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Beyond Bass Camp

Digging Deeper Inside the Bass, with Steve Lawson.


Steve Lawsons bass set up, on stage at the XOX Theatre in Kleve, Germany

I asked a question the other day on Twitter, whether or not people thought that music education (in Britain specifically, but Twitter has no national boundaries) was complicit in peddling the myths of fame and superstardom, in collusion with ‘Big Music’ (a few people asked what ‘Big Music‘ meant – I used it in the lineage of terms like ‘Big Tobacco‘, ‘Big Food‘ and ‘Big Pharma‘ to refer to the multinational corporations who operate businesses on an international level making millions and, generally, caring little for much beyond profit margins.)

The reason I asked it is that my own answer to that is very definitely yes. Having been around music schools a lot, and having studied in one, there’s a heck of a lot of talk about ‘the music business’… I’ve even got ScotVec modules in it to tell me that I know all about the workings of the PRS/MCPS/Record Deals/Lawyers etc.

All of which is fine, but much of which serves to mask that which is most important and special about studying music full time. The music!

The problem with the way that the music industry is often talked about in that setting is that a causal link is established between learning the ‘right’ kind of music/playing/whatever, and ‘success’ – success being fairly tightly defined as ‘getting a deal’ and all the music industry stuff that goes with that – making albums, touring, promo, etc. etc.

What’s never addressed is the toxicity of that to ‘art’. Or the alternatives to it, both culturally and in terms of building a music career on anything other than record deal dependency.

So in everything I do as music teacher, I try to put art first – not out of any high falutin’ lofty idealism, but because what the ‘industry’ has to offer isn’t worth the sacrifice of not playing the music you love. So few people in the world are good enough at guessing the taste of others as to consistently meet the needs of a market that we really are much better off playing the music that matters most to us. That could be covers or it could be original. It could be chamber music or it could be death metal. There’s no qualitative distinction between styles or genres that’s even worth the time it takes to hear someone pontificate about it, but there is a difference between any kind of music done for the love of it, and music made in the mistaken belief that we’re going to make millions out of it and that will make us happy.

So at B-B-C, the focus will be on making the music you were born to make. The music you love, the music that provides the soundtrack to the world as you see it. Then we can go and find an audience who shares something of our vision.

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4 Responses to “Music as if Culture Mattered”

  1. Patrick Smith Says:

    I never went to music school per se, though I have spent many months over the past 20 years on Guitar Craft courses. I’ve always had a decent paying day job, so I make the music that moves me.

    The trade off is not as much time to learn and make music, but I am comfortable. Now finding an audience is another story.

  2. Ben Godwin Says:

    Absolutely AWESOME post. I spent the best part of 20 years trying to ‘break in’, subsisting on whatever I could make, and I finally realized it’s such a waste to get music making confused with the pursuit of celebrity and money. Not only do you spend all your time promoting and hustling rather than making music, you are 99% likely to be living in misery, well below the poverty line, the whole time.

    As soon as all of that clicked, I experienced a huge sense of relief and freedom. And I decided I’d become a music teacher. =)

  3. Hattie Murdoch Says:

    Doing a music degree did not emphasise the need to make it big, but i feel that if you are in full time education, with a focus on music, then a certain amount of emphasis must be taken on how to be successful in other ways. Unfortunately, if you are a player rather than the theorist, or musicologist, or producer, then the most attractive and well known way to making money is to try and ‘break in’. After doing 4 years of a degree because you have an undeniable and unbreakable passion for its content, and then having to go from that creative environment to, for example, an admin job, is heart breaking and can only make that person want to have that ‘big break’ even more (gosh it sounds like a Leona Lewis biography..). Sometime’s it seems like the only viable way out. So my view is, of course music education needs to be as practical and creative and artistic as possible – that’s what we’re all here for, but this needs to be balanced with other options in case it you don’t end up as a professional musician. I finished a degree thinking I’m never going to be a lecturer, I don’t want to go back in to education to be a teacher, I’m not good enough to be a session player…what are my options? Of course wanting to make a living off doing gigs etc, but what are the chances? I know it’s a small part of this whole debate, but unless we are provided with an education that gives us a list of alternative careers in this creative sector…then trying to ‘break in’ is still looking like very attractive course of action.

  4. Steve Says:

    Hi Hattie, thanks so much for your comment. I’m definitely in favour of knowing more. It’s the disingenuous way that ‘the industry’ is so often taught in colleges that I object to. I’m making a living in music, from playing, recording, teaching, writing… I’m clearly all about people who make music making what they can from it, but the important lessons are the ones that teach us how to connect with an audience while doing what we love.

    Learning how to play cover tunes and get wedding gigs is great – useful stuff to know, great fun to play those gigs and a cool way to pay the bills that beats doing something you hate – but it’s not the lifeblood of being a musician. I love playing corporate/function gigs, and am glad I know enough about how those things work to get them, but if I started to shape the music that is at the heart of what I do towards getting those gigs, my music life would be all the poorer for it.

    Alternative Careers in the creative sector would be a great course module on any music course…


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