Where Have I Been?

Yesterday a coworker asked me for advice about starting a blog. I told him that it’s easy to get blocked because you want to find the perfect topic to write about; you want to kick off your venture with something insightful, provocative, and illustrative of your own expertise. I told him to forget all that—the best way to start a blog is to just start.

I clearly need to take my own advice. It’s been a freakishly long time since I’ve written here, and even though I’ve posted a smattering of things for other sites, I’ve essentially been MIA from the blogging world. But don’t worry—I haven’t exactly been twiddling my thumbs.

What have I been up to? Well, the company I worked for was acquired by LinkedIn back in April. I’m now an editor working on the company’s content branch, LinkedIn Today. This includes the Influencer program, where luminaries like Richard Branson, Barack Obama, Jack Welch, and many more share their thoughts on our platform. I help with all things editorial and also tweet over at @LinkedInToday. Come say hello.

I’d be lying if I said working for a 4300-person corporation didn’t terrify me at first; coming from the start-up world (Pulse was my previous largest company at a whopping 25 employees), the prospect of a Real Company like LinkedIn was intimidating. But I’ve found that my team operates very much like a start-up—or, more accurately, a newsroom. I work with amazing folks who cut their teeth at publications like Fortune, Wired, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, and the AP. As one of the team’s only non-journalists, I’m getting a crash course in the state of modern content. I’m learning about ledes and heds and higher ed and the Fed taper and all sorts of things I hadn’t contemplated much since college. I’ve been mired in this music world for so long, I’d almost forgotten that most people don’t get their news from Pitchfork or Consequence of Sound.

With that in mind, I’m not sure what’s next for this blog. What was once a catalog of all the folky goodness I’d discovered on the web has now become a ghost town. I want to get back into the swing of blogging, but my focus is going to be a bit broader than the latest quartet coming out of Brighton. My new gig has given me a lot of food for thought, and I need a place for the feast.

Expect more from Red. It’s been a while since I’ve been here, but it’s nice to be back.

Guest Post: Adam Sharp’s Top 5 Artists of 2013

I’m a big fan of Adam Sharp‘s Songs for the Day, a blog that surfaces amazing talent literally every. single. day. (Needless to say, he’s a more diligent blogger than I am.) I asked him to compile some of the artists he bets will break this year—or, at the very least, will make 2013 sound pretty darn pleasant. Read on to hear more…

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Below are 5 artists you may or may not know already, but who will all be, by my estimation, heavily involved in the soundtrack to your life in the coming year. Let’s see what your year is going to sound like, shall we?

Shakey Graves

Alejandro Rose-Garcia doesn’t make music that sounds like the stuff other folks are making. Not many people are rolling around the back roads playing their guitar and briefcase drum set while singing about things like gunslingers, women, convicts, booze and wary roaming (sometimes all in one tune). The music of Shakey Graves is at once fresh, familiar, unique and memorable, full of deep truths and wisdom under its cowboy exterior.

Night Beds

There aren’t a lot of artists that would dare start their debut full-length album with an a capella tune, but then again Winston Yellen isn’t most artists. In Country Sleep, the debut album from Night Beds, Yellen has created a stunningly personal, vulnerable and brave piece of work from beginning to end. It’s an album that packs quite the painful punch under the surface of its uniquely gorgeous arrangements, Yellen’s tales of lost love, loneliness, pain and depression always lurking below the strums and strings, armed and ready to reach up and shake you.

Pickwick

Led by the powerhouse vocals of Galen Disston, Pickwick makes the kind of music that will simultaneously stop you dead in your tracks and force you to dance when it starts coming through your speakers. Combining equal parts soul, indie rock and psychedelic rock, this Seattle sextet is producing some of my favorite music being made today. Get your weird dancing shoes ready, kids- when Pickwick blows through town you’re gonna want to be there, and you’re surely going need said shoes.

Daughter

You could use a lot of words to describe the music that Daughter makes (I know, I’ve used most of them), but the only one you truly need is ‘haunting’. The dark stories of love, loss and alienation being woven in Elena Torna’s songs are haunting. The arrangements that build and burst throughout are haunting. And Torna’s voice, sometimes confident and strong, other times frail and apprehensive, is haunting. Daughter makes music that sticks with you long after the notes fade away.

Noah Gundersen

There are two versions of Noah Gundersen: the one on tape and the one who plays live. There’s the songwriter just realizing his potential, penning stunning songs full of words that cut deep and raising questions that need answers. Then there’s the performer, the one who, with his sister Abby at his side, possesses a power that hushes a crowd from first note to last. You need both of versions of Noah Gundersen in your life in 2013.

Communion launches new show on Xfm

Communion further expands its reach with a new weekly show on Xfm, Communion Presents. Hosted by all-around rad dude Maz Tappuni, the show launches today and takes place Sundays at 10pm. The inaugural episode (which you can hear here) features music by Deap Vally, Frightened Rabbit, The Staves, Public Enemy (obviously), and more. And, as all good radio shows do these days, Communion Presents has its own psychic: Mr. Kev Jones.

In other news, Communion band To Kill a King have released a new video for ‘Cold Skin’, the single from upcoming debut LP Cannibals With Cutlery. I’m not sure I totally ‘get’ the film, but watch it for yourself and analyze away. There’s a bit of a Waiting for Godot-meets-Lord of the Flies vibe, if you ask me.

Updates

I said I’d blog more about my life, so here goes:

I’m getting more in the groove of things at Pulse, and even though I’m still working like a fiend, it’s nice to be making some headway. I’m fleshing out our blog, and in the past two weeks have interviewed The 405, Saveur, and VICE. Getting the ball rolling!

Screen Shot 2012-12-22 at 5.50.45 PM

I made these Nutella buns from the Saveur post. Mmmmm.

I saw Alt-J at Bottom of the Hill a couple weeks ago, and realized it was the first gig I’d gone to in almost two months. TWO MONTHS. Crazytown, right?! The show was great, and not just because the Mercury Prize winners are absolute geniuses: it turns out I’d really missed the live music fire-in-your-belly, and because I saw the early set, I was in bed by 10:30. I call that an old lady win-win.

After the show, my friend and I discussed a) how on earth you can accurately classify Alt-J (does ‘art rock’ really cut it?), and b) how soon their triangle hand gesture will become a meme/Instagram competition. Feel free to share your opinions on these urgent topics in the comments or on Twitter, as all I’m talking about currently is sleeping, the apocalypse, and baked goods. Save me from myself.

I realize I forgot to share a true highlight of the year with you all: I interviewed Laura Marling. I owe the delightful folks at Mxdwn my hearty thanks, as they allowed me to geek out with one of my musical idols. See the full interview here. She has a new album coming up, about which she says: “I’m really happy with it, I’m proud of it, but I think I can say that it will be a challenge to listen to.” Challenge: accepted.

A few of the things I’ve been listening to this week:
Capital Cities – Caught these guys at Mezzanine a few months ago, haven’t looked back. Their disco-pop is addicting.
To Kill a King – Loved this London band for a while, and their LP will be out in February. Check out recent EP Word of Mouth.
Dry the River – Just released an acoustic version of LP Shallow Bed! Intense hits like ‘New Ceremony’ have a totally different feel.
Papa – still loving their recent new single, ‘Put Me To Work’, which is a bit more amped up than their A Good Woman Is Hard To Find EP. Listen here.
The aforementioned Alt-J. Bonus: ‘Matilda’ quotes Johnny Flynn.
Patch and the Giant – A Folkroom find. If you want to be transported to a 16th century English pub, check out this band’s drinking-song vibes.
Haim – Just one word for new single/B-side ‘Don’t Save Me’/’Send Me Down’: obsessed.

Folkdates

By ‘Folkdates’ I wish I meant ‘dates in which folk music was discussed and/or heard’ (I’m looking at you, Charlie Fink doppelgänger in the corner), but in this context I mean updates. Folk updates. Get it? Thankfully, the winter season seems to bring out the best in acoustic music; I guess it’s natural for folkies to get in the Christmas spirit, but there’s plenty of non-seasonal folk popping up as well, like Three Blind Wolves‘ new single ‘Parade’ on Spinner. Anyway, onto the updates:

Anyone who’s ever met me has probably heard about Folkroom, the label/folk night that showcases an increasingly wide variety of artists from ye olde Londontown. I visited one of their nights at The Queen’s Head when I visited London last year, and co-founder Stephen Thomas even wrote me a guest post a while back. I’m a fan.

For the holiday season, Folkroom artist Lucy Cait has been running an advent calendar on her new website, lucycait.com. From giveaways to gingerbread recipes to new songs, these treats are way better than the usual advent offering of stale chocolates. Lucy’s music is the gift that keeps on giving, and she seems to have quite a bit up her sleeves for 2013.

My past few Christmases have been accompanied by the excellent For Folk’s Sake It’s Christmas albums, and this year is no exception. The latest version features some of my favorite up-and-coming UK folksters: Ellen and the Escapades, Tom Williams, Gerard & the Watchmen, Feldspar, Admiral Fallow, Gibson Bull, Stylusboy, and more.

Feldspar doesn’t just cover one of my favorite Christmas songs on the FFS album (‘In the Bleak Midwinter’), they’ve also released a video for awesome original track ‘The Flat and Paper Sky’. Watch the video below, and catch them at my all-time favorite London pub, The Old Queen’s Head, on January 16th.

Props to the old lady getting inked in the church.

To start, an update.

As I mentioned in my last post, I recently started working for Pulse, a beautiful news reader app for iPhone, iPad, Android, and web. As soon as I heard about the job I started thinking about the myriad of possibilities for social content, and that was Sign #1 that it was the right step for me. I’ve been brainstorming and honing strategy ever since, and even though I’ve been working really flipping hard to learn the ropes, I’m enjoying it immensely. I’m inspired by my smart, dedicated coworkers, and there’s no doubt that this job has already contributed to the lengthy process of getting my groove back.

I’m at that place now where I want to fast-forward past the awkward stage. Since time immemorial (or rather, since my first barista job in high school), I’ve taken time to roll into things; I get trapped in my own insecurities until about three months in. I’m sure this is normal to some extent, but I’m especially frustrated by it this time around. I know myself well enough to realize that the non-stuttering, non-insane me would probably be friends with my coworkers, and that’s something I’ve found to be extremely important. Everyone says they want a president they could ‘grab a beer with’, and that’s how I feel about the people I see at the office day in and day out.

I know I’ll get there. I had a mini-epiphany the other day: it hit me that I don’t have to be shy, even though I’ve labeled myself as such since forever ago. I’m not exactly a quiet person, so why do I get so stuck when I’m getting to know people? Anyway, the courage from said epiphany lasted about ten minutes, but the thought’s lingered. Progress, amirite?

Ebbs and Flows

Time to get personal, y’all.

This blog has been left to its own devices for far too long. Sure, that’ll happen when you enter that blessed-yet-stressful thing called Full-Time Employment; this time last year, I was focusing all my energy on writing and exploring the music landscape. Now I’ve dialed back my blogging (both here and elsewhere) in favor of some truly enriching day jobs, and since starting at Pulse a few weeks ago, I’ve been happily exploring new social media terrain. But here’s the thing: I miss it. I miss writing for me, I miss stumbling upon a new artist and thinking they’re the Second Coming (don’t pretend you don’t do that, music bloggers). I miss being part of the discussion. I haven’t had the emotional oomph to write for fun in a long time, but I think it’s starting to come back. I can’t tell you how great it felt to get that itch again.

I try not to use this as a personal, ‘let’s talk about feelings’ sort of blog, but I think I will for a while. I’ve been in a bit of a rut, and I want my mojo back, thankyouverymuch. I want desperately to be sparked by music again (and I know I’ll get there), but in the meantime, bear with me as I cast the topical net wider. I called this post ‘Ebbs and Flows’ because that’s what life feels like right now: I may be past the dry spell, but things aren’t steady yet.

Belated: SF MusicTech Summit On GigaOm

Just to keep things nice and neat in one place, here’s the post I wrote for GigaOm about the SF MusicTech Summit. Have I mentioned how much I adore this conference? Yes? Okay. See the excerpt below and read the full piece here.

There’s something special about innovation in San Francisco. For one, the city is a startup mecca: It’s bursting at the seams with forward-thinking companies, from established giants like Twitter and Pinterest to the next big things of the digital world. For another, its rich culture didn’t fade after the Summer of Love; creatives continue to flock to the city, which boasts festivals like Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and renowned museums like the DeYoung.

It’s no surprise, then, that the music-tech community found a home in the City by the Bay. Like San Francisco itself, the SF MusicTech Summit celebrates the intersection between art and technology. The conference draws influencers, musicians and more to Japantown’s Hotel Kabuki and provides a unique outlet for discussions and deal making. It has become a premiere gathering place for music-tech pioneers of all stripes, and game-changing businesses have formed on the summit floor. (Read more.)

I’m going to the SF MusicTech Summit. Are you?

I wrote this article about the SF MusicTech Summit with its founder and executive producer, Brian Zisk. Get a taste below and read the full piece in VentureBeat!

And please, head to the Hotel Kabuki on October 9th for the Summit. It’s one of the most illuminating, inspiring, and just downright awesome events I’ve ever attended. This year, it’s expanded to a full week of events, and I’m helping to promote it. I hope to see you from October 7-14!

The music industry is in a precarious place. The status quo is crumbling, paradigms are shifting, time-honored institutions are facing new hurdles. From artists to consumers to label execs, everyone’s wondering: what’s next?

The SF MusicTech Summit will attempt to tackle that question this October. Approaching its eleventh gathering, the Summit brings music’s movers and shakers to San Francisco to do business and discuss the industry’s challenges—as well as potential solutions. Entrepreneurs, artists, technologists, industry vets, and more will once again grace the Hotel Kabuki united by one goal: innovation. These pioneers not only create cutting-edge technology, they develop new ways of thinking about crucial concepts, from music consumption and creation to viable revenue models. They come to do deals, build alliances, generate leads, and have a great time. (Read the rest here.)

Take a Picture, It’ll Last Longer: The Evolution of Photo Sharing

Hey all. I know it’s been quiet ’round these parts—I’ve been lending a hand to SF MusicTech Week, writing some posts for other folks, settling into a new house, and, of course, seeing great concerts. I’ll be moving more over to this blog, slowly but surely.

The below piece was an essay on the intersection between social/sharing and photography, and let me tell you, I had a blast writing it. This is back from May, so keep in mind that the research may already be a bit outdated. What a fast-paced world we live in!

“This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels—around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know we are loved.”
Mad Men, The Carousel

Photography today is more than just a time machine. Photography is instantaneous, spontaneous—the documentation of life is no longer just about the past, but about the present. The ease of recording human experience means that the process becomes a more conscious and accessible act of creating: photography shapes who we are and how we relate to the world around us. Capturing and sharing photographs is no longer a painstaking process, and has thus become a mode of communication in its own right; it conveys meaning both informational and emotional.

Kodak’s Carousel is no longer the whole story.

Photography As Identity

“To collect photographs is to collect the world.”
“Photographs really are experience captured, and the camera is the ideal arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood.”
Both Susan Sontag, On Photography

Social media gives us the agency to create our own identities. Our profiles are curated, often on a moment-by-moment basis, allowing us to engage in the shaping of our online personas. Photography, more than any other medium, adds authenticity to these identities: it captures something closest to truth, and establishes a connection between people. The social sharing of photography is a way to gather the collection of photos that present who we are to the outside world. We’re not just collecting the world itself, as Susan Sontag suggests—we’re collecting definitions of ourselves. This concept goes as far back as photographic calling cards in the 1860s, which became, as Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “the social currency, the ‘green backs’ of civilization.” Like social network profiles and friend circles, people would collect these portraits as representations of their network—which, even today, is another representation of your identity and social status.

Photography generates cultural capital. By capturing and sharing moments and experiences, we are able to identify ourselves with both the things we photograph and the artistic agency in being a photographer. Photography establishes us as cultural beings in ways that are digestible by our peers: a photograph of a meal we ate or a concert we went to fits into ways of categorizing ourselves by our hobbies, interests, and perspectives. Pinterest does that explicitly: it’s a way of organizing those visual stories and meanings into ways that clearly define our interests. A Pinterest profile provides a raw vision of who someone is: it’s based on desires, interests, dreams, preoccupations rather than traditional structures for social definition (location, occupation, marital status, et cetera). Photos reinforce the messages we’re sending out socially about who we are, how we identify ourselves, and how we connect to others.

We have always been a visual society; we’ve always judged books by their covers. The Library of Congress says about daguerreotypes: “In an age when phrenologists offered to read a person’s character based on their physical characteristics, portraits of society’s leaders were thought to have an edifying and moralizing influence on the viewer.” The public was suspicious of the accurate representation of daguerreotypes, so photographers relied on influencers and tastemakers (i.e., sociopolitical leaders) to lead the way. But even though we no longer measure character by physical characteristics, we do measure character by the visual presences we have online. The flood of photographs being produced every day makes that display of identity easier than ever. Alicia Eler even posited on Read Write Web that children will have a ‘second mirror stage’—a phase of self-identification that occurs in the realization of one’s own social network identity.

Photography As Language

“This very insatiability of the photographing eye changes the terms of confinement in the cave, our world. In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar and, even more importantly, an ethics of seeing.” Susan Sontag, On Photography

Photography is the modern language. Due to the immediacy of shooting and sharing, photographs have become distilled in meaning: unlike the Carousel, which is about a personal relationship to the memory and people/places/things being photographed, modern photo sharing is about conveying meaning. It’s no longer about looking backwards and evoking nostalgia; it’s about presenting the immediate time, place, and emotion. The prevalence of photo sharing has absolutely widened the perspective of what can be photographed, what can be considered important, artistic, and meaningful, for that very reason—it’s about the emotion being sent out into the world. Networks like Instagram, and others adopting similar presentations, act like a photographic Twitter: the photo is a status update, an emoticon, a tweet. They’re bite-sized pieces of meaning that people present to the world in the hopes of evoking a response and connection.

Why do people share? To be told that they and the way they see the world resonates with someone else. People want to connect with others, whether they know those people in real life or not. That sense is embedded into most online communities, from LiveJournal to Twitter to Tumblr. And that world is increasingly photo-driven: especially in a global community, photos are the unifying language. Prominent figures from Robyn to Richard Branson to Desmond Tutu have joined the photo-a-day project, which (according to the LA Times) seeks to “show the commonalities of the human experience.”

The prevalence of photographs is such that an individual photo no longer needs to contain the depth of meaning that they once did; it’s the collective that matters, the emotion around the moment in which that photograph was taken. Individual photos are taken as art for art’s sake, mood for mood’s sake, rather than only subject for subject’s sake. We have the ability to make meaning out of a photo of our shoe, snapped with no foresight, and a simple desire to be part of the conversation.

More Than Real-Time Information: ‘How’, Not ‘What’

“On the web today, all we do is share. But, I think more than sharing — the discussion and the interaction — are what matter most.” Om Malik, “Say Hello to the Alive Web!”

Om Malik was referring to Turntable.fm, the DJ-centric music site that exploded last year and prompted numerous discussions about real-time interaction as the future of web. Whatever happens to Turntable itself, there’s no denying that the social world is instantaneous—we can connect to each other on a moment-by-moment basis, and we seek out that interaction. It’s why Google+ has announced immediate photo-sharing from their web app; if photography is the language, social networks are the place for discussion. We throw information—photos, text, status updates, et cetera—into the world in the hopes that it will be received and reciprocated. It’s about the interaction, the connection, more than just the information. Photographs are information and emotion.

“Although there is a sense in which the camera does indeed capture reality, not just interpret it, photographs are as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are.” Susan Sontag, On Photography

If Twitter is largely about gathering information, photo sharing is about gathering ways of seeing the world. Edward Aten wrote in Giga Om, “Somehow by using filters we don’t see exactly what the photographer visually sees (as they would with a raw picture) but how they see it.” It’s another way of finding ways to resonate with other human beings, be they loved ones we know IRL or complete strangers that we connect with through social networks. Because we can express our perspectives so clearly and easily through photography, we take into account everything we see in our day-to-day lives as appropriate subject matter for our photos. We make them our own through our filters and our artistic visions, and then share those visions to connect with others.

It’s a Small World After All

It’s a Facebook world out there, but Facebook’s own face is changing—and not just because of Timeline. Certainly the site looks more public-geared, photo-focused, and curated, but a large part of the changing nature of Facebook has to do with its expanding base, shifting privacy settings, and sheer ubiquity. At least for now, it’s the monolith of social networks—the all-encompassing force that people are looking beyond for other sorts of small-community needs. According to a recent poll by AP and CNBC, 46% of respondents think Facebook will “fade away as new things come along,” and more specific communities are around to fill the voids.

Whether it’s Path, which incorporates a tighter network, or Pinterest, which focuses on a specific type of interaction, other social platforms are attempting to recreate smaller, more localized interaction. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re all focused on people users already know (although Pair, which is geared toward one-on-one interaction, and EveryMe, which pulls circles from other sites and doesn’t have any public component, both do), but it does mean that we want to break the world into manageable pieces. Instagram serves a specific purpose, as does Pinterest, as does Microsoft’s new network, So.cl. They’re not trying to be the new Goliath.

Indeed, even Friendster—which also restricted users’ ability to add people past a certain degree of separation—eventually succumbed to the network expansion inherent in this sort of social media. Like Facebook, the tight circles began to grow, incorporating acquaintances and even strangers. Twitter, on the other hand, has never attempted to segregate its users in such a way; expanding networks is an intrinsic part of the Twitter experience. Bernard Lunn at Read Write Web, even back in 2007, isolated this into two social network motivations: “One is, “I want to communicate better with the people that I already know and trust”. The other is, “I want to increase my visibility so that I can connect with more people”.” Today, this is a spectrum rather than a binary—and social networks all fall in different places along the line.

Moving Forward

Mobile
According to a study by 6Sight, the majority of people still consider their computer the primary hub for photos. Most photo editing is still done on a computer; 6Sight’s Hans Hartman commented that “…Even with the audience we [surveyed], which was slightly younger and more into smartphones, people still see their computer as a primary environment to enhance their photos. That was a big surprise to me.”
Just this morning, Bump announced that you can now push photos straight to Bump’s website—the idea being that you can then easily drag it to your desktop, or share it via link to a social network. Bump’s CEO and cofounder, Dave Lieb, told Mashable: “One of the comments we always hear is ‘I wish my computer worked just as well. I wish there was Bump on my computer’ so we decided to build that.”

This suggests that there’s still room for growth in the mobile photo editing sphere; as the iPhone camera continues to improve, there will be fewer and fewer reasons to push to desktop photo editing.

Additionally, Google+ has just announced immediate photo sharing through their mobile app, an idea that further illustrates the instantaneous nature of photography and its growing role as a status update.

Condensation
If photography continues to become a primary source of information, emotion, and communication, embedding context into images is one of the next steps. Companies like Thinglink (interactive images with embeddable information/links/videos), Tiny Reviews (short phrases over images for place reviews), Picle (lets you embed sound with photos), and others (like, in a related vein, Viddy) are already jumping on this trend. Thinglink in particular is business-oriented, but this has definite potential to enhance advertising styles and campaigns.

Expansion
Besides Facebook’s movement toward a more photo-centric experience (especially in the mobile sphere), other networks are rapidly expanding into the photo—and filtered or edited photo—realm. Google+ cites photo presentation and sharing as key strengths over Facebook, and Bradley Horowitz hinted at the Google+ Photographers Conference that photo processing is part of the company’s future.