Breathing in

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It’s been a strange and busy year… and we’re only in week two.

Of course, I’m determined not to be one of those “I’m so busy!” people, but I do rather a lot of things. Fortunately, most of them are very interesting things. Stuff I get to do, rather than stuff I have to do. And… not to put too fine a point on it, sometimes, my life is just plain weird.

But this is the blogger’s dilemma. The more things you do that are interesting or unusual, quite often the less opportunity and inclination you have to blog about them. I like this blog to be interesting, of course – but while it’s necessarily about me (it is, after all, a personal blog), I’d like it to be more about stuff that comes from me – out of my head – and not just a catalogue of stuff that happens to me.

There are some very good stories to tell, of course. There was that time I was sitting by an open fireplace in a farmhouse in Istria learning about photography from the editor of a food magazine. Or the time I was reluctant to go into a record shop, only to end up buying £1000 worth of vinyl for £5. Or that time Gerard Depardieu’s next door neighbour made me an eight course meal. Or when I stole a bottle of wine from the House of Commons while wearing Google Glass. All in the last few weeks…

But to be honest, I haven’t been in a storytelling frame of mind – and none of these stories have a particular point other than ‘hey, look how cool’ – which is not what I really want to be writing about. It might even be worth reading, but it doesn’t feel like it’s worth writing. They’re not necessarily the same thing. I mostly write because I enjoy it and I want to be better at the craft of it.


And now – on with the show

As part of my ongoing project to write every day here on this blog, I’ve been thinking about the sorts of things I should be writing about. And while “things I do and stuff I find interesting” is a fairly broad and forgiving brief for what you might like to think of as an online op-ed column, there is the small matter of readership to consider when what you’re essentially doing is just thinking out loud in a public forum.

But it seems to me that there are three main ways of writing in public, and the one that I’ve ended up selecting recently is not really the one that I wanted this blog to be about, so this is probably a good moment to recalibrate.

The three modes, as I see it, are:

1) Writing as catharsis;
2) Writing as credentials;
3) Writing as communication.

These three modes don’t necessarily describe the effect of the writing on the reader (what goes on in your head is entirely your business), but rather the intention of the writer to some extent or another.

When I started this blog – and in particular when I started New Music Strategies, I did have some ‘writing as credentials’ motivation. My intention was to demonstrate that I had something to contribute, and the fact that I took that approach has been very useful to me in my career and has led to some fascinating adventures and encounters, for which I’m very grateful.

That said, the more I got to know the people who read that stuff, the more the whole point of writing it became an attempt to be both helpful and interesting. Those were the two most common (and gratifying) pieces of feedback I was getting on New Music Strategies, regardless of whatever my self-interested intent may have been, and over time those became the two things I most admire and aspire to in the context of blogging: helpful and interesting.

And it’s at that point, that it becomes writing as communication: Let me tell you something you might find helpful. Let me show you something interesting.

I suspect for most readers, this blog been neither of those things recently. I make no apologies for that on the basis that it’s been helpful and interesting to me. Sometimes writing as catharsis is a useful thing to do.

But we now return you to your regularly scheduled programme. I’ll attempt to say things that are helpful (at least to some people, in small ways) and interesting (likewise). I’m limited with respect to the extent to which I can do those things given that I only have my own daily experience and reflection to draw on – but I’m going to take it as a challenge.

If you want my credentials, read my bio. If I want catharsis, I’ll put it in my journal. I certainly don’t guarantee to know what’s going to be helpful and interesting to you personally, but we’re switching back to the communication mode of intention now. Let’s see how that goes.

Taking my ball and going home


It turns out that everything I post on both this blog and my music blog gets automatically reposted on a site called The Brummie. Recently, I’ve been a frequent contributor, without even really realising it. I kind of have mixed feelings about that.

First, I think it’s great that there’s a website that brings together news and information from around Birmingham. Really. Potentially, that’s a very useful thing. I also think that having a hub that gives people pointers to a wide range of different bloggers from around the city is a really helpful thing to do and may even contribute to the overall sense of community among local writers and citizen journalists. Cool.

Unfortunately – that’s not actually what’s happening. As far as I can tell, The Brummie is merely scraping people’s web content without permission from their RSS feeds, re-presenting it as if the content was submitted voluntarily to their site.

I have three problems with that:

1) As a site that aggregates content, they have more ‘Google juice’ simply because of the sheer volume of words being published on their site. So if someone goes looking for something and it turns out I’ve written an article that may help, Google is more likely to point them to that article on their site rather than mine. That’s not a major problem, as they’re still going to be getting the same information, and there’s no commercial ramification to that. But it’s not ideal.

2) It looks like I have contributed willingly, which I would only do to a publication that I was very familiar with and felt comfortable submitting to. And that depends on everything else that appears on the site. I’m never going to write for the Daily Mail, and I don’t want to be part of a publication whose other contributors would happily consider it. Context is important to me. And so are things like presentation, layout and design. Simply reposting my words in a different environment imbues them with all sorts of unintended meaning.

3) When people comment on my posts on their site, they erroneously think they’re communicating directly with me. The only reason I know that there had been any discussion at all of a music post (let alone a message from the featured band themselves) was that Mark Blackstock who runs The Brummie was kind enough to let me know in an email.

I’m giving the benefit of the doubt when it comes to intention here. There’s no sense that Mark and his team (if such a team exists) are doing anything designed to be exploitative. And he’s keeping within the rules (strictly speaking) of the Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial Licence that applies to everything on my website. He’s not doing anything wrong.

And all the same, I have asked him if I could please opt out for the reasons cited above. Of course, it would have been nice to be asked, but I probably would have expressed a preference not to be included – while fully admitting that there is nothing to prevent him from going ahead anyway.

The moment there’s a revenue stream derived from that site, then it falls foul of the licensing conditions for my work. But even though it plays within the boundaries of what’s permissible with my writing, it does so in a way that detracts without adding anything, which is more a problem in terms of the spirit of the deal.

I don’t know whether my site will be removed from The Brummie. I’m not going to do anything further about it either way. I’ve asked nicely, and I hope that Mark will respect that and let me bow out. I may be taking my ball and going home, but I’m not going to make a fuss.

If not, and you’re reading this on The Brummie, any of its affiliated websites, or some other website that has simply scraped my content off the RSS feed and presented it as if it had my consent, then I encourage you to head to the actual source of this post:

Landmark blog post

This week, it’s been ten years since I started blogging. Lots of people I know have been blogging for at least that long – but when it actually happens to you, it’s nice to pause and think about what that means.

As I recall, I was teaching a 3rd year radio class at AUT, and had asked Russell Brown along as a guest speaker. He mentioned that he had started blogging and was, if I remember correctly, just about to stop doing his ‘Hard News’ segment on the wireless to devote his attention to Public Address, which means that’s ten years old too.

My first blog post was about the voluntary music targets for radio stations in New Zealand. The Minister of Broadcasting at the time was Marian Hobbs (not to be confused with a certain UK DJ) and she was in the process of negotiating herself into a corner with respect to kiwi music.

A lot’s happened since then – some of it good – and some of it not so good. That’s can be another blog post some other time. But plus ça change and all that, yeah?


Indulging my enthusiasms

I’ve been running a music blog called .com/music for a while now. It started life late last year as just a semi-private thing between me and my friends and colleagues – a way for me to process, bookmark and recommend all of the great music I was discovering on Bandcamp while writing reviews there.

Along the way, I’ve started to get into a routine with it, and I have posted there every day this year so far, and plan to continue to do so as much as possible for the foreseeable future.

But a few things have changed – including the way in which recommendations work on the Bandcamp website (interesting stuff happening there soon now: check the ‘Staff Picks’), and so I’m no longer writing lengthy ‘Album of the Week’ reviews, though I am still going to be heavily involved in the recommendation and discovery process there.

So I thought I’d make my music blog a bit more public, send the recommendations out beyond my own circle of friends, and also use it as a way of soliciting further recommendations.


Back into the swing

In my happy place

I was at the Hare and Hounds this afternoon for my regular weekly Sunday jazz session. It was nice to just focus on classic jazz this week. Recently, I’ve been playing a lot of bossa nova and some more 70s funk and soul material, but this time, it was pretty straight down the line.

A quiet one though. Lots of other stuff was going on in Birmingham today, what with the St Patrick’s Day parade (biggest in Europe, apparently) and a foodie event called Popstrami – so I had a bit of space to just sit and think about things while I played 7 and 8-minute tunes to a handful of punters.

It gave me a chance to go through all the projects I’m working on and think about where I’m up to with all of them. It made me realise just how much writing I have to do over the next month, but at least now I know exactly what has to happen next for each… even if the sheer amount of work is a bit overwhelming.

But despite all that writing I need to do – one of the other outcomes of that bit of quiet reflection this afternoon is that I’m aiming to blog a bit more over the next little while. I feel like this is something that I’ve let slide a little bit recently, so I’m keen to get more up online. Besides, there’s some interesting stuff coming up.

So the purpose of this post is really just to get back into the swing of blogging. I’ve noticed quite a few people I know have sort of fizzled out on that front over the past few months, and I’m keen not to succumb to the inertia.