Dec 9 2012
One year ago today, I made my first post on Bird is the Worm.
It’s amazing to me that an entire year has passed, though the latent exhaustion I experience when looking back over the last year of BitW should be all the proof I need that the last 365 days didn’t exactly speed by quickly.
In this post, I’m going to talk about recollections of the past year in BitW, and then some things to look for in 2013. And since it’s Sunday, I’ll end with a video that I like.
So, I began this site knowing pretty much nothing. A very good friend, Bob Lewis, helped me with site hosting, downloaded the shell that eventually became my site appearance, and set up my BitW email account (thanks, Bob!). From there, I began toying with the appearance, adding widgets and plugins to add organization and functionality, and added ancillary items like the Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter pages. I began to learn about tagging, categories, seo, site security, and all the things one needs to learn to run their own site. I began dabbling in coding. I got pretty good at fixing my coding errors. I posted a bunch of articles.
I look back on some of those early posts. I want to modify many of them. Several of the things I do now, I didn’t do back then. I didn’t always explicitly list album personnel. Sometimes I overloaded the embedded audio. I didn’t add all musician names as search tags on the site. I was sloppier back then with article appearance. I look like someone trying to figure out the jazz-site-thing on the fly. And I was.
I made some intermittent journal entries in a spare file that I left in my site’s Draft folder. Here’s some things I wrote during my first month of BitW:
I’m sure there are doctoral theses out there that speak of certain internet behavior in clinical terms and referenced to the DSMIV. I am currently at the stage where I obsessively Google my own name, my site name, and various keywords in my articles. I have also begun scanning specific artist sites to see if they’ve quoted me or my blog on their own site; this, I believe, to be the equivalent of anxiously awaiting for a pretty girl to call back and occasionally picking up the phone to be sure it still has a working dialtone. I feel no shame, and that is likely the essential element that classifies me as “someone in possession of a mental illness” or more colloquially, just “wrong in the head”.
I may, in fact, even publish this entry at some point. You know what that means don’t you? That I am now entering the “throwing myself naked before the intertubes public” stage of my sickness.
So, I just spent the last couple hours combing through old digital photos and looking for a slice of them that would work for my header. No sense in detailing the various memories associated with each photo or my flailing attempts at color coordination. Only worth re-emphasizing that I just spent hours doing it. I had the upload and cropping part of it down in under ten minutes… the rest of that time, it was all interior decorating. Even when I began yawning, nope, kept going. It’s nearly midnight, and I have a very long, hurried day ahead of me tomorrow, yet I’m sitting here typing not to share my thoughts with the internet abyss, but stalling as I begin considering a change to my site’s background color, as well as steeling myself for yet another attempt at changing the color on those little menu boxes; not a big fan of that powder blue, though it won’t kill me if I have to leave it that way.
Still so much to learn.
And there was. The thing of it is, I really enjoyed it. I still do. Even as I pulled out my hair and could feel myself aging as I hit submit/modify buttons and prayed that I didn’t crash my site, it was so much fun. The huge bursts of euphoria from the tiny victories (I added drop-down menus!) and the soul crushing defeats (I messed up my drop-down menus!) were an odd soup of excitement unlike anything I’d ever experienced before and quite intoxicating in its own peculiar way. And then there were the true achievements, like when I went into the site code and created custom taxonomies (with the help from an internet search or two) and then when I figured out on my own how to get those taxonomies to become searchable words and appear in a variety of menus. And, of course, the time I messed up the code on my Notes From The Holler site and completely disabled it… when I figured out how to FTP a new site shell onto my site to override the messed up one, managing to save all of my posts and maintain site functionality, well, I was flush with pride.
I’m proud to see that each month, BitW has received more site visitors than the month before. The only time this wasn’t true was June. I was out of town quite a bit in June, so wasn’t able to post much. However, the infrequent posting in June had more to do with a bad case of burn-out and an overpowering need to re-envision what my site was and how I wanted to present the content. It was worth it. Beginning in July and going forward, I feel like my reviews got better, more in-depth, and the format in which I delivered the content became more standardized (ie, placement & amount of embedded audio, linking procedures, tags & categories, timing of reviews, etc). I feel like BitW is a stronger site for the latter half of 2012, and that I was able to shake off some of those training wheels. I think I’m getting better.
Of course, I’m still figuring stuff out. My voice as a fiction writer is pretty well developed, but my voice as a music writer is still in the incubation period. Recently, however, I feel that I may be breaking free from my shell. I think I may be finally discovering how to bridge the gap between my fiction voice and my music voice. Part of the problem, as I see it, is that I never much cared for most jazz reviews. I grew up reading Nat Hentoff’s articles on civil liberties and jazz side-by-side. Every now and then, I encountered someone whose style strikes me as natural, as unique, as fun and enjoyable to read. But many album reviews aren’t very good, and I find that, in Jazz, they’re worse than other genres. But the thing is, I found the gravitational pull of the typical jazz review too difficult to resist, and much to my dismay, found myself writing in the same style, at times, of reviewer’s who I avoided and disliked. It was a struggle to break free from that while also attempting not to simply write like a fiction novelist. I caught between two poles, both drawing me closer to one another than I cared to stray. I think I’m getting better at finding my unique music writing voice, but I’m going to hold off making any definitive statement for at least another decade, maybe three. I hope you like where my style is going. My apologies for those reviews, along the way, that didn’t quite shake out how I’d have liked. I want to become the kind of music writer that you, and I, really enjoy reading, look forward to it, even. I think I’m getting better.
I’m barely keeping up with the workload. I had no idea the deluge of work that would come my way when I switched on the Open sign on BitW. I’ve had to organize and re-organize my process several times. My current system uses a combination of site system draft folder, email folder system, bookmark folders, and a large dry erase board. It’s that last thing that has been most helpful in getting my ducks in a row. But I’m still not very good at making timely reviews, answering emails, and various other forms of content & communication. My sincere apologies to all who have suffered me through this. I think I’m getting better.
Some things that haven’t quite taken off:
Brick & Mortar: I wanted to some features of various brick & mortar music stores in my area as well as ones from my past, maybe some venues that throw jazz shows. The plan was to talk about the store/venue, include some memories of experiences I’d had there, take some good photos, and get a short interview in with the owner and/or employees. It just never really developed. Mostly, though, this was a result of the scarcity of time. I’m still hopeful that this article series comes around in 2013.
Jazz in Kentucky: I published some articles on BitW with that tag, and then I began an entirely separate site called Notes From The Holler, which would focus on Jazz in Kentucky. I planned to cover shows, features venues, interview local artists, and write reviews of their albums. A lot of that happened, but not as much as I’d intended. Part of it was time and part of it was distance. I live far enough away from the Louisville jazz scene that I can’t be as actively involved in it as I’d intended. Some great jazz comes through Lexington, and that’s most of what I’ve covered. Nothing to speak of in Frankfort. Mostly I’m just trying to re-envision how Notes From The Holler will operate. Lately, I’ve begun thinking of trying to make Frankfort a viable tour stop between Nashville and Chicago/St.Louis/Indy/Cincy, and also create a network between Louisville, Frankfort, and Lexington that would allow musicians to make more than one tour stop in Kentucky, and thus a very short drive between paying gigs for a change. I’m in the very beginning stages of this. But I’m hopeful I can make this happen. I’m no less determined to make Notes for the Holler a mainstay of the Kentucky Jazz scene, and establish my presence here as a resource for musicians and fans alike.
Know Your Sideman: I still like this idea… to highlight artists who have always appeared in the small print of excellent albums, but never with their name in the large type. I only wrote one of these articles, but I’ve got one or two candidates to move on, possibly. The thing is, these articles take a lot of time. They involve multiple Tiny Reviews, an interview, and other content. This article series, if it continues, will be infrequent.
First Impressions: This was meant as a celebration of first listens… of the emotions and thoughts one gets in reaction to the first time an album is heard and that initial connection is made. I did one of these, for Threads Orchestra. I like the idea still, but just not sure it appropriate. I’ve actually modified this idea, and it will become a different theme in 2013 called “Hello, Subjectivity.”
Featured Crowdfunding Project: The intent was to highlight a monthly crowdfunding project that I liked. However, there seemed to be no interest or reaction to the various emails, tweets, and posts I made about it, so I’ve just scrapped this idea.
And now some thing to look forward to in 2013:
Something Different review series: I’ve already begun this series up, and intend to re-tag some older articles that would fit here, too. This review series will cover albums that don’t really sound like anything else. It will also cover albums that have no godly reason to expect any kind of commercial success. It will be a review series that rewards originality and risk, and it will put albums in the spotlight that incite awe and wonder from the sheer act of the artist’s creativity.
Interviews: I’ll be doing interviews. Pretty self-explanatory. I’m thinking I’d like to have two a month that are in-depth, then maybe also two a month (maybe four) that are a standardized short-interview set of questions. We’ll see how this goes.
Live Album review series: I’m going to begin reviewing albums which artists record from live performances and throw up on bandcamp or soundcloud or their own site. They’ll be short reviews, nothing terribly in-depth, but I think this kind of thing is a way that musicians can try to earn more revenues, either by selling the concert albums or by including them as a “bonus” album included free for purchasing a studio album. Or, maybe, neither of those, and the musicians just want to give the album away. However it shakes out, I’d like to highlight some of these albums. I’m also going to continue my NYOP review series, which reviews albums set at Name-Your-Own-Price. These are different times for music retail, and I want to reward the risk taken by the musicians adopting some of these new methods.
Mix of standard reviews and Tiny Reviews: I’m going to continue searching for the right balance of formal reviews and Tiny Reviews, and also keep searching for the right presentation of them. This won’t be new content, but an ever-evolving form of primary content.
The Two-Fer review series: I haven’t quite fleshed this one out yet. So far, I’ve done a couple, and each one had two album reviews for the same artist, but with a specific theme. I think it’s the Theme where I’ll take this review series. Two albums great for first thing in the morning, two albums for a snowy day, two albums for the end of a long week… that kind of thing. I think they’ll be fun.
Best of the New Era in Jazz: I’m thinking of doing one post a month for each of the last twelve years in Jazz, highlighting what I think are the best ten-twenty albums of that particular year. There’s no way that’s gonna be definitive, I know. But I’m hoping to provide some guidance. If I’d had this site running for the last ten years, it would be a much easier task. But I think I can present one post each month that covers a particular year. January’s post will cover 2012, February will cover 2011, March 2010, and so on. This could fall apart on me pretty quick if it turns out I’m not able to bring this goal into the fold, but even if I don’t do one post a month on this theme, I think I can just continue at my own pace and get there in the end. I’m hoping to stir up some discussion on this topic… the best Jazz of the New Millennium. I think a consensus can be reached among those of us who have been following modern jazz in-depth. It would be helpful, and I think people would appreciate that guidance. Otherwise, if we leave it up to the Grammys to guide people to modern jazz, that’ll leave people with a whole bunch of fuck-all to run with. We need to provide a legitimate option. I’d like to do my part. I’d like to say, hey, you’re looking to discover some modern jazz… well, here’s some good places to start. It’s a modest goal that could provide a massive benefit.
Concert/Festival Reviews: I do some of that now. I’m looking to do more of it, and I’m looking to do some road trips and cover more than just Kentucky.
New About Me Page: Before the year is out, I’ll be posting a new About Me page. It will include some extra information about what I do on the site, types of items I’m looking for, timelines for expecting to see results, odds of my actually reviewing something an artist submits, and information on how to have a Featured Album, how to advertise, how to donate to the cause, and some general areas in which I’d be open to collaboration with other sites.
So here we are…
I’ve probably forgotten to mention a few things above. A few things I’m keeping to myself for the time being. I’ll add thoughts and comments along the way. That’s just how these things go sometimes.
A sincere thanks and well-wishes to everyone I’ve encountered along the way. Thank you to everyone who subscribes to my site via email and/or RSS Feed. Thanks to everyone who comments here on articles. Thanks to everyone who has submitted to my Tumblr page and everyone who follows it and/or has had kind words about it. Thanks to everyone who Likes my Facebook page, Follows me on Twitter, and who links to Bird is the Worm on their own site. And again, thanks to Bob Lewis for all the tech advice and help along the way. Many times I tried to learn to fly after jumping off a cliff, which really gave me a lasting start on a self-education in running a site, but it was always nice to know that I could ask Bob a question as I hurtled down to Earth while still trying to figure out exactly what a line of code in my PHP file meant or what exactly that damn error code was trying to tell me. Most of all, thanks to my wife, Kate, for allowing me the enormous amount of time that keeping a site like this entails, as well as her support via the occasional shot in the arm of confidence, and the occasional urgent coaxing to make a post or else.
And, of course, thanks for all the music.