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

Nov 9 2010

It’s All About Bandcamp…

Well we all knew this blog post was coming…

In the run-up to releasing Mandala I spent a lot of time investigating the various channels I could employ to sell the album online. There are myriad ways to get your music onto iTunes, Amazon MP3, and eMusic etc and equally as many routes to selling physical packages online too. But here’s the catch; they all cost you money to set up and you have no control over pricing, availability or branding. Services like Tunecore will put your music onto a variety of digital stores, as well as streaming services like Spotify for an annual fee of $49.99 per album. Reverb Nation now also offers a variety of digital distribution packages ranging between $35-60 per year, per ‘release’ (ie; single, album, EP), but has no options for selling physical CDs and seems mainly aimed at the US market.

Enter Bandcamp!!

Bandcamp is a website that enables a band/artist to easily distribute their music directly to the public, both digitally and physically. It is well worth reading their excellent blog to keep up to date with all the new features they regularly add to the service. It is one of the best new sites to have sprung up over the last few years to embrace the changes in the music industry and the way artists engage with their audience.

Some benefits for artists/bands:

  • Easy to set up. You can have your album on sale within 30 minutes..
  • Integrates with existing website via custom urls, custom headers, design etc
  • Fans can stream the music in it’s entirety, unlike the dreaded 30 second previews of iTunes etc.
  • Offer high-quality downloads in a variety of formats. Also offers the possibility of including an instant download with physical packages
  • Excellent sharing options to place widgets and links on other sites
  • Various pricing options including ‘pay what you want’, set pricing and everything in between. Plus the facility to generate free download codes for promotion etc
  • Receive payments instantly via PayPal
  • Bandcamp only takes 15% commission on sales and has no annual fees

and some benefits for fans/listeners:

  • Listen to full tracks/albums online, so you can try before you buy
  • Know that you are supporting the artists directly when you buy the music (and not Steve Jobs)
  • Easy to share your discoveries via Facebook, Twitter, embeddable widgets/music players
  • Download music in various high-quality formats (MP3, FLAC etc)

I have been a big supporter of Bandcamp since it first started up. I know as a listener I am far more likely to buy an album download from Bandcamp than any other digital store; mainly due to the superior quality of the downloaded files and because I want to directly support the artist when I buy their music. I know of several people that sell their music on iTunes and see a surprisingly small return from sales. Bandcamp is a great resource for independent music.

Over the last few weeks I have noticed more and more artists turning to Bandcamp to sell their music. I have turned several of my friends onto the site this month. Most recently the fantastic pianist Janette Mason has uploaded both her solo albums for download. I also convinced my good friend Steve Alexander to offer his excellent Isometric album on Bandcamp. Artists like Zoe Keating and Steve Lawson have been selling their music through the site for quite some time now, with great success. Both have made use of the ‘pay what you want’ model to some degree, which allows fans to name their own price and pay what they think the music is worth (with or without a lower limit).

This is the pricing model I have opted for with Mandala. At the moment, the digital version is £5 (or more) and the physical CD is priced at £10 (or more). This enables people to pay a little more if they would like to show some extra support for the project and indeed any future projects. I have found that most people do add a little extra than the minimum price, especially for the download. I know that both Steve and Zoe have had fans pay upwards of $100 for albums downloads as a show of support for their music.

Just saying, you know…

Incidentally, Bandcamp have just added Facebook ‘Like’ buttons to their pages, which is by far the easiest and quickest way to share your favourite albums with your friends right now. Please do take a moment to scoot over to my Bandcamp page and click the ‘Like’ button under the album artwork. Even if you’ve already bought it; every little helps in spreading the word! You may have also noticed that I have added my own little ‘Like’ button to this very site recently (it’s at the top of the sidebar on the right), which will magically add you to the small but perfectly formed gang on my Facebook page if you are that way inclined…

So what have you discovered via Bandcamp recently? I’ve downloaded a few corkers recently. Here’s a few recommendations (in no particular order)

Until next time, here’s one of their lovely widgets so you can stream the solo album whilst having a look around. This is the Grande version, in case you were wondering…

Nov 1 2010

MySpace? Who’s Space??

Well it’s been a strange couple of weeks for me and my ongoing struggle with the big pile of silly nonsense that MySpace has become…

As many of you may already know it was unofficially Quit MySpace Day on October 24th. I believe this was initiated by Andrew Dubber on the wonderful New Music Strategies site; the basic premise being that MySpace was now nothing more than a spam-riddled, exploitative advertising tool for Rupert Murdoch et al and the time has now come for musicians and bands to simply close down their account en masse. Steve Lawson has also been blogging on the subject today, having been quoted in yesterday’s Observer about the recent MySpace redesign and his experience with the site over the years.

I’ve posted various rants over the years concerning MySpace. When I first started putting my stuff online, MySpace was the place to go first. For many, myself included, it was a virtual shop window to showcase our work as musicians with it’s simple music player, embedded videos and photo galleries. Over the years MySpace really has struggled to keep up with the changing face of social media; mainly due to it’s dreadful corporate shenanigans since the Murdoch takeover in 2005.

Since then, MySpace has become less about us and so much more about them. I’ve already blogged extensively about why I cannot stand MySpace these days. So when Quit MySpace Day came along, I had to think long and hard about whether to delete my account or not…

I didn’t. No folks, I wimped out entirely.

I did however switch over to the new ‘redesigned’ MySpace profile which seems, to be frank, to have proved as good as deleting the account. I spent a lot of time over the years maintaining my old trusty MySpace page; uploading interesting photos, keeping my gig list up to date etc. The new interface couldn’t be worse (just when you thought the old interface couldn’t get any worse!) and the corporate branding has reached new heights of encroachment. My ‘redesigned’ MySpace is now just a collection of Reverb Nation widgets, links to this site and MySpace advertising space. The intention being that nobody could possibly bear to spend more than 30 seconds looking at it before moving on; ideally here.

But here’s the thing: I can’t bear to ditch MySpace entirely. I still see it, however unwisely, as an essential part of my online presence as a musician. I know for a fact that a large number of people still use MySpace as a first port of call when investigating new music and artists. It’s where they go to have a quick listen to a track or two, maybe to see where the act is playing next. MySpace (alongside YouTube of course) is still a huge part of many people’s online discovery process, and as a result I feel the need to be a token part of it. I might hate it, but at least I’m still showing my face and able to point people in a more sensible and worthwhile direction.

So what do you think?

How do you find out about new and emerging artists? And how do you listen to new music online? Are you getting into Soundcloud, Reverb Nation and Bandcamp? Maybe you are still a little bit obsessed with Last.fm, like me?

Let me know. But don’t send me a message on MySpace. I don’t know how to open them anymore…