Break on through to the other side

It’s been a little while.

Right now I’m in Paris. Tomorrow evening, we kick off Music Tech Fest for the last time this year. It’s almost 3:30am and I’m waiting for someone to arrive on a delayed Eurostar train from London. I can then let him into the apartment and then I can go to sleep.

I’m exhausted – perhaps more than I ever have been before – but I still have four days to get through before we’re done. Four more days and it’s all over. As much as I love this festival, I’m ready for a proper break.

The plan is to spend a bit of time recovering, make it to December and then the thinking and the writing can start again. I have a lot to say and a lot of things to report. Certainly, a great deal has changed and I also owe someone a book chapter or two.

For now, I’m just determined to put these few words together and get them out into the world as a way of breaking through the ice. Then the thoughts can flow.

I’m looking forward to being back.

New HQ


It’s Saturday, but I’m in the office catching up with a bit of email. And when I say ‘in the office’ – I mean the new office in Sweden.

It’s a great space inside Sliperiet, the brand spanking new interdisciplinary centre situated within Umeå University.

It’s all open plan, which is really great for serendipitous conversations and potential collaborations – and I’m right next to the Swedish Interactive Institute. We’re planning to do some cool stuff together. More about that soon.

I don’t actually have a job with the university just yet – that side of things is still being worked out. Probably just as well for the moment. I have enough to do as it is running three upcoming Music Tech Fest events before Christmas (Berlin, Paris and New York). I’ve kept my job at BCU part time and will be supervising PhDs, doing research and so on. I’m also writing a couple of book chapters and speaking at some events in a couple of different places.

It’s all a little sudden, I guess. I had to move out of my place in Birmingham. The landlord was selling up. I was determined to move to Sweden anyway – and while it might have been more conventionally sensible to organise things so that all the contracts were in place, it just didn’t make sense to wait because that would have meant moving house twice – and nobody wants to do that. So here I am, ready or not.

All my stuff is in storage, I’m sleeping on a sofa at the home of some friends (neither of whom are Swedish), trying to sort out everything you need to sort out when you go somewhere different – and just doing what I can to keep up with what’s going on in the inbox.

Meanwhile, it’s astonishingly beautiful here, everyone is really amazing (not just lovely – I spend my days being genuinely amazed at the sheer concentration of brilliance and creativity here), and it’s an exciting place to be. Though it is starting to get a little chilly…

If anyone needs me, that’s where I’ll be.

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.