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As boasts go, Steve Lawson’s opening gambit at the Small is Beautiful 2016 conference is impressive.

He is the only bass guitarist to have played a solo gig at the Royal Albert Hall.

The slot as the support artist for Level 42 was a big money earner and he realised he had two choices: apply his craft for economic gain or place art at the centre of his solar system.

He smiles at the audience sitting at the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh. He stepped away from the cash and big arenas and chose instead to do gigs in people’s living rooms.

While the drive for economic success is powerful Steve champions the different kind of riches available by staying small.

“See it not as a stepping stone to something else, see it as possibilities to make art that doesn’t fit in a bigger arena, aim to be the centre of your solar system.”
Steve Lawson

Steve, dressed in flares, a bright shirt and unruly hair, says: “Music is about exploring what it is to be human. I make music meaningfully in a way that is sustainable.”

He concedes there is a gravitational pull towards economic success against the opposing pull of creative urges. We all need to pay our bills.

Individuality over conformity

Steve offers up the example of a musician who becomes a wedding singer to fund the thing he cares about, making his own music. But the commercial settings start to take over.

This musician may end up playing other people’s songs more often than he tries to write his own.

Success brings conformity and consensus around music. But for Steve it’s not about playing the same song night after night.

To keep the pull going in the direction he wanted, Steve created his own mission statement: to make art that didn’t stop him making other art.

“How can I create a space where the music was important without thinking I was important? How do I avoid narcissism?"
Steve Lawson

For him the answer was to offer house concerts, a small space big enough for him to play a large volume of work.

Steve thinks of growth in terms of connectivity with people through his music, the creation of a “sacred space”. He is engaged in a “conversation not a broadcast”.

“You are not your elevator pitch. You are allowed to be more complicated,” he tells the audience.

Emotional wealth for him comes from the richness of experience not the amount of money in the bank.

 “I realised what I needed was not breadth but depth,” says Steve, who is a vocal advocate for musicians retaining control over their own work and career. He took his music off Spotify and moved to a subscription service.

Scale down to scale up

He uses the model of micro payments from a mass audience to make his music sustainable.

“As soon as I started conversing the thing that had the currency was gratitude. That doesn’t scale,” adds Steve, who is also a music journalist and cultural commentator.

Be a salmon

He tried to think of an analogy and came up with the difference between a trawler fisherman or a line fisherman.

But Steve says his philosophy or lifestyle is in reality more like salmon tickling.

“It’s the understanding you’re a salmon and your community is a salmon,” he says.

What's next?

Follow Steve on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube or his website.

Find out other inspiring talks for creative industries at Small is Beautiful.

Learn about the Small is Beautiful Breakthrough Fellowships for Creative Graduate Startups funded by Skills Development Scotland.

Read more about the character, reach and scale of Scotland’s Creative Industries by taking a look at the Skills Investment Plan.

Find out more about what Skills Development Scotland is currently supporting in this key sector.

Learn more about the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design 2016, including a toolkit to help businesses promote themselves.