Monday, 22 December 2008

Master of the Music Video

Many students opt to produce music videos as part of their Media Studies course.

One of the acknowledged masters of this genre is the American Mark Romanek.

Over the decades he's produced some of the most striking imagery for music, working with artistes ranging from Madonna, to The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Nine Inch Nails.

There's an excellent short film about him available here.

On Mark's own website you can watch his videos - truly, it's a masterclass in capturing the zeitgeist of popular culture from the last two decades in moving image.

You can select and watch music videos here.

The Last Year for CD sales?

There's an interesting report from Gartner, the respected media analysis company, saying that we are approaching a time when the CD will die out as a mainstream delivery option for music.

The format had seen sales rise as audiences attempted to avoid digital rights management (DRM) software, that prevented them from making multiple copies of downloaded data.

However, the rise of sites offering DRM free music, including Amazon, means that this is becoming less of an issue.

Might we see the CD as a promotional tool, published only on demand?

Click here to read more.

Friday, 19 December 2008

The Pros and Cons of YouTube PR

The benefits of using YouTube to promote your work, company and ideas is that millions of people might see you. Potentially.

The risk is that it might backfire horribly.

Mobile phone giant Motorola is shutting down its R+D division in Rennes, France.

Some of the employees, taking their futures into their own hands, decided to advertise their plight on YouTube, with a series of humorous music videos. It seems their outgoing paymasters haven't been impressed, and now it's claimed those involved have been fired. Here's one of their videos:

The YouTube link is here

Another video I've come across is a bit of charity fun from an independent British school, called Moreton Hall. Here's their version of OK GO! on treadmills. The chap on the right is headmaster. Allegedly.

Media Studies comes of age?

The UK's higher education institutions have just been rated by the RAE, the Research Assessment Exercise, which determines how British faculties are doing, compared to their counterparts in the UK and internationally.

The Times reports good news for Westminster University's Media faculty.

You can read the article here.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

A connected world brings sweet music

The rise of social web networking surely must mean that the Six Degrees of Separation theory has become more realistic than ever before?

I pose the question because of a small chain of events that happened today. It goes like this:

1. I read an article on the Guardian website, revealing that Jonathan Ross has started using Twitter, the micro blogging site, where users can post short SMS-type updates on what they're doing.

2. I go to Jonathan's Twitter site and post a response to his question, 'which song should I play first when I return to radio presenting in the New Year?' Remember that Ross and comedian Russell Brand found themselves in hot water earlier in the year, when they left obscene messages on the answerphone of the actor Andrew Sachs. Brand quit his BBC Radio 2 job and Ross was suspended for 12 weeks.

3. My post is picked up by a band I've not come across before,  Georgia Wonder. They start to follow my postings.

4. I get a link from their Twitter page to a website offering bands the chance to find an audience and build a relationship - Reverbnation. Following a brief registration process, I am able to download a handful of songs by Georgia Wonder, and think they are fantastic. Now, I'm here, writing to you, to say that the band are well worth a listen. Reverbnation is worth checking out too. It's interesting because when you sign up, there's an option to become a 'street volunteer', handing out flyers etc, for the band you like. It's another example of how the virtual web is beginning to find ways to link audiences and producers together, via shared interests, in a physical sense. In a knowledge economy, financial reward isn't the only currency - free tickets, a sense of belonging and self-worth all acquire a transferable value.

5. Having completed this post I am going to post a link to it on Twitter and the Georgia Wonder website. This in turn might bring them and interested audience members to my blog. 

6. Who knows what contacts may arise as a consequence?

Communicating science - the Ancient Greek way

This is a great video, posted on the Guardian's Science blog. It's all about the Antikythera, possibly the world's oldest computer. The story emanates from the respected magazine, The New Scientist.

Fragments of one were found in a shipwreck, and after many years of toil, an academic has re-created one. The Antikythera predicted lunar cycles, the movement of the planets and more.

Having read Classics at university and being a Media teacher now, there are several aspects to this story that I find appealing.

Firstly, there's the intrinsic interest in the science. To remake something that worked 2000 years ago is a marvel, and a testament to the perseverance of the team involved. 

Secondly, it's great to find an accessible story about science. Science as a genre of broadcasting seems marginalized on our TV schedules, which is strange, given how large a part science plays in our everyday lives.

Thirdly, it's interesting to find text and video about this on a newspaper's science blog, which shows how the press is adapting to the new media age. 

Finally, this all goes to show how even in ancient times people were looking to share information, process facts, and make life easier via technology. Not mch changes, does it?

Here's the video:

Sunday, 14 December 2008

New Media, New Art Forms

There isn't much to say in this posting. It's more of a watch and wonder entry.

I've been poking around, looking at ways in which artists are re-interpreting video as an art form online.

The launch of 90 second video clips on the photo social networking site Flickr , together with the rise of YouTube and other video sharing outlets, have presented creatives with new opportunities.

Here are a few I like. I hope you do too. 

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

Shooting in HD for student productions

As the cost of purchasing high definition camcorders continues to fall it's inevitable that schools will begin to migrate from digital video (DV) to its superior stablemate.

One of the issues however is the growing plethora of formats. HD itself is something of a minefield, with numerous variants. There's interlaced and progressive (an i or a P suffix) which determines whether the images are composites of each other during the 25 frames that are recorded each second, or whole images progressively recorded as the camera records. Progressive is seen to offer better motion effects and therefore is preferred by independent film makers. Interlaced is more data efficient, so tends to be the variant most camcorders use. Increasingly, camcorders around the £700 mark will now offer a combination of both. The progressive version often comes as 720P, while the interlaced is sold as 1080i. This refers to the pixel width of the image. 

On top of that, some camcorders use DV tapes but record an HDV signal, others record to a hard disc inside the camera, some record to memory cards, while others still record to small DVDs. 

All of this can be a confusing mixture of options.

Earlier this year I bought a couple of HDV camcorders by Sony. The HVR-A1E costs around £1000, but offers many professional features in a small unit. I opted for HDV because it offered compatibility with our existing tape stock and is seen by many as being a reliable format for now. 

The future will be disc based, and I have been able to test some of the Canon hard drive HD camcorders. They tend to use a new recording video format called AVCHD (Advanced Video Codec High Definition). This crushes the video and audio signal right down and early critics wondered if the output would be any good? I must say that I was impressed and could see this becoming part of the school arsenal within 18 months to two years. There's still scope for the price point to fall further.

Anyway, back to recording in HDV. The first crop of students are now finishing using the A1s and I've put a couple up on YouTube. Keeping in mind that the signal has been crushed by compression software to make it small enough for YouTube to handle, I'm impressed by the streaming quality. The end results when played via DVD look stunning. 

One video below is a version of the Fray's How to Save a Life. Th other, shot at night, is a rendition of Fightstar's Tannhauser Gate. It seems you need to have the YouTube window open in order to watch the HD version. Most annoying.

So, double click on one of the videos below to open the full YouTube page, then remember to click on the 'watch in HD' option, which appears to the bottom right of the video.

Friday, 12 December 2008

It's my party politics and I'll sing if I want to

A wonderful piece of journalistic sarcasm has swept across my path.

In the UK the Guardian newspaper represents the liberal left of the political spectrum (Labour Party), while the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, owned by Associated Newspapers, represent the right wing (Conservative Party).

An article on the Guardian website reveals, with some mirth, the fact that Associated are launching their own record label. 

As the article's author Paul MacInnes puts it, 'as if belonging to one industry with a death wish wasn't enough, now the Mail wants to get into another!'

It's true that newspapers face a challenging future, with an economic downturn, and increasing numbers of readers becoming online audiences for information, analysis and entertainment.

However, diversity isn't a bad idea, although it's a fair point to ask if a news publisher can cope with the challenges of the music industry - where most outfits with the exception of Apple have struggled to build a solid user base.

What made me smile though about the article were the many politically motivated comments that follow from readers; looking for song titles that the new record label could release.

A few examples: 
Nothing's Gonna Change My Dislike of the EU
It's the End of the World as we Know it (And I Feel Outraged)

Witty stuff to end a long Friday. Enjoy.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Facing up to production planning

So here I am, having bought a couple of cheap but rather useful Flip camcorders a few weeks ago. A quick reminder - they look like mobile phones, are cheap to buy, as close to idiot proof in terms of operation as a piece of techno-kit can get, and seemingly irresistible to staff and students alike.

Finally, I got one of my test models back yesterday and figured it was time I had a little play with them myself. One of my lower sixth classes was ready to give me and their peers quick pitches about the film ideas they're developing. Filming will begin in the new year, and with only a week to go before the Christmas break begins, it seemed like a perfect moment to put them on camera.

So, I popped the Flip on a tripod, let it record the presentations, including audience questions, then flipped out the USB stick that's inbuilt, connected the camera to my PC, went to YouTube, hit upload, and got on with something else.

As if by magic, when I came back there were the three videos online. Now, these aren't going to win any awards for cinematography, sound or anything else. In fact, with perfect timing, a workman started using a noisy drill half way through our recordings. But, it does mean we have a moving image record of what happened, which is a useful piece of research data to own.

Here are the three presentations. There'll be some more coming tomorrow, and I will also start, now that I've created a Berkhamsted Media channel on YouTube, to upload other student produced material.

Monday, 8 December 2008

The pipe's the limit for SKY

Rupert Murdoch's Sky has revolutionised TV watching in the UK, bringing multi channel TV to the masses, in ways that seem unimaginable for those of us who remember the heady days of growing up with two BBC channels (1+2) plus ITV. 

In those days, the term 'water-cooler TV' did mean millions watching the same event, because choice was so limited.

Now, we live in an age of increasingly niche audience viewing habits, where even the long-running soaps have seen their audience figures decline comparatively.

From its initial offerings Sky has grown to dominate the pay TV market, sucking up many sports rights along the way, and transforming the fortunes of players and the experiences of audiences. Today's sports coverage is far slicker and soccer players' fees far more lucrative than anyone could have envisioned.

Technologically, Sky has continued to innovate, offering a hard disc recorder (Sky+), high definition variants, and now it is making another push into a new frontier.

Since the BBC launched the iPlayer more than a year ago, TV pundits have wondered how long it will take for a full convergence between online usage and TV viewing to occur.

Late last week Sky announced that it was now launching the Sky Player. For a monthly subscription that will be less than the cost of a satellite feed, users can watch live channel packages online, as well as download movies and other entertainment shows, using a proprietary player, that uses Microsoft Silverlight as the backbone for its Digital Rights Management. 

Mac users are catered for, but without the downloading facility for movies and entertainment. The Sky website says this will be coming in due course. I'm not sure if Mac users get a discount for the reduced service, but I intend to find out this week and will report back.

Either way, it represents a fascinating acknowledgement that audience tastes are changing and that for some people online delivery works better. This might be because people want to take downloaded shows to work, users spend more time online so this might be a way of generating revenue from those deserting the traditional sit back approach of conventional TV, or it might represent a chance for those in love with the service to maintain viewing habits wherever they might be.

What is certain is that the combination of advancing broadband availability, falling subscription costs, and rising audience acceptance of media delivery via online channels, is likely to fuel a rise in the viewing of moving image content on computer screens.

Is there a spanner in the works? Well, possibly there is. British Telecom (BT) is complaining that the media regulator, OFCOM, has capped the rates it can lease its lines to third parties at too low a rate. It's claiming this will hamper investment in new broadband infrastructure. The government has seen fit to bail out our banks. It will be interesting to see if it's prepared to invest in the backbone of our country's technological improvement.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

A kiss is but a kiss.....

I read in one of the newspapers over the weekend that houses on the site occupied by Brookside, one of the early soaps, are now worth only a few thousand pounds more than when the show's creator, Phil Redmond, purchased the site in Liverpool during the early 1980s. That's a shame and a surprise, because the show broke new ground during its time.

Photograph: Mersey Television

Brookside premiered on the launch night of Channel 4, November 2nd 1982. I remember growing up watching Brookie, as it was affectionately called by its fans, for the sheer audacity of its storylines. Amongst its highlights there was the first on-screen lesbian kiss (featuring a youthful Anna Friel, now making her way in Hollywood, and recently seen in the hit series Pushing Daisies) and a mother murdering her abusive husband, then burying the corpse beneath the garden patio. The Guardian has a good photo-montage with text, remembering key points in the show's history, which you can find here.

While East Enders took the line of glamourized pantomime, with its easily recognisable stereotypes and straightforward plots, Brookside offered a darker more threatening view of the world. For thousands of teenagers, growing up in the Thatcherite recession hit 80s, the programme provided a welcome empathy from a media which at the time addressed the needs and interests of teenagers with particular disdain and patronising disinterest.

With the exception of Channel 4 and a few strands on BBC 2, it was a barren desert for youth programming when I was growing up. Shows aimed at reflecting the interests of youth culture, like The Word (C4) and Rough Guide....(BBC2) made it possible to believe that there were people out there with whom you could connect. Remember, this was a time with no internet, mobile phones, or multi channel TV. Over at BBC 2, Janet Street-Porter, having launched the brilliant teen entertainment news strand Network 7 on Channel 4, launched Def II a self-contained selection of increasingly bizarre shows. Rapido often looked like it might have been a snapshot of a circus for fetishists. But that, of course, was part of its charm. It seemed naughty, without being offensive. Incidentally, Janet Street-Porter was a guest on BBC Radio 4s Desert Island Discs last week. It's a great interview that gives plenty of background about the TV landscape of the last 25 years, and is revealing in terms of the white middle-class bias Janet had to overcome in order to succeed. Sadly, the programme isn't available online due to copyright restrictions, but you can see her song choices here:

Anyway, back to Brookside. Unlike East Enders and Coronation Street, its audience grew up, drifted away, and despite the best efforts of the show's writers, it was finally cancelled in November 2003. The point, I suppose, is that there's no accounting for audience taste in the long-term, and in a multi-channel world, catering for the here, the now, and the near future is a safer bet for many TV channels. Will this mean however, that we won't see any more long running series taking shape? Or will those that survive be the ones designed to have an air of impermanence and metamorphic change about them? I'm thinking of Lost and Heroes

It does seem like the nature of writing TV drama is changing, and for those of us in our thirties and forties, we can look back through the rose-tinted glasses of hindsight, and relish in the remembrance of a time when choice was small but the content revolutionary.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Moral Panics and Internet Paranoia

I must thank my student Leah for inspiring this post.

She's written on her blog about a video clip she found on YouTube , purportedly showing a Saudi Arabian footballer getting kicked in the head during a match and subsequently dying.

Leah, having been told to be wary of anything she reads online, especially when the text is based on unmoderated audience feedback, went off and dug around for the truth. 

Eventually, she discovered that the chap was fine and went on the play more professional football.

The point I wish to make is this: it's good academic practice to double check secondary sources and seek independent verification of claims. That goes for material read in a journal, for example, just as much as it does for material found online. 

The horrific attacks in Mumbai last week saw proponents of Twitter , the online service that allows users to post quick one-liners about what they're doing from mobile phones, PDAs and the like, to claim that this was the event that saw Twitter come of age as a news tool.

The issue is, of course, that what Twitter delivers isn't news. It's information. We need skilled journalists to make sense of all this data, to craft it into something that makes contextual sense to us, as an audience at one step removed from the drama that is unfolding. 

The immediacy of the web, and the ease with which moving and still images can be flashed around the world, gives the impression that we are right in the thick of the action. The reality, of course, couldn't be further from the truth. What we are witnessing at such times are multiple streams of complex material. This all amounts to a jumbled re-presentation of the actuality. A multi-camera angled jamboree of vision and noise, as it were. 

Searching around online for evidence of others feeling the same way as I do, I was impressed by the writing of technology journalist Om Malik. His posting about Twitter makes sound sense, and is worth a read.

Allen Stern , writing for Information Week, makes some more technical points about how the infrastructure of Twitter makes it hard for the software to work as a news filter. 

The Guardian has an interesting article that looks at how bloggers, and photo sharing site Flickr also provided additional information, as the tragedy in Mumbai unfolded.

So, where does this leave us? Newspapers still have a role to play, as the suppliers of intelligent analysis. Radio provides fast and intimate contact with those involved in events, while TV news can continue to help us make sense of what is becoming an increasingly complex, fragmented, yet seemingly inter-connected world. In between all of that, the range of web-based software communication tools will make inroads into the traditional roles of their predecessors, generating new ways of telling stories, shaping information, and challenging our assumptions about how communication between one and the many, or as is increasingly the case, between the many and the many, takes place. Now, what was it McLuhan said about the medium being the message??