Jan 28 2013

The End Of An Era? Goodbye To HMV…

This afternoon I did what I quite often do on a day off and headed into my local town centre in Windsor for a wander. I generally do this a couple of times a week. I go for coffee, do the food shopping. And I always have a look in HMV.

Not today though. Because it has gone. I posted this photo on Twitter and it caused quite a reaction…

HMV Windsor

Now I wasn’t particularly surprised at the stir this caused considering who I follow on Twitter and who follows me. There are a lot of independent musicians and fans of independent music who may well have little need of such a chain and probably haven’t visited a branch of HMV for years. But HMV has been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember, so I thought I’d drop a quick post here partly to say goodbye and partly so you can share your thoughts too.

When I was learning music as a kid I dreamt of the day when I could walk into a big record store and find something that I was on. Sad but true. Now (well, until today anyway) I can walk into pretty much any branch of HMV and find at least one record that I’m on somewhere. Which is a great feeling. And I don’t get that feeling when it shows up on iTunes; even for my own records.

HMV Vintage Poster

But this is by the by. Obviously the massive shift in the music industry and the change in the way that people buy their music has had a huge effect on the high street. Richard Branson shut down his Virgin Megastores years ago. He saw it coming. They were largely bought up by the European firm Zavvi, which lasted all of five minutes. Fopp (my record store of choice) went bust when they tried to expand and got partially rescued by HMV. So they are doomed too which is a bloody shame as they were possibly the best high street music retailer (even after the HMV takeover) for both commercial and more esoteric music.

We can all see where HMV got it wrong. They failed to keep up with online trends, sporting one of the shoddiest websites around. They failed to compete with online giants like Amazon and play.com and lost out. Perhaps high street record stores were always doomed to vanish the minute music consumption shifted to digital from physical media (even given the supposedly renewed trend for vinyl). But I really thought that there was room for at least one big chain to survive on the high street. And HMV was the last man standing.

Vintage HMV Advert

I suspect that many of you reading this will probably say you buy your music (whether physical or digital) almost exclusively online anyway and won’t be sad to see HMV disappear from our high streets, citing it’s out-moded business models and pricing policies. And you’re probably correct. But I will miss browsing around the stores and finding little gems. I buy a lot of CDs folks, and I buy them in shops. I like to see what’s just come out in the new releases, see what’s on offer. I’ve bought a few albums having heard them playing in Fopp. I’ve even bought a couple of albums because (sharp intake of breath!) I like the cover. Yes indeed. I am particularly good at that it turns out. I like to happen upon things in Fopp and occasionally take a chance on something I’ve never heard of if it’s a bargain. I’ve never done that on Amazon.

I do also buy a lot of music digitally, either via Bandcamp or iTunes (yes I still use iTunes!). I like having the choice. If it’s an album by someone I love, I will buy the CD. I’ll always be first in the queue at Fopp when a new album comes out by someone like Bjork, Antony & The Johnsons or Sigur Ros. But I want to go to a shop. If I have to order it online I will most likely buy the download. It’s cheaper and it doesn’t take up valuable shelf space!

I know this blog post probably makes me sound very old-fashioned and over-nostalgic, but I really will miss record stores. And yes, I know there are still some independent record stores out there, but they are few and far between and even fewer stock anything I’d be interested in at a sensible price. HMV often did. And Fopp always did.

The same argument applies to DVDs too. I often pop into HMV and pick a cheap film to watch later in the evening. Can’t do that anymore. In fact as I walked through Windsor this afternoon the thought occurred that there is now not a single shop that sells music or films. Not one. And I’m sure mine isn’t the only town centre where this is now the case. @PintoDexter commented saying there are no dedicated camera shops on the high street since the demise of Jessops earlier this month, but at least you can buy camera gear in other electronic stores. You’d be hard pushed to go out and buy a CD or grab a film to watch tonight…

So tell me; will you be sad to see Fopp and HMV go? Am I really the only one? Do you think this will have any knock-on effect on the music/film industries? Do post your comments below…

This Store Is Closed: HMV

Jan 15 2013

Instagram: Why I’m Sticking Around…

Over the last few weeks a lot of people have been talking about leaving Instagram in the wake of their recent changes in Terms and Conditions. A few of the people I follow have obviously deleted their accounts and some friends are certainly planning on doing so in the near future. I’m sticking around. Here’s why…

Instagram Logo

For those of you unfamiliar with the service, Instagram is a social network based around a mobile application (initially on iPhone but more recently on other mobile platforms). It allows users to share their photos on Instagram and across several other social networks at once (including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr) and hosts a vast online community of mobile photographers. Many users when they first come to the application see it as an easy way to edit their photos with it’s range of custom filters, borders and tilt-shift type  functions and you can certainly get some great results using it’s basic edit suite.

As many of you know I am  big fan of mobile photography. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you will no doubt be aware of the umpteen photo posts in any given week, all of which would have been shot and/or edited on my iPhone. In fact, the last four albums I put out (including [un]plugged and the new trio record Foreground Music Volume I) have had their cover art created entirely on my iPhone. A lot of the techniques I use have been learnt from Instagram. It is a fantastic resource for mobile photographers. With the plethora of applications available it is great to be able to see how other mobile photographers create and edit their shots and the ability to search Instagram via tags can be incredibly useful. Instagram-based groups such as JUXT and AMPt provide great tutorials and interviews with mobile photographers (professional and amateur) as well as providing curated feeds showcasing some of the best work on the network. Both of those groups now have their own dedicated sites.

Juxt Logo

I have learnt so much about mobile photography and photo editing from my time on Instagram. I don’t feel this would be possible on any other one social network. Rival networks such as Flickr and Tumblr simply don’t have the same sense of community.

The crunch came when Instagram was bought up by Facebook in September last year. In December they released a new set of terms and conditions which, to be fair, could very easily be read to mean that Facebook had the right to sell your photos. It prompted headlines such as this in the Guardian:

Facebook forces Instagram users to allow it to sell their uploaded photos

After the obvious backlash and droves of users quitting the network, Instagram revised the published terms and privacy policy to clarify the situation and take into account users feedback. Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom issued this blog post about the revised terms. The way I see it, the new privacy policy and T&C’s are no different to those of it’s now parent company Facebook. If I post any image online it is essentially public wherever it’s is posted. Whether Facebook, any other site or individual uses one of my images (which I find most unlikely to be perfectly frank) is pretty much beyond my control anyway. There is nothing to stop me taking a screenshot of any image online and using it, apart from the obvious copyright implications. Facebook already uses your profile picture in targeted adverts (ie; “Your friend Simon Little is using Instagram; why not give it a try?”) and they will supposedly/presumably be using Instagram images in a similar manner. Whatever…

Dylan Tweney recently wrote an excellent blog post about how to take back control of your social networks. Virtually all the social networks have very similar privacy policies and terms. Facebook pages have become rather elusive now unless you pay to ‘promote’ your posts. Who can and can’t see what you post is very much under their control and we become ever more reliant on fans and  followers sharing news items to their friends if we want them to be seen. Good old-fashionned bloggery is the way froward boys and girls. This is probably warranting another post of it’s own…

The only preserve of the actual users of any social network is the sense of community that only they can maintain. There is a fantastic and supportive community on Instagram that I would sorely miss if I were to quit. Just as I would miss it if I were to quit Twitter (Heaven Forbid!). I have learnt so much from this community and I learn new things every day. This is why I am sticking around thanks very much…

If you are an Instagram user, come and say hello! I am @simonlittlebass over there. If you’re not but would like to see my gallery, you can do this via the marvellous Statigram, which is a handy web interface for viewing Instagram shots if you’re not a registered user (or even if you are!). I shall leave you with a little gallery of recent shots. Until next time 😉 x

Jul 25 2012

The Olympic Games Lanes Games

Hello folks,

Let’s face it. You all knew this post was coming. The inevitable travel-based rant about the London 2012 Olympics is officially posted today. I’m writing it now as as many of you know the dreaded Olympic lanes have come into force this morning and I have a gig in Soho tonight so you may never hear from me again.

 For those of you unfamiliar with the Olympic lanes, allow me to explain. TFL in their infinite ignorance have allowed over 30 miles  of our already congested roads to have little rings painted all over them which mean that only official Olympic vehicles can travel in them when they are in force. The main issue is nobody really knows when they are indeed in force. I’ve already witnessed some appalling driving over the last few days as people veer back and forth between lanes not sure whether they’re about to incur a whopping £130 fine or not. I have heard various stories from the Powers That Be as to when the lanes will be in force. Apparently they will only be active when Olympic vehicles are actually using them, but I will believe this when I see it. Frankly, it looks to me as if the majority of London motorists are too terrified to chance it.

And we are supposed to watch out for the little electronic signs to see whether the lanes are in force. Most of the signs I have seen merely direct drivers to look up the Get Ahead of The Games website or Twitter feed (!) for up to date information. I think once you are actually on the road it is rather irresponsible to direct drivers to get their phones out to see whether they are breaking the law or not.

I am already seeing news reports of travel chaos on our streets. The traffic light phasing has been drastically altered over the last few weeks to give priority to main routes (chiefly those with Olympic lanes) which has caused vast tailbacks throughout the capitol. And the road layout has also been meddled with to the point where nobody (including our black cab drivers) knows how the get about in a sensible fashion. I have also been informed that certain roads (including the Kingsway) have gone from having one normal lanes and a bus lane to simply a bus lane and an Olympic lane. So it is more than likely that you could find yourself unwittingly choosing between fines. I would suggest the bus lane in this instance as the fine is less…

It is insane for TFL to allow this to happen. I was not at all in favour of the games coming to London in the first place. The city is already too crowded and the transport network is unable to cope with passengers at the best of times. I know it’s only for a few weeks, but telling Londoners (the majority of whom couldn’t have got tickets for the games even if they wanted to) to avoid traveling in central London (by road OR public transport) during the games is simply not on. Nobody wants to drive through central London. I will have to make to journey a few times during the games to work with my bass and am not massively looking forward to the chaos. The majority of motorists in town during the day are there because they have to be for work. Londoners have paid on average £1200 each in additional taxes to pay for the games and now they will be contributing an extra £130 every time they mistakingly veer into the wrong lane. Not on I’m afraid.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Carmageddon!!!

See you on Twitter folks. Expect heavy use of my #traffictorture #sodtheolympics hashtags and the introduction of #carmageddon into the regular rantings.

That’s it. Rant over. See you at a gig soon. I’ll be the one who’s late…