The Voodoo Viewpoint: Is new media stealing our souls and memories?

Halloween bookshelf

I haven’t blogged for a while, having had new things to deal with through the summer and autumn along with writing, and waiting for other things to be resolved – everyday life has got in the way, and all of it worthy of my time – so I can honestly say I don’t feel I’ve missed anything by not procrastinating online too much.

This post has been on my mind for a while over the past year, and I’ve turning it over further in my mind since a topic came up on Facebook regarding the well-roasted old chestnut of ebook vs. print books, and what might supplant them in the future. When I made my comment, I didn’t realise how much of an observation it really was. But the thought of it keeps returning to me, so I’ll attempt to dissect it further now. (I’ve used ‘Voodoo’ in the title as I was originally going to post it as Voodoo Spice first – but there is another relevance to the reference).

My comment on the post was:

I think real books will stick around for another reason – the same reason as real music disc collections, and real movie DVDs, and real photo albums. The death of these things will mean the end of being able to remember lost loved ones. Imagine going into an elderly relative’s last residence, and instead of shelves full of their favourite media that you can pick up and read and smell, and admire, all that’s there is a computer tablet full of password-protected cloud-storage erotica. Supposing they’re survived by 20+ family members all wanting a memento? Will they have to take turns hacking into his or her tablet to read their, erm, favourites???

It’s not only the issue of having physical objects with which to remember a loved one, though. When you first make a new friend, visit their home for the first time, you see immediately by their books, music, film collections, and photographs what you have in common. Without those, it takes far longer to define. How do you learn about a person who wears nothing on their sleeve in real life? Are they hiding something about their personality, their cultural and entertainment tastes, behind password-protected anonymous digital storage products? How much of their social media persona is genuine – do they really like Top Gear, or do they just ‘Like’ it on Facebook? How long does it take to make early judgements of compatibility when all you see in their home is the faceless packaging and housing of technology? Is this creating the hacking, snooping, prying, suspicious culture that troubles present-day relationships?

Are we sacrificing our personalities, our ability to connect with one another in real life without the social media screens, in favour of electronic packaging?

Back to the subject of bereavement and memories, there is another agenda surfacing to consider.

Electronic media itself has no re-sale value. The tablets and electronic devices can be re-sold, but they lose value in the very short term. Unlike physical books, vinyls, cassettes, picture frames, CDs, and DVDs – when you buy anything in digital format, to watch, read or listen to, its solvency value is zero. So even if your descendants, friends and family don’t want to share the digital tablet and know your passwords to enjoy your *ahem* favourites, they can only sell the tablet itself. Even if you have bought 70,000 books, movies, and songs in your lifetime, they do not add up to £70,000 worth of house clearance on ebay to divide among the mourners. They add up to zero.

They money you spend on electronic books and media to fill your device has gone for good. You cannot donate the products to an Oxfam bookshop after you have enjoyed them in order for others to benefit. You cannot have a yard sale or a car boot fair stand of portable entertainment to fund a party, or to pay a few bills. You have not invested your money in anything physically reminiscent that can be enjoyed as part of the soul of a lost loved one, or liquidated as an asset in the future.

The money has gone for good, into the great black hole of the business that also sold you the device to enjoy it on, or to store in some online cloud.

So in the future, without personal possessions for family and friends to remember us by – not even the chance to flick through the same books and photo albums we held, and no idea how to access our family photographs and music – and more and more social lives being conducted online – how will anyone remember their grandparents and great-grandparents beyond faces on a screen?

Will the youngest family members have the sense of identity and individual heritage that children before the digital age grew up with?

Will old people just die and disappear, leaving nothing behind but an online account full of media they spent thousands on, which is worth precisely nothing to their descendants even if they have the ability to access it? Will their living memories and personalities evaporate the second you tap on ‘Confirm shut down/log off device’?

Will folk start leaving clauses on their departure, that no-one is to hack into the tablet at all to avoid finding out how much porn and erotica they downloaded to keep them warm in their old age?

Never mind what to do with Granny, the last Will and Testament says we have to burn her Kindle first… aptly named device, if ever there was one. I see a new business opportunity looming – the “Kindle Crematorium” where dirty old reading habits go after you die…

It’s a mystery that leaves me very curious. I already find houses without books, music, photograph or film collections very odd – rather like pictures of home interiors in advertising, with no identity of the occupants visible. Sterile, like a showroom to sell a product or furniture lifestyle – not a working, living home. And if that is what remains in the future, when individuals die, what is left to know of them? An indentation in the sofa, perhaps – where they sat while playing Candy Crush Saga online?

So never mind that a computer tablet doesn’t provide the same decorative impact as a bookshelf, or provide the same soundproofing from your neighbours. Never mind that it’s a good way of hiding your reading habits, and a bad way of storing your nekkid selfies. It’s also a good way of spending your children’s inheritance – permanently. Throwing your small change onto the Kindle Fire (literally), never, ever to return as second-hand small change, ever again. Quite possibly thrown away along with the material potential for any of your descendants to remember you for more than one surviving generation…

Happy Halloween! 🙂 xxx

If you want to learn to how to format a print-on-demand book, publish and distribute for free, click here for my tutorial. You can also learn how to format ebooks and multimedia booksIf those still light your candle 😉 x

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Inspiration and book trailers – using open source Audacity and sound FX to create audio

What started out as a music track remix turned into something else once I got distracted 🙂 Click here for alternative link if you can’t see the video above.

I was reading a blog post somewhere recently about free and Open Source software tools that authors can use in their promotion packaging, and came across a mention of Audacity, a track-mixing and recording desktop program, that authors can set up to record their own voice-overs, music, and mix their own copyright-free audio material to use in book trailers. This grabbed my attention initially, because one of my hobbies is music mashups over video (click here for an example of a soundtrack I made using Holst’s ‘Planets Suite’ recorded electronically by Isaio Tomita, combined with Rob Dugan’s epic dance anthem ‘Clubbed to Death’ and a loop sample by Brandon Billings, dubbed over NASA’s Mars Rover 10-minute promo animation).

Having used demo versions of track-mixing software in the past, I was on the lookout for a full version of a program with no nagware attached and unlimited potential.

I found a starter tutorial for Audacity on Youtube, and it seemed pretty similar to other programs I’d tried out, with a lot of additional features.

Like Tony says straightaway, I downloaded it from the official Audacity site. It’s not a huge program file, and was installed and ready to use within a few minutes. I haven’t used the recording voice-over tool so far, but there’s a lot of instruction on this in the above video.

I found that music and sounds can be imported on the ‘File’ menu from MP3 files already saved elsewhere on my computer, which is my usual practise. I’d had an idea for a tune I wanted to mash up, and imported the original track (‘The Politics of Dancing’ by Re-Flex) and imported then trimmed and made a loop from the intro of another track (‘Humanoid’ Cry Baby remix by Stakker Humanoid).

At this point, I made a cup of tea, and got distracted by thoughts of scenes for another Zombie Adventures novel. When I sat down again with the laptop, I found a file saved on my computer called ‘Whoosh Pack’ from SweetSoundEffects, a free FX downloads website by Zach King, and also one called ‘Ultimate Fight Sounds’ which I’d used when dubbing sound effects for the short film ‘How to Train Your Zombie’ directed by Junior for one of her home school projects:

Listen for the crunch and stab sounds from 03:41 to 04.54 – the recording of sound effects on film dubbing is done by a ‘foley’ 🙂

What I’d found on the above film, when adding sound FX directly into Windows Movie Maker as a separate track to music, was that the music volume would become inconsistent and ‘fade’ temporarily while the sound effect was playing (as you can hear). I hadn’t discovered a fix for this in Movie Maker, and wanted to find a way of controlling the volume/gain or fade of each individual effect and music track so that they wouldn’t override one another automatically.

In Audacity, you can control every track you add in exactly that way – including where you want a fade to begin and end by selecting that area of the track – you don’t even need to split it. Each effect you add has its own separate ‘layer’ with individual controls, just like a full paid version of other programs. So you can mix and save a complete soundtrack to add to your book trailer or movie as a single MP3 file.

So, over the beginning of my Re-Flex re-mix, thinking about zombie mayhem for my next book, I added fight sound clips, whooshes, screams, and knife sounds. Having too much fun at this point, I went back to SweetSoundEffects online and downloaded more free audio FX samples, including gun sounds and explosions. These arrive via email link to download in a zip file, which you then extract on your computer to your chosen documents location.

The great thing about Audacity is that so far I’ve found no limit on the number of layers you can add and control on your soundtrack, so a single gunshot through a window noise with a hit and a scream added will consist of four or five different sound effects overlapped in separate layers, all timed to create that ‘event’ in the soundtrack. I think the most separate sound clips I’ve added at the moment to a complete soundtrack is about 100.

I was pretty pleased with the zombie battlefield din that I’d created (could perhaps use some groans, but I didn’t want to overdo it first time), so I cropped the soundtrack to about a minute and a half, and exported it as MP3.

Again, as the tutorial says, if you haven’t downloaded the required MP3 conversion program ‘LAME’ from where Audacity directs you to already, at this point you’ll be prompted and directed to the instructions and download link. Don’t click in the big sidebar adverts saying ‘download’ – make sure you select the right one beneath the instructions for LAME MP3, for your computer. Once installed, you might need to click on ‘Browse’ for the LAME MP3 program the first time you export your track from Audacity, but otherwise the file will convert and save automatically in your chosen location – I use ‘My Music’ files to save all audio.

You can then make a Windows Movie file using the complete soundtrack. Import your images or video first (I used a single image for the first track, as it was an experiment), and then your audio. Select the MP3 file of your complete, mixed soundtrack, and it will appear as a single track in your ‘My Movie’ project. Your images, movie or slideshow will then need to be edited in ‘running length/time’ to match the length of your soundtrack, given in seconds. Alternatively, decide on the length of your movie and fade out the soundtrack accordingly – it’s up to you. Add any captions or titles that you want to include. Then save and export your movie file as normal – the usual for upload online is to export it as a file ‘for computer’ although you can also write to DVD etc.

This method is ideal for book trailers, where you’re not trying to sync dialogue, and just want an easily-manageable soundtrack.

So, having succeeded, and wanting to play with adding a few more sound effects to my ‘battle scene’ soundtrack, I re-opened the project in Audacity, saved it as a different file name so as not to over-write the original, removed the music, and added an MP3 of different music and samples that I’d remixed earlier, to make another version:

O-Ren Ishii

Click here for ‘Chill Bill – Lucy Loses It Remix’ (contains strong language)

After that, and playing with more ideas for backing music and an even longer battlefield audio scene, I downloaded some aircraft sounds, extended the mix, changed the music again, made a tribute slideshow, and eventually ended up with this:

‘Nightmare Before Apocalypse’ – audio remix (backing track: Danny Elfman). Click here for alternative link if you can’t see the video above.

Not only did I have a ton of fun with this, I also got several new story ideas while mixing up music and FX – so whether you’re planning on making yourself a free book trailer and need to record voice-over, sounds and music, or are wondering what your battle scenes might sound like, or even just want some inspiration, it’s a great way to get even more creative.

Enjoy 🙂 x

Niche marketing – part 3: What not to pitch…

Just for fun, mostly…

Following part one and part two from last week, here’s a small insight on the gatekeeping job regarding quality control in your niche marketing strategy. In other words, the pitch for your product.

Remember, you are not targeting ‘everyone’. You must target ‘someone’. But that ‘someone’ must also pass stringent quality control tests.

If you were to market yourself as an author suggesting that your work is for any of the following, try reconsidering your pitch. Or maybe, reconsidering your actual writing:

  • Dear HarperCollins, please find attached my 380,000 word crime novel, aimed at parolees attempting the world speed record for re-arrest by providing them with some ideas.
  • Dear Mr. R. House, enclosed is my 25,000 word novella, it is aimed at teetotal virgins and window-lickers with short attention spans.
  • Dear Harlequin, would you be interested in considering my medium-length romantic comedy about an everyday girl who meets an Average Joe over a wilting cup of tea and a nice hot potted plant? I think it would be just perfect for 59-year-old cat-lady spinsters hoarding M&S carrier-bags under the stairs to make them look like they don’t shop at Lidl’s.
  • Dear Messrs Simon & Schuster, I have written a pop-up book aimed solely at Walmartians. Help me cure them.
  • Dear PacMan Millan, I am a huge fan of your video game. Would you like to purchase an idea for a book? I have not yet given it a title as I am aware that a publisher is likely to choose it for me, as well as choosing my pen-name, but I was thinking of targeting existing fans of the ‘Apple Lisa’ computer to cash in on product placements.
  • Dear Little Brown Company, I have run out of paper to write on, so please excuse the turnip. It was quite heavy to mail, so I have not included return postage. I would love to send you my book of sonnets written with Paraguayan male youth fraternity members of Opus Dei in mind who have lost a limb or a head to frostbite. Please rush me 25 sheets of unmarked A4 paper and a Hewlett Packard ink cartridge so that I can print it out for you.

Remember – you can do better than that. Don’t be so specific that your entire potential readership could be contained in a small igloo, Pop-Tent, or holding cell. Be smart. Don’t describe real people, they will scare the crap out of the publishers (and the public). Use your imagination – you know, that thing you used when writing your book in the first place while endless dollar, Euro and pound signs (or turnips) floated before your eyes… 🙂

Aphex Twin ‘Window Licker’

Nick Holmes from Paradise Lost recommends the video to this track, allegedly… search for it if you dare…

Niche marketing – the psychology behind success

Yesterday, I caught a few minutes of Real Housewives of Vancouver, where business-minded Mom ‘Ronnie’ was in a design planning meeting, regarding her idea for a new wine brand that she proposed to call ‘Rehab’.

The ad agency were asking all the right questions, which Ronnie really didn’t seem to understand. Who was the product aimed at? What was the story behind it? What image or personality did it have? What occasion would it be suited to?

Ronnie, like many first-time writers I’ve spoken to, didn’t want to tie herself down to a ‘niche market’. She wanted an instant, across-the-board success. “It’s for everyone” she said. “People drinking at home, or during the day, or getting ready to go out…”

Nothing starts out aimed at ‘everyone’ unless it’s toilet paper.

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No comment… 🙂

The problem isn’t the concept of ‘niche marketing’. The problem is the widely-held misconception of how niche marketing works. The intent and purpose of ‘niche marketing’.

The misconception is that you ‘find your niche market’ and only target them as your consumers. This is only correct if your product has age restrictions, usually enforced by law.

Let’s say you are a science fiction author who wants to break into the crossover sci-fi romance market. You have penned the equivalent of Star Wars. You immediately want to reach “everyone” as Ronnie stated.

You don’t start with everyone. You start with the design concept for your one perfect reader in the whole world. Just one.

And then you make everyone else in the world want to be that reader.

Your one perfect reader is the hottest guy (or girl) on the science campus. They wear designer loafers bought on eBay and own an epic collection of zombie t-shirts from online artists. They’ve met Stephen Hawking. They drink cherry brandy and Coke because it tastes awesome. They prefer DeviantArt to Pinterest, listen to Calvin Harris, and their ideal party weekend would be a trip to Vegas to see Britney Spears live in residence. They own at least one of the original Star Wars branded pieces of merchandise. You never see them play or hear them bragging, but you just know they’d thrash you at pool or poker. They’re an expert on the moon of Enceladus, and will tell you all about it while making you the best vegan Pad Thai noodles that you’ve ever eaten in your life.

Does that reader sound appealing to a sci-fi author? Damn right it does. And probably to some other potential readers as well. Who are Googling Pad Thai recipes as we speak.

Vegan Black Metal Chef: Pad Thai

Here’s another example. Cristal champagne. Originally commissioned for Russian royalty in the 1800s, with a bottle designed to defy assassination attempts, it wasn’t available to the public until 1945. It was so exclusive and its potential market so tiny, that to drink it became a badge of honour. And by the turn of the 21st century it was starting to be sloshed over mixing decks by high-profile DJs and poured all over hip-hop girls in hot tubs by rap musicians. Its niche market went from ‘virtually no-one’ to ‘virtually everyone’.

Tupac Shakur ‘Thug Passion’ – also the name of his Cristal/Alize cocktail

But that took 60 years, I hear you wail!

It doesn’t always take that long. If the design for your perfect reader is enviable enough that everyone wants to become that reader, then reading your book – like drinking that wine – will by proxy make them that reader. In their minds, at least.

With alcohol, very few people want to see themselves as the lonely idle bastard sitting at home in a string vest and one shoe on, watching Homes Under the Hammer while their cat slowly expires of mange and unpaid bills drop onto the mat. That’s someone who primarily (frequently) wants and needs toilet paper. That’s ‘everyone’.

They want to see themselves at the front row on the Strip surrounded by Cristal and close friends who never throw up on them screaming themselves hoarse watching Britney Spears live, while she announces mid-performance that there’s a really hot guy right in front of her and she likes his zombie t-shirt. In fact, she’d like him to take it off so she can wear it home.

Britney Spears live, Las Vegas, in a jazz club stylee… niiiiice…  🙂

See? The niche market is not your enemy. It’s your consumer’s aspiration and future adventures. You’re just there to hold the door open a tiny chink, and allow everyone else a brief glimpse of where they could be.

The Dos Equis beer commercials spell it out for you 😉

Busted – Here’s what I did this summer…

DIY brace for broken sternum

DIY nylon webbing and elastic brace for fractured sternum and disrupted sternomanubrial joint, August 2013 🙂

This injury was back in the middle of June, and I was reassured it was only bruised and that fractures to this part of the body are very unusual and would require a massive impact (I’m not going to describe it, your heads will spin). Six weeks later after starting to sustain some unusual muscle tears while practising tumbling, I realised my posture must be slightly out due to this original injury, and got a second X-ray. It turned out the first X-ray might as well have been taken from the surface of Mars, as it missed the break by miles.

Luckily it’s not something they operate on immediately, as it takes a long time to heal and they like to give it a chance to settle down by itself. So no training or practising over the summer holiday for me! Never mind that I was still training for the six weeks before it was diagnosed. It was probably good for me. I’m not very good at ‘resting’ whatever that means.

But the summer’s been good to me. I went to my first festival as an adult! Last time I went to festivals was the Polgooth Fair and Elephant Fayre in Cornwall in the 1970s and 80s, as a small kiddie, where you ate a jam sandwich and spent all day on the bouncy castles, as I remember. This year I was invited to Beautiful Days near Honiton, and it was amazing.

The Fold live in the Bimble Inn tent

The Fold performing live at Beautiful Days in the Bimble Inn tent

Curious Evenings with the Ogden Sisters in the Theatre Tent

The Ogden Sisters present a Night of Trance in the comedy Theatre Tent

Primal Scream on the Main Stage

A very blurry Primal Scream on the Main Stage

There’s too much to tell you, you’ll just have to go next year. Highlights for me, as well as the above, were the Cowboy comedy stage play, stand-up by Robin Ince, Tony Cowards and Tom Price among others, The Levellers (who came out to play football with the youngsters one afternoon as well as performing) and animal-costume theme day, which ran on into the night, with some very creative illuminated butterflies and jellyfish.

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LED Mr Men costumes

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Fire-stick twirling and juggling

It’s definitely a family festival, with no branding or sponsorship, and I hope they keep it this good, and clean and with such a great atmosphere, for many years to come. You could tell the class of folk who attended by the Airstream caravans and Hunter wellies, and the fact that the comedians couldn’t find any traditional festival crusties to pick on in the audience…

TOM PRICE: Anyone here from Wales, like me? Ah, you’re from Wales. What’s your name?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Lucien…

TOM PRICE: Lucien??! (laughs) Of course it is! I can see you practising your golf swing from here!

Lovely stuff! 🙂

Earlier, I had a few days away with family in Exmoor, and also dropped in to see the lovely Jane Alexander for tea and cake and writerly gossip while I was there. Before that, there was Hastings Pirate Day, with all the Captain Jack Sparrows you can shake a stick at… but if you want to see those, I’m going to be mean and ask you to check out their Facebook page, SPARROWS UK in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital – because it’s all in a good cause. Savvy? 🙂

L xxxxx

The Valentine’s Day Review: CBGB Was My High School, by GK Stritch

This is such an amazing find for a contemporary memoir. Having set aside time to absorb it, I found I devoured the whole thing on a long train journey.
Meet young GK, a soft-spoken, well-brought-up girl, who wanted more than anything to study well and become an artist. But thwarted academically early on, she and her sisters (and friends, and sometimes her more insular brother) venture out of New Jersey and into Manhattan at nights, to experience the lifestyle of the arts and music set instead – and unwittingly, through becoming regulars in the Bowery scene of CBGB and bringing a touch of sober class to everyone they meet, find themselves in some of the most pivotal parts of rock history of the 70’s and 80’s.
The Ramones live at CBGB, 1977 “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker”

From touring with The Ramones, to running from the amorous attentions of soon-to-be famous college professors and ‘the short one from Hall & Oates’, to giving celebrity facials and waxing Cher – GK was never a ‘wannabe’ but always someone with her own mind, and knowledge of what was the right way to live and what was destructive, even while in the middle of it herself.
The Police perform live at CBGB, for their first time in New York (excerpt)
And once she finds her own New York ‘apartment’ observing herself growing up even as others seemed unable to detach themselves… She experienced everything the heart of Manhattan had to offer – the glamour, the danger, the poverty, the privileges, the wildness, the incredible opportunities, the generosity, and the bereavements – before the artist in herself finally won her over. She finds her own true role models at last, once she acknowledges her own great need for academia.
The multi-faceted Vincent Gallo, whom GK knew as a friend and plate-washer in Manhattan – his film “Buffalo 66” would later become her & her husband’s preferred Valentine’s Day viewing.
Some of her friends succeeded – became stars of stage and screen – while others succumbed or sadly expired, and even at times when GK seemed almost lost and unlucky in her early and sometimes toxic relationships, a higher consciousness of her own always seemed to emerge to snatch her back from those jaws.

Joan Jett at CBGB (excerpt)

…GK was no shrinking violet waiting to be swamped, but a lady I think few she encountered would realise was one whose inner spark would lead her out of the dark times, and onto the path of true personal fulfilment.

Well-read, poetic, historic, and excitingly insightful in parts, this is a real account of the Manhattan scene as it should be remembered.

Patti Smith has the final word with “Elegie” at CBGB on October 15th, 2006 – the end of an era

The famous set are portrayed as real people the author knew and interacted with, as part of her own social landscape. Although in awe of some, her observations are a tonic to the pages of the trashy magazines of today. A truly literary rock and roll memoir.

GK Stritch photographed by Suzanne DeChillo for The New York Times, January 14th, 2012. Images provided by the author, and used here with permission.