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Beyond Bass Camp

Digging Deeper Inside the Bass, with Steve Lawson.


I have certain pre-arranged responses to some of the questions and comments I get about my music.

One of my favourites to throw out is to comments like “hey, Steve, you should do a whole ambient record” or “I really like the funky tunes, you should do more of that“, or any other ‘you should‘-type comments. My response is invariably “no, YOU should, cos it’s you that wants to hear it!”

The implication is not that the other person’s desire for something other than what I’ve released is invalid, just that I can’t possibly be expected to be able to make music to order for my audience. It’s a recipe for really banal music.

See, the only person whose taste I really know is my own. Even my wife surprises me with what she likes and doesn’t like. The better I get to know her, the more I can guess whether or not she’ll like something I’ve played, but even then, I’m listening back to it and guessing, rather than futilely trying to meet her expectations.

The initial comment also belies the notion that every bit of music should conform to my preconceived notions of what it ought to be, rather than me being open to those preconceptions being wrong, and finding in the work of artists I respect new avenues for musical appreciation.

So for me as an artist, it means I’m constantly in a process of refining my own vision for what my music should be. There are LOADS of influences on the way I perceive music. Here’s a partial list:

  • Music I already love
  • New music I hear (and my reaction to it)
  • The opinion of those who’ve demonstrated that they “get” what I do (I have an unofficial ‘council of reference’ who act as ad-hoc producers when I need it)
  • Music as soundtrack
  • Beautiful noise
  • Other art forms (sometimes painting or architecture can imply a creative process that I’d not previously thought about exploring in music)
  • Audience feedback*

This last one seems to be at odds with what I’ve said at the beginning, so I guess I should qualify it. The way that my audience’s feedback influences me is

  • understanding the *effect* of music, and the shape of a set
  • the times when someone tells me what my music means to them, and it contains accidental insight.

I’m not closed off to the influence of anyone, but I am well aware that the final arbiter of value when I’m making my music has to be my own taste. I’m aware of my limitations, of the things I don’t understand, and know that my understanding of music is still growing, as is my ability to take that understand and turn it into the music I hear in my head.

As a teacher, these observations influence everything I do. Almost everyone I’ve ever met has grown up surrounded by music. It may have been a specific kind of music, but it’s there, front and centre in all of our lives (I had a friend at school who didn’t discover pop music til well into their teens, and so despite having a really nuanced knowledge of orchestral music, gravitated towards the saccharin sounds of Stock Aitken and Waterman, having none of the historical perspective on what makes ‘good’ or ‘bad’ pop music…)

So I try to take that knowledge and awareness that we all have of the music around us, and harness it, label it, describe it and channel it into a way of thinking about and playing music. If you have ‘taste’ (not ‘good’ taste, just taste) you have an ear for music, you have things that make sense to you and things that don’t. That’s musical, and can be turned into a desire to play, and a path to creating your own music, your own soundtrack, your own expression. That is what Beyond Bass Camp is all about.

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