Occupy Music

This is the film I’m making. It’s not finished yet. We need to raise money to pay for a bit more filming, a couple more interviews, some editing and post production. But this will give you an idea of what it’s all about.

Living deliberately

I wrote about my ‘age theory‘ a year or so back. It comes up in conversation a lot, and people seem to like it.

I’ve been giving it some more thought today. A bunch of stuff has popped up on my Facebook timeline this morning about following your dreams. Inspirational quotes. In particular, a short video about what you would do with your life if money was no object. That sort of stuff.

And while that’s an opportunity for the cynic in me to roll his eyes, I was able to suppress that long enough to give the matter a little thought.

I had a conversation recently about how we can think about our lives as narrative. Your life is a story and you’re the main character in that story. Other people’s lives are stories too, and you may be an incidental character in those ones.

But all the things that you do and that happen to you – all the encounters with the other characters you have along the way – are part of your character development and story arc.

Some of the plot elements are things that happen to you, and some of them are the things you make happen in response to what’s going on. The sort of person you become is largely to do with the character development that comes as a result of that response.

Regardless of how random and disconnected those events might seem, all the bits make a lot of sense in retrospect. What you have done along the way so far (and why you did those things) is how your character got to this point in the story.

And if that’s true, then planning for where you want the story to go, rather than just letting life happen to you, makes a lot of sense.

So this morning, as I was doing my writing, I started to experiment with piecing together what I might consider to be an ideal life. What the ingredients would be – even what the schedule would be (more or less) – for each day, each evening, each weekend, each month and year. The routines and rituals I’d like to keep. The things I’d like to do and make. The context for that. What it looks and feels like. All that stuff.

It was an interesting exercise. A lot of the ingredients are already there. I have a long way to go. But I have something concrete to work towards now, and I feel like I’m going in the right direction. But importantly – this story has always been leading to this. I’ve always been going in this direction without knowing it. All the stuff that has been part of my story – all the people, all the influences, all the events, whether positive or negative – these have all led me here.

All the things that I’ve been interested in, passionate about and introduced to along the way – they all play a role in this vision. None of it works without the other pieces. Which is interesting – and the extent to which it’s true took me a little by surprise today.

I’ll be 50 in a few years time. I’m kind of looking forward to it. It would be great to be closer to that vision by the time I get there. I think that spending some time thinking about it makes it far more likely than simply doing what’s right in front of me all the time. My morning writing is such a great space for this sort of reflection and stepping back from the day to day.

I’m not an idealist – I’m a pragmatist. I don’t think that just doing whatever I like is a practical response to the world. But I do think that figuring out what it is I want to do, have, achieve and contribute is a useful thing to do.

And so if I manage to work towards this ideal then I can spend my 50s and 60s doing the things that are ‘what my life is all about’. I can decide to a large extent what the whole story has been leading up to – which is the aim of the exercise, as far as I’m concerned.

Put simply: the purpose of your character development is to become the author of your story.

Put even more simply: live deliberately.

I recommend that whole ‘stepping back for half an hour’ thing. Figuring out where it is you’d like to be going and what you’d like to be doing – seeing where your story is taking you, and deciding where you’d like to take it.

Brain in overdrive

I write every morning for 25 minutes. Set the timer and just go. It’s been a ritual for years. Hardly ever miss it. Just a braindump – nothing I keep or use for anything. Certainly unpublishable. But it clears my head of all the crap and lets me start fresh each day.

It’s often nonsense. Just words. I’m often not even fully awake. But what I write about is usually a good barometer of what’s going in my head – sometimes it concerns things that I wasn’t even aware of or knew were important to me, but mostly it’s stuff I’m excited about, anxious about or trying to solve.

How much I write is also a good indicator of how my brain is operating. Today, I bashed out 1700 words. That’s a record for me. Brain in complete overdrive.

Hopefully I can keep this pace up across the day and over the days to come… Music Tech Fest London is in two weeks – and there’s a lot that needs to be done.

Incidentally – you should get your tickets here.

Soundcloud – now with advertising!

I’m all for Soundcloud making money. I think it’s a fantastic service and a great vehicle for promo, for works in progress and for allowing people to listen to your music.

It’s just a shame that when great services are looking to “monetise”, the answer is always advertising.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that I used to make radio commercials for a living, and I believe there’s such a thing as good advertising. You can entertain, and make a difference for a client (especially gratifying when it’s a small business trying to get a message out to people who would really appreciate what they do).

But when I hear “We’re adding advertising and paying the content creators – and you can pay to have the ads removed”, I always hear “we’ve made our service worse and broken the user experience, and you’ll need to give us money to fix it back the way it was, in order to stop the record labels from suing us”.

All of that is entirely unpleasant. And not just for the listener.

If I was an advertiser, and I was told that my commercials were essentially going to be used as a repellent to drive customers to pay to get rid of my message, I would not be excited about advertising on that platform.

Spotify is a case in point. Spotify wants paid subscribers. In order to do that, they make terrible, annoying and unpleasant ads. Who pays for these ads? Are they insane?

In an ideal world, businesses like Soundcloud and Spotify would choose between either making a service that people genuinely want to pay for (and giving artists and rights holders an equitable share of that revenue), or providing a service that is sustainable through the creation of great advertising that creates positive associations for the client and genuinely entertains, informs or at the very least, doesn’t piss off the target audience.

But the default message seems to be “give us money to make terrible and intrusive ads for your company, and we’ll use them to annoy people into paying us to make you go away.”

Which makes no sense to me at all. Hope that’s not what Soundcloud end up doing – but fear it might be.

Tall tale

If I told you I was in Slovenia right now eating chocolate-covered rice and chatting in broken French with the former private doctor of the wife of Colonel Gaddafi, you’d probably think I was exaggerating.

Forests and lakes

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I’m getting a lot of fresh air at the moment. It’s helping a lot. Every now and then, you need a bit of scenery and oxygen. As you may have picked up, I’m in Sweden. Actually, I’m further north than most people think of when they think of Sweden. I’m just outside of Umeå, in the Västerbotten region.

But I’m not in Sweden for my health. I’m working here. I’ve been meeting with some fantastic people at the University of Umeå to bring Music Tech Fest to Scandinavia.

If you haven’t heard of it, Umeå is currently Europe’s ‘Capital of Culture‘. That means there’s a lot of investment, a lot of optimism and a lot of fascinating interdisciplinary projects – many of which take place at the intersection of design, music, technology and art.

In other words – my kind of thing.

There’s also a rather cool Guitars museum – with the largest collection of electric guitars on the planet. They have rare Fender and Gibson guitars from the 50s that Fender and Gibson themselves don’t have.

The university has a new facility opening up soon called Sliperiet. It houses a range of innovative projects and businesses making art installations, feature films, new types of interactions and products, and – interestingly – projects that bring together music and technology.

The facilities here are incredible. Make anything you want from digital video to large structures of wood and steel. They can 3D print a car, for goodness sake.

Sliperiet will be the home of Music Tech Fest Scandinavia 2015.

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I don’t seem to have taken a lot of photos of the city centre here. Or any, actually. It’s very nice – and there are cafés, record stores, cinemas, supermarkets and all the other things you need to run a city. Traffic is no problem whatsoever. There are even cycle lanes.

But there’s also an awful lot of nature here in Sweden. Bears, moose, reindeer, frogs, squirrels, and birds of many shapes and sizes. And it tends to be those things that I’ve been pointing my camera at. After all, this is not the sort of thing you see every day in Kings Heath, Birmingham.

More noticeably, from a nature perspective, Sweden appears to be basically a series of lakes and fjords loosely held together by pine forests. A trip on the Wilderness Way is strongly recommended if you get over this way. In fact, make a point of it.

Hiking’s a big thing here. So is fishing. Cycling, golf and hunting also seem to feature heavily on the ‘going outside’ agenda.

Swedes appear to like being outside rather a lot. I thought it might have been something to do with the fact that up here near the Arctic Circle, any bit of sunshine would be welcomed as an opportunity to leave the house, but apparently the whole going out into nature thing is a year-round experience. Even when it’s minus 30 outside. Those activities that require the surrounding area to be entirely frozen are also very popular.

I heard that the year-round average temperature here is 3 degrees. That’s not very warm. And yet, my experience here has been sunshine and temperatures in the mid to high 20s. One day, it reached over 30. I’m okay with that.

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And of course – from a sightseeing perspective, what you can see when the sun does come out is worth seeing.

Imagine, for instance, visiting Niagra falls, and being the only person there. That’s a bit what going to Hällsingsåfallet is like.

Imagine going swimming where the beach is in one country and the water in another. Did that a couple of days ago.

Imagine taking a stroll through a mature pine forest from the banks of a fjord to the edge of a lake just to get from your own house to have a cup of coffee at your friend’s house. That’s where I’m at right now. And I’m less than 15 minutes from the city centre.

Imagine sitting and writing a blog post at 10:30pm as the sun slowly starts to set outside. That’s what I’m doing.

I like it because it’s not what I’m used to. I like it because despite all of the work and the stress going on right now for all sorts of reasons – it feels like a holiday. I like the people and I like the place. I like the innovation, I like the optimism and I like the ambition here. I like the food, the attitude and just how damned civilised it all is here.

I love the forests and I love the lakes. Those are really special. I’m out of here after the weekend – but I’m definitely coming back. This is a magical place. Can’t wait to see it buried in snow.