The Passion of Port Talbot: Michael Sheen

Michael Sheen multiplatform

It’s nearly a year ago since Michael Sheen’s The Passion of Port Talbot – one of the most acclaimed pieces of large scale participatory theatre in recent history.

The play that transformed the South Wales town of Port Talbot on Easter weekend 2011 was also live blogged to the world across multiple internet platfoms thanks to a project that we ran with a team of volunteers from the town. It’s one of the most exciting multiplatform events we’ve been involved with. was framed as a local blog within the world of the Passion story… writing as if everything happening in the show was happening for real. During the weeks leading up to the show, we built up the storyworld in the town, spreading news of a missing teacher from the town and a sinister multi national company ICU industries, which was due to arrive at the town soon.

We set in motion a transmedia experience with an alternative reality game (ARG) that took people from codes on graffitit defaced posters in Port Talbot town, to phone numbers, live events and the web, leading to the release of a unique short film with Michael Sheen as the character, The Teacher.

We lived blogged the events that took place in Port Talbot over the weekend, filming the action and editing and uploading it to the web within a couple of hours. The final crucifixion scene was witnessed by twelve thousand people on the streets of Port Talbot and tens of thousands more online from one hundred and twenty countries.

Live blogging has the advantage of bringing an event to the web, enabling people from all over the world (from 120 countries!) to feel involved and connected to events on the ground. With the Passion, we created the blog as a new character in the story – a media outlet that was part of the world in which The Passion took place.

Protecting an area of rainforest the size of Wales

We are helping the Size of Wales with their environmental campaign. Check out the video to find out more. Our work is focused on using social media to raise awareness and money.

Please leave a comment on the YouTube vid which will help to boost its ranking. You can also like the Facebook page to follow the latest news. For each Like, Size of Wales’ partners will contribute £1 to the fund.

More info on this project to follow shortly.

Lunchtime video from Euan Semple about social networks and business

Now and again we have a lunchtime video session at NativeHQ. Our choices of video tend to have a strong emphasis on technology, innovation and creativity. We love to absorb influences from all over the place, especially as what we do is not a ‘pure discipline’.

This video is a talk by Euan Semple at the Do Lectures in Aberteifi and is called Why social network mess can benefit your business. (Embedding doesn’t seem to be encouraged so you’ll have to visit the Do Lectures site instead.)

Semple only partly answers the title question, in my opinion, but well worth a watch for his anecdotes about getting humans communicating properly in a big organisation.

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.


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.
Streaming/hosting services like YouTube for video and Flickr for photos

History of media and media revolutions

Printing press
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 editor

Online tools every musician should know about


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
You get a free blog with the name
You can choose different themes.
You can pay fees for extra services, e.g. to have it redirected to seamlessly
WordPress is open source so you can download the software for free, run it on your own hosting and publicise
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.


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.


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!


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):

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.

Organising an event? Record and share it

I met a representative of an arts organisation this week. She mentioned one of their key aims is to help artists and other people they deal with to share knowledge. So they are organising an event, a get-together, to allow people who wouldn’t normally meet to do so.

The event itself sounded like a good move. It also made me think of the possible benefits of recording the event and uploading it online.

The recording might be a video, on a service such as YouTube or Vimeo. Or it might be just the audio, on a service such as Soundcloud. Attendees and other people can then embed a player on their blogs and websites, if you allow this (and usually there’s no reason not to allow embedding). Ideally you could embed it on your organisation or company website – but you don’t even need to do that to get started, at least for now.

The equipment for just documenting something is so ridiculously cheap now. We’re not talking about high production values or live streaming, just documenting the thing.

(There plenty of other ways to document an event using social media but today I’ll focus on getting the whole event as audio or video.)

Most attendees can be fine with audio or video if you tell them beforehand. Let them know about good opportunities to introduce themselves and plug their own work – at the start of each person’s first comment for example.

For video we use the Flip cam at NativeHQ, which is just a suggestion but it is cheap and an additional bonus is its size. It’s portable and so small that even the less confident people can happily ignore it and get on with sharing their thoughts.

So here are some possible benefits.

Extending the reach
There will probably be people who want to attend your event but can’t, because of time and geography. Recording it allows them to catch up afterwards.

For people who do attend your event it serves as a reminder of what was discussed. It might even help them to concentrate and fully participate in the meeting rather than struggle to take notes of everything.

Awareness of your organisation
Publishing a recording helps wider awareness of your organisation, its aims, its projects and so on. Relevant recordings lead to inbound links and boost to your online reputation.

One feature of the web, thought by many to be the beauty of the web, is that your recording is potentially accessible to anyone. What about exclusivity? Some audio and video services do allow you to control access to recordings. But in most situations you can just make it open. Why place limits on who can get this information? It might seem paradoxical, but some of the most competitive people and companies are the ones sharing the most useful recordings. Most things aren’t sensitive. They may as well be open.

Promotion of the event itself
This follows from the previous point. There are lots of reasons to attend your event. Some of these reasons are: meeting other attendees face-to-face, asking questions, having more influence, helping oneself to a drink or buffet. None of these are replaced by a recording. Often the recording can promote the event. (For instance, look at how the prestigious TED talks have taken off since they started sharing video. The attendance fee has increased too.)

Having a recording of key points may allow you to avoid having to repeat yourself. You can keep the recording online for weeks, months, even years afterwards. All of the good audio and video services will give your recording a permalink. This will not change and can thus be emailed to your community and shared between them and other people. Your recording will also be found by people searching for keywords contained in its title or list of tags.

Unknown reasons
I kick myself to think of the useful events I’ve attended – or even organised – and not had recorded. That’s because you don’t always know how useful the recording will be until afterwards. Or maybe sometime later. Those meetings just vanished into thin air. I’ll get by, but it would have taken hardly any effort to record them – so why not? (I’ve also been to some boring and irrelevant meetings in my time, but that’s subjective. Even those might have been of use to someone out there. You never know.)

These benefits can apply to anything good you choose to put online, not just audio and video. You could substitute the word “recording” above with “blog post”. You might already have guessed that for me, typing out this blog post ticks off some of the benefits described above.

The problem(s) with viral

I’ve long had a problem with the word “viral” when used in phrases like “viral marketing”, “viral video” and related contexts. I haven’t always been able to explain exactly why in a succinct way.

Judging from his blog and the work he does, Kevin Marks is a guy who understands the web. He absolutely nails it with this blog post about the scammy connotations of viral. He suggests we retain the word “viral” but use it solely for “exploitatative applications that violate trust to reproduce against the interests of their hosts”. Love it. It’s worth reading in full, as well as this earlier post How not to be viral.

Marks’ emphasis here is on companies who create software, citing the photo sharing service Flickr as a good example of somewhere that supports “fruitful social interactions”.

Our emphasis is slightly different. In my experience the word “viral” is also used for funny videos and other online content that spreads rapidly.

For marketers discovering YouTube and other services, as methods for spreading a “brand message”, the word viral can be seductive because it implies a smaller investment of effort. (Let the viral do the work and go home early!) But of all the viral videos you can name, how many can you associate with a specific company or product? It makes a good straw poll for colleagues whenever they mention the dreaded word.

Viral videos often merely advertise themselves. That is, you remember the video but seldom remember the company. It comes back to another one of my bugbears, which is the over-emphasis on hit count or view count as metrics of success. We’ve never met a client whose sole aim was to notch up a million video views, it might help the ego but it just isn’t an objective in and of itself.

At Native, we recognise the value of good marketing – but what we do seldom intersects with interruption advertising or one-way broadcast videos and the like.

That’s because we hold that good marketing is far more than spreading a brand message. Good marketing is being aware of what people are saying about you, helping customers with problems, meeting them on their terms, making a quality product or service – and providing or supporting spaces where customers can talk to each other. These principles apply offline. Now online we have some great opportunities and tools to do these things in new ways.

Another benefit of online is allowing niche conversations about all the subjects that relate to you and your business. These take place in text, images, audio, graphic visualisations and yes, videos.

“Viral” annoys me because it’s too much of an abstraction of the real human beings you’re trying to deal with. These people become prospects, targets, vectors, hosts. This is actually how I feel I’m being categorised when I watch TV advertising now. It’s too general and it alienates me. Besides, people don’t really talk like that. The same goes for viral videos. Actually the videos that spread most effectively are the ones that have no product or company behind them, like the “free hugs” movement. People are not stupid, they’ll assess your motives and share the videos that smell genuine.

Incidentally, often the memorable and useful videos I find online are straight-to-camera, lo-fidelity, quick, unpolished recordings, not slick adverts. This is a guideline, not a rule, but if it’s a social media conversation people are coming to expect videos that are like blog posts, not brochures.

All this is about as far from a single-message viral video as you could hope to get.

Kutiman’s video butchering (is a must!)

Here at NativeHQ we do allow occasional time for The Coolest Thing We’ve Yet Seen Today.

Today’s is which showcases the work of Kutiman. It’s fairly self-explanatory, he’s creating original tunes by splicing together YouTube videos of people jamming with solo instruments.

The execution is the kind for which we’d reserve the word “awesome”. If you click the credits button to navigate the source material, you’ll realise he’s:

  • not cheating here
  • probably an amazingly patient person

None of this is by permission of the source creators it would seem. But these are mostly hobbyist musicians who’ve posted up their material for the joy of it. And I don’t think they’d mind being subject to such a splendid treatment. I mean, would you?

(For the link, cheers to Lessig and Colin Consterdine – it appears this has been online for a few weeks now. Techcrunch think he’s the first music “star” to be born on Twitter. Hard to disagree.)

BBC Enables Video Embedding, Sets Good Example for You and Me

BBC News and Sport are beginning to enable you to embed their videos on to your own site.

Below is an example of an embedded video. It’s hosted by the BBC, who also take care of the streaming too. (The story happens to be about cybercrime, I’ve included it purely as an illustration of the technology – the range of embeddable videos is still small while the scheme is being rolled out.)

Technically it’s always been possible to embed BBC videos elsewhere (in a cheeky fashion – you just grab the code).

But this change of policy is a good move – by actively encouraging and helping people to embed the videos and discuss them it will increase the BBC’s presence around the web, including on blogs like this one.

In order to embed a video, you go to the original story page. Let’s take the example I embedded above. If you click share, you’ll be presented with the following code which you then copy and paste into your website/blog. (You don’t have to understand every tag in order to use it.)

<object classid=”clsid:d27cdb6e-ae6d-11cf-96b8-444553540000″ width=”512″ height=”400″ codebase=”,0,40,0″><param name=”allowFullScreen” value=”true” /><param name=”allowScriptAccess” value=”always” /><param name=”FlashVars” value=”config_settings_showUpdatedInFooter=true&amp;playlist=;config=;config_settings_language=default&amp;config_settings_showFooter=true&amp;config_plugin_fmtjLiveStats_pageType=eav6″ /><param name=”src” value=”” /><embed type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” width=”512″ height=”400″ src=”” flashvars=”config_settings_showUpdatedInFooter=true&amp;playlist=;config=;config_settings_language=default&amp;config_settings_showFooter=true&amp;config_plugin_fmtjLiveStats_pageType=eav6″ allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true”></embed></object>

Of course, other video streaming sites have allowed and encouraged this for years. Seasoned bloggers and webheads may quip that “BBC embedding 2009 = YouTube embedding 2005”. But to be fair to BBC, they have had “a huge number of tricky little issues to sort out and most of these have been complex business issues around rights, terms and conditions, etc.” (quote).

This also illustrates a good principle. Making a success of the web means not only having a good destination site but also having a good web presence.

It’s now considered somewhat precious to want to “own” visitors and insist they come to your website first. You will spread awareness of yourself and and actually drive future visits to your site by giving stuff to other sites.

In practice, you may not have your own video player like the BBC. But if you’ve uploaded video on sites such as YouTube, Vimeo, or Viddler, then make sure embedding is enabled. It will multiply the potential audience by several factors of ten AND probably bring more people to your site anyway.

I cannot think of a single good reason not to allow embedding on a video. Universal Records, the largest record label in the world, appear to have disabled embedding on their official YouTube videos. If you can explain this decision, feel free to comment below or contact me.

Even if your primary focus is not video, the more general principle is engagement with other sites. I feel another blog post emerging, mmm. I’ll explore it more next week.

(As it happens, YouTube have been in the news this week regarding a separate issue – their disagreement with PRS, who represent song publishers and composers. Robert Andrews at paidContent summarises the complexities of such deals, while Rhodri Marsden at the Independent gives an insightful view from a songwriter’s perspective.)