Photos from the development of The Passion by Michael Sheen

Here are some photos I took during the development stage of the Passion project, while we were exploring the Port Talbot dunes and beach with Michael Sheen, Bill Mitchell, the cast and some of the crew.

A musicians’ intro to digital media

On 2nd July 2010 I did a presentation to some Wales-based musicians about digital media, online and music business. The host was the Welsh Music Foundation (thanks to them) and our venue was Chapter in Cardiff.

It was an introduction to digital/social media with some practical tips and points for discussion.

Here are some notes which summarise my presentation and our discussion. These are mainly aimed at the musicians who attended but you might get benefit from this if you’re a musician who earns from your music.

Definitions

What do we mean by digital media?
“the creative convergence of digital arts, science, technology and business for human expression, communication, social interaction and education”
from Digital Media Alliance Florida / Wikipedia

I’ve purposefully used the umbrella term digital media, which covers social media, social networking and categories like live streaming. An expert may quibble with my definitions here but let’s say we’ll err on the side of the practical.

A useful metaphor is:
People having conversations online

This takes place with text, video, photo, audio, slides and other images. Because of the public nature of these conversations it’s important to note that it is:
People having multi-way conversations online

Examples of digital media

Technologies include:

Blogs, e.g. WordPress, Posterous, Tumblr
Social network services, e.g. Facebook, Myspace
Wikis, e.g. PBWorks
Link sharing, e.g. Delicious
Collaboration tools, e.g. Basecamp, Google Docs (a very important use of digital media)
RSS (allows you to subscribe to multiple blogs and other time-based feeds and read them all in one place)
Live streaming, e.g. Ustream.tv
Streaming/hosting services like YouTube for video and Flickr for photos

History of media and media revolutions

Printing press
Telegraph
Telephone
Photography
Film
Radio
Television
Internet and web

The main point here is to think about how society, culture and business changed as a result of these new technologies being widely adopted.

Characteristics of digital media

It is easier to form groups online, according to shared interests, campaigns, fans and so on, with all kinds of fascinating outcomes.
Recommended book: Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky – about the ease of forming groups online

People like to remix, re-use, re-create, re-version their culture, not just music. Go to YouTube and look at fan videos as just one example. Some musicians release their music under a licence which allows this to happen legitimately, within the normal legal framework of copyright.
Recommended book: Remix by Lawrence Lessig – about the culture of the remix and challenges to our traditional ideas of copyright

“Every company is a media company”
Rick Burnes, former NYTimes.com editor

Online tools every musician should know about

YouTube

I call it the most popular online music discovery service – because it can stream music in video form. Are you on it? If not, why not? There may be a legitimate case for not being on YouTube but you need to at least consider its potential reach.

When I mentioned this at the session several people complained about YouTube’s royalty rates. While true YouTube doesn’t pay much, the main advantage could be in people discovering your music and raising revenue from other sources. Video embedding is a key feature which helps bloggers to introduce their readers to your music.

Ideas: music videos, interviews, tour diaries, live performance footage

Flip have many affordable portable video cameras.

Your blog

A blog is a set of posts organised by time. Every artist and band online should probably have some sort of blog, even if it’s just a news feed of your latest gigs, releases and media appearances.

The way musicians express themselves through a blog varies wildly. Some like to post diary entries and reveal things about their life and work to various degrees, others do not. Both are fine. Some have elaborately designed blogs and others choose minimal design. Either way or something in between is fine. Be yourself. But don’t ignore it – having a blog is like having your own media channel that you control. This is pretty much vital.

Your website

A musician’s website and blog should be on the same domain – in most cases.

Adding a blog post or news item to your website should be painless. If updating your current website is a chore it may be worth spending some money to make it smoother. You’ll enjoy it, which is how things should be.

My favourite website software is WordPress. It was originally conceived as blogging software but has been extended and adapted to run full websites. Many websites around the world now run on WordPress.

Two main ways of running WordPress
wordpress.com
You get a free blog with the name yourbandname.wordpress.com
You can choose different themes.
You can pay fees for extra services, e.g. to have it redirected to yourbandname.com seamlessly

wordpress.org
WordPress is open source so you can download the software for free, run it on your own hosting and publicise yourbandname.com
You have total control over its behaviour and appearance. You can choose different themes or design your own. You can extend its functionality by installing plug-ins. In practice you’d probably ask a designer with the technical knowhow to install it and design/build the theme.

Other people’s blogs

Being featured on blogs can be a key way of growing buzz around your band. Use Hype Machine and Google Blog Search to find blogs already featuring similar artists or your genre. Start reading them and get in touch if you have something relevant.

Facebook

There are three kinds of presence on Facebook.
– individual user profile
– page
– group

The page is Facebook’s offering for brands, companies and organisations. Usually the page is the correct one for a band, artist, label or venue.

Do not get an individual user profile for a band. Facebook may take a dim view of a non-person having a user profile. Even if you’re a solo artist, it pre-supposes a two-way friend relationship which exists in the offline world. So consider having a profile for friends and a page for fans.

In general Facebook’s customers are its advertisers and you play in their garden and by their rules. Be careful about how much time you invest and be sure to evaluate if you are getting value back.

Myspace

In general its value for reaching fans is diminished because attention has gone elsewhere. It’s worth having a page for your music and photos because agents and other music industry people are in the habit of using it. Most bands should not spend too much time on it. Certain genres are stronger on Myspace than others. Know your genre!

Twitter

Some artists are good on Twitter and can use it to update fans.

It’s far more proven as an excellent place to keep up with news, including music industry news.

Don’t necessarily believe what anyone says about it – try it yourself.

Email lists

People still use email. Its value is diminishing, again because of fragmented attention. But it may be worth running one.

Make sure anything in the email address is also on your blog or elsewhere online. People want to search for it and link to it. Don’t limit the audience to the mailing list!

Recommendations: Your Mailing List Provider and MailChimp (both slightly different)

Don’t send email to people who haven’t opted in. Never spam people. Never ever.

Some thoughts about business models

Record business is not the music business

“Disruption” – technology companies like it, record companies don’t necessarily like it

In the 1980s certain parts of the record industry were extremely concerned about home taping – imperfect analogue copies. Now we have perfect digital copies. What now?

Copying is not the same as stealing – they are covered by different laws.

Throughout history, forms of copyright infringement have become licensed uses, e.g. public performance, radio. What we now think of as illegal may become licensed. Whether or not this is true, people WILL copy your music. They might use filesharing networks, they might use the web or they might use memory sticks. But only if your music is good enough.

What could you do if you knew 1,000,000 people had shared your music?

Some will still buy the CD or the vinyl. Some will attend your gigs and buy your merchandise.
Some will buy the digital files because they value the convenience or because they want to pay out of gratitude.

“Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.”
Tim O’Reilly, technologist and publisher

Examples of perfect digital copies in other industries

Software companies make their source code available for free under open source licences and sell what can’t be copied – services, consultancy, customisation, support, advertising/sponsorship and premium paid features. Examples are IBM, Mozilla, Red Hat and Automattic/WordPress. You could go into competition with any of these companies using their own software.

Consultants and experts are blogging their advice for free. Again, you could go into competition with any of them using their own material and (what were formerly known as) trade secrets. But often these consultants and experts are accruing MORE reputation and MORE work through the ease of access and widespread distribution of their advice.

Despite copying of films, cinema has large screens, good sound and the experience – all of which are uncopyable. Compare watching a laugh-out-loud comedy at home to being in a big audience at the cinema. Recently cinema has been adding 3D to the large screen experience of many films.

2009 poll: people who admitted unlicensed downloading spend an average of £77 a year on music – £33 more than those who claimed NOT to download.
Poll by Ipsos Mori for Demos think tank

Kevin Kelly says “A creator needs to acquire only 1,000 True Fans to make a living.” (Discuss…)

The invisible workload of social media

Recently I’ve noticed how organisations who are starting to use social media are radically underestimating the time investment that such work requires… and often adding this work onto the job description of people who are already pretty busy. This is a bit of a mistake – it’s important to work out exactly what is involved in generating and getting content out successfully into the web community and to your followers.

Talking recently to a photographer, I was struck by how he described his clients’ lack of understanding about what it took to properly publish his work online so that people saw it. Usually basing their own assumptions on their (limited) use of Facebook to share photos, they see it as an easy thing, which doesn’t require much time of special knowledge.

For a modern photographer, taking the photo is just the start of things… then comes processing of RAW files, then into Photoshop for some finishing touches to the post production process. Then resizing the image files and getting the colours right for print or web, depending on their use.

Over to Flickr, there’s uploading and creating (good) titles, descriptions, tags, geo-tags and other meta-data. Then there’s the option of doing a bit of research on Flickr to find appropriate groups to put the photos on. Then beyond Flickr, there are the other online places you might want to embed or publicise the content. Facebook, Twitter, client’s websites, niche networks etc.

Only then can he really consider his job ‘done’… and it takes at least as long as he used to spend in the dark room in the old days of film, when clients could appreciate that it took a good deal of time, art and experience to create a photographic object.

The same is true of text content (edits, re-edits, checking sources, writing for web and search, adding metadata, double checking, publishing,  pushing the content out to other networks etc). And the same with video – shooting, editing, captioning, converting into the right format, uploading (sometimes to multiple sites), embedding, publicising on other networks etc…

Often, a brand is also running a presence on Facebook – which needs its own attention, then there’s responding to incoming communications, monitoring online activity etc. All in all, it can be time consuming if you’re planning to attend to your online activity meaningfully.

So when we’re talking to companies who are looking at working seriously in the real time web environment, we’re pretty eager to hear how they plan to provide enough people time to resource it. Who will be doing the actual work, and how will it fit into their job? I do hear too many saying that they’ll just ‘add it onto’ someone’s existing role – and it’s a bit of a red flag.

The cost of online technology has come crashing down in recent years – but the requirement to provide some real human time paying attention to online activity has increased. Rather than just see this as an opportunity to save money from the technology budget, companies should be re-investing those savings in human time to pay for all the work that is actually involved in running a successful online presence.

It’s great the brands are now able to run their own online media presence, but it takes time and human effort – and that is what generates the value – people. So if your thinking of investing in this space, think in terms of time, rather than money.

Conversation about National Theatre Wales around the web

We’ve been working with National Theatre Wales and people who belong to their community – including office staff, production staff, cast, venues and “people formerly known as audience”.

Last year we built the community side of NTW’s website on Ning, with graphic design by the folks at Elfen. (Hoffi made the front page and listings pages.)

It’s worth noting that members of the community have the clear choice of making their posts public (open to be read by anyone who is looking) and many are doing so. The community is open to anybody on the web who wants to sign up.

But obviously with the web as it is, people are publishing their own stuff about National Theatre Wales and its productions around the web – not just on NTW’s community. We want to encourage this, it’s part of what NTW wants to achieve.

In fact, with NTW we have purposefully assigned a short tag to each production for use around the web – of the form ntw01 for production one, ntw02 for production two and so on. People are starting to use these tags already, in order to make their thoughts and posts more findable.

We also want to help the community to be aware of this other interesting stuff – videos, Twitter posts, blog posts, photos, audio – where relevant. “Online conversation” is a metaphor that has become popular on the web – and it does have some explanatory power. We want to give that conversation the best chance of being seen by groups of people who might be interested, so they can take part if they wish – wherever they choose to post their responses.

Here’s Tom’s post on the NTW site about the production tags and how posts, photos, videos and so on are collected on the NTW group for each production (and also a Netvibes page):
http://community.nationaltheatrewales.org/profiles/blogs/talking-about-national-theatre

Take a look at the group for ntw01, A Good Night Out In The Valleys for an example of live search results from around the web. If you’re wondering how the live searches work on the groups, we made them with Yahoo Pipes. There is a chance of a few false positives turning up, as with any web search. But on the whole we like the way they’ve turned out.

We’ve included the services which seem to be the popular ones for discussing theatre. In theory more publishing services, e.g. Audioboo, could be added to the results if those services start to become popular.

So there you go, one small part of NTW’s online strategy which we’ve been working on.