An evening primrose found in the middle of an alfalfa field in Apple Creek, OH. More pictures from my own private Elba here.
This weekend is the over-sold WordcampHouston, featuring programming for people at all knowledge levels using the WordPress content management system. Based on the very real space concerns at the Houston Museum of Natural Science it’s recommended that people take a second to plan out which sessions they plan to attend.
To help people make that choice, I’m going to outline what I’ll be talking about in my workshop, entitled “Must-Have Plugins.” By giving this post and outline a brief scan, attendees should be able to determine whether this workshop will be useful or not.
Saturday’s Workshop, entitled “Must-Have Plug-ins” will review some important plugins to consider using, their functionality, getting the most out of them, as well as address some industry specific plugins for musicians, filmmakers and photographers. The session, held from 2:10pm til 3:00pm in the Blogger Track will be hands-on so please bring your laptop. It would help if you already have a WordPress site set up and know the ftp log/pass.
This session is recommended if you are a novice user or if you would simply like to increase your knowledge base about plug-ins. If you are a casual user of WordPress and proficient with essential plug-ins and how to maximize their functionality, you might want to swing by for a hot minute and pick up a handout. If you feel like bouncing to a more important session, I won’t mind. If you are an expert user of WordPress or are up to date on which plugins you feel you should use, this session will more than likely not provide you with any new knowledge.
My goal for the workshop is to maximize the impact for the attendees based on their existing knowledge base and level of interest in specific plugins and categories. If we need to begin with a discussion of what plug-ins are and how to install and activate them, that’s fine, if we don’t, that’s also fine. I will push towards providing an overview of some of the following Must-Have plugins with examples of sites that use them and how to get the most out of each plugin.
Below is a list of three types of plugins and specific examples we’ll be covering. This is by no means an exhaustive or complete list and any suggestions are welcome and encouraged:
- Type I: Plugins that increase your control over a WordPress powered site (Type I.rar)
- Type II: Plugins that increase the interactivity of a WordPress powered site (Type II.rar)
- Type III: Plugins that create multiple directions of communication on a WordPress powered site (Type III.rar)
- Industry Specific Plugins
As I prepare an application for what could potentially be a life-changing experience, I have tasked myself with completing a series of writing assignments reflecting upon whom I am and how I arrived at this point in my life. I must’ve told this story hundreds of times. It’s one version of how I grew into my potential and discovered love in a city I formerly hated.
When I first moved to Houston I hated it. Truly hated it. For the first year, I flew back to Chicago every month to see my friends and spend time in a city that I understood, loved and felt was a fully formed idea. Houston was sprawling, had terrible public transportation and I couldn’t find any similarities to the types of events that were happening in Chicago, every day of the week. I hated Houston so much I would tell people about it. Anyone that asked. Truthfully, even if they didn’t ask. Many of my sentences began with “You know, back in Chicago we would…” Time passed…the tone stayed the same. I hated Houston.
I met a group of people outside my graduate school circle, a group of creatives, artists, people who were true Houstonians, people who knew the city, had their own treasure map they had constructed. As they showed me things that would have taken years to find on my own, I saw promise, and arts, music and film activities that I enjoyed but had never been able to find on my own. These people were staging these events, making their own life in Houston, achieving artistic and personal success through programming these events, on their own, without the help of the city and without institutional support, simply executing good ideas. I was awed and inspired. The tone changed. I stopped saying I hated Houston.
One day I made a decision, a realization. If I was going to have to live in Houston, I would need to bend it to my will. My preposterous idea was that I would start putting on my own events, things that I would see happening regularly in Chicago. I decided to bring Chicago to Houston. I put on a couple concerts, I staged some film events, I started getting active in the community and contributing to others’ events to add value. I started doing websites for local businesses and venues. Shockingly, each event and idea was welcomed with open arms, was well attended, and seemed to be enjoyed by the attendees. People saw promise in good ideas and were quick to support them. Houston showed me that it was receptive to new ideas, in fact people were asking for them, actively seeking them. I was engaged and content. The tone changed. I liked Houston.
I realized I could make a life here, make a difference, have fun, curate my own existence. With each new event and group of people who were changed I realized I liked Houston, was beginning to fall in love with it. I started doing a radio show with a friend that actively promoted others’ good ideas, events, and bands. We started working with individuals and bands to help them in their careers. There was success there too. We grew more and more passionate about the opportunities available in Houston; saw that we were making a positive impact in a city full of promise. The tone changed. I loved Houston.
The events grew larger and so did the people we worked with to help them achieve their potential. There were hard times and like any relationship it took work but my emotions for the city grew. I became an outspoken evangelist for the promise, the opportunity, the warm reception and support for new and inventive ideas. The events got more expansive, more inclusive, they collided art, music and film. I was proud of our city and what we’d accomplished. The tone changed again. I would bleed for this city.
I met a best friend; we shared our intellect, ideas, and smashed architecture and bioengineering together to make new creations. We met a tech community, people who were actively committed to their personal lifelong education. We found an idea, a unifying theme for Houston, one that would combine all we had worked on in the past, individually and together, a way to serve the entire Houston community and foster more collaboration, not just stage events or happenings. We could achieve greater success, together. The individual Communities of Interest became one large Community of Practice. The community swelled and rallied, the project launched. We were now able to reach more people, whole communities, work collaboratively together to shape our city. We grew in pride for the city and our collective ability to improve it. People were inspired and engaged. The pronoun changed. We loved Houston.
I met a partner; we shared our lives, our passions, and our desire to help individuals and communities achieve their potential. Together, the three of us grew our community hub. Dog made four. Together the community grew and the impact spread. It had long ago stopped being about imprinting Chicago or New York City on Houston; it evolved into staging events that improved our collective quality of life. The successes weren’t measured in tangible things anymore: attendance at events didn’t matter, press mentions were less important; the impact was now measured in behavioral and attitudinal changes, in mind shifts. We staged events to help whole communities, inside of Houston, outside of Houston. It was no longer about saying “I love Houston,” it was more about actions and showing that love, inspiring that individual passion and empowerment in others. It was about showing individuals and communities that they owned the power to improve that which they saw around them. It was about everyone doing it for everyone, doing it to share passion and enthusiasm to learn, grow, and improve. The idea changed, the pronoun became all inclusive, the tense shifted. We are all in it together, we are all one community.
The music business is changing. The way you as an artist craft your message and direct your career is now at your fingertips and fully in your control. While some might see this as an incredible opportunity, most see it as overwhelming and stifling to creativity and career enhancement. Questions such as “where do we start?” or “what should we be doing to get more ___ or promote our ___?” always seem to have answers but something’s missing, the actions don’t seem to tie together and build to something bigger.
Enter Goals and Strategy
You’ve all heard this before: What’s Your Goal? Well, you’re not hearing it enough and you’re also assuming it’s rhetorical. It’s not a rhetorical question. What’s Your Goal is the most important question you can ask yourself because the answer illuminates the answers to those other questions, like “where do we start?” or “what should we do to increase our promotion of…?” More than that, setting goals also lets others know where your resources and time is being spent and how they can support you. Music writers know whether you are serious about your music or whether it’s a bedroom project. Fans know that you want to get to the next level and need their financial support or just to give it a listen and enjoy it.
At this month’s Bandcampus, we’ll help you to figure out what exactly you are striving for with your music. Whether it’s fame, financial wealth, wide-spread recognition, or simply creative output, all of these goals have measureable steps associated with them. The session will begin with an overview of the difference between tools (like social media), goals (like financial security), and strategy (like a college radio campaign). Following the naming of parts we’ll dive into examples of each and how you can adopt specific parts for your own goals and strategy. We’ll highlight the difference between long and short term goals and how both of these are important for forming a strategy. We’ll showcase a couple strategies that leverage your exisiting properties and resources to vault you towards your long term goal.
Every attendee of this month’s Bandcampus will walk away with set goals for the coming year, a long-term goal and the beginning of a strategy for their musical career.
WHAT: Bandcampus: GOALS and STRATEGERY
WHEN: April 11th, 2-4pm (Rescheduled for 4/18/10 b/c of Fiesta Movement party featuring Caroline Collective)
WHERE: Caroline Collective, 4820 Caroline Houston, TX
WHY: Set measurable goals for yourself and your band
Anyone committed to a life-long education already knows that TED talks are just one component of a healthy, balanced, information diet. Virtually all subjects are covered with inspirational, ground-breaking research explored in a fascinating, motivating manner. The real benefit of these talks is the learning that happens when these talks are digested and discussed among colleagues, when they lead to further investigation into a particular topic, or when they spark an idea helping you to solve a current problem in your own work. Sadly, most cities are deprived of the opportunity for future discussion about these topics because watching TED talks remains mostly a solitary activity, leaving viewers with a less than full feeling in their mental bellies.
Announcing a 12 Course Mental Dinner: TEDxHouston
TED Organizers have recently recognized the wealth of innovation and groundbreaking work occurring everywhere on the planet. As a platform for local communities to highlight this innovation, TED has created local conferences, labeled TEDx conferences.The ‘x’denotes an independently organized TED event.
TEDx events have been held in many places around the nation and world but we haven’t had one in Houston yet. Houstonians rejoice! because the great, community-minded, educational-focused people at Culture Pilot are organizing this year’s TEDxHouston event, scheduled for June 12th, 2010. Culture Pilot has a great day planned and they’ve also assembled a crack team of organizers to help plan the day. It cannot be overstated how much I respect the members of Culture Pilot for their forward thinking and work as well as the honor of working alongside such a prodigiously experienced and talented organizing team. We’re all doing our best to make the event about Houston people and as community minded as possible while still providing a professional conference atmosphere full of opportunities to discuss and digest. It’s sure to be a full meal of innovative information, all happening in Houston on a daily basis.
Your Dinner Invitation: TEDxHouston has limited seating and the event is designed to have a diverse attendance. Therefore, the Organizers have released an application form to attend TEDxHouston. This application process is live now, visit the TEDxHouston site and fill out an application to attend.
Your Appetizer: Golan Levin
Tomorrow, April 8th, Houstonian’s have an incredible opportunity to whet their mental appetites in preparation for TEDxHouston. Artist, Engineer, TED Speaker, Golan Levin will be speaking at Rice University as part of the James Baker Hughes Lecture: Engineering and Humanities in the Arts.
Golan Levin’s work employs computers to create improvised soundscapes with dazzling corresponding visuals. He merges the borders between performance art and engineering, employing software engineering with an artist’s touch.
Your Call To Action: Seriously. Go to this talk:
Prep yourself by watching Dr. Levin’s 2009 TED Talk:
Last Sunday, Bandcampus held it’s second SXSW PREP where we collectively prepared and reviewed band’s digital and physical toolbox in an effort to prepare them for playing SXSW. Over 15 bands were in attendance with a range from seasoned SXSWers to new bands that had never played the conference.
Also at Bandcampus: SXSW PREP we announced the winners of the community voted contest to select bands to play at the second annual Houston@SXSW party. Over 1000 votes were cast over a 72 hour period. We are all very impressed with the work that bands put into contacting their community to get the vote out. If these Houston bands are working that hard in other spheres we’re going to be hearing many more about them in the near future.
The bands that were selected, the bands that will be representing Houston at the Second Annual Houston@SXSW party will be:
Here’s the remainder of the recap in mostly bullet point form for your skimming pleasure:
Tips for Bands playing SXSW (contributed by everyone in attendance)
The first agenda item of the day was to discuss what you could get out of SXSW by playing or even just attending. The overarching tip that should be considered when planning anything is to Cut Through the Noise. Too many people are at SXSW and you need to think about ways in which you can connect with these people in a substantial way. That does not include overplaying, that does not include talking to everyone you meet. It does include thinking about effective ways to communicate your message. It does include novel ways of getting the word out.
- Biggest tip: Cut Through the Noise!
- Don’t overplay
- bring extra equipment
- Make a game plan
- Playing is half of the goal
- Networking needs a goal
Digital and Physical Preparation for bands
No matter what level a band is at, they should have a digital and physical toolbox that they can use at a moment’s notice to get discovered, sell merchandise or showcase their craft. At the Bandcampus session we reviewed the basics of a digital and physical toolbox that bands can set up easily. The components
- Digital Toolbox
- Central band email address (gmail or unique band domain recommended)
- Pictures posted online
- Videos (Live, Produced) posted online
- Unique Band Domain Name
- Music posted online in several locations
- Testimonials/Writeups from press posted visibly on online properties
- Booking information
- Short biography of the band
- A Home Base that is not Myspace, Facebook or any other online property not owned by yourself
- Digital Outposts at places like Myspace, Facebook, ReverbNation, Bandcamp.com, etc.
- Physical Toolbox
- Music for sale
- Merchandise for sale
- Business Cards (Recommended by Marie Angell of The Snake Charmers)
- Elevator Pitch (Worked on at a previous Bandcampus, demonstrated by Insert Name Here)
Several experts were on hand to give bands a review of their online presence and physical marketing materials. These people donated their time and deserve thanks and also should be considered for the future if you are looking for copy, marketing materials, or general direction for a band’s career.
Bands in Attendance
UPDATE: Voting is now closed for band selection for Houston@SXSW. No further votes will be counted. Thanks to everyone for voting and we will be announcing the winners in two hours at Bandcampus: SXSW PREP.
The last 60 hours have been a fog of sleeping, coughing, delirium, speaking in tongues, and changing out of soaked clothes because I sweat the bed again. Gross. The flu quarantine should be lifted by Saturday and the locks taken off the apartment doors at that time.
My apologies to bands who were looking for voting information yesterday. We will now close nominations and open voting for bands to play at Houston@SXSW on March 15th, 2010. Voting is open as of now and will close on Sunday, February 28th at noon. Please pick three bands to play, one voting session per person, per IP, just in case you were already thinking of gaming the results.
Please send this poll along to any of your fans, the link is: http://micropoll.com/t/KDrkEZBCok
As many in the tech, film and music communities know, SXSW is one of the biggest creative festivals held each year. It presents people working in these fields the opportunity to get discovered and add momentum to an already working machine. In recent years though, SXSW has been inundated with such large numbers of people that it is difficult to have any impact. In fact, many people in the music community of Houston choose not to attend the conference and not to bother sending in applications for music showcases for fear of rejection and a general perception that it is a waste of time and resources.
There are still many very good reasons to attend SXSW and there are even more unexplored ways to maximize your impact at the conference. The fact that the conference is so close to Houston makes it worth your while to attend even without a badge or wristband. Many industry professionals are in Austin during the week of music and the setting provides a good opportunity to contact and meet them to talk about your career. Label, booking and promotional companies also attend and fruitful research can be accomplished by sitting down with them for meetings. Additionally, with the rise of non-SXSW-sanctioned parties running virtually around the clock, the need to play a SXSW showcase is significantly less important than it was several years ago.
In personal communication with bands over the past couple years I’ve talked about how important it is to take control of your career and do game changing things to get noticed and build your audience. As a band working for itself, SXSW is the perfect staging grounds for this philosophy and the best way to accomplish this is to cut through the noise.
- Don’t play 9 shows in 4 days; those last shows are going to be low on energy and probably not represent your band in the way you wish to portray yourselves.
- Don’t try and play the hottest party at SXSW; you probably don’t know what it is and if you did you’d already have representation working for you.
- Don’t expect to be discovered at SXSW and have everything handed to you from now on
- Look at what everyone else is doing and take a right turn from that
- Do play (at least) one show that will have the desired impact to get you noticed by any potential fans, not just that talent scout: a guerrilla show in the middle of the street, on the back of a flatbed truck while driving around, play your music blasting from a boombox while walking down the street, hang shirts of your band just out of reach on telephone poles near the convention
- Do your research beforehand to target the people you want to work with, write them beforehand, and get a committment to meet with them to talk
- Do attend Bandcampus: SXSW PREP at Caroline Collective on February 28th from 2-4pm to make plans to attack SXSW and get your digital and physical toolbox in order
That last part is key. This Sunday at Caroline Collective we will be holding the latest installment of Bandcampus, entitled SXSW PREP. Similar to last year, this will be a workshop pairing volunteers with musical artists working to get prepared for SXSW with the following goals:
1. Prepare press materials and basic online presence items for bands interested in attending SXSW.
Any band playing in Austin during SXSW needs to be prepared to promote themselves given the chance. Playing a show is just the start of that promotion. Artists need a press kit, songs hosted online, video posted online, booking and contact information somewhere as well as physical cds to sell to interested parties or to give to record labels or booking agents. Many bands are unprepared for this situation and are lacking many of these items. By providing musicians with creative experts bands can receive focused attention to generate or upload these items to a location on the internet that raises the artists’ visibility.
2. Announce the bands that will be playing at Houston@SXSW, a Houston focused party showcasing Houston musicians, filmmakers and technologists.
This year we will be holding the second Houston@SXSW party. Last year’s party, held at Gruv, sponsored by Kirtsy, Werkadoo, Schipul, AYNBrand, and Caroline Collective , was a locally focused party showcasing Houston talent in three areas: technology, film and music. The following artists showcased: Dave Wrangler, Western Civilization, Wayside Drive, Ben Wesley, Espantapajaros, Golden Cities, Liquid Kitchen, Tha Fucking Transmissions, American Sharks, Something Fierce, and Fat Tony / B L A C K I E.
This year’s party will again focus on the contributions of Houston’s creative professionals. Startups will present, films will be shown and musical artists will showcase. This year’s party will be held at Hudson’s (301 W. 5th), Monday, March 15th from 5pm-2am. Last year’s music was curated by myself selected from the bands who attended Bandcampus: SXSW PREP. This year’s showcasing bands will be selected by the community. That means you. And your community.
Pay attention because we are going to do this very quickly. Nominations are open as of now and will close on Thursday, February 25th at noon. If you are in a band, know a band or like a band, DO THIS NOW: nominate them in the comment section below.
Starting Thursday at noon, voting will open for all bands who were nominated. Voting details, site and rules will be given on Wednesday. Voting will close on Sunday, February 28th at noon. Bands who are selected to play the party will be announced at Sunday’s Bandcampus: SXSW PREP.
Sunday’s Bandcampus: SXSW PREP is for 1) Houston musicians attending SXSW as official selections, 2) Houston musicians interested in playing at the Houston focused day party, 3) Bands looking to get their physical/online toolbox and online presence set up or checked by industry professionals, and 4) industry professionals looking to donate a couple hours to help bands generate/solidify these materials.
We need skilled graphic designers, web developers, copywriters, PR reps or any other creative professional which would be able to donate time and services for a couple hours to help bands prepare their online presence and press materials for SXSW.
WHAT: Bandcamp: SXSW PREP
WHEN: February 28th, 2-4pm
WHERE: Caroline Collective, 4820 Caroline Houston, TX
WHY: Prepare for SXSW, find out who’s playing Houston@SXSW; a free showcase of Houston creative professionals
On Wednesday night, several of Houston’s music press met to have drinks. It was a casual affair, nothing with the air of seriousness or too formal. But after a short while it was clear there was a connection somewhere and the parties included seemed to appreciate each other’s presence. It seems that a second date may be in order.
I’ve been a huge fan of most of Houston’s music press for sometime now. I consider myself extremely lucky that I work in circles that allow the opportunity to share ideas and drinks with some of these people on a regular basis. There are still others who I’ve only met in passing and still more with whom interaction has only been through trading emails or blog comments. Other local writers are in this same boat and haven’t yet had the opportunity to meet face-to-face with their peer group. The importance of meeting and conversing with colleagues in a Community of Practice cannot be understated so getting together to have a drink and talk shop was a home run idea for all of us.
Two recaps of this were posted about this meeting the next day, by Brittanie Shey of Houston Press and Jeremy Hart of Space City Rock. Brittanie’s piece provides a good flow of the conversation that was had about the local music community, especially the hot topic of staying up on local bands and why so few bands send in music or make any attempt to contact the press. Jeremy’s post gives a run down of those in attendance and his kind comments about how great the event was were shared by everyone in attendance. You should check those out as a companion to this post.
The most heated point of discussion related to Houston’s music press not being contacted by local musicians enough to keep them updated on their careers. I am squarely in this camp with the press and feel that there is too much apathy and reactivity (vs. proactivity) in Houston musicians and that musicians should be in better contact with their press. This was a topic that was directly mentioned by Craig Hlavaty at the last Bandcampus, re-addressed with a series of posts on this site and echoed with comments and other statements by Brittanie Shey and Sara Cress of 29-95.com.
On this topic Joe Mathlete had the most prescient comments. Joe said two things that deserve to be repeated, keep in mind I’m paraphrasing his quotes but attempting to conserve the ideas:
1. Music writers need to be doing a better job of getting out into the community and finding out what bands are doing.
2. Some band’s goals are simply to put out good music and have fun.
I’m happy to cede the first point and to share the burden of proactively contacting bands to keep tabs on them. As for the second point, it is both true and contributing to the problem of not enough contact between musicians and press. The issue is not that bands want to have fun and put out good music because that’s something that we can all get behind. The issue is not the additionally agreeable statement from Joe that some of these bands don’t care if they get written up because that’s not part of their success metrics. The problem is goals.
There are not enough bands who have goals to be financially/artistically successful telling the public this. There are not enough bands who have goals that include making good music and having fun telling the public this. These goals are neither mutually exclusive or in opposition of each other. But they are ideas of a path and a direction and hone in on what they bands want/need to achieve them. And that’s what’s really missing: there are not enough bands in Houston with goals. This is not the first time I’ve personally mentioned musician goals. The real problem with bands not having goals is that it creates confusion for the local music press who do have stated goals: to chronicle the Houston music community and write about it’s related media products.
There are a lot of places we can go from here. We could talk about the effect of an entire community of bands operating without stated goals. That this leaves the music press questioning 1) why they’re not hearing from musicians more and 2) whether they should write about the musicians or whether the musicians want them to write about them. Or we could talk about how band’s definitions of success may not include caring whether the music press writes about them at all or if it does they want to be sought out by the music press. That this creates a vibrant cottage music community driven by parties and self released albums and fan driven interactions.
I’ve tried to write up my thoughts on the previous paragraph’s topics and have stalled out with something long, getting longer, and requiring considerable editing. I’m just going to take a right turn and just say I’m super fucking proud of Houston’s music press and the hard work they put in every day. At this point it’s not clear where we’re going to go from here; it’s up to the community to continue to the discussion. In one short meeting we got a discussion started in person that then flowed back to the web through a couple posts and some good comments. That’s as good a start as any.