Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Inside the Story: a video update

Posted in Online Video by Adam Westbrook on April 16, 2012

For the last few months I’ve been working on an exciting project which is almost ready to launch. It’s called Inside the Story: a masterclass in digital storytelling from the people who do it best – an ebook, to raise money for Kiva, the developing world entrepreneurship charity.

The last few weeks has been a flurry of layout, web design and conversations with some of the best film makers, digital producers and  journalists out there, and the book is almost ready to go live.

What’s going to be in the book? Here’s a quick video update on the project – and a sneak preview of some of the pages. Later this week, I’ll be publishing snippets from the book so you can see some more and announcing the publication date.

If you’re not a fan of the Facebook page yet, why not? 

Five great places to find free (or cheap) music for your films

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 2, 2010

Increasingly music is finding its way into online multimedia journalism, and with good reason. A well chosen soundtrack can pull your viewers deep into your story, keep them hooked and make an emotional point.

Music is, and let’s be honest about this, a way of manipulating how your audience feel. There are those purists who are against that, who argue the story should be strong enough not to need to tell your viewer how to feel.

Whichever camp you lie in, one thing is for sure: if you use music in any piece of online video journalism or digital story it must be legal. There is no excuse for getting your client or your newsroom shouldered with an expensive bill just because that bit of Arcade Fire fitted perfectly with the film. The good news is there are plenty of resources out there for free, or cheap, music. Most, but not all, operate under the Creative Commons Licence, which lets you use music on certain conditions.

01. Audio Network

This UK based ‘music production library’ is used often by the big players, and you have to pay to use any of the music. The prices vary however, from just £0.79 ($1.50) for personal use, to £95.00 ($200) for charities and £195 ($400) for TV commercials.

With the price tag though comes great quality. AudioNetwork has some really good music, well organised, and the sort of thing you could imagine being used in cinema. They have on their books a selection of in house composers and a lot of their orchestral scores are recorded with a full orchestra at Abbey Road, and not on someone’s Casio keyboard.

I have purchased music from them before and it’s a simple credit card payment to download the .mp3.

02. Jamendo

When I cannot pay for whatever reason, my first stop is always Jamendo, and I have sourced free music from here for several films in the last two years.

The secret to Jamendo is its community – it is a home for thousands of amateur musicians, artists and DJs who all put their music up for the world to hear. All the music is released on one kind of Creative Commons Licence. That means you’ll either need to include the artist in your credits, promise not to create any derivative works from it, ensure your production is not for profit, or a mix of all three.

Jamendo also has a very nice search option, which lets you get instant previews of music in a pop-up window before deciding whether to get it. If you choose to download music, you can download the entire album as a .zip file which even includes album artwork.

The big downside of Jamendo is the sheer amount of time it will take you to find anything good. It’s out there, but it’s not easy to find. If you’re producing a lot, I recommend fencing off some time every fortnight or so to rummage through and save any quality tracks for later use.

03. Musopen

If it’s classical you’re after, Musopen is a great resource. This website works along the very clever observation, that after a certain amount of time, the copyright on a score or performance of music expires, and the song enters the public domain.

Their goal is to build repository of public domain music for people to use. The great thing about public domain music is that you can use it and redistribute it as part of a production for profit, without a need to pay license. However, Musopen is based on US copyright laws, so if you’re in the UK or elsewhere, check the rules before you use. Also bear in mind, just because the composer of a song maybe long gone, and their score public domain, a more recent performance of that song may still have copyright rules applied.

04. Mixcloud

More a place to listen to mainstream music, or create and upload podcasts, Mixcloud’s library does contain some creative commons music.

It’s also a good community hub of music creators, DJs and podcast producers. It’s not hugely clear what is Creative Commons licensed and what isn’t so if you do find a song you want to use, it would be sensible to contact the creator for permission first.

05. SoundCloud

Like Jamendo, Soundcloud is becoming a growing community of music makers from around the world (including my brother!)

The majority of music on here is electronic and instrumental, which can suit some productions perfectly, and destroy others. Definitely worth a listen though, and Soundcloud also comes with very fancy ways to embed audio players into websites.

A premium membership to Soundcloud costs €9 a month for creators and upto €59 a month for businesses.

So they’re the five best ones I have used in the last year or so – but are there any not on my radar? Tell me in the comments box and I’ll check it out!

Three more lessons in video storytelling…

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on May 24, 2010

…from people who really know what they’re doing

Time for three more awesome bits of multimedia storytelling we can all learn from. You can see previous write ups on really good video storytelling here and here and here! Here’s three more well executed examples; I’ve tried to put  as much practical takeaways beneath each one as possible. If you think I have missed or misinterpreted anything, then you know where the comments box is!

Big Vinny / California is a place

A chapter from an online series getting lots of love on the internet at the moment — it would seem, by the sheer quality of the storytelling. Produced by Drea Cooper & Zackary Canepari for a series called California is a Place, it tells the story of a former car salesman, ‘Big Vinny’, looking back on the glory days. If you only watch one of these videos, make sure it’s this one.

  • the interesting thing about this film is visually, we are only seeing shots of a deserted car lot. There’s hardly any movement, and  no action. Does that hold your attention for the full five minutes?
  • this story is driven by one thing: an extremely engaging character
  • note the opening use of sound beneath a single caption – I find sound used like this sucks the viewer in more than moving pictures would
  • the opening sequence, cutting to “cars! cars! cars!” is a great way of using sound and pictures together for good effect
  • and then at 45 seconds the music comes in…say what you like about video journalists using music, but here it hits the spot and instantly conveys the tragic economic decline at the heart of this story
  • look at how they’ve framed Big Vinny – the shots are always slightly off centre or tilted at an angle
  • it would have been nice to have had shots of Vinny wandering around his deserted former business – if anything to inject more movement into what we’re seeing
  • there’s some great use of colour too, with the saturation pulled down just a bit to drain some of the richness out

Polyphoto / Daniel Meadows

Claire Wardle introduced me to the work of British storyteller Daniel Meadows just recently. His website has several small pieces, which he calls Digital Stories: 2 minute vignettes combining audio with still photos. Click on the image to see Polyphoto on Daniel’s website.

  • first thing you notice is Daniel’s choice of words – he is writing to pictures in the truest sense, a real craft in broadcast journalism which should (I think) continue into video journalism
  • combine that with his gentle voice and it’s like a trusted friend saying ‘come here and let me tell you a really good story…’
  • the narrative begins with the pictures and Daniel tells us about Polyphotos in much detail to draw us in. It’s only then that he begins the real story of how his parents met and their tough life after the war.
  • and this whole story was told using just a repeating series of old photographs, used in different ways: sometimes his mother on her own, then alongside her dad, then composited over each other.

Clifton Bridge / Rosie Gloyns

BBC Natural History producer Rosie Gloyns shot this short piece this month as part of a video journalism training course run by Michael Rosenblum. It’s a simple vignette, but full of clever storytelling tricks:

  • immediately you get the feel of this story: the music and opening shot of Barry (with no introduction) tells us this is going to be a lighthearted story
  • as in the first film, we see a some fast cutting near the beginning
  • but Rosie has been very clever in constructing her story: she sets it up in such a way to create a journey her character must embark on – and importantly she doesn’t tell us what it’s for: ‘he has all the things he needs..except one: and for that he needs to walk 200m to the other side of the bridge‘.
  • we then watch a sequence of Barry crossing the bridge – and we keep watching because we want to find out where he’s going! And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you keep your viewer interested.