Posts in "Music"

On Liaisons

This post follows both a thread of blog posts from Amy Collier, Kate Bowles, and Maha Bali and (I think at least) contributes to a larger week-long conversation taking place in #digciz, which I’ve yet to quite figure out but describes itself as a conversation. I like that.

There are a couple different pieces here. One of which touches on adolescent Adam, who is a reoccurring character here on adamcroom.com, and then I try to speak to technology, which will be haphazard at best so feel free to dip in and out of this depending on which sections interest you more.

Let’s start in high school, mostly because it’s a good story and because it helps me frame my view of network theory a bit. In high school, I didn’t identity myself with any particular “clique.” This likely stems from being a smidge introverted and not being heavily involved in one specific organized activity like sports, band, drama, etc. I mostly just played guitar and surfed the web and there was no Surfing the Web Club. I believe this was also a product of rejection in formidable years where social cliques where starting to form. Try as I might, other kids were quicker to recognize that I wasn’t like them faster than I could. Thus I developed a social identity that was dependent of the constructs of high school cliques and floated around a variety of groups. Rather than stick with one specific group of friends, I often curated my own with people who I respected and enjoyed their company (I still do this by the way). I was friends with nerds and popular kids and musicians and stoners etc etc.

My perspective on this situation was always that I didn’t have a strong group of friends. It wasn’t until I was much older and at a local music venue that I ran into a guy from high school who had a different vantage point of me. Filled with enough cheap liquid courage, he was kind enough to admit that he actually admired me in high school because he felt that I was someone who was respected amongst a wide group of people despite not looking or acting like them. This felt very flattering and utterly surprising as I tend to view his high school self as more awkward than anything else.

When I’ve read about social network theory, I’ve always came back to this stage of adolescence as a way of putting it in terms I can understand. An early tool for visualizing social networks used the terms participants, group members, isolates, and liaisons. This has been adapted overtime as a way to explain everything from organizational behavior theory to adolescent cliques in the field of sociometrics. The term “liaison” is described in 1981 as such:

liaison – A node which connects two or more groups within a system without belonging to any group.

Adapted from NEGOPY

I want to make one other mention of a time in which I felt like I played the role of “liaison.” Editor’s note: I’m going to admit in advance that the setup is a bit long. That’s because I’m being a bit selfish and leveraging this as an opportunity to write about a time in my life that I’ve never really written about extensively. It also focuses on the idea of not quite feeling an overwhelming sense of belonging. So, apologies, but this is my blog…

I graduated college in an economic downturn. I always describe my graduation as a mass deer-in-headlights scene. A decade ago the field of journalism was being turned on its head and we were all under the impression that we had made a very poor choice in study as we were being told that it is was very likely professionals were no longer needed.

So, without a job in hand, I moved into my mom’s house thus fulfilling my generational stereotype. I intentionally used the phrase “mom’s house” instead of “home” because home was quite right given the recency of my parent’s separation. It had been less than a year and she had decided to move houses and thus it never felt like I was slipping back into the comfortable space I knew before I left for college.

I spent the next two months looking for work until I finally was offered a full-time salaried position as an account manager for a sock manufacturing company. My job was to be the intermediary between large department stores like Saks and the warehouse. Lucky for me, it turned out that–despite the economic climate–people still bought socks. It had nothing to do with my study but it was guaranteed to be steady.

I purposely completed all of major requirements the fall semester of senior year so that I could spend the spring “taking it easy” and preparing for the job market. One of the courses I took was a practicum were I could be a DJ for on-campus college radio station. At the time, I had my own band where I sang, played guitar, and music that I wrote in my bedroom. We were just starting to get our footing in the local scene but only with smaller venue promoters. I decided that I would create a show that was focused on local music as a way to get to know some more local acts. I reached out to band managers, local concert promoters, as well as some online forums (shoutout: oklahomarock.com). There was a band management company called BOMB Productions who managed a couple bands who I booked on the show: The City Lives who had recently finished a run with The All-American Rejects and Theatre Breaks Loose, a relatively new band who was set to release the first record the month I was set to graduate.

Six weeks into working at the sock company, one of Theatre Breaks Loose’s managers gave me a call. He mentioned the band was to head out on a six week national tour as a supporting band for a band called Asteria. He said that he felt like the band really needed a lead guitarist to fill out the band a bit and that he believed I could be the guy. The only problem was that the tour started in a week so if I wanted to go we would need to get the band on board and make a quick decision.

This call was on a Sunday. I spent Monday learning the songs and tried out on Tuesday. By Wednesday the band called me and asked if I would come with them and on Thursday I told my boss that Friday was going to be my last day. On paper it sounds like a quick turnaround but I really fretted over the decision to leave my job. Beyond feeling very fortunate to have any job at all, my mom was recently separated and I didn’t want to disappoint her by leaving her and rejecting the opportunity to earn a steady paycheck after she had supported my education. Yet when I asked her for her advice, she just shrugged and said that I may never get this kind of opportunity again and there would be plenty of entry level jobs if and when it didn’t pan out. Gosh, I love my mom.

I always describe my brief period touring as a very skewed way of seeing the country. There are very specific portions of U.S. that I’ve been to, but I never really got to fully experience. Often you wouldn’t spend more than 24 hours in a city and you were constantly “on the clock” because life consisted of loading in, playing, selling merch, loading out, driving, and sleeping. So I’m spending 24 hours a day with a group of guys who know each other very well but I had just met, which also adds the extra element of the fact that the first tour also feels like a very intensive interview process. There’s also something about being a representative for somebody else’s music, which I won’t get into, but is vastly different if you’ve became used to playing your own music. The culmination of all of this: being on the road playing someone else’s music with people you don’t know in the middle of trying to build both a new identity and a new understanding of home and family… This is where I connect most of the recent conversations on belonging.

But, ok, so here’s where networks come in. Outside of the people you spend all day with, your only social connections are other bands playing the bill and people who come to the show. Promoters don’t trust that up-and-coming national acts will draw enough people to the show to make it worth their while (and rightfully so) so they’ll throw a couple local acts on as openers so their friends will come to the show.

When people think about independent music, the focus tends to be on the artist’s ability to independent own and distribute their art. But independent music relies on a multitude of dependent variables that make it possible (the lions share being a community of people who attend local shows). If you are touring, the sheer existence of a local act on the bill can be a make it or break it opportunity for you in a city you’ve never played before. Independent music only exists because of these small localized scenes. And the web of these local scenes, the sum of all of these parts, is what allows you as an artist to reach a scale that is sustainable. Because of this web, we could exist.

For me, if only for a brief period, the band felt like I was a this go-between node–a liason–between a bigger network of like-minded individuals who didn’t even know each other existed, but yet their existence allowed us to share art. For an artist to be “independent” or embrace “indie,” it requires you to rely heavily on the community–the network. For me, to embrace independence is to forgo placing your trust in what feels predictable. And it’s this balance of self and community that I believes is easily lost.

One person who’s writing has really spoken to me on this subject is Amanda Palmer who has a book titled The Art of Asking, who has wrote and spoke often about being a street artist and independent music artist.

For most of human history, musicians, artists, they’ve been part of the community. Connectors and openers, not untouchable stars. Celebrity is about a lot of people loving you from a distance, but the Internet and the content that we’re freely able to share on it are taking us back. It’s about a few people loving you up close and about those people being enough. So a lot of people are confused by the idea of no hard sticker price. They see it as an unpredictable risk, but the things I’ve done, the Kickstarter, the street, the doorbell, I don’t see these things as risk. I see them as trust. Now, the online tools to make the exchange as easy and as instinctive as the street, they’re getting there. But the perfect tools aren’t going to help us if we can’t face each other and give and receive fearlessly, but, more important — to ask without shame. – Amanda Palmer

Side note: She has also spoken about releasing her book with a major publisher and that it’s okay to be contradictory.

Ok, so I’ll bring this back to how this has influenced my thinking about technology as well. There’s a history of false thinking that because the Internet is a technology with infinite ways of hooking into and accessing it, that it is the great equalizer. Network theory says otherwise. Anytime, that you give people a space to meet, they are prone to clustering together based off a variety of reasons: familiarity, ease of communication, and a desire to eliminate uncertainty. The web is still a high school cafeteria. Humans are attracted to organization. Organization requires familiarity. So first we build tools like Twitter that allow a network to communicate and then we build ways in which we can organize around it through tools like the hashtag. And, feel free to argue with this, but I see people begin to identify with a hashtag–not with Twitter.

Here’s where my thoughts run out and where I start to pose questions. First, how do we begin to recognize that working in public space and utilizing technology does not mean everyone can or will engage? I’ll use myself as an example here. I’m comfortable engaging in this conversation about digital citizenship because I admire and feel comfortable talking to people like Kate and Maha. In fact, I’m willing to say there is no one who I read that I enjoy reading more than Kate Bowles, and Maha has always been incredibly accepting to varying perspectives and challenges them in ways I don’t feel threatened by. At the same time, there are literally conversations happening at this moment that I’d love to engage in, but don’t despite them taking place in the “open” because they feel closed off to me.

The second are distinct group something that can be embraced to an extent? If so, to what extent? If we can accept that humans will naturally form in groups no matter what, is there a way to elevate this notion of being a “liaison?” That are ability to really affect change is to be a go-between rather than to eliminate the distinction? OR should you resist the temptation to begin to build your identity around a group? Are there models for understanding how you can observe, move through, appreciate, and respect groups?

I’ll stop now because I realize I’m no longer making sense and I’m getting into contentious territory here without having fully fleshed out enough of an idea to offer a solution. There are really good questions I’d like to dive into more like “Is a liaison a position of privilege?” (I suspect it is.) I’m curious about how to either identify or elevate this notion “liaison” as a way for engaging larger conversations.

Additional note: I originally published this without this paragraph but feel it necessary to add. If you interact with people within your community that are “independent” of a larger umbrella organization, please support them. It would be hard to put together a better line up of people who have influenced me to the degree in which people like Alan Levine, Bryan Mathers, Bryan Alexander, and Audrey Watters have.

DiscPress – A Vinyl WordPress Plugin

In March, I had mentioned wanting to sync my Discogs record collection with my domain. Then Tom Woodward built a WordPress plugin that essentially did that. Because he is Tom Woodward.

The plugin Tom built pulled the metadata of each record into the record collection into a Google Spreadsheet and then the plugin pulled the information from the sheet into a custom post type. For more, read Tom’s post on the technicalities.

This was a big leap though it had some reasonable limitations. For instance, you had to manually pull the records through a Google Script. Also Wordpress didn’t quite know what records already existed and which were new, so it was a bit messy when you tried to update your collection, usually syncing records two or three times.

Then today I got a blog comment from Andrea Facheris says that Discogs WordPress plugin, called DiscPress, has been released to work directly with the Discogs API.

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From the looks of it, it appears that the plugin went live a couple of weeks ago as someone recently posted the release on the Discogs forum:

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I fired up a new site to test it out and you can see it at http://vinyl.adamcroom.com/new.

The first thing I noticed about the plugin is that, functionally, what is does is HIGHLY similar to Tom’s version without the Google Script/Spreadsheet middle man. It, too, creates a custom post type called “Records” and then pulls in the record meta data as a custom field. As a visual, I’m posting what the meta data for Sam Means’ 10 Songs record looks like on both versions of the plugin:

Tom’s plugin

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Discpress plugin

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Nearly the same data is being pulled except Tom’s pulls the year release (which I really like) and the Discpress pulls the release ID and the album artwork thumbnail. I’m not 100% certain, but you have to think that the work Tom did was highly influencial on this product. So great to see how someone  (again, I think) took the foundation he laid, built it out, and got it in the WordPress Plugin Directory.

The thumbnail is a really nice touch and something I really like (I had to manually pull them in on Tom’s version) but 150x150px just aren’t just high quality enough to display very well on the site, at least for my taste.

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The other major is that while it creates the custom post type, the permalink creates a 404 error and so you can’t visually see the details in any way that’s publicly consumable, which makes the plugin virtually unusable in it’s current state. (This has been fixed. Thanks Andrea for your recommendation here.)

But, I will say, I really LOVE how you can directly interact with the API from within WordPress and sync everything up automatically. This is a big improvement to the original project.

 

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I’ll say that, for now, I’ll stick with Tom’s version but I’m excited to see if this one develops any further. But, beyond my neediness, these are the types of projects I’m really interested in. I now have a local copy of all the data that I’ve inserted into the Discogs community. I get to own and display that data in a highly flexible manner. We live in a world where these type of communities sprout up and then shut down all the time, so a tool like this, or Martin Hawksey’s Twitter Archive on Github Pages tool, make it easier for me to grab my data and secure it somewhere as my own personal historical record; some that means a lot to me. Tack on the domain as a piece of infrastructure to unify one’s sprawling personal data collection, and you can quickly see how I would get excited.

At some point, I’ll write more on this, but it does have me thinking again about edtech, student data, and how we build ways in which students can keep the data of their work they do while in school. If anyone has any examples, I’d love to see what tools are out there that allow students to tap into the applications API and extract that data into a usable form. My educated guess is that there are few.

Finding Center: 10 Lessons I’ve Learned from the Left and the Right

I’m coming off a whirlwind of a semester starting and that means I now have some extra time for blogging. This one is a quick summary of a talk I gave to an Art and Entrepreneurship class which is cross-listed between Art Theory & Criticism and Entrepreneurship and taught by Jonathan Hils, a sculpture by trade, and Jeremy Short, a professor of management and entrepreneurship, who is a good friend and excellent researcher (who, by the way, recently linked entrepreneurial optimism with business success).

Jeremy and I go back way back to my former life at the University of Oklahoma. Once upon a time, I started TEDxOU, an independently organized TED event, on our campus and Jeremy was, very literally, our first speaker and our first event. Jeremy was the first professor I knew to write a CC licensed textbook (also happens to be a graphic novel) and the first person I gave a national conference presentation with. I owe a lot to this guy. Jeremy was also the first faculty at OU to be interested in doing a MOOC and we bootstrapped that project via WordPress at management.ou.edu (now archived at management.adamcroom.com).

Jeremy asked that I give a talk on event planning and organization and talk a little bit about the lessons I took away from doing TEDx events. This was a great opportunity to divert from edtech as well as try to pull a blast from the past in order to talk about how I came to doing what exactly I do (which is largely mysterious to all including myself). In fact, my former-former life as a full-time musician even came into play with this one (I’ve only really organized two things in my life: conferences and rock shows). So, in some respects, I’ve literally been an art-entrepreneur, if only for a brief moment, and as much as I try to hide it, these were some of my most formative experiences. As a marketer, the front lines are selling CDs and t-shirts (more importantly a culture and experience) to sixteen year old girls. It may or may not be related to the core part of the message on event planning, but I’m hopeful it atleast built some empathy with the students. I called the talk Finding Center: 10 Lessons I’ve Learned from the Left and the Right (brains not wings).

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Left and Right

I’ve got to be honest, it’s not the most fun activity; to put your past out there as “lessons learned” (particularly when you have moved past a former identity) but I did find it a bit therapeutic. My main hope was that students who might be in similar positions, who are trying to understand where art and creativity can be applied in a more corporate environment, or vice versa, can begin to relate and forge their own path.

Lesson 1: Create a diverse portfolio of experiences

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This is high-school-me. It should come as no surprise that I’m holding a camera at the cusp of digital photography really becoming a commercial standard. I would categorize high-school-me as a tech geek. My high school activities mostly included building fan websites for bands that I liked as well working for the high school local public acccess channel creating and editing videos. This gave me my first actual professional opportunity in high school as an intern for Music Television (MTV) and I have an actual credit on a MTV docs production that was done at my high school.

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Once Upon a Prom

I decided to originally study broadcasting and electronic media and quickly moved to advertising when I realized that sounded more employable. I worked in student media in the production department for 3.5 of my 4 years at OU. While I worked for a centralized department, most of my work was on the newspaper and I spent many late nights spending in our proofs to the printer. This isn’t a numbered lesson, but you learn a lot when you are required to create a new product, literally, every single day. You learn a lot when you are the last one to touch a product with a circulation of 11,000. You occasionally end up in front page artwork.

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Lol at writing about Facebook affecting grades

I also did marketing for a regional chain restaurant called Raising Canes and was a part of Adrian Peterson’s first professional athletic camp. My junior year of high school I interned with the Center for the Creation Economic Wealth based purely off of a recommendation of my friend Chris Shilling who said he couldn’t really explain what it was but I needed to do it. This was my first time fully understanding how I would apply my own skills of marketing to an actual entrepreneurial venture, which was to commercial a technology that helped treat polycystic kidney disease, the largest genetic disease in the world. In the span of the semester, we would raise $55,000 to move the technology further down the FDA pathway, and that technology getting ever so closer thanks to the determination of Dr. Doris Benbrook.

The random string of events can only be summarized by the fact that I was willing to create a body of work anywhere that felt loosely affiliated to what I was studying whether that meant creating newspapers, selling chicken fingers, or commercializing medical technologies (including, at one point, doing all three at the same time.) Not everyone is fortunate to get opportunities in areas that are in any way or shape related to their studies, so if you can cobble together work and opportunities come your way, take them.

My last semester at OU, I took an elective where I could host a radio show called The Lokl Hour. I decided my show would be about local music and used my PR saviness to actually get a local reporter to write about it. There are probably thirty of these shows a semester, so it’s still funny that anyone wrote about it or that it meant anything, but it would turn out to have a large impact on me personally. A band came to promote their first record. We decided that would do a live debut of the album in its entirety and an interview (I wish this was still online but the company that hosted the content deleted it).

I graduated and took my first salaried position later that summer. I wasn’t enjoying the position that much and spent a lot of time helping promote local/regional rock shows with a local promoter named Andy Loper. Loper also managed the band, knew I wasn’t super happy about the job I was in, and wanted to know if I wanted to go out on tour with the band for six weeks as a guitarist. This would required quitting my job. I tried out for the band on a Tuesday. I put in a two day notice on Wednesday and left for tour on Friday.

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With The Rocket Summer.

Lesson 2: It’s completely possible to make a modest living with an identity that begins digitally

We were a band in the era of Myspace bands and we leveraged the heck out of that platform to get out our music and information about our band. I still believe that Myspace was one of the most beneficial platforms for musicians. It popularized streaming music by allowing people to add playlists to their individual sites. It was Spotify before Spotify and music was much more discoverable simply through your friends profiles. This is what allowed us to actually tour and this is where I first started to truly understand a simply lesson about digital identity. You can’t ignore platforms where your work can exist, particularly when you can create an audience for your work.

Lesson 3: Digital doesn’t mean less work and it doesn’t meaning abandoning the physical.

You don’t “go” to the web anymore, you live on it. That said, you live other places as well. Digital gave us a platform but it didn’t mean we didn’t abandon physical work. We still toured and if we had extra time we were likely to be found in the mall trying to convince people to listen to our album on our iPod and then buy our CD.

As a band, you are first and foremost a content creator, so we created content. For instance, when the holidays rolled around we released a Winter EP. Digital does, yes, allow for discovery but it also allows for understanding your audience and competition (Lots of bands were doing all of these strategies). But you quickly recognized how much a visual medium this space was. One thing we never skimped on was getting the right artist to do album artwork. Album artwork became your digital artwork and this is a campaign on the most basic level.

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Animation of the ol’ Myspace page

But all of the best dreams eventually end. I stopped touring, worked a few different jobs, and began working at OU roughly two years after leaving the band. My first job was essentially a glorified receptionist for the OU Corporate Engagement Office.

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In between booking travel arrangements, I decided to attend TEDxOKC. I couldn’t convince anybody in my office to reimburse this, but they did tell me to tell them I worked at OU to see if there were any sponsorship opportunities. Their organizer, Ken Stoner, gave me one better and said we should do TEDxOU. Soon thereafter, I was organizing my first event at OU and recruiting speakers.

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Red paper clips. Because TED.

Lesson 4: Networks are not one direction. Let people engage in the experience with you. Surround yourself with people you love and can trust.

Most people think of themselves at the center of the network and they assume that most people are connected to each other through them. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

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My linkedin profile shows me at the center, always, but if you actually visualize the network you’ll see that you are amongst several already formed networks.

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A discontinued LinkedIn tool called InMaps. A big bummer because this actually made LinkedIn somewhat valuable to me.

The one thing I learned from attending an actual TED conference a couple times (TEDActive RIP) it was that these conferences don’t exist purely to consume content, which I think is an unfortunate misconception of TED. It’s almost like the content exists to bring together a specific group of people, and I always felt that my goal was to trick people that liked TED Talks to hang out with each other for a day. To turn off cell phones and notifications and enter a new experience together. As a buddy once told me “I just want to party with people I like. Everything is just efforts to throw a party.” Rock shows and TED are only different in the type of people they attract.

But TEDxOU only existed because I had a bunch of friends, a network, who had specific skills sets that I didn’t have and could perform many of the necessary tasks for the events. One of my good friends who is a video graphic artist ran my AV, Mark Nehrenz, who I graduated with, put together the camera crew, the same buddy who likes to party (Dylan Mackey) was my stage manager, our photographer was a graduate student, our lighting guy was a freshman who loved staged design, and CCEW staff were the most supporting staff you could ask for by filling in the gaps, assisting speakers with their presentations, etc. We had a museum curator speak and he was kind enough to offer the museum for an after party and Bruce Goff’s Ledbetter House for a speaker reception. There are so many stories about the people who united over silly 18 minute talks. Which is exactly why you throw a party.

Lesson 5: Works comes before the party

There’s a lot that goes into getting the word about an event and we were no slouches if I say so myself. For instance, the OU Daily has written over 60 articles about TEDxOU. This was obviously initialized because of my connection with the paper, but it was also because I brought them into the idea of the event. The events in January, and January means new semester, and new semester means new staff writers so why not have them write a small article about each of the speakers (That was my pitch at least.)? The first year is also the year where you do have any type of cash flow as that comes after the event, so I got good at asking for favors for supplies whether that was swag or printing services or the like. It dawned on me that newspaper prints a lot so I figured why not have them run the entire agenda on the back page of the newspaper and we’ll hand them out? In exchange for a comped ad, we’ll give the newpaper to attendees as the actual agenda.

We also decided to make TEDxOU an event you had to apply to attend. You applied, if you were accepted you got a little email saying you were accepted, and that you had 72 hours to purchase your ticket. In hindsight, this is a really smart strategy for a couple of reasons. The first is that, people liked to be accepted into things. And so they end up taking your email and sharing that they got accepted and that’s free marketing which is a plus.

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The next is that you geniunely get to know about the people that are coming and we used that info to connect people to each other on Twitter prior to the event in hopes of starting conversations.

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But the big not-so-well-kept secret is no one really doesn’t get accepted. They just get an opportunity to be invited. They’ve self-selected themselves, which I do think that creates a very different atmosphere. Plus, solely from a logistics perspective, it’s so much better to know ahead of time how many people are coming. I can’t back up this claim, but I would say that with most of these type of events, people decide to attend last minute. The 72-hour window forces them to commit, clear their calendar, and show up. And these numbers are good when, say, making a budget or ordering food (less waste).

Lesson 6: Work also happens during the party.

One of the affordances you have at a TED event is you get to lean on the brand of TED. This includes the red carpet, the big block letters, etc. and creating an atmosphere is really, really fun whether its stage or lighting design or breaking up talks with musical acts. I love this part a lot.

We also partner with the OU Innovation Hub to create personalized wood cut name tags which become a high point for attendees. It gives people something small to initiate conversation and is a nice little token at the very least. I see these hanging in offices all the time.

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We also build into the breaks all kind of ways to interact outside of the actual talks. These have included coffee tasting demos, interactive art installations, four square games (actually playing four square not the app), and after parties. Again, if the event was just about the talks themselves they’d be awfully boring and I think anyone who attends conferences would agree.

Lesson 7: Work also happens after the after party.

To sum up, there’s a lot of work and you don’t want to limp in to any part of any event. We do a post-event survey in exchange for priority at next year’s event. This helps us gather stories about special moments that attendees had that otherwise would go unnoticed. This is one of my favorite parts because I get to hear how someone was inspired to action through meeting someone or hearing a specific talk. I’ve got several stories from here that I deeply cherish.

But, of course, there’s also getting the talks online and promoting those as well. And some interesting stories have come from the talks themselves. When you do your first event, you really like the idea of a talk picking up steam and going viral until one actually does. And then you get over that and realize your much more well positioned to create a local conversation and just hope that it applies to somebody else, and if it doesn’t, well at least you were talking to with your community which should be your goal anyways. In the words of Jane Jacobs, “If you do it for the local, the visitor will come; if you do it for the visitor, you will lose the local and the visitor.”

Lesson 8: If you have haters, you must be doing something right (in conjunction with Lesson 9) Know who your audience is and who it isn’t. They both have positive/negative values.

But, of course, virality breeds its own stories and ours happens to involve a diet phad. We had Christina Warriner,a paleontologist, talk in 2013. Christina wanted to talk about how the paleo diet isn’t actually one thing, how diets were actually quite diverse, and what paleothic diets are like. As someone who literally researches paleothic diets, I thought this was actually a really smart idea on her part of connecting her research to a modern topic.

But if you’ve ever met anybody who has done the paleo diet, you know then that they are… very passionate about their choice. When I submitted the talk to TED, I did so with the title “Debunking the Paleo Diet.” The truth is at the time I couldn’t come up with a better word than debunking, but, lucky for me, several people in the 10,000+ comments have ;-). The video has received 1.3 million views on YouTube which is likely not an incredible number but enough to garner some attention, but it is enough to now be the number one paleo video on YouTube. More fascinating to me than any large viewership number was the conversations that it happened because of it. Robb Wolf who wrote a book about paleo diets did a point-by-point counter argument to it as well as a podcast. So did Angelo Coppola (her rebuttal as 34,000+ views). The talk was also referenced by Scientific American and promoted by TED. Christina has told me that this talk turned into a lot of hate mail which is just vile, though it also got her a few speaker gigs (hopefully that was a nice consolation). I guess my best hope is that it gave the paleo diet crowd a critical and historical perspective to their choice.

(Not in the talk) I don’t know how to prepare someone for this potentially happening. The popularity of these talks has dwindled a bit which means we aren’t seeing nearly this level of response anymore, but I know this is a major reason academics shy away from the media. 

Lesson 10: Read the tea leaves and know when the time is right to build an exit strategy.

As I mentioned before, I am no longer organizing the event day-to-day and only offering broad oversight. This is the team that does all of the heavy lifting now and I couldn’t be more thankful for them and the hours of effort the put in year-after-year. This picture was from the one TEDxOU events that I actually missed because I was out of town. Eventually, you’ll realize that there are other opportunities out there for you if you are willing to let go others. I’ve been in both a band and an event that outlasted my tenure with them, and that’s great because it means I had an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than myself and it doesn’t mean you didn’t have an impact. In fact, TEDxOU looks very similar to how it always has and I hooe that’s a reflection of putting together a reusable strategy with reusable processes.

Letting go (for the most part) allowed me to move on. This is probably the hardest lesson I learned. Early on, I was very careful to make sure I was highly involved with how it moved forward. I remember other departments wanting to do mini “TED-like” events and being suspicious and possessive, and the best advice I ever received from a former boss of mine was to stop thinking like that, understanding that imitiation is flattering, and embrace it. And that’s stuck with me more than anything else and I apply it constantly. In fact, sharing has come to professionally define me to a certain extent and I embrace that.

“Is that how he’s going to end?” (Yes.)

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A Vinyl API of One’s Own

I’ve been on a vinyl kick as of late. It happens that a lot of the records I listened to when I was most emotionally vulnerable to trite love songs are hitting their ten or fifteen year anniversary and being released/re-released on vinyl.

For instance, I recently grabbed a copy of the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack Guestroom Records, Norman’s local independent record store. Guestroom holds a special place in my heart. When I got engaged to my wife, we were lucky enough to be allowed to photograph are engagement pictures inside of there:

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Little Miss Sunshine is a really interesting case study. The first time I saw it in theaters was during the Austin City Limits 2006 Music Festival in this ran down (what I think was) independent movie theater located in a local strip mall in Austin, Texas. My friend and I had decided to skip the morning lineup and check out downtown Austin. The movie arguably lands on the list of one of the movies most propelled after Sundance as it was picked up by Fox Searchlight and ended up right north of $100mm at the box office despite having an $8mm budget (I’m learning all of this via the Wikipedia page). Even still, this movie was “too indie” for the Oklahoma theaters, so it was a real treat to actually in a theater.

Anyways, the vinyl was a great snag. I actually remember buying the record at Borders bookstore (RIP). Looking back, I totally forgot how much bookstores upcharged CDs. Whatever you could find your regular neighborhood shopping store for $12.99 was always $18.99 at a bookstore, so I apparently was really jonesing to have a copy of this bad boy.

When I picked up the record (in the used bin of all places), I noticed a printed metallic number in the lower left hand corner of the jacket.

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flickr photo shared by adam.croom under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

It’s also a “clear with pink and yellow swirl” printing which looks absolutely gorgeous.

So I knew this was an absolute steal. When I was checking out, I chatted with the manager about the record as well as the upcoming Record Store Day releases. He gave me some interesting insight into why the record was a really good find. He said it had just came in and that it was originally released as a Black Friday special. This seemed like a really good deal of knowledge; the kind you would expect to get from your local record store.

As I slowly build up a modest collection, I have found myself on the hunt for more info online. I landed on Discogs.com, which is the largest wealth of album release information I’ve ever landed on. It is a must for anyone looking for the small, record store like, information about every release. And I really mean the smallest detail. Check out this description of a Motion City Soundtrack / Limbeck 7″ Split I’ve been trying to score for some time:

001-002 = Blue w/ White, Grey, Black; gold metallic number
003-100 = Clear w/ Grey, White, Black; gold metallic number
101-200 = Clear w/ Grey, White, Black; silver metallic number
201-248 = Clear w/ Grey, White, Black; pink metallic number
249 = Clear w/ Grey, White, Orange; pink metallic number
250-299 = Clear w/ Grey, White, Black, pink metallic number
300 = Clear w/ Grey, White, Black, black number
301-310 = Blue w/ Blue, White, Orange, green number
311-323 = Clear w/ Grey, White, Orange, green number
324-330 = Clear w/ Grey, White, Orange, purple number
331-511 = Clear w/ Grey, White, Orange, black number
512-600 = Blue w/ Blue, White, Orange, black number
601-634 = Clear w/ Grey, White, Black, purple metallic number
635 = Blue w/ Blue, White, Black, purple metallic number
636-638 = Clear w/ Grey, White, Black, purple metallic number
639 = Clear w/ Grey, White, Black, black number
640-655 = Clear w/ Grey, White, Black, purple metallic number
656 = Blue w/ Blue, White, Black, purple metallic number
657-665 = Clear w/ Grey, White, Black, purple metallic number
666 = Clear w/ Grey, White, Black, black number
667-687 = Clear w/ Grey, White, Black, purple metallic number
688 = Blue w/ Blue, White, Black, purple metallic number
689-700 = Clear w/ Grey, White, Black, purple metallic marker
701-800 = Clear w/ Grey, White, Black, green metallic number
801-824 = Blue w/ Grey, White, Lavender, blue metallic number
825-900 = Blue w/ Blue, White, Lavender, blue metallic number
901-1000 = Blue w/ Blue, White, Lavender, pink metallic number

How fascinating is this? The split was only released in 1,000 copies and has 28 (!) variations. And they are incredibly random. Some runs are 99 copies, other 12, 11, two, one (#666 was a single press in clear with grey/white/black). The amount of work that went into 28 different silk screening variations is mind-numbing but also highly valuable to me as a collector/potential customer (Did I mention how its also a marketplace?). The album has only two songs but they mean something to me as 1.) they both were two of the most influencial bands in my formative years and 2.) I distinctly remember talking to Patrick Carrie of Limbeck before a show in Oklahoma City and asking him if they would be performing Perfect Teeth (the cut they did for this specific release). Ah, the way I used to try to find ways to let people know of my insider knowledge :wink:.

Discogs had good info on the Little Miss Sunshine Record as well. It doesn’t note the Black Friday release fact (though a user had indeed embedded a German video that reviews it), but I verified it via the labels Facebook page and the Record Store Day website and have added that to the Notes section of the article.

Record Store Day selected Little Miss Sunshine Movie Soundtrack Limited Edition Vinyl for its #BlackFriday event! To…

Posted by Lakeshore Records on Friday, December 5, 2014

 

Anyways, a lot of talk at the Indie EdTech Data Summit, thanks to Kin Lane, percolated around not only how we create APIs but leverage the APIs around us. Given that Discogs has so many data points around vinyl, I was interested in if there was an API that existed around the service, and, indeed, there’s a REST API built around the service.

One nice thing about the API is barcode integration. Discogs has a very slick iOS app (sorry Android users) that allows me to scan albums in the store and pull up info on it. This allowed me to quickly put my collection online by scanning in all of my vinyl barcodes and then adding them to my “Collection” (I’m still working on the albums that are pre and early 1980s which obviously don’t have barcodes).

I asked Kin if he had looked into the Discogs API and, as it turns out, he is aware of every API in existence (he had heard of it) but does not know enough to be thoroughly knowledgeable of ALL of them… API Evangel-what?! The humanity…

Anyways, I’ve been thinking about how I can leverage the Discog API to “reclaim” my record collection on my domain. I would love to utilize vinyl.adamcroom.com as a space to show off my recent grabs. I’m thinking of a WordPress instance with a card-based theme that allows you to surf my collection. It does look like someone has done some a really nice initial work at integrating the Discogs API with WordPress for something called RecordPress:

The API doesn’t pull images, but I assume that’s because most are user submitted and they maintain the copyright. That doesn’t bother me too much as it would give me a good excuse to take more photos.

Unfortunately, the work on RecordPress appears to have been abandoned for over a year, and even though they promised to put up their work on Github, I can’t seem to locate it. This is one reason I’m interested in promoting an open-source approach to development. It really helps to allow collaborators to pick up a project, particularly if you tend to get distracted (I never get distrac..)

So I look forward to seeing if this ever comes out, but if it doesn’t come soon, I’m going to start seeing how I can refine my chops enough to hook the two up (currently recruiting Tom Woodward :smile:)

In my attempt to tie my entire world around #IndieEdTech, I’ll leave with the thought that this kind of project is what gets me excited about learning more with APIs. There are arguably very few people that would be interested in a WordPress-powered, card-based theme that shows their Discogs.com collection (though there does seem to be interest around a WordPress widget). It’s quite niche. But that’s sort of the point. This type of work allows me to build out technology in ways that deeply reflect who I am. Technology to reflect the user instead of the other way around. This current distraction stint in vinyl is merely a vessel for me to reconnect with myself and an identity. Many tools, many needs. And that, to me, is always an endeavor worth pursuing.

Indie Music and EdTech (or Indie EdTech)

Below is a full transcript of my talk with Jim Groom at the dLRN 2015 Conference with slides inserted:

So Jim and I are going to do a joint talk that gives an examination of cultures through the lens of music. Particularly how these stories get weaved into the creation of a historical narrative. The narrative that I’m looking at is the music industry. I want to briefly talk about narratives that have been told of this story on how the internet has affected music. Additionally, I want to add some counter narratives in efforts to build a perspective from which we can view movements like Indie EdTech.

Music Industry Narratives
Music Industry Narratives

The first is the story told from the music industry itself. And granted, while there is a very real truth (the collapse of brick-and-mortar stores; dismal numbers of physical copies sold), it tends to be the largest narrative that we see in the mass media. Digitization, fueled by a single bad guy (in this story… Napster) disrupts an industry. There’s a mass media story to the consumer as well and it tends to be within lock step with the collapse of the music industry through the development of the MP3 file format which came out in 1989, followed a decade later by the portable mp3 player, WINAMP, and the Apple iPod in 2001 (which was actually a surprisingly later comer to the mp3 player market).

But it’s been argued the Internet’s major contribution to music wasn’t wide distribution of music. In fact, Steve Jones argues this:

The real revolution in popular music in regard to the Internet is to be found in the availability of news, information, and discussion about music and musicians facilitated by Internet media.

You see, barriers to entry for radio and TV were so high that there was no alternative to mainstream–there was no indie– until the late 1960s brought FM radio, soon college radio, and the Internet. As the earliest online communities emerged in the 60s, music discussions thrived on systems like PLATO and the WELL, it led to the creation of many newsgroups on Usenet, and then the web.

In this sense, technology is not the industry disruptor, but rather the opportunity to facilitate the building of a community inconceivable prior to its existence.

And the third perspective in this story is the music artist. While the 1960s brought the opportunity to share in the discussion of music, the ability to create music; to create art, is also a core part of hacker history.

Dan Edwards and Peter Sampson
Dan Edwards and Peter Sampson

This is a picture of Dan Edwards on the left and Peter Sampson on the right. The famous original MIT hackers playing arguably the first computer video game Spacewar!

The computer on which they are playing is called the PDP-1. And prior to building Spacewar!, Peter Sampson had coded it to play three-part Bach symphonies. These guys first interactions with computers centered around how to create shareable art.

And Sampson was so proud of the music compiler that he had written, that he proudly distributed it to anyone who wanted it. He desired that it be accessed, improved on, that pieces of the code could be leveraged in other projects, which is one of the earliest stories of open source code.

The Midi Controller
The Midi Controller

Arguably the biggest innovation in music was the MIDI controller. An independent device, most often seen in the form of a keyboard, that had 128 programmable and standardized switches. You could make these switches do anything. But it was enough structure, enough plumbing infrastructure, that you could mimic the dynamics of any sound. The point being that the artist now has the power to not only play instruments on a synthesizer, but the ability to create new sounds and distribute them amongst a community of other MIDI users. And I realize that this artist perspective is different than what one might have heard during the Napster trials by Lars Ulrich, the drummer of Metallica, who said this to a Senate committee during the Napster trials:

We typically employ a record producer, recording engineers, programmers, assistants and, occasionally, other musicians. We rent time for months at recording studios, which are owned by small-businessmen who have risked their own capital to buy, maintain and constantly upgrade very expensive equipment and facilities. Our record releases are supported by hundreds of record companies’ employees and provide programming for numerous radio and television stations. … It’s clear, then, that if music is free for downloading, the music industry is not viable. All the jobs I just talked about will be lost, and the diverse voices of the artists will disappear.

The underlying message in what Lars was conveying was this. The recording process is large; cumbersome, and record labels are good as a means of control to these large and expensive modes of production. A loss of value in music is a loss in jobs.

But the data since then has simply not supported that argument. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

New York Times Magazine feature, which ran in August, said this:

In the post-Napster era, there seems to have been a swing back in a more egalitarian direction. According to one source, the top 100 tours of 2000 captured 90 percent of all revenue, while today the top 100 capture only 43 percent.

NY Times article
NY Times article

All the sudden there are more artists getting larger slices of the pie. Further, from 2002 to 2012, those identified as ‘‘independent artists, writers and performers’’ grew by almost 40 percent, while the total revenue grew by 60 percent. So as it turns out, the artists (if it’s even lucky enough to get the choice) has a choice. But rather than working in one system, the artist now has a workflow with various paths that are interchangeable.

Workflows
Workflows

And, to a degree, that’s the approach in which we are taking at the University of Oklahoma to Domains and web space in the 21st Century with OU Create. We want to give infrastructure that is commercial-grade, real world technology. We want them to not have solutions, but workflows.

The CPanel
The CPanel

CPanel, is in this sense, is our MIDI controller. And it gives us, at the institutional level, enough standards to have good plumbing. Inside there are nearly 100 open source applications which have been developed for these standards that students have access to and can use to shape their identity.

Student Blogs
Student Blogs

This is a snapshot of the collection of my student blogs a week into the semester last Spring. What you’ll notice is a great deal of individualization and personalization that’s already taken place.

We have students using it to showcase their artistic passionscollaborate on digital constructions of new knowledge, create digital exhibitsof items we have in our library collections which have never seen the light of day, and use it as a space to share their voice towards real issues that are taking place on campus.

And it has led to us, a teaching and learning center, to think about how we sharing our own tools that we develop in some indie way.

Github
Github

As we develop WordPress plugins, or documentation, you can build on top of those through tools like Github.

So I don’t come here to make the argument that Indie EdTech is the future. In fact, I come to argue, rather, that it part of our heritage and something we should embrace.

The CPanel
The CPanel

I think my frustrations with EdTech have risen somewhat from what ends up being fed to mainstream media about what revolutionary “EdTech” is, is an idea of a solution that treats a student like a consumer of information. A custom microwave to bring you the exact meal you would like based off of algorithms collected on your taste buds given to you at the perfect time of day!

We would be letting our students down if we decided to treat them only as mere consumers rather than artists of their own identity.

Indie Ed Tech
Indie Ed Tech

Indie EdTech is not new, nor revolutionary, in the same respect that Indie music scenes are not new. The ideas of openness, participatory cultures, remixing; they are certainly rooted in education, and there is a body of research to back that up, but it also deeply rooted in culture; in a lot of respects, counter culture, and we can look at the moments in time where culture (music) collided with computers and universities.

John Markoff wrote in What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counter-Culture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry:

It is impossible to explain the dazzling new technologies without understanding the lives and the times of the people who created them. The impact of the region’s heady mix of culture and technology can be seen clearly in the personal stories of many pioneers of the computer industry. Indeed, personal decisions frequently have historic consequences

Indie EdTech is many times a personal; a philosophical, decision. It’s also many times a practical; an economical, decision. Open standards are about accessibility as much as anything else.

What is interesting about Domain of One’s Own initiatives is it does give the institutions, the major labels, the opportunity to support those who have been doing Indie themselves and support a cultural movement. What I would argue for is a deeper understanding of how, where, and why these pockets of indie exist and how they are or are not being supported by their respective institutions.

Citations

Jones, Steve. “Music and the Internet.” Popular Music 19.02 (2000): 217-230.

Levy, Steven. Hackers: Heroes of the computer revolution. Vol. 4. New York: Penguin Books, 2001.

Markoff, John. What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal ComputerIndustry. Penguin, 2005.

Deep Within the Spotify Stream

I was up late at my office last night, as I have been every night this week, working on a research project for grad school. You want to know when I feel most like a grad school student? When I open up Spotify and try to pick the perfect playlist to write too. Most times, I can’t help but pull up the same music or genre of music I listened to the undergrad. This is one of my favorite webcomics ever:

After running what felt like the gamut of what I listened to in college, I asked myself what felt like a crazy question, “I wonder if any of my music is on Spotify.” Although I spent roughly a year out of college playing guitar across the US, I haven’t actually recorded any music since the birth of the Spotify / streaming service era. But as luck would have it, one of my favorite albums I worked on is actually on Spotify.

This album was one that I recorded with one of my best friends, Shaun Six, between 2007 and 2008 (I believe the oldest song I wrote on here was written in 2005). He called me last week in the middle of a session at et4online and we chatted for the first time in roughly a year, which is what reminded me of this record. We had originally called the band Rainy Day Six when a friend told him all of his songs were fairly depressing and he replied, “Well just call me Rainy Day Six!” I tell this story to recognize that the band name was not us trying to fit in with a 2000s trend of “number bands.” :wink:

I played guitar and bass on all eight songs on the album, wrote three of them and sang on another. We recorded the drums in the living room of the producer’s mom’s house and did the vocals in the bathroom. It is trippy to return to this moment in time. I’m full of various emotions about the life stage that both Shaun and I were in at the time. I listen back now slightly embarrassed at the level vulnerability that came out in a couple of the songs I inked. I also feel more refined as a musician and cringe at a couple of decisions we made to not retake specific parts of tracks. It is nowhere near perfect. But another side of me feels that the style is a little bit timeless and I’m proud to be able to listen to the album all the way through and actually stand it. I truly feel like this was a good piece of work.

I’ve been thinking a lot this passed year about the digital artifacts we create and what trails get left behind, some of which we don’t even remember we ever created in the first place. There’s a specific song on this record that I had completely forgot we ever wrote for instance. But I’ve been reflecting around whether we should attempt to gather our digital belongings, hoard them, and pack them away in one nice tidy box or if we should allow them to simply exist in the natural habit they originally were birthed in. I have music strung across Spotify, YouTube, Soundcloud, Myspace, Purevolume, CDBaby… Should I take the effort to remove the pieces I don’t one others to uncover? At minimum, retrieve it? Or simply let it be? I don’t have a good answer to that. A few years ago I took the time to backup and remove any old blog that I had up, shutting down most of the sites entirely. Was that the right thing to do?

Anil Dash has this fantastic lecture titled The Web We Lost and he talks about this story we frequently hear on the news after a social networking site gets sold:

Every single day we hear about a social networking service that succeeds. And what the conventional tech industry, the Silicon Valley startup industry, defines as success is 1.) you sell to one of the big social networks and 2.) you delete everybody’s wedding photos that they stored on your service.

I had a version of this happen to me. In college I had a radio show, as stereotypical as that sounds, and I would invite local bands every so often. I would then post recordings of my shows to Podbean and then embed the podcast on Blogger. The problem was that Podbean at some point decided to delete some (though not all) of my old podcasts. This became a painful experience when a best friend of mine, who I had recorded an interview with, passed away. In fact, his family told me that they would occasionally listening to the interview just to hear his voice. And then one day it was gone. After trying every which way to retrieve it, I received this message from their support about a year and a half ago:

Podbean Screenshot

And that was it. Now I take a significant amount of responsibility in not keeping a physical copy of this podcast. Believe me, I kick myself every day. But “times were different then” as this was a massive uncompressed audio file, cloud storage wasn’t as attainable, and hard drives were a.) much smaller and b.) much more expensive–particularly to college me. Even still, to this day, whenever I find an old flash drive, I check it for this audio file in hopes that it’s just sitting around somewhere.

So there are two very different sides here. There is something poignant about the ecology of the web, where artifacts sprout and vanish echoing our own cycle. But there is also beauty in the opportunity to see our work scale nearly infinitely and end up in spaces and on platforms that didn’t exist when the original work was created affording us the opportunity to reconnect with a version of ourself that we thought was all but lost. And maybe the most pure beauty is the ability for both of these exist simultaneously in a way that can’t be replicated in the analog world. While I continue to wrap my head around that, I’m just going to enjoy whatever the next thing I uncover!