How To Organise Yourselves For A Group Project

working in a groupAn awful lot of music courses these days have group-based practical projects as at least one module within the course. This is, I think, a positive trend, in that it encourages you situate your learning within the context of your own practice as creative professionals, but it definitely requires some thought regarding how to organise yourselves in a group. So here are a few thoughts on how to do that:

  • Firstly, you need to decide on a shared communication method – it could be email, a Facebook group chat (or group), Whatsapp group, Skype chat, Google Hangout… You’ll need both ongoing text chat and probably the option to have audio or video meetings, depending on how often you’re able to meet face to face. So, decide on this straight away, and make sure it’s one that everyone can access.
  • Secondly, you’ll need some kind of shared calendar into which you can put tasks and deadlines and assign roles. Google Calendar is as good as any for this, and is pretty widely supported on the web and via phone apps. It may be that your college or university has the option to create shared events via their web services, which is fine too. There are also a LOAD of great task-sharing apps – Wunderlist, Trello, etc… Some are paid, some are free. Do some research (assign someone the task) and settle on what you’re going to use within the first 24 hours of forming the group. Make a rule that you all check the calendar for that days tasks every day.
  • Along side this, you’ll need a space where you can all share documents, resources etc. Google Docs/Drive is good for this, and I think Microsoft Office 365 also has this option. Dropbox is great if everyone has an account. Google Docs makes it possible to collaborate on the same document in real time. That can be really handy if one of you is, for example, writing a press release, and someone else is proof reading it.
  • Establish a set of guidelines straight away that everyone agrees to regarding what you do when someone misses a deadline. Get it down in a document before you start so that you can deal with people who are unreliable without it having to get personal. If someone is missing deadlines as assigned in the calendar, have a protocol for reassigning that work, and for finding out what on earth is going on.
  • Set regular times to check in and report back on what you’ve done. If it’s a big project, you can do this at the end of every day – start the day with the to-do list, end it logging the tasks that have been accomplished. If you’ve got a little more time to work on it, you might decide you only need to do this every other day, or three times a week… But make sure it’s regular so you can keep a track of jobs that are missed. If it’s part of a 10 week module, you REALLY can’t afford to be waiting a week to find out that a whole load of the work that you’re all relying on has been missed.
    Keep your tutor in the loop. Make sure that each week you report back on what’s going on, where you’re up to and what you need help with. If they’re available for tutorials, book time with them. If they aren’t, but they are available via email, check that it’s OK, then contact them.
  • Find out where the other staff are in your institution that may be able to help you. Get all the support you can, and then apply your initiative and learning to get on with it.
  • Document EVERYTHING. Keep accurate notes of what you’re up to, and what you need to do, make sure that meetings are minuted (one person keeping a log of everything that is discussed and decided), use the camera on your phone to take pictures and video of all the stuff you get up to – sharing the story of your project can help make it interesting for your potential audience, so use the story of the project to support the project!
  • Sort out your own plan for time management – if you are prone to wasting endless hours online, or gaming, or watching TV or whatever, commit to finishing the tasks on your list daily before you reward yourself with your leisure pursuit of choice. Don’t let the group down because you’re too undisciplined to put the PS4 away for a few hours…

Project work can be an amazing chance to try things out, learn from your peers, and get valuable experience in your chosen field, as well as to develop skills you didn’t even know you might need. Enter into the task with enthusiasm and an open mind, get the work done, and enjoy it – it could end up helping you decide what you really want to do with your life!

Tips for Music Students

beyond bass camp picture

Serious about studying music? Here’s some tips. Take or leave them as you find them useful. Your college years are both very limited and very expensive. Don’t waste them:

  • Take extensive notes on everything, (but maybe try and work out a system for sorting through them – two useful resources here and here.) Srsly, there is literally no way that you’ll remember everything important from your classes. Note taking is NOT optional…
  • Record every time you play – video if possible. Review it, learn from it, put the best bits online if that feels useful to you.
  • Collaborate as much as possible – stepping outside your comfort zone can be an amazing learning experience.
  • Get your course work done early – focus on the learning outcomes and marking criteria, hit all of those, then think about the things that your own practice needs to get out of the module.
  • Learn how to write essays – google for advice, there are tons of great articles giving tips on this – there are a couple to get you started here, here and here.
  • Ask questions – never let any teacher make you feel bad about needing more information.
  • Keep a blog – it’s great writing practice, and is a space to try out ideas and start to build an audience. Writing publicly can really help focus your mind on whether your ideas are nonsense or not!
  • If you play an electric instrument, get a headphone amp, carry it with you so  you can practice whenever you get spare time. Swap favourite practice ideas with other students. It also means you won’t be taking up a practice room that a band might need just so you can run scales through an amp.
  • Go to gigs – big and small. Support your local scene, get to know who runs the venues and books the shows.
  • Play live as often as possible – gigs, open mics, jam sessions – get out and play.
  • Spend as much time in the studio as possible. If your college has a studio, book any spare time you can in there.
  • Start recording at home, and work on measurable week to week improvement. if all you’ve got to record on is your phone, get better at positioning it in relation to your instrument to get the best sounds you can. Learning to maximise the possible quality of lo-tech recordings will pay MASSIVE dividends down the line.
  • Watch as many tutorials about how to work in the studio as you can.
  • Invest in your music life. Booze and cigarettes are not an investment in your music life. Records, gear, strings, gig tickets, travel to go and play with new people are.
  • Listen to at least one new album (released in the last two years) a week.
  • History matters more than nostalgia – use YouTube to fill in the history of your instrument – look up at least three new-to-you important players a week. It really is the greatest learning resource humanity has yet invented, if only all that genius content wasn’t hidden behind towering mountains of bullshit.
  • Read books. Lots and lots of books. Use the college library, find out about journal access through your course. (your essays WILL be marked down if your only references are blogs – books matter.)
  • Monitor your social media time, but work on your online presence as an artist/professional.
  • Spend precisely no time worrying about music you don’t like. Learn what you need to learn for the course, but cultivate your relationship with the music you’re passionate about. Keep your ears open to new sounds – weird doesn’t necessarily mean bad, often it means unfamiliar…
  • Remember, your peers are not competition, they’re comrades. Learn from everyone, be generous in sharing your own learning. Swap skills with everyone, trade lessons for guitar repairs, studio time for web skills.

Being a Good Citizen Of The Internet: What Would The Internet Be Like If Everyone Behaved Like Me?

This was another one of the blog themes I gave my social media students last week. They tackled it in various ways, but I’d like to expand on where the question comes from.

The root of it is the conversation about ‘marketing’ and ‘promotion’. Ever since MySpace, musicians have been looking for ingenious ways to increase their audience without actually doing any of the tried and tested pre-web stuff (actually making amazing music, doing gigs, contacting media outlets in the hope that they’ll recognise the brilliance of your work and write about you or play you on the radio, Encouraging your existing fans to talk about what you do).

photo by timag on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

As ever, the ‘race to the bottom’ led to a whole new kind of musician spam – blanket messages sent to every Myspace (now Facebook) friend, multiple postings on other people’s pages, imploring friends and strangers to ‘check out my amazing new video on YouTube’ and perhaps the most insidious of all, networks of musicians making a pact to promote each others work, regardless of quality or the degree to which the sharer is actually interested in the shared work. (I’ve written a lot about the nonsense of this kind of reciprocity). Continue reading “Being a Good Citizen Of The Internet: What Would The Internet Be Like If Everyone Behaved Like Me?”

Guilty Pleasures – Why Do We Listen to the Things We Listen To?

Here’s another of the blog topics I set for my College students – we got onto the topic of ‘guilty pleasures’ in class, so I asked them to write about it.

What do we mean by guilty pleasures? Guilty of what? enjoying it? of not acquiescing to the groupthink of our particular subculture? Of not knowing what ‘serious’ music fans ought to listen to? Are we guilty because we know its wrong, or because we’re concerned about getting caught?

All of those – admittedly trivial – concerns miss a much bigger question, about WHY we listen to music. Much as we’d love to see ourselves as objective connoisseurs of musical worth, there are way to many factors at play to make any sense of ‘transgressive listening’ remotely meaningful in relation to the music as opposed to the sub-culture. Continue reading “Guilty Pleasures – Why Do We Listen to the Things We Listen To?”

Reconsidering Charts – Listening vs Shopping

One of the first social networks I ever joined was Last.fm – back in the pre-corporate buy-out days, it was an amazing way to connect with music listeners, to find people with similar taste, and through them discover some amazing music.

What was most revolutionary about it at the time, at least for me, was that it was a website that created ‘charts’ based on listening, not on shopping. So you had a record of the music that was soundtracking your life, rather than just the latest things to tempt you to part with cash. Continue reading “Reconsidering Charts – Listening vs Shopping”

Who Is Your Audience?

As some of you know, I’ve recently started teaching in the music department at Kidderminster College. It’s a fabulous opportunity, as I get to spend every tuesday working with bassists (and a violinist!) in the mornings and on social media with a load of mainly singer/songwriters in the afternoon. Yeah, two of my favourite things, in one day. Lucky me!

So last week, I set the afternoon students the task of thinking – and blogging – about who their social media audience is:

  • Who do you know reads what you write?
  • Who do you imagine is reading it when you write it (who are writing to)
  • Who else may end up reading it?
  • Who would you most like to have reading it?
  • How do these considerations affect how and what you post (be it original words/pictures/video/music or shared stuff from around the web)

Continue reading “Who Is Your Audience?”