Oggcamp 11 – the inevitable write-up

I’m back in the land of the living after catching the dreaded lurgy on Monday morning. I’m pretty convinced this was in no small part to a lack of proper nourishment and excess of tasty beer consumed over the weekend. What can I say? I was busy.

Those of you who follow me in any capacity online will be at least peripherally aware that I’ve been involved in organising this year’s OggCamp, a 2-day unconference/barcamp style event celebrating Open Technology. It was an amazing event, with talks and sessions covering music, electronics, ethics, and of course software and computing. From my point of view, everything to do with the event went really well, and I’d just like to the opportunity to share my highlights and thank some people.

The first highlight for me happened at about 3pm on Saturday. I got a call on the radio from Tony, one of my co-organisers, to this effect:

Hello Mark? Can you get some loo roll brought to the gents? There’s three cubicles and we’ve all run out of paper!

Another cool thing for me was Adam Sweet coming up to me after the live podcast recording and chatting to me about how it went. Those of you unfamiliar with the name, Adam is one of the presenters of LugRadio, the long-running Linux podcast whose live event, LugRadio Live, gave rise to the first Oggcamp 3 years ago. The reason that this was a particular highlight for me was that listening to Adam and his partners in crime including Stuart “Aq” Langridge and Chris Proctor who I also had a good chat with was what made me want to get into radio and podcasting in the first place. Musicians, imagine being told you’ve just played a good set by the band who first made you think “I want to play like that” when you heard them.

The final highlight I’d like to share is the sheer relief when everything fell in to place at the last minute. The doors opened at 10am on Saturday, and people could submit talks to be given throughout the day. Our first scheduled talk was to start at 11. Around 10.30, I realised that our first speaker was no-where to be seen, and a lot of the talks people were proposing weren’t appearing on the scheduling system. Slightly panicked, I proceeded to sit down with my laptop and try and work out where everyone’s talks were. By 10.50, I’d managed to debug the problem and fix it, just in time for us to get on stage for our welcome talk. At 10.55, our first speaker walked in the door. I love it when a plan comes together.

Lastly, there are a lot of people I’d like to thank publicly, in no particular order:

  • Tony Whitmore, for somehow managing to keep an eye on everything in the lead-up to and during the event (not least the finances) without his head exploding.
  • Dan Lynch, for always having an idea when a problem arose.
  • Jon Spriggs, for a very long Skype call.
  • Laura Cowen, for telling me I was doing a good job exactly when I needed someone to.
  • Les Pounder and the rest of the event’s crew, for who there simply aren’t words. You guys are incredible, and without you there would be no Oggcamp.
  • All our sponsors: Bytemark Hosting, Canonical, Lug.org.uk, Bitfolk, Google, Apress, O’Reilly (ya, Reilly) and Linux Format, who without which there would also be no OggCamp, since they paid for it. Buy their stuff.
  • Alan Pope, for this, and Alan Bell for filming it:

If you think you deserved thanks and I’ve missed you out, you’re absolutely right, shame on me. Thank you.

See you at OggCamp 12!

Victim of the Modern Age – an open letter to Inside Out Music

Dear Inside Out Music

I’d like to start by thanking you for bringing the world such great music. Symphony X, Pain of Salvation, Star One and a whole host of other bands from the progressive metal genre have been an inspiration to long-established fanbases, and newer fans (like me) alike.
I haven’t known about your record label for long. In fact, it’s only yesterday that I realised so many of my new favourite bands were on the same label. While my music taste is quite varied, my Last.fm profile shows that your bands have been in my ears a lot in the past few months, and as a label you’ve certainly dominated my new listening for the past year.

Now you’re probably wondering what happened in the past year? Most of your bands have had well-established followings for many years, and I’ve been a metal fan for just as long. So what’s the incredible marketing force that’s drawn me towards your music? The answer is one simple word: Spotify.

I joined Spotify as soon as they were giving out accounts. At first I didn’t listen much, as their music which fitted my tastes was limited. However, as their library grew, I found myself listening more and more. Eventually, as I see the value of the service they provide, I decided that it was right to subscribe. £10 a month, for all the music I want. I get my music, I support a new and exciting business model, bands and labels still get paid. It’s using this service that I came across a compilation called “Music in progress“.

It’s fair to say that the album represented a turning point in my musical tastes. I was just getting in to Prog at the time (lots of Dream Theatre and Uriah Heap), and discovering such a great collection of bands with just the music I needed at the time was golden. What’s more, each of the artists’ back catalogues were just a click away on Spotify. Pretty soon my main playlist was about 50% Inside Out bands, and 50% other bands, some I already knew, some I was just discovering.

I recently took some time off work where I do most of my music listening (I’m a programmer, and the right music greatly helps my concentration and productivity). When I came back, I hit play on my usual playlist. After a while, none of my favourite bands of the moment had played, so I skipped a few tracks until one popped up (I listen on random). None came up. I took a look at the playlist for one of the bands, and found Symphony X, and all of their songs were greyed out. “That’s weird,” I thought, so I clicked through to the album and was greeted with a red banner proclaiming “This album is not available”. I looked back at the playlist. Star One – not available. Pain of Salvation – not available. Transatlantic – not available. Say it isn’t so?

What could have made all my current favourites disappear in one go? What was the link? Were Spotify just out to get me? Looking at the footer on the album pages, they all had one name in common: Inside Out Music.

So it seems that you’ve taken your music off Spotify. Pretty much all of it. And I have to say I’m heartbroken. Like I said, I’m not listening to your music for free, I subscribe to Spotify, and you get paid every time I play your songs. I discovered all of these bands through the same great service, and now they’ve been taken away from that service. Why? Who knows.

Now, I’m not presuming you’re to blame here. It could be that Spotify put you in an impossible situation and you had to pull out, or it could be that you haven’t fully grasped the modern age of music. (I have to say that your dead Twitter account and lack on fan engagement on Facebook suggest the latter). Whatever the reason, as a fan who likes his music digitally, legally, reasonably priced and on demand, it’s left me feeling confused and alienated, and I’m not the only one. Surely you’ve published an explanation of this travesty? No. There’s not even a mention of it on your website’s news feed, and other fans like me have been actively ignored on your Facebook page.

If you and Spotify can’t sort out your differences, at least give your fans a reason, and let them know how they can still listen to their favourite bands on the terms they’ve become used to. Need I remind you that your music is still available digitally, on demand and at a reasonable price? It’s available free, in fact, just not legally. Is that the road you want fans like me to take? I’m very respectful of copyright, but I can guarantee you that there are those who will respond to a situation like this by jumping straight to bit torrent, and that’s not good for anyone.

Mark Johnson