Arguing for the Positives of Social Media

Scanning Freshly Pressed over the past few days, I have found a clear trend in articles on social media and social technologies. Roughly two thirds tend to focus on social media for business, which is great. Online media is an incredibly important thing for companies and professionals of every type to keep up with and use. But what about social media for, well, socialising? The other articles seem to be overwhelmingly against new media, warning of the dangers of Facebook and twitter to children, complaining that reliance on online communication is destroying our freedom, our creativity and society as a whole. I do find this slightly ironic, given the medium of the message.

Some of these blogs have great meaningful points, and some are more inconsequential, but nonetheless I think it’s time we started to stand up for the positive side of social media.

I’ve talked before about the creative culture of today’s Internet, and much of it has come about through the advantages of social networking. Over the past six months since I started using twitter regularly, I’ve come into contact with creative professionals from all over the country and beyond – so when I leave University I’ll be leaving with an in place network of contacts.

Even with the ones who I follow but haven’t spoken to, I can find out about their jobs, who they talk to, the events/conferences they go to and so get a better perspective and what it takes to get a job like theirs. Equally, I have a lot of twitter contacts in the same position as me, other university students and twitter gives us ways to exchange ideas, collaborations and help with the click of a button.

The downside of social media has always supposedly been the danger of showing an unsavoury side of yourself to the world and thus to potential employer. But what about the positive side that you could be showing? My online footprint shows far more about me than my brief, staid, two page CV ever could. It shows the articles on sound and media I’ve read, discussed and tweeted, the videos I’ve edited together, the music I’ve created. Even this blog is a big, big part of that. And if there are any digital skeletons in the closet, simply insuring that the good stuff rises to the top of the Google search rankings will fix this

Of course, plenty of people use social media purely for personal reasons – what about them? Well, there’s the obvious, you can keep in touch with people anywhere. Friends who may have moved away, family in other parts of the world, people you met once and would love to keep in touch with. But you can find friends online from anywhere in the world who may share your interests. This is often a sticking point in the debate – and the counter argument I’ve heard most frequently has been that having a friend you only communicate with via text is unhealthy, not a real friendship at all. So I challenge you to think back, what was the phenomenon of pen pals meant to be? Having a pen pal was meant to give young people someone else’s perspective on the world and the many people I’ve met and spoken to solely online have done that, with the added bonus of friendships growing organically, rather than organised by someone else.

I’ve never found that my heavy use of social media and online communications impacts badly on the rest of my social life. I’m not ‘cut off from the world around me’ when I’m standing at the tram stop on my phone internet, along with everyone else on my tram stop. Humans, we know, are social animals. We are never going to stop face to face socialising because it is a fundamental part of our species, our genetics. But social media gives us another way on top of that to communicate, which, honestly, is a great thing to have.

Now I won’t dispute that all of these arguments do have a downside, but my point is, we should never lose sight of the ways that social media has changed our world for the better and will continue to do so. I’m sure there are other and better reasons than mine out there, if you can think of any I’d love to hear them!

Getting back into Music making, and Trying something Completely Different

Prior to doing starting the MSc in Digital Media which led to this blog starting, I did an undergraduate degree in music, specialising in composition. Before University, I wrote orchestral music, and continued with this for a short while, but by second year I started getting involved in writing electroacoustic music (some of which you can find here.) Electroacoustics was great fun, but fairly niche. Then I graduated, moved back to Manchester and stopped composing altogether., putting all of that side in doing sound design, which I’ve blogged about before. Sound Design has been great, especially the foley side, but I found I missed the freedom of composition.

I made a New Year’s resolution to start writing music again, and even did some, but I’ve never written music without having other composers around so i felt I had no idea whether my work was any good or not, and eventually it was abandoned. So a few weeks ago I decided to try something completely different, making rhythm based electronic music and putting it out online for feedback.

As with every piece of music I make on the computer, I use Cubase 6.5. This is partly a familiarity thing, as Cubase was preferred over ProTools at Sheffield University, but also I feel it has a better workflow for composing. Though I’m definitely in Camp Steinberg, I do now think that Logic and ProTools are better in some ways for recording.

I’ve been referring to this music as electronic because I don’t know enough about this type of music to tell you what genre it should be in. In my teens I listened to a lot of metal and could tell you (with examples) the exact differences between metalcore, grindcore and hardcore, so I don’t want to incur the wrath of any particular group of fans by claiming to have composed in a genre I haven’t!

The first track I put together is this one, Nightlights was originally intended to be a song and I had a set of lyrics ready, but somehow it ended up going somewhere else. Nightlights was a last minute title choice as I was uploading it!

I’m not totally happy with the drum tracks in this, I listened to artists such as nervous_testpilot and Gareth Coker before doing this, and somehow their drums sound much more lively, it’s down to choosing better synths and doing more with them, so that will be the thing to work on. I’m calling this piece finished as a not bad first attempt and trying something new next

In the second track I made, I decided to try combining electroacoustic sounds with rhythm based synths from Cubase. This track went a bit crazy and I actually intend to go back and expand it as there are a lot of ideas but jumps too quickly from one to another. Plus upon relistening, that moment just before the middle section is way too bare.

So, if anyone reading this has any thoughts, feedback etc. do let me know, and don’t hold back. Seriously, I need criticism.

My eventual aim is to put these up on bandcamp for free, as royalty free music. I’d like to see my music used for something even if I get nothing from it. I’ve really enjoyed writing these and I’ve already started, though next week I’ll be going back to my roots and writing a piece for cello and piano. I’ve already got some ideas that I haven’t been able to record due to having builders in the house. Plus I’ll get to finish my Sound Design project and do some Voice over work for another project which I’ll have a blog post about soon!

YouTube – Youth Empowerment and New Media

I remember mentioning to a friend how a decade back, everyone wanted to be a rock star, and now everyone wants to be a YouTube star. That’s a sweeping generalisation, but it’s also somewhat true. Fame seems to be easily achievable on YouTube, so every where you look there are people filming stunts in parks, their pets, their kids, anything that might find some audience online. Often this behaviour is derided as a symptom of the X-Factor Generation – young people desperately seeking fame without being willing to work for it, but I’ve noticed something about many of the teenagers I’ve encountered online in forums etc. – many of them have YouTube channels, and are trying to create high quality content in their chosen field, be it vlogging, gaming, music etc. and to do it well enough to make a career from it.

Various video editing programmes are easily available, as well as endless tutorials – anyone can quickly learn to put a video together. Most people have good quality video cameras in their phones. But what is even more impressive in the channels I’ve seen is the clear understanding of branding. Many of these small channels have logos, intros and associated social media accounts. Groups of channels band together to make group vids and promote each other. There are communities devoted to helping each other get better at marketing themselves online, experience gained from watching and asking other YouTubers. They know they need to have a niche to get viewers, and many are frighteningly professional despite their age. This rise of YouTube as a community has in part propelled it’s rise as a viable alternative media platform.

What separates YouTube from traditional media is that everyone starts on a level platform. Much of the time, it seems like the people in the pages of celebrity magazines appear out of nowhere, primped, perfect and immediately famous. It seemed like fame could only be achieved with the backing of some media industry guru – a big producer, film director and/or a PR firm. So next to that, YouTube and the grassroots success of many of its biggest stars seems much more achievable. YouTube itself has encouraged this kind of alternate success, both through Network Partnerships, and also with it’s YouTube Studios, large recording/filming/editing studios based in London, Tokyo and Los Angeles which any monetised YouTube channel can apply to use. It’s unsurprising that many of YouTube biggest stars are pretty young, which again make them more appealing to those same teens and kids who want to make a career out of YouTube.

Plus some of those top channels have managed to do well outside of YouTube, such as in 2010 when the comedy channel ‘Fred’ made a feature length film based around the childish alter-ego of the channel’s owner, Lucas Cruikshank. Despite poor reviews the film apparently did well on American TV and spawned several sequels. Articles at the time suggested that this could be the start of a takeover of television by series based on the web. However, I don’t think that’s what YouTube are going for. But on October I attended a lecture run by Hugh Garry, where he explained that while YouTube want to take over from television, they don’t want to become television. Television is limited by numbers of channels, by time of broadcast, and mostly by established marketing models. YouTube is basically limitless – 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute. Plus, the owners of YouTube don’t decide what gets popular. That’s decided by the viewers, and channels rise and fall all the time. YouTube can simply encourage better quality footage without making any decisions which could damage popularity.

Basically, YouTube has been shaped by a culture of the young and creative who don’t want to be bound by the increasingly old-fashioned looking decisions and behaviour of television, and YouTube is in turn using that to shape a future where they get a cut of it, without wanting or needing to control what happens next.

(Useful Link – 100 most subscribed channels on YouTube)

Sound Design and Music (Starting Out)

A few weeks ago I made a blog post explaining the start of my Cbeebies advert project for University, which is currently quite close to being finished, so I have begun working on the sound design of the video.

Music

The first part of the soundtrack that I made was actually the music. I decided to record a basic track using just acoustic guitar and tabla, because I could quickly record these. I started out with a five chord sequence which continues throughout.

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After a few repetitions of the guitar sequence, the tabla comes in, in a fairly improvised manner. The tabla really takes over as the main instrument at this point as it’s pretty varied in tone.

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Both the guitar and the tabla were recorded using one of my trusty (and basically all purpose) Behringer C-1 microphones.

Sound

There is no dialogue in the film, instead I decided to give the animated characters squeaky noises to show that they are communicating with each other. The squeaks are actually me making stupid sounds into a microphone (again, using the C-1 with a pop screen) and I’m currently playing around with various processes to make it sound less obviously like a human voice.

Each of the scenes needs atmos(or ambiance). The video contains a montage of the characters travelling down various streets, so I went down to the nearest main road and used a H2N Zoom to record the sounds of traffic. I also went to the nearby park to try and record general ‘park sounds’ (people talking, running around, playing etc.) but between the wind (which is a big problem for any microphone or recorder, but is always really bad on a small recorder like the Zoom) the gardener with the leaf blower, and the suspicious looks from park wardens I didn’t get any decent recording at all. I did go back to my garden and record bird song, which will be a good bit of atmos.

There are a few spot effects needed, such as a bouncing ball. I recorded the sound of the ball bouncing on different services, both hard and soft, since the real sound of a ball bouncing on grass isn’t that impressive sounding!

This is a long way from being finished but I should be done with both this and the video itself in the next few weeks. I’ll be making a blog explaining the animation in the video, then eventually I’ll be posting both the video itself (once it’s been graded) and a making – of video (much like I did with the sound design project last year.)

Interlinked Communities – Creating virtual worlds through social interaction

Ever since I was old enough to use the Internet without parental help, I have been a member of various different online forums. I’ve been on forums dedicated to music, books, roleplaying and gaming. Each one of those forums had a very different fan base, but interactions between communities were often very similar

For example, the Roleplaying site which I was a member of when I was fourteen or so, which was dedicated to the setting of a series of fantasy books. There were other forums dedicated to the same setting, and many users would be members of several, using the same character or characters. Over time, these interlinked sites became a sort of world in their own right, where one site would be referred to on another site as were another place within the same virtual world, which of course in a sense they were. Various ‘factions’ of characters would also have their own forums, which I’ve referred to on the picture above as ‘special interest groups.’

Through these sites, people will typically carry the same or similar username, avatar and post signature through the different sites, so that they can easily connect with friends and form a more complete online identity, even if it is a completely anonymous, online only one. Some people might choose to reveal more of their ‘real’ self, but this often depends on the community as a whole and whether it’s considered normal to do this.

The most interesting sites come from those dedicated to micro celebrities since part of their popularity is in connecting closely with fans. Often those fans are engaged in the same kind of activities that they are (music, vlogging etc.) or have been inspired to do so, and may go on to find their own fame and fanbase by posting their work on the main site. Many would then go on to found the ‘splinter communities’ which would take on their own identity and have their own core group of users but keep close ties to the main site/forum. Forums for YouTube stars etc. usually also have ‘special interest groups’ too, for activities such as fan art and fan fiction. In many cases, these groups don’t have sites of their own, but instead might use tumblr groups, Deviantart groups or software such as Skype, Vent, or even game servers to keep in touch.

Over time, I have found that these interconnected sites work best when they are created and run by the fans, rather than by an official agency. I have also been an active member of forums devoted to bands. Most larger band websites have a community aspect with a built in forum, and these can be thriving sites but I often found them to be isolated communities, with no outlet to engage with other forums.

I find myself viewing communities like this as if they are real places, towns and villages which people can ‘live in’ and ‘travel between.’ Most users tend to have a main forum which they identify with, but choose to use others, and may move from one site to another over time. The ‘services’ such as Voice Chat and IRCs are public meeting places within those towns where one might go to meet new people or hang out with friends.

Please note, with all of these sites I would love to provide examples, but that would not be terribly fair on the people involved, who are just enjoying themselves online and didn’t ask or expect to be studied in this way. In fact, one of the sites which inspired this post, a ‘slashfic’ site (a type of fanfiction which is usually pornographic or explicit in some way) have a notice specifically asking that visitors don’t draw attention to them in any way, since none of them wish to be accidentally publicly identified.