Deadlines/Brief

Music videos are so 80s/90s, right? They belong with the era when MTV screened wall-to-wall vids instead of 'reality' TV? Try telling that to the millions who bought Gangnam Style; were they really simply loving the music? 1.6bn (and still climbing) have viewed the video on YT, not to mention the many re-makes (school eg, eg2), viral ads + celeb link-ups (even political protest in Seoul) - and it doesn't matter how legit it is, this nightmare for daydream Beliebers is making a lot of money, even from the parodies + dislikes. All this for a simple dance track that wouldn't have sounded out of place in 1990 ... but had a fun vid. This meme itself was soon displaced by the Harlem Shake. Music vids even cause diseases it seems!
This blog explores every aspect of this most postmodern of media formats, including other print-based promo tools used by the industry, its fast-changing nature, + how fans/audiences create/interact. Posts are primarily written with Media students/educators in mind. Please acknowledge the blog author if using any resources from this blog - Mr Dave Burrowes

Sunday, 30 August 2015

WEBSITE Sly Antics Leeds, UK Indie band

IN THIS POST: Analysis of an obscure UK Indie band's website (for comparison with the major acts The Doors and Lady Gaga already blogged on), discussion of how relevant or not band websites are given the role of social media today, and points on why you might want to go for a local/student band rather than international stars... I also reviewed their debut video, making this more of a look at an all-round promo package. The band have tweeted me since I did this post; you can check out Sly Antics' updated website here!

WHY PICK A SMALL-TIME LOCAL (or even student) ACT?
You might be tempted to produce a promo package for a (currently!) small-time, local act rather than for a major existing/heritage artist. The closest I've seen to this thus far has been a group who entered the recording studio with their own metalcore band, Sunburnt in December, to produce the broadcast-quality audio required. Two of the group were Media students. This meant they had their cast sorted and a keen, engaged cast at that! They had to be ... they set up for performance footage in a snow-covered Yorkshire moors setting in what remains one of my favourite students videos (even if there were opportunities to improve it...). This video also came to mind given the main website image Sly Antics use (they also use it for other social media logos)
NB: the video contains FLASHING LIGHTS and scenes of horror


The advantages of local or student bands are evident:

  • The act should be keen to collaborate
  • This should make scheduling shoots much easier
  • Ditto for re-shoots
  • Performance footage can be hard to fake: instruments, actors who convincingly 'play' the instruments, speakers, leads and/or studio settings - all can be hard to access
  • Opportunity to film gigs ... including setup/behind-the-scenes (think of Guns n' Roses' Sweet Child or Paradise City...)
  • You might be able to earn a fee
  • If you do well with them you might (a) build a longer term relationship (look at how Anton Corbijn started out, photographing select acts...) or (b) get further local commissions
  • They can brief you on their target audience/s
  • They can be creative collaborators
If you do go down this route just make sure that you consider the following:
  • the audio MUST be of broadcast quality
  • make sure the band aren't set to go away touring when you might need re-shoots!
  • carry out a practice shoot and judge their attitude; are they helpful or obstructive with filming? do any members/behaviours give cause for concern?
  • bands break up all the time; make a judgement over any risk of this - try to get the shoots wrapped up quickly!
  • make sure they're aware of the need to avoid significant image (hair!) changes whilst the shoot continues

WHITHER THE WEBSITE?
Having blogged on two of the biggest acts of all time I looked for a small-scale counter-example, and went on a Leeds band listing site:
Rather than try and hide, or make fit, the results of this, its worth considering whether the website (as opposed to social media presence) remains as relevant in 2015 as it used to. I'm not offering a conclusion, but, having just looked at how poorly curated the Lady Gaga websites are (MySpace links still prominent!!!), it was striking that the first two acts I tried had various social media pages, but no website:

LEEDS INDIE ACT1: FENTON



A solid SoundCloud audience, and lots of content; don't think Youtube is the only player in town.
 

Fenton have active FB, Twitter and SoundCloud pages ... but no website.

LEEDS INDIE ACT2: CHAMBERS
I tried again, same result!



LEEDS INDIE ACT3: SLY ANTICS
Take three, and Sly Antics have a website...

THE X FACTOR OF DIGITISATION + WEB 2.O ... eXpense!
For Indie bands, the cost of a website is an issue - its not just designing one, but the ISP fees for hosting one, which go higher depending on what features (for example, e-commerce - ie, selling music or merchandise) you want to add. Website designed and features added ... who updates it? That's not just a matter of having time, but also of having the skill to edit a website! Then there's the issue of getting traffic to your own site.

Compare this to social media: the ability to promote by following and hoping for return follows to spread your name/logo; engaging in discussions is another easy way of getting your name seen. There is still the challenge of time, but the technology is handled for you, and you are free to upload audio, video, images, blog through any mix of Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and whatever new online giants may emerge!

There is some question mark over the band website, though the level of control it offers and crucially the ability to incorporate multiple social media pages' content will surely ensure it remains a key choice for many acts, large and small?

SLY ANTICS GOOGLE: MULTIPLE SOCIAL MEDIA COVERED!
When I simply enter the search 'sly antics', here's what I got - note the range of social media, but that the website still comes top (possibly paid-for?): 

Here's their Vine presence, before we look in detail at the website:


THE SLY ANTICS SITE
There is an immediate contrast with the Gaga and Doors sites: fewer top links, and a more spartan look. [Scroll to very end of post for an updated screenshot; they relaunched a redesigned website a day after I posted this...]

HOMEPAGE FEATURES
FIXED TOP FRAME
A striking band shot, framed to leave plentiful space for the band name - not white space, but achieving the same clean, uncluttered effect. The quirkiness of the shot reminds me of the ingenious setup of a recent Tony Benn documentary film (recreating his house furnishings on an external street setting) ... and a past student video, the rather excellent Faithless Insomnia video featured in my 2014 film.

ACT/NAME LOGO
Framed top left, part of the fixed banner, its not a logo, just a plain (Arial?) sans-serif white font - quite surprising; if they can afford a website and have the ICT competence to maintain it, a logo would seem to be a given. Once more, the act name may be the biggest font on the page, but its not overwhelmingly large - perhaps website names/logos are considerably proportionately smaller than on magazine ads and sleeves?
Perhaps there IS a logo?


TOP LINKS
Just four - and perhaps Indie acts are likely to have fewer website sections? - Home, Gigs, Music, Contact Us.

NEWS
The homepage acts as the news hub (or as a blog). I note they have taken the care to tag their sole post thus far, suggesting an expectation of many more to come? Whether thats right or not, tags on articles/posts are a small detail to make note of. Also a nice touch (at least while there are only 3 posts): the previous posts are represented as icons on the bottom left (though perhaps a heading to explain this would be sensible - I didn't immediately twig to that!).


REGISTER, LANGUAGE, MODE OF ADDRESS, COMMENTS
You can be fairly sure that major acts' websites are produced and updated by paid flunkies, but the opposite should hold for Indies. The use of swearing stanbds out here - not as something to mimic, but as a signifier of direct, unfiltered communication. Informality is key: "we’ve finally got off our arses" (this also infers 'fans' have been following a narrative of inactivity and awaiting this development, a smart discursive note). Despite this impression, it struck me that comments are 'off'!!! To be fair, that would require time-consuming moderation IF they got comments coming in, and (something I experience frequently) simply spam to deal with.

Note the 'Sly Antics x' sign off too, that x being the key detail (but also this being a band voice, not a named individual's). [such analysis is not just semiotic, but formally termed discourse analysis]

SOCIAL MEDIA INTEGRATION
This is crucial, and its evident that there is much more going on in their Facebook and Twitter sites than the website itself. The right third is used to embed live Facebook and Twitter feeds, and they are fairly prodigious tweeters! They also use Instagram, though they haven't added an update gadget for either it or youTube, which is the 4th hyperlinked social media icon along the bottom right of each page.
229 Likes on their FB page; far from the 50m+ Gaga boasts, but they're slowly building a following.
Frequently updated!
The key detail: they're following more than being followed, a sign of small-scale Indie status - but again, they're having some success. I haven't time to investigate more, but wonder if the Manchester tag is a reflection of the 'Leeds scene' website being inaccurate or a conscious 'branding' choice? (Or simply lack of choice on a dropdown list?)

I clicked through to their Instagram, same pattern as above:


FOLLOW THE WEBSITE
Another smart touch, there is a popup if you click on the 'follow us' text, asking for registration details to get email alerts whenever the site is updated.

WORDPRESS
The WordPress branding/link, and the name of the template (there are both free and paid-for WordPress templates) is carried along the bottom. The lack of any additional web designer link/name suggests they produced the site content independently, utilising but customising an existing template.
THE GIGS PAGE
Simple and clean, though eventually the lack of a clickable calendar could become a drawback. Note too the use of a framing faded line underneath the text.

THE MUSIC PAGE
Simple and clean ... albeit EMPTY!!! Its surprising that they don't seem to use SoundCloud (all of the other Leeds bands I clicked through to did), and this should be a central element of a band website - wouldn't the music of a band be a key reason for visiting their website?

Even at this level, recordings of rehearsals or from gigs (no matter how small) would seem to make sense.
Another missed opportunity - I assumed they would have uploaded music on YouTube, and was right on that ... why not embed it here? [Sly Antics YouTube channel]


THE CONTACT US PAGE
This is a pet hate of mine, and puts me off bothering when I encounter this: why not just provide an email address? This form approach is a pain, pure and simple! Being able to check an email in the sent folder, or just through info linked to a contact, is convenient and useful, this is inconvenient and useless to the audience, as much as it may seem slick and professional to the designer.


THEIR DEBUT VIDEO
This is linked through their twitter feed, so I gave it a look. Definitely useful to look at if you're considering a similarly small-scale act (all acts start small...).

My brief thoughts:


  • shakey handheld footage grates. Its become a cliche even in high budget TV and Hollywood, but its still a sign of lack of time spent on shoots, specifically on shot setup
  • jerky panning likewise - this is difficult to achieve; cheap tripods tend to be stiff and produce jerky movement, and simply timing a pan isn't as easy as it may sound
  • fairly cliched stock 'urban decay' footage - they've shot in one of the locations also used by a past student group for a Joy Division video, and I think it (which does need more variety of this) did it much better [see/judge for yourself below]
  • there's a brown hue to many of the many early shots, which adds to the decayed, past its best feel, though this is undermined when bright colours, such as the workmen's yellow, intrudes
  • missed editing opportunities; needs some sharper cutting - for example, the timing of the wait light at 0:28 could have been made more impactive
  • lack of shot variety - what I mean is not a lack of varied mise-en-scene, but rather a reliance on single takes of almost all of this, meaning there is no opportunity to cut between different shots of the same location
  • some really good framing/mise-en-scene - the shot at 0:22 is a good example, and fits beautifully the dark tone. I mentioned Joy Division above; Anton Corbijn (for me the greatest video director there is, not least for his Depeche Mode work) directed their videos and made good use of foreboding mise-en-scene
  • alongside some fairly clumsy instrument shots there are some very good performance shots (though again there needs to be greater variation)
    A logo?
  • some multiple layering, and keyframed (or simple transition) cross-fading would help lift this up significantly - for example with the production equipment (which often follow the pattern of pan left followed by pan right shot), or using surfaces such as the subway wall/ceiling. There IS a little of this, but the opacity has been taken so low its barely noticeable
  • the whiteboard shot is horrible - if there was behind-the-scenes footage of the band that would be a different matter
  • both with the shots from a car, and the subway scene, I couldn't help but think of This is England (never a bad thing!)
  • it really picks up when there is cross-cutting between performance and subway shots
  • the elliptical ending has a cliffhanger feel to it, and suggests further linked videos to come (again, even if nothing like this, I'd make the link to Guns n' Roses, who made a notorious [high-budget, self-indulgent] series of inter-linked videos for the Use My Illusions singles)
  • if I was a motivated students watching this I'd think ... I could do better...
Interesting video, and rather enjoyed the tune!

Here's that previous student Joy Division video (heavily influenced by Corbin)

...
As of August 31st, the website was redesigned - here's a (highly zoomed out to fit on 1 screenshot) preview of the new look, complete with very prominent Soundcloud and YouTube integration (I'd questioned the lack of this above!):

...

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