Thursday, December 22, 2011

Stop SOPA

It's so easy to take your eye off the ball.

And there are so many balls to keep an eye on nowadays - the death-throes of global capitalism as we know it, the constant protests and riots in major world cities, the shrinking polar ice-caps, the weird and extreme weather, the dismantlement of the NHS and Welfare State in the UK, Israel's descent as a state into increasingly open and belligerent racism, the collapse of the Euro, the turmoil of the increasingly misnamed Arab Spring, the spectacle of a dysfunctional nuclear armed state without a leader in North Korea and the equally alarming spectacle of the dysfunctional nuclear armed states with leaders in the US, Russia and elsewhere, and the fact that despite having the most demonstrably punchable face in British political history, no-one has yet laid out George Osborne. Yet at the same time there are so many shiny things to distract us - Charlie Brooker's new series, Minecraft, Twitter, Glitch, that great video of cats someone posted on Facebook or somewhere, that really interesting essay on Greek metallurgy on Metafilter, the Christmas display on Willesden Green High Road, and so on. This is not to mention the small matter of keeping going from day to day, going to work, keeping food on the table, making plans for the future, figuring out ways to stay sane and positive in a brutal and uncaring universe and so on. And, of course, not forgetting... ooh, shiny.

So I nearly missed the whole SOPA thing, until a friend posted this video of Dan Bull's excellent SOPA Cabana song on Facebook.

In short, SOPA is an attempt by US Congress to allow corporate copyright holders to demand the shutdown of any site they believe to be participating in or even just facilitating copyright infringement. That could include Google, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or any site based on user-generated content. This isn't hyperbole. Google and Facebook (as well as Ebay, Twitter, and just about every major web based company you can think of) are taking the threat very seriously.

If you're in the US, you can do various things about this - there's information here on LifeHacker and more here from the EFF, plus (as usual) some great discussion on the subject on Metafilter and pretty comprehensive coverage on BoingBoing. If you're not in the US? I honestly don't know.

So I drew a silly cartoon. And now - it being arse AM - I'm going to bed.

I hope the internet is still there tomorrow.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Troy Davis and Lawrence Brewer

Two men were scheduled for execution in the US tonight, Lawrence Brewer and Troy Davis.

In the case of Lawrence Brewer, a white supremacist, there is absolutely no doubt that he was guilty the particularly horrible and brutal murder of James Byrd Jr in 1998 (details are disturbing). The day before the execution, he was quoted in this article openly admitting his guilt and being without remorse.

In the case of Troy Davis, there is a great deal of doubt surrounding his conviction for the murder of Mark McPhail in 1989. Convicted on the testimony of nine witnesses, seven of whom have retracted and one of whom is the main other suspect, he has always maintained his innocence, and there is a great deal of information online supporting this claim, including this summary of the case from Amnesty International.

Tonight, Brewer was executed, despite the objections of the victim's son, Ross Byrd.

We learned only a very short time ago as I write this that Davis has received a last-minute reprieve - though not a stay - meaning that while he will not be executed while the US Supreme Court debates the case, should they decide not to give him a stay, he could be executed at any time in the next seven days. Or hours. It depends how long the Supreme Court take to deliberate and what they decide.

If you are against the death penalty, it is quite clear that neither execution can be justified.

If you are in favour of the death penalty, this is as clear an opportunity as ever to say: here - you have two men who have been convicted of murder. One is absolutely definitely guilty, as far as we can ever be sure about guilt. There is an enormous degree of doubt over the other conviction. It is highly probable that the man is not guilty.

If you are in favour of the death penalty, your question is this: would you kill both men or neither?

No system of justice can be perfect. Innocent people will always be convicted from time to time. If you have the death penalty, that means that innocent people will be executed as a result.

If you are in favour of the death penalty, you are in favour of innocent people being executed.

It is as simple as that.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Oggcamp 2011 Roundup

Last weekend I attended Oggcamp, a free unconference on the subject of technology, open source and community.

I had a fantastic time, and my head is still buzzing with ideas. Since I've been focussing mainly on music for the last few years, my geekier side has been somewhat dormant, modulo the occasional Perl script, but since Oggcamp I can feel it beginning to reawaken.

I was there because Dan Lynch of Rathole Radio and the Linux Outlaws podcasts, and one of the Oggcamp organisers, had asked me to give a talk about Pro Audio Production on Linux, and also to play a few songs at the party on the Saturday night. I don't claim to be a particular expert on Linux audio as such, but since both Fit and the Conniptions albums were produced on Linux boxes, it struck me that I could easily give such a talk, so long as I stressed that all I could do was share my own non-expert knowledge and experience, and give pointers to resources for further information.

I'd hoped to prepare the talk well in advance but it wasn't to be, and I ended up staying up until 5am the night before Oggcamp making notes. Foolishly I opted to make the notes directly into OpenOffice Writer - what was I thinking? - rather than researching the possibility of online slideshows, so I didn't discover the excellent Slidy until too late. Slidy is the slideshow software written by Dave Raggett and used as standard by W3C people - you write your slideshow directly in HTML according to a simple format easily customisable with CSS. Upload that and bam - a full-featured slideshow for your talk capable of doing anything HTML can do, such as embedding Soundcloud widgets, say.

Here, for example, are the Slidy slides I really really should have made before Oggcamp.

My talk was scheduled for 12pm on the Saturday, which, due to various journey-related catastrophes, is also when I managed to arrive in Farnham. Fortunately, another talk was slotted in at the last minute, which turned out to be the fascinating and horrifying story of Karen Sandler of the Gnome Foundation and her experience of being fitted with a pacemaker running proprietary software; it turns out that in the US at least, there are little or no quality controls on the software being used to keep people with heart problems alive; it also turns out that Karen was the first person to query this, and the answers she received are very troubling. Bugs that cause an application to crash are one thing; bugs that could cause people to die are on a very different level. She's given the talk before, and you can see a video of it here.

I was kindly lent a notebook for my own talk and attempted to punctuate it with a few illustrative web pages, which meant that I did that dreadful thing where the speaker pauses every five minutes to try to type in a URL on an unfamiliar machine. Ugh. Overall I was disappointed with myself for not having prepared the session as well as I should have done, but there were some interesting questions at the end and I received a certain amount of positive feedback from people.

I spent the rest of the weekend happily bumbling about talking to interesting people and attending other, better prepared sessions, highlights of which were as follows:

  • Ken Fallon's session on Hacker Public Radio, a daily podcast focussed on the interests of that community of people who know what the word 'hacker' actually means, and to which I am in grave danger of contributing (apparently they want a series on music theory...); Ken also interviewed me at some point for the podcast. Which was nice.
  • Tim Dobson on the UK Pirate Party and his experience of standing for them as a candidate in the last General Election. This was both fascinating and informative. While I am more than broadly sympathetic to the aims of the Pirate Party in terms of digital freedoms, this session confirmed for me that there are still many serious problems which the party has yet to solve before I could begin to consider voting for them. Two separate people pointed out that the name 'pirate' has unelectably negative connotations; Tim's suggestion that the party was 'reclaiming' the word 'pirate' seemed somewhat thin, to say the least. While the PP are very clear about their views on digital freedoms, they have yet to address the issue of 'all other policies', and Tim's answer - when you vote Pirate you'll get someone in favour of digital freedom who may have any view from extreme left to extreme right or anywhere in between on other issues - did not seem to me to be satisfactory. Finally Tim was unable to answer the simple question, 'what are the underlying values of the Pirate Party'; I don't think that any of these issues are Tim's fault - I'm not sure there is an answer to them - they are all things that the PP needs to look at very hard and find proper answers to if they want to be taken seriously.
  • Christopher Gutteridge's session on Open Data. The truth is that I actually missed this session completely but was fortunate enough to run into Christopher at lunch afterwards, who proceeded - possibly not entirely intentionally - to give me a two and half-hour personal tutorial on the subject of Open Data, RDF, SPARQL and the really great things that can be done with semantic datasets and the mixing and matching thereof, with numerous real world examples, both practical and otherwise. This was the absolute highlight of my weekend, as Christopher knows this stuff as deeply as anyone in the world, while I have been failing to get my head around the semantic web since my first encounter with it at the WWW conference in 1999; following this impromptu tutorial I felt like I was beginning to get a handle on it. Not only that, but I'm pretty sure that buried somewhere in there is a solution to a particular problem I share with basically every other musician online in terms of having to enter gigs data (and other data) seventeen times over on different listings sites for each and every gig. Thanks to Christopher I now have some ideas for solving at least part of this problem, but that is a matter for another blog post.
  • The joint live podcast by Linux Outlaws / Ubuntu UK Podcast. Essentially an hour's worth of live talk radio recorded with a large and geeky audience, it was kept highly entertaining from beginning to end by the onstage chemistry both between each podcast team and within them. Some felt that it got 'too political', given the extent to which the recent riots and their aftermath was - inevitably - discussed, but I felt that precisely the right balance was struck and that it was handled extremely well.
  • Dan's set on the Saturday night - not just a fine podcaster and event organiser, but he's got a great voice and some excellent songs. You can hear his band, 20lb Sounds, here; his own write-up of the whole event is here.
  • Generally hanging around chatting to people - I haven't met such a friendly, interesting and intelligent crowd in ages. I'm not going to list everyone - you know who you are - but the whole time I was there I didn't talk to a single person who didn't have something interesting to say, though it is more than highly possible that I got a bit drunk on Saturday night and talked a lot of bollocks - apologies to anyone who had to endure that.
In particular, I need to thank: Dan, for inviting me in the first place, for very kindly sorting me out with accommodation in the Premier Inn Aldershot and for sorting me out generally all weekend; Mark, for lending me his notebook for the talk; Andrew, for sorting out the sound during my talk and for the excellent question at the end; Marshall, for very kindly looking after my guitar and case on the Saturday night in the very crowded pub; Mike, both for buying my CD and for his own story about wrestling with Linux audio (Pulse and JACK can after all be made to co-operate sometimes, it seems); Les, for helping me sell another CD to CC Hits Jon who couldn't be there; Kris and Gordon, for beers and fine conversation; Christopher for the impromptu RDF tutorial; everyone involved in the team of people putting the event together and everyone else who was there.

In sum, an excellent excellent weekend. +1 would do it again.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Now Is Not The Time For Speculation About The Riots In England

Following the violent, disgusting and utterly unacceptable events that began in London last Saturday night and continued to spread across England for several days, bloggers, tweeters, commentators, pundits, politicians, random acquaintances of old Oxbridge friends of Newsnight researchers and ordinary people with functioning larynxes, Facebook accounts, or both, from all over the world and beyond, have been queuing up to provide what our American friends would describe as their 'take' on it all. Literally hundreds of thousands of words and images have been written, spoken, uploaded, photoshopped or typed out in a big hurry about the riots and the looting. All in vain.

I say 'in vain' because it is, or it at least should be, quite clear that now is not the time for speculation.

We simply do not know what happened, nor who did it, nor why, and any attempt even to begin to unpick any of that is - as should be obvious to all right-minded people - to condone and to give succour to those evil criminals responsible for the violence and the property damage. That is not and cannot be acceptable.

Laughably, a map has been produced relating the flashpoints in London to areas of poverty and economic deprivation. It is far too early for such wildly speculative attempts at correlation. We just don't know whether or not the people who were committing these crimes came from deprived areas with high unemployment and little or no prospects for the young or whether they drove in from large comfortable houses in leafy suburban areas using the car they received as a gift on their 17th birthday. While some information has begun to emerge, via the courts, with regard to the professions followed by the common criminals involved in the actions - already we have a ballerina, a primary school assistant and a law student - it is far to soon to make a judgement as to the overall make-up of the mob. We simply do not know whether or not the rioters were largely on below-average incomes or on benefits; even if they were it would make no difference, and speculation on this kind of thing is pointless and counter-productive to the point of offensiveness.

There have been those who have attempted to point to the role of gang culture funded by the illegal drug trade. This is completely ridiculous and, frankly, utterly ignorant. It is clearly not relevant in any way to anything at all that an international multi-billion dollar industry which has existed in some form since the dawn of civilisation has, through near universal prohibition, been placed wholly in the hands of criminal gangs who operate on a structured basis involving lower level sergeants and foot-soldiers operating almost exclusively in run-down areas of major cities, providing at least some form of employment, kinship, and protection in areas not otherwise noted for the opportunities provided to those of the younger generations, or indeed anyone. Moreover, it should be quite obvious that the increasingly successful efforts of the police to damage, destroy and disrupt these criminal networks, leading in particular to a number of large seizures over the last few years will - perhaps sadly - in no way have any impact at all on what happens to the gangs at street level.

Specifically, it is known that when a particular gang of drug criminals is eradicated, the other gangs consider the territory and clientele now left unserviced by the vacuum to be sacred ground of a sort; they leave it untouched as a kind of memorial to their fallen or imprisoned comrades and all the remaining or surviving members of the disrupted gang give up their illegal activities and start studying accountancy: this is part of what these criminals consider to be their own peculiar Thieves Code, a kind of perverted and inverse form of morality unrecognisable as anything of the sort from the outside. In any case, as police, community workers, and readers of both the Daily Mail and the Guardian alike are well aware, they are all much too busy getting high or stoned to take part in any activity other than dealing drugs, recording hit albums, and occasionally shooting or stabbing one another quite safely in their own areas of town, far away from the peaceful and leafy suburbs occupied by the rest of us, the decent and law-abiding citizen majority who would never dream of taking any drug not certified and sanctioned as completely harmless and risk-free by the government, such as alcohol or tobacco.

In particular, it is nothing more than an unfortunate coincidence that the fatal shooting by police of suspected drug gang leader Mark Duggan in Tottenham happened just before the first unrest took place. Those suggesting that this was somehow a 'flashpoint' or a 'spark' that ignited the events that followed are just as bad and morally bankrupt as those who smashed in the windows of Argos in order to steal plasma screen televisions There can be no connection whatsoever between the drug gangs and the riots, and even the most remote suggestion to the contrary should to my mind be investigated thoroughly as being tantamount to an admission of involvement in something illegal.

Worse still, some have attempted to make a connection between recent allegations of widespread corruption in the financial sector, in politics, in the media, and the Metropolitan Police force, and the fact that huge numbers of ignorant young people with nothing better to do spent a couple of nights earlier this week wandering about boarded up shopping areas to see if any thugs armed with sticks or baseball bats had broken into anywhere, leaving them wide-open for any curiously larcenous passer-by to grab whatever they could. As Britons, we can all understand that this is patently ridiculous and barely worthy of a response. Brought up as we are to 'know our place' it is simply not computationally or societally possible for the naturally keen competitive nature and behaviour of those in the banking world or who sit in the House of Commons - falsely mislabelled as 'greed' by anarchists and ne'er-do-wells - to have had any impact on the worldview of ex News of the World readers or the audience of Sky TV. There may have been, it is true, one or two recent hiccups in the otherwise smooth functioning of the wise and warmly benevolent plans that the superior intellects of elite members of society have kindly devised for the rest of us, but - as the recent General Election amply demonstrates -  there is no evidence to suggest that there is so much as the least awareness or understanding of any of this among the vast bulk of the population, and this includes both those innocents who were terrorised by the violence as well as those criminals who perpetrated it.

It is too early for any kind of speculation about or analysis of recent events, and quite frankly there will never be a time when it is not too early for any kind of speculation about or analysis of what went on. All of those involved in the riots without exception are nothing more than a evil cancerous growth on our otherwise healthy and flourishing society; they are, from the youngest to the oldest, nothing more than the worst kind of common criminals who should all rightly serve long custodial sentences and then, afterwards, be banned from ever receiving any kind of welfare benefit, having a roof over their head, being allowed to enter or leave the country, to use public transport or any other kind of transport, to take their handcuffs off, or to cross the road. Only in this way can innocent law abiding people and members of the ruling class alike protect ourselves from these scum in future.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Making A Simple Music Video On A Budget Of Nothing

Last week I made a simple video for my tune 'Broken':

It's just a simple thing, but I'm really pleased with it, and it cost me £0. That's $0, at the current exchange rate. A pretty good price, I think.

I hope one day to have money to spend on a proper video, but for now I simply don't. Cameras, lights and people who know what they are doing with them don't come free, and nor should they. Still, like anyone doing music, I'm itching to get my own tunes on YouTube, as lots of people listen to music that way. Since much of the music there is illustrated not with a video but with a still or a slideshow, having a proper video there with actual video in it is just a bonus.

It turns out that by taking advantage of FLOSS video editing software on Linux and the generosity of photographers on Flickr who choose to use a Creative Commons licence that doesn't include the 'No Derivatives' clause, making a simple video consisting of a series of stills stitched together with minimal effects costs only the time required to put it together.

Here's how the video for Broken happened.

NB - Unless you are interested in the extremely fine step-by-step detail here, the following paragraphs will be intensely dull. Possibly even if you are.

First came the idea - Broken is a slow, miserable tune about being brokenhearted, meeting someone new, everything going wrong and ending up even more brokenhearted than before. In this case, rather than illustrating the song directly lyric by lyric, which would be inappropriately cartoonish, I decided that a simple series of images of broken things of different kinds would be more effective. The images would still be loosely linked to the lyrics but would not slavishly follow them.

Flickr being a large repository of photographs, many of which are CC licensed, the chances were high that everything I would need for the video would be both there and immediately available, and after tiring of hearing me say I was going to do this for months on end without actually doing so, my extremely wonderful girlfriend Brenda spent many hours last week trawling the site for CC licensed images of broken things, and eventually compiled a list of nearly 50 such images to be used. This turned out to be slightly more than was needed - after the images we'd end up choosing had been put together in order with some relation to the lyrics and with some semblance of visual continuity, several wonderful photos ended up being discarded.

I also used The Gimp image editor to make the title that opens the video and the credits at the end, listing the Flickr usernames of the 30 photographers whose work was making up the body of the video.

With all the images lined up, it was time to fire up PiTiVi (see http://www.pitivi.org/ ) and actually put everything together in order. This is only the second video I have ever made, and I honestly have no idea whether or not PiTiVi is the kind of thing that an experienced video editor would choose. It works though.

Working with PiTiVI is incredibly straightforward - you import your audio file, you import your stills, you plonk the audio file on the audio timeline, you arrange your stills on the video timeline, dragging and dropping beginning and end markers to the exact point you want, add a couple of effects, and that's it. The fact that the images were all different shapes and sizes didn't seem to matter - PiTiVi automatically resized them appropriately, adding a black border round the edges when necessary. For a different video I might have decided on a standard size and resolution and spent time with the Gimp standardising all the images, but this is 'Broken', so having the shapes, sizes and resolutions jump about is both congruous with the theme and less work, so that's what I went with.

My installation of PiTiVi isn't the latest version and doesn't have too much in the way of effects. That's probably no bad thing in the case of someone like me who doesn't have much idea what they are doing; I would guess that overuse of video effects is the same kind of beginner's error in video as is the similar overuse of audio effects in mixing. I did use a couple of slow fades, though, timed to coincide with particularly quiet parts of the song.

Output was far and away the hardest bit. By default, my installation of PiTiVi renders to a full Ogg Theora output format which YouTube doesn't recognise. Since it is based on the GStreamer engine, PiTiVi is capable of rendering to every single video / audio / container combination ever invented by anyone anywhere over the last couple of decades. Some of these render option combinations even work on my machine. Not all of them. I have no idea why.

Unfortunately, this is where the fact that PiTiVi is still at a relatively early stage of development starts to emerge - for non-experts in these matters, such as myself, PiTiVi still has no concept of 'Rendering profiles', though somewhere in the development site it is listed as something that will come in time. This means that there is no simple 'Make My Video %&^@ing Work On YouTube' button. You have to try random things, throw away the first five tries which don't render, don't work, don't upload successfully or simply burst into flames for no apparent reason, search the internets, and hope for the best.

In the end, figuring out how to render the video in a way that would work on YouTube actually took longer than the rest of the process of putting the video together. I found it very hard - if not impossible - to find information about detailed rendering options and combinations of container, video codec and audio codec that YouTube supports.

I got there in the end though, through a process of trial and error based on random forum posts from other users just as stumped about this as I was - especially this one: http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1504818 .

The settings that ended up working for me were the following:

Container: mp4mux
Audio: faac (not ffenc_alac as suggested in the thread, as this failed)
Video: ffenc_mpeg4 with the codec bit rate set to 10300000

Without changing the bit rate on the Video codec (default bitrate was 300000), the visuals came out horribly pixellated. After the change was made, there was no pixellation. I have absolutely no idea whether 10300000 is a sensible number, but it worked for the random person on the Ubuntu forum and it worked for me.

(As an aside, I'd be really grateful if someone who does know something about video and audio codecs and containers would write something somewhere on the internet aimed at those of us who Just Want A Video That Will Work On YouTube, possibly with some explanation as to what parameters might work for what kinds of video, maybe together with why. If such a thing exists, it is beyond my Google-Fu, which is clearly weakening in my old age.)

Either way, with the settings listed above, my machine took 15 minutes to render a the ~50M mp4 video file that YouTube would happily accept. Yay.

The final stage was writing to all the photographers to say thank you.

Most of them have got back to me and a few have said how unusual it is to have use of their CC-licensed work acknowledged in this way. That seems weird to me - if you're going to use someone's CC-licensed photography in your derived work, the least you can do is write to thank them. One guy said that in his experience most people using his CC-licensed stuff didn't even give proper attribution, which is why his newer work doesn't use it any more. That's a real shame, though I can understand his change of heart on the licensing. Most of the others were still pro CC and made a point of saying something along the lines of 'this is what the CC license is all about' - which it is, really, which is also what this post is all about.

I'm really grateful to those photographers for CC licensing their work, since it meant I could go ahead and make a video using those photos, knowing I had permission. The extra work it took me to add a still at the end listing them all did cost me a good ten or fifteen minutes, but so what? Before the CC license, there's no way I'd have been able to do this at all.

The song is still pretty miserable though. Sorry about that. I was miserable when I wrote it.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sweet Sister Starlight Screed

First, here's the album:

Putting this album together has been a long road: I started it in
2007, and managed to spend four years faffing about with it until it
was finally ready to release. I think it's hands down the best
recording I've made so far - this isn't to say I don't think there's
things I could have done better - it's just better than the others
are. I've learned loads. I've also made loads of mistakes that I hope
never to make again, and I think developed a more realistic view of
where I'm at with things.

I really didn't mean to take so long over this.

Nothing's Any Fun Any more was the first tune to be recorded, in

I don't think it's that bad, though, for all that someone who really
knew what they were doing would have probably made it sound better in
a much shorter time. On the other hand, there's little point having a
home studio setup if you don't teach yourself how to use it, and the
only way to do that is to record and mix stuff on it.

I need to do more of that.

The brains behind the artwork was also the pretty face on the cover
and back cover - all credit for that should really go to my wonderful
girlfriend Brenda. First she managed to coax something approaching a
coherent vague idea out of me, following which she sourced the
dress/robe thing she is wearing, generally worked out an appropriate
look in terms of hair and makeup. Next she sourced and worked with a
photographer (the excellent Christina Rossi) to arrange a shoot in
suitable location. She had to spend the whole shoot standing barefoot
in the mud on a slightly rainy day in October and yet still
successfully managed to look as amazing as any professional model
throughout. The results were incredible - you can see more in the
photos section of the
Facebook page.
After that the rest of the artwork more or less designed itself.

At last, by February this year it was all done, at which point I began
thinking about how to release it.

I'm not at all sure I handled the release process very well, but a
great dissection of that is maybe a matter for another post. Suffice
to say that deciding to have an online release on Bandcamp in March,
make up a load of promo copies on CD and send them out in all
directions leading up to a full CD release in May may not have been
the best of ideas for me at this stage, at least, not the way I
handled it.

I definitely need to figure out how to do that stuff better.

On the other hand, I did get some response, for which I'm really
grateful. Tom Robinson played a tune from the album on BBC Radio 6
(two, in fact, as I'd randomly submitted Nothing's Any Fun Any More
not long after first recording it and he played that a couple of years
ago), and there have been plays on podcasts including Is This Thing
On, The Justin Wayne Show, Rathole Radio, Butterflies Radio and Linux
Outlaws, with more hopefully on the way. There was a really positive
review in Being Beatzine on Facebook. More reviews are in the pipeline from a few
music bloggers and magazines.

Also last weekend I got completely shitfaced and sent a ridiculous
expletive-filled email to the editor of Stool Pigeon, which he found
hilarious and wants to run as a letter in their next issue.

So, yeah, I need to do all this stuff better.

Fast forward to last night's launch at the Hideaway in Archway.

Last night's launch at the Hideaway was a great success.

I managed to get around twenty friends to come down, so between them,
the eight musicians and soundman, and the maybe five to ten people who
came down to see the other acts and the maybe five or so who happened
to be in the place that night and came downstairs to see what the
music was all about, it didn't feel empty at all. The Hideaway
basement reckons it has a capacity of 80, but it would be sardines in
there with 50, so it was a perfect place for an endeavour such as a
Fit and the Conniptions album launch - realistically I'm still only
just at the beginnings of building up a listenership. I haven't
organised a whole night since my last album launch in 2007 at Cross
Kings - that was a great night but that venue was a bit too big for
me, really - I don't think more than about 15 people came - and it
felt a bit weird and empty.

The Hideaway was just right for where I'm at.

Brian Charles' band, David Goo (playing solo, not with the Variety Band) and Sean Taylor all played
great sets, and I thought the night hung together well. Brian's music
is a very jazzy brand of prog-rock, David's material involves
rapidfire wordsmithery veering from punk to funk, and Sean plays a
very pure and powerful kind of blues; overall I thought this
contrasted with and complemented elements of my own bluesy folk-rock
stuff, the more so as I was lucky enough to have Brian playing drums
with me on my set, as he is on the album. Sean also sat in on lead
guitar for much of my set - he played as wonderfully as he did on the
album - and I also borrowed the talents of Brian's excellent keyboard
player Jackson Baird. Bassist Paul Tkachenko did a solid job of
knitting everything together into groove, as usual, and it was a real
pleasure for me to play with such a great band. Andy Moore, on sound,
made everything so crystal perfect you could basically forget there
was a PA at all and just play. Brenda took care of the door and left
me free to concentrate on the music. I had a great night, and the
feedback I've had from people who were there suggests that so did
everyone else.

I sold 2 CDs.

I can't complain about that.

Firstly everything is online to download anyway - and there has been a
steady, if slow, trickle of downloads since the online launch in
March. Secondly, many of the people who were there already had a copy,
either because they'd downloaded it or because I'd given them one of
the promo copies I made up. And thirdly, I've a gut feeling that,
generally speaking, getting about 10% of the people who turn up to a
gig to buy a CD is pretty reasonable for anyone at any level.

If I was playing to 500 people, selling 50 CDs would not, I think, be
a bad night: if anyone reading this is involved in acts playing to 500
or more people and knows what CD sales levels might be like there,
please feel free to tell me whether or not I'm talking totally out of
my arse here.

However, it is possible that I shouldn't even be bothering to sell CDs
at all at this point. The band has just over 100 'likes' on Facebook,
and when I bring 20 people to a gig it's a special occasion. I don't
know if I'm really ready to be selling CDs.

Giving away downloads for free - or at least on a
pay-what-you-want-including-free basis - has worked well for me.
Currently about one in four downloaders choose to pay for it, but one
in four of not very much is still not very much, and it's much more
important to me, at this stage, that people who like my music get to
have it to listen to and hopefully share with friends.

I've been wondering whether I ought to try the same with physical CDs
when I gig - I've read a couple of blog posts about musicians finding
that they actually make more money from CDs when they do
pay-what-you-want for CDs at gigs - but these are musicians that have
followings and listenerships, and I'm still trying to build one up.

Pulling some more numbers out of my arse for a moment, I suspect that
the average band with an established Facebook page - depending how
well they promote themselves - can probably get between 1% and 10% of
the number of Facebook 'likes' to show up to the average London gig.

I don't really know what life is like for those with numbers of likes
over 1000, though I'll note that Ed Sheeran, who has around 100,000
likes, is currently selling out 1000 and 2000 capacity venues. Martha
Wainwright, at around 10,000 likes, seems to play lots of places
holding between a few hundred and a couple of thousand. Acts with
between 500 and 1000 likes turn up regularly at the same kind of
places I'm playing, only they pretty much always seem to bring between
5 and 50 people there to see them. Acts like me, with less than 500
likes, seem to regularly bring anything between 0 and 25 people, and
at that kind of early stage, whether it's more 0 or more 25 has a lot
do with specifics of how those gigs are promoted - and not by the
promoter but by the musicians themselves.

I've not been doing a great job of this and have been regularly
bringing 0 people to gigs for five years now.

At the same time, the fact is that just over 100 people other than
myself have chosen to click 'like' on the Facebook page, including an
increasing contingent of people I've never met. With friends it's
always hard to tell whether a 'like' is motivated by politeness or by
actually liking the music - sometimes it may be both but perhaps not
always - but when people you don't know start clicking 'like', this
won't be politeness and must count for something.

Either way, to be honest, I'm grateful.

If I'm ever to achieve my crazy dream of making the music I want to
make, as well as possible, and earning a living from that - is it so
crazy to want to do that? - I'm going to need to find more than 100
people who like my music enough to say so on Facebook. On the one hand
that's going to involve me continuing to work hard on my music: this
new album is a definite improvement over the live CD, which was
itself, I thought, an improvement on my first album. On the other,
it's also going to involve me figuring out how to find those people
who like my music, such as it is, along the way.

I'm still very much towards the beginning of the road.

Another mistake I think I've been making over the last five years is
not that I have been gigging too much, but that I have not been
gigging enough. At the level I'm at, I can't guarantee to bring anyone
to a gig ever. So it's pretty pointless when a promoter tells me that
they don't want me to play any other gigs two weeks either side of
their date - it's not going to make any difference. Acts who can
guarantee to bring 30-40 people to a gig might find the two weeks
either side rule applies to them - I don't know - but if you know you
can't guarantee anyone will turn up at all - and why should they, when
so few people have heard the music or like it - the answer must surely
be to go out there and gig every chance you get, within reason, so
more people do hear the music, some of whom will like it.

So I'll be gigging as much as I can for a bit, within reason - details
are on the music page and gigs page linked above.

If you read this far - wow. Thank you. Please do have a listen to the
album. If you like it, download it - pay whatever you think it's worth
including zero - share it with friends, come to a gig if you can.

Meanwhile I'm beginning to think about the next album.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Share Alike

I've just changed the licence on every Fit and the Conniptions release to CC BY-NC-SA.

A couple of days ago, Dan Lynch played one of the tunes from Sweet Sister Starlight on Rathole Radio.

Looking at the blog post going with the podcast, I noticed that all the other Creative Commons licensed music was BY-NC-SA. I had licensed mine as BY-NC-ND - No Derivatives, rather than Share Alike - but I'd also stupidly forgotten to put that on the CD I'd sent him, so Dan quite reasonably noted that my tune was played 'by permission'.

We exchanged a couple of emails on the subject of licensing, during which I realised that I hadn't properly thought through the implications of using the BY-NC-ND licence. My idea was that if someone wanted to use or remix anything of mine, they would have to contact me, whereupon I would say yes and, in the case of a remix, offer to help by providing stems etc. In practice, sadly, this has not happened. Instead the ND part of the licence has meant that anyone wanting to take advantage of the CC licence in their own CC licensed project - whether a film, podcast, remix or anything else - has been slightly discouraged from doing so.

That's not the idea at all.

One of the advantages of the CC licence is supposed to be the way in which similarly licensed projects can freely contribute to one another in a mutually supporting way. If anyone wants to use anything of mine in a CC project - and I'd be delighted if they did - I should make it as easy as possible for them to do so. As I now understand it, the SA bit of the licence does that; the old ND bit did not.

I hope this makes sense.

In other news, I am now entirely unsure how I want to spell the various forms of the word 'licence'. It now looks wrong to me whether I use the 'c' or the 's'.

Oh well.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Plus Ca Change

I am absurdly, childishly pleased with the redesign of the conniptions.org website that I did last night.

Certainly there are several improvements yet to be made - the rounded corners on the box in the middle need sharpening up, the banner image across the top is much wider than it needs to be on most pages and is shifted slightly to the right on the Posterous blog page for some reason, I have yet to add a commenting facility to the cartoons and the lovely bandcamp widget with the new album in it has a tendency to crash if you reload it too many times to soon, such as by reading through the cartoons.

On the other hand, the process of replacing the previous look and feel, which was based on artwork from the Live At Monkey Chews release from 2008, with something based instead on the new Sweet Sister Starlight release, turned out not to be the world of pain I had feared. Surprisingly few files had to be edited; mostly it was a question of deleting things that were now out of date.

Using a large top banner with an image map for navigation meant that large amounts of cruft and wrongness could be removed from the rest of the design - basic page to page navigation no longer needed to take up space elsewhere and important things like links to Twitter and Facebook could be placed discreetly yet visibly at the top of every page using icons from a free icon set (I got mine from here but the internet is full of them right now). It also meant that integration with parts of the site hosted elsewhere - on services such as Bandcamp (the music page) and Posterous (the blog) - was much much simpler than I'd thought it would be.

And I have a box with rounded corners! Welcome to 2003 (1998?), Wayne - nice to have you, since you missed it the first time. (Nested divs. Huh. Still sure there must be a better way.)

Inspiration, as ever these days, came largely from Steve Lawson, who has been using the top banner image map thing to integrate bits of web presence across multiple services since just about forever; the clarity and brevity of the icon thing came more from Laura Kidd - see She Makes War - but I am seeing customised social media icons all over the place at the moment. It is clear why - anyone who already knows what, for example, the exciting new Facebook-killing social media site Plonkr actually is will recognise the logo; mentioning the site by name isn't going to help and takes up far more space.

I deliberately chose not to use the icons for Myspace and Last.fm, as while I still have pages there I hardly use them any more and am suspicious that hardly anyone else does either. Do you? I could well be wrong.

Also, while I am banging on about how terribly clever I think I am, it is highly likely that I have screwed something up somewhere that I don't know about yet, so if anything seems borked on the site beyond things I have already mentioned, please do let me know about it so I can get it fixed.

In other news, the new album Sweet Sister Starlight is now finally available online to stream or download, and I am pathetically and profusely grateful to those of you who have already downloaded it, streamed it and/or clicked the 'like' button.

I'm equally grateful to Tom Robinson of BBC 6 Music who played Mistress Song on BBC Introducing on Monday and to Nick Tann, who played Sweet Sister Starlight on his Is This Thing On podcast the other week. Nick is also a very fine singer-songwriter whose latest project - well worth checking out - involves actually making a proper record out of vinyl. Not a bad idea that.

Now that my album is done, I'm back gigging again - I had a great time playing at Phibbers in Islington last Monday night - thanks to everyone who came down to that one - and there's a bunch of gigs coming up in Croydon, New Cross and Brick Lane to which I am also looking forward. Plus the Ashley Wood Festival in Tisbury, Wiltshire, in July.

I say 'done' of course, but I haven't had the actual CDs made up yet - that's going to happen over the next few weeks in preparation for a 'CD launch' towards the end of May - if you're really keen you can go to the Music page and pre-order one. That's because I'm also absurdly, childishly pleased with this album - so much so that I am releasing it twice, once online, and then again, some months later, on CD.

I hope that isn't an insanely wrong thing to do.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Short Note To My Spammier Musician Friends On Twitter

Hello My Spammier Musician Friends On Twitter,

I'm worried that you haven't read this excellent short essay by Steve Lawson about how musicians can best use Twitter.

Twitter is a chatroom. It's the biggest chatroom in the world.

And you, your music is great. I like you and your music. We met once, I don't know how, through mutual friends or at some gig or other where we shared a stage; we stayed vaguely in touch, as musicians do. Myspace, Facebook, the odd further gig etc. And later, because this was a while back, I found you on Twitter and started following you.

I stopped following you soon afterwards, because you pretty much only tweeted links to your own stuff. Constantly. Nothing else. Or almost nothing else.

I don't really know you well enough to write and say 'hey, stop doing that'. That would be weird. The way you choose to interact with people online is your own business.

But seriously, Twitter is a chatroom, and no-one likes a spammer in a chatroom.

If all - or even the vast bulk - of what you have to say is links to your own promotional material, that's going to come across as very spammy. I wish you wouldn't do that. I like your stuff and I still wish you wouldn't do that.

I'm not saying you shouldn't talk about your work or link to the stuff you've done. We all do - it's inevitable. It's what we're doing.

But getting the balance right is a question of how much, how often, and whether there's also a sense that you are entering into the idea of Twitter as a chatroom where you are having conversations with people on a range of subjects extending beyond yourself and your work, or whether you are using it purely as a marketing tool.

If it is the latter, you really need to go and read both the above link and this other essay by Steve Lawson on how musicians can best use social media.

Essentially it boils down to this: Twitter is a chatroom, not a rolling billboard.

Stop being that guy.

I still like your music. I do. Really I do. That's precisely why I want you to stop spamming your Twitter followers with it.

Love,

Wayne

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Random Music Discovery Game

Today I thought of a random music discovery game, as follows:

Choose a word - any word. Google it, along with 'bandcamp'. Click
until you find some music you like.

I tried it with 'elephant' and got this:

Wow.

When The Worms Dry Up, The Birds Turn To Ashes, by Elephant was the
first result. I couldn't stop listening to it. It's broadly folk punk,
by turns fragile and violent, occasionally both at once, and it
totally pinned me up against the wall and wouldn't let me stop until
I'd listened to it all.

See what you think. Or choose your own keyword and see what you find.

Please do let me know if you find anything good, and I bet you will.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home