lay out personal spaces for music suited to the demographic of the area where our store was. I worked in a number of stores as i worked my way up the ranks from part time sales assistant to store manager including Streatham, Wood Green, Covent Garden, Waterloo and Victoria Stations, Heathrow Airport and East Ham. Each area had a different musical ear from Reggae in South London to mainstream pop in the stations. It made it interesting for us trying to gauge what people listened to and making the sales walls relevant to each area. Each of the buyers knew their area and market and ordered stock based on what the public wanted to hear and requested in the store. It was a great time.

Then in the mid 90’s Our Price head office changed their strategy and took the control away. Ever harnessed by the major labels and their buying power, the store took the decision to standardise the range in all the stores meaning that local requests didnt count any more. It was the death knell for the chain and so proved to be. Within 6 years, Our Price was sold to Virgin Megastores and a little gem was gone forever. My passion for live music remained and by this time i had found a job working for a design agency and was doing the job that i had trained to do and was passionate about. I was struck by a certain irony that whilst i had finally been given the chance to do what i had always wanted to do, there were hundreds of music artists out there that didnt have that chance and although we only helped in a little way promoting local artists, yet another avenue for promoting them was gone. As i watch the X Factor churn out yet more manufactured pap that has no individuality and no creativity to speak off, I am reminded of how great the music industry used to be. The live music scene in London was something else. On a Friday night i was never happier than taking myself off to a small venue to see an unsigned act or a larger venue to see a favourite act.

Nowadays its all about how much money you can get from the act and the music is lost. As they are forever saying on the X Factor, its not just about the singing any more its about the whole package. To me that is garbage. I don’t care what an artist wears, i don’t care who they are seeing in their private life or what footballer or model they are shagging. To be its about whether they can sing or play their instrument well and entertain me. Today that is all gone. All the bands that grace our stages sound the same, the market is flooded with boy bands and girl bands whose only job is to titlate and half of them actually cant sing a note in tune in the first place. Tonights X Factor final was exactly as i thought it would be. Olly Murs the cheeky chappy from Cochester who relies on his charm when his voice fails him, Stacey Soloman the barbie doll from Dagenham who can hold a note sometimes but is a balladesque one trick pony and the stage school drop out Joe McElderry who pulls at your heart strings with his puppy dog eyes.

Its a travesty and not what music is about. I miss the says when playing or singing in a band and writing your own music made all the difference. That died a death years ago and this the drivel that we are left with.