Twitter for Festivals

I gave a workshop on Twitter use for Festival’s (and Events) at the AOIFEBusiness of Fun” Conference today, and here are the slides below.  My session was part of a social media/digital strand curated by Denise Rushe, and one which featured some great speakers that I wish I could have stayed around to hear from tomorrow.

For my session today I gave an overview of the most recent twitter usage stats in Ireland, some rationale to why you should use twitter for your festival/event, some do’s and don’ts of good twitter use, and some top twitter tips.  I’m definitely a twitter advocate, and think it can be an excellent way to build a community around your festival/event once you commit to the 2-way conversation mode that twitter demands. To build an engaged audience you have to really engage, and the session today covered some ways on which you can do that.

I think this website (disclosure- designed by a pal) is a brilliant example of how to communicate your music presence online, especially around the launch of  a new album. It’s simple, elegant, loads really quickly, has the most important things; the music and cover art, front and centre and above the fold, and provides links up top to all the various music/social media platforms so you can see/hear/find out more.  In many ways it’s what bands wanted out of myspace, without all the pesky “friend”ing.

There’s a plethora of options for musicians when they want to create a presence online, and I understand why they often decide to go with one, or many, of the free options rather than their own site. While I’m a huge advocate of facebook, soundcloud, bandcamp etc they are limited in their customisation possibilities, and they each have their own agenda, so visitors don’t get a “clean” sense of the  album/artist. It’s really important to have your own space, that you control, to communicate the sound and vision of the album, and then let people link off to the platforms they choose from there.  I think this site does that perfectly. And the tunes are great too, which helps!

How interesting to return from a conference about museums/galleries and tech, where key conversations were around user’s needs to personalise their experience of the exhibition much like they personalise their experience of facebook and find a new app from Intel which creates your very own “Museum of Me”.  It might sound a tad narcissistic but it’s a really gorgeous programme, and extremely clever.  Once you authorise it to sync with your facebook it pulls info from your pics, status updates, links, friends and creates a gallery experience of all of your memories, even allowing you to create your own “catalogue” at the end. I don’t find it quite as creepy as mashable do, but I have to admit it does have something of a memorial feeling to it in parts. It shows off Intel’s product brilliantly though, elevating the product to a sci-fi/science gallery setting, and gives you a fun way to repurpose  your content.


And so we come to Day 2 (read Day 1 here) of MuseumNext. After a stellar meal in Amore Dogs, a meet up in The Caves and a good nights sleep I was recharged and ready to take in some more.  As I mentioned on Day 1’s blog I’m not trying to provide an exhaustive list/review of all the excellent speakers, just some notes on projects that feed into my thoughts on good online engagement, and are practical examples that can be shared/learned from.

Rich Mintz – Blue State Digital

Friday opened with a similarly stellar speaker – Rich Mintz from Blue State Digital, the company most famously behind Obama’s fundraising/election campaign, but also well known for assisting the wonderful “It gets better” campaign. I’ve included both of the video’s below that Rich used in his presentation as they’re powerful examples of what a strong emotional impact well-thought out, rich content, can bring to a campaign.

Some key principles of Online engagement

  • Build the List systematically. Remember that the Top 3 questions a person will ask at each interaction with you; (1) why am I on this list, (2) what do you want from me right now, (3) what comes next. You have 5 seconds to make people understand why you’re getting in touch digitally, after that you’ve lost the opportunity.
  • It’s ok to control your message online but don’t go overboard
  • Campaigns that are successful make room for everyone to participate in their own way. Show people what happens behind the curtain i.e. backstage/behind the scenes access
  • People love to contribute something personal – help them do that. (something we saw yesterday through the 9/11 memorial)
  • Let everyone in – even small donors should feel part of community. And everyone means everyone. You don’t know which small donor might become a large donor in the future. Don’t assume you know how they’ll give.

Key components of engagement:

1. Communicate a sense of Urgency. This is hard for arts, and easier for charities like Red Cross who are dealing with urgent needs for response on an ongoing basis, so try to manufacture urgency

2. Timliness Don’t require 17 people to sign off on electronic copy! This slows things down and prevents responsive, reactive communication which is what social media is about. A great example of this cited by Rich was Obama’s email which went out within a few hours of Sarah Palin’s community organizer attack  as a rough and rapid response. It resulted in the single biggest push to donate of the whole campaign.

3. Empower your constituents – arm them with tools. Just having a Facebook page is not engagement, you need to arm them with content they can share, or ways they can get involved with you online. Allowing people to post their own video response to the “It Gets Better” campaign mentioned above is a good example of this

4. Create offline action inspired by online engagement. Let people express their energy
The example here was the 1,500 “Obama Barns“. One farmer painted his barn to support Obama and the campaign highlighted that idea thus encouraging others to express themselves in similar ways, and they could then connect people’s output via flickr photos, youtube videos etc, giving more traction to Obama’s rural platform

5. Syndicate Energy everywhere. Be Authentic, have a clear message, empower people to take action.  I agree 100% with this point, it’s important to be authentic, especially across social media, and as rich pointed out- it’s ok to be who you are. Know your brand, and celebrate all aspects of it, a bit like Hugh’s point from yesterday’s “embrace your niches”

I think the key take-away for me was this: Lower Barriers, Higher Expectations. Lower the barriers to people engaging with you, make it as easy as possible for them to do so, and for me this means being where they are, if that’s facebook, twitter, youtube, flickr etc be there and make it easy for them to get involved with you on those platforms. Then when they do get involved deliver more than they expect in terms of response/engagement.


The next session to to give an exciting online engagement case study was actually two speakers; Nora Semel & Francesca Merlino from the Guggenheim New York. I was really excited to hear them speak as I’d followed the YouTube Play project online when I was working with a contemporary visual arts gallery, and I loved how the project engaged but also addressed thoughts around contemporary video art.

By their own standards the Guggenheim weren’t very active digitally nor did they have a budget for new projects, all this is relative of course but it was heartining to know that pre YouTube play they didn’t have a new media or digital dept, didn’t have special projects budget and didn’t even have a youtube channel before project.

When they first discussed the project it was a bit of an experiment to go away from their own site and collaborate with youtube.  It’s proof for me that you can use other platforms to then drive traffic back to your own site, not trying to control everthing so it always happens on your site. Interestingly when they collaborated with youtube they decided to take away ads from their channel and tried to create a clean youtube platform to mimic the gallery setting. I wonder if this is an option for others or if youtube is hardwired to have the ads?

what was great about the project was that it was authentic to them- it chimed with their overall mission to provide access to the institution, and they were already collecting new video art – the now of video art as it were.  Through the project they were hoping to find what’s “next” in video art.  The response was overwhelming- over 23,000 entries all of which were watched by the Guggenheim curators and whittled down to 250 finalists which were judged by a great, diverse panel of artists from several disciplines.  What I really like is the respect which the Guggenheim treated the project. Sure, they were crowdsourcing the art online, and youtube can be perceived as a flippant platform, but by putting structures in place to treat the work with respect- curatorial overview, an excellent independent panel, an add free channel, they elevated the project and made it an authentic art project.

Following a theme that we heard about during the conference, they used the online engagement to create an offline/real world event- a series of stunning projections on the facade of the building, and a series of multi-platform events in gallery, a packed gallery show, music events, talks etc.

The project received 3 times the normal amount of international press compared to other shows. It was also great to see them creating a way for facebook users to interact with the project without leaving facebook, again being brave about releasing control of the projects. It also illustrates the benefits of going where the audience is – digitally speaking.

They did use their own platforms, the site and a new blog created for the project, to elevate the critical discussion around the project however, with content provided by the Guggenheim’s curatorial team leading a discussion looking at the history of video art. This multi layered info is a great e.g. of visual arts engagement.The project is also proof positive of  Jasper Visser’s point about rich content allowing the life of the event to live longer than the event itself.

Some key learnings from the project that they shared with us, which echoed case studies from the other speakers were:

  • Build a Network of Advocates
  • Learn to work interdepartmentally
  • Use friends & affiliates to spread the message, and enable those affiliates with tools and info
  • Communicate collaborate communicate – Develop a social media team across partners- in this case Guggenhiem, HP and Google/Youtube with weekly conference calls.
  • Expect the unexpected – Be prepared for anything, be organic, be responsive
  • Report and Build Support- Analytics, Reporting and Assessing success and failure is a key. The new blog, despite initial scepticsim, received 90,000 page views, and ended up becoming a new benchmark for success.

For me this is a pretty perfect example of a visual arts engagement project, like Brooklyn Museum with Click, they put structures in place to treat the work with respect, they had a concept that they were interrogating and the online engagement lead to offline engagement- the galleries were packed. It just surprises me that they were surprised that people still wanted to come into the museum to view works when they were available online, people will always want the unique live experience, the sense that you had to “be there”.


There’s lots more to come from Day 2- keep en eye on this page for an updated post

I’m just back from a brilliantly stimulating few days at Museum Next in Edinburgh and feel I have to capture my thoughts and responses to the two days while they’re all still fresh in my head.  This years conference was broadly focusing on how to build engaged communities through new technology & web, in this case for the museum and gallery sector, but really the lessons learned are applicable to anyone who wants to build a community around their work; charities, musicians, artists, organisations, films, politicians, causes etc. In the questions below you could simply swap the word “museums” for the word “music” for example, another area that really interests me.

So just to set the scene the main questions the conference hoped to pose were:

  • How can we build active communities around our museums?
  • How can we empower our audiences to become advocates for our venues?
  • How can museums use the internet effectively to raise money

You can check out their website to see the full programme of speakers, and while all were excellent I don’t purport to review/summarise them all here. I’m just wanting to document key take-aways that are particularly applicable to me in my work and that might be helpful for people working in audience development in Ireland.


Clever Jim opened the conference with a straight-up legend in the area of audience building through technology; Shelly Bernstein -Chief of Technology at the Brooklyn Museum. It’s fair to say I probably booked the conference on the strength of her name on the bill and it ensured most everyone was present from the get go. For anyone interested in this area the projects that Shelly and her team at Brooklyn Museum have launched have been nothing short of pioneering. They’ve been fascinating to read about and follow online so it was great to have an opportunity to hear about them first hand. Shelly focused on two specific projects; 2008’s Click; a crowd curated exhibition, and 2011’s Split Second- Indian Paintings which both deserve a proper click through to read about, but some key general take-aways for me from her presentation were as follows.

(1)The power of good leadership and collaborative working

Shelly spoke about the effect a visionary Director (Arnold Lehman in this case) has had on the organization, and how his ability to listen to and understand their local audience (read the census!) and foster that visitor voice has led to their org obtaining such a diverse, young and engaged audience. Despite many criticisms he has led in that manner, including a radical change to the physical facade of the building to make it more welcoming and social, and it really illustrates how a clear mission, an engaged leader and his/her deep understanding of the orgs brand on all levels makes all the difference for an organisation.

Equally striking for me was how the most successful projects have come about through inter-department collaboration and team work. Audience engagement in the arts is all to often left to the education or marketing teams, but real engagement comes from a mix of programming, curation, education and marketing and it was great to see this bear out in so many more of the presentations as the conference went on.

(2) Integrate your Audience’s voice
Some ways in which they do this at BM that could be implemented by other orgs included:
  • publishing a weekly digest of visitor comments internally – to all departments – not just marketing!
  • allowing online users to create tags for items in the museums collection using their own words, and not curatorial/museum specific words thus making content easier to find
  • Making all web content commentable and sharable

(3) Subsume your ego- or “If you love something set it free

Take the info you have and put it on the largest possible platform to benefit the largest group of people, and ultimately you’ll benefit too. Brooklyn Museum did this with the release of their Collections Database API  to see what hackers and developers might create out of it (something a bunch of people would love to see in Ireland fyi), but Shelly also spoke about a smaller more manageable project Wikipop. When curating a Women in Pop Art show; Seductive Subversion, they realised that many of the artists didn’t have a profile on Wikipedia, or if they did it was incomplete. So they set about working with an intern (read her blog about it here) to use the info they were gathering for the show in any case, and repurposed it for Wikipedia. This allowed them to share their knowledge with the world at large, but also to then redisplay the wiki’s on iPads’s in the gallery context.

I’d wager a much higher percentage of people read the artist wiki’s in-gallery than would have read the same text on a didactic panel, but I’m sure that’s hard to quantify without specifically setting out to measure it. They did find, however, that the info was heavily utilized, and it gave them some great extra visitor knowledge about what sort of “extra information” people would like to engage with during a show. You can read about the wikipop metrics on Shelly’s blog here>

The specifics of the Click and Split Second projects can be read about in great detail  the BM site and Shelly’s blog (all linked above) so I won’t replicate them here, but what was generally interesting about these projects, not least of all that they were cross departmental audience engagement projects, was how structured and scientific BM’s approach to them was. These may seem obvious, but in my experience time starved arts organisations often don’t have the bandwidth to implement the basics:

  • There were set concepts they wanted to interrogate  (The Wisdom of Crowds for Click, and Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking for Split Second)
  • They designed a process specific to each project that sought to minimise interference/undue influence
  • They measured the response
  • The learned from the results
  • And not only that- but they are letting us learn from the results by publishing so much info about the projects on their site.

So, a hugely inspirational start to Museum next 2011 but with only one hour down and many more to go you can see how information overload was a distinct fear!


Jasper Visser was up next to talk about his work with The Museum of National History (innl) in the Netherlands.  In his own words, the museum seeks to spark everybody’s historical imagination, so it has to be more than a building, and more than objects.  In fact the museum doesn’t yet have an exhibition building so it was an interesting example of how a challenge – not having a single physical site, which  traditionally is a given with museums- can be turned into an opportunity for discovering new ways of engagement. It reminded me in a small way to a time when I worked with The Model in Sligo and our physical building was closed for redevelopment, forcing us to discover new ways of engaging with our public, the experience of which then went on to inform our overall methodology when we returned to a single physical site.

So how do the innl do it? How do they engage with a public, and more importantly how do they make that public enthusiasts/advocates for the museum? According to Jasper they go to where the audience are – physically and digitally. I love the simplicity of this concept, and it echoes a thought from Dr. Ross Parry that I often quote when speaking to organisations about their digital marketing “go where your audience expects to find you”.  It infers that you must first know who your audience are, and then discover where they hang out digitally or physically, and then ensure you are where they are. Again; simple concepts, but simplicity is often the best route to success.

Jasper also talked about how they make everything they do open, attributing a creative commons license to their content, and this theme of making this sharable was naturally a pervasive theme all conference.

innl also specifically target potential audiences in a segmented manner, which is something I’m hot on, and was thrilled to see segmentation rear it’s head in a positive light frequently during the few days.

He talked about designing holistic projects, multi departmental and multi platform, and cited their “X was Here” project as an example. It uses 40/50 physical locations where (Dutch) history has happened, and invites people to experience that history, physically and digitally.

He also encouraged us to “think beyond text” which wasn’t hard to do for the museum next contingent, but is an important point to share. If you add videos and images to your exhibition content you can see the lifespan of your event lengthen beyond the physical event itself. YouTube/Vimeo/Flickr etc can allow your event to live on, and to have relevance, far beyond its actual dates.  This is something we all accept post event, but how about pre-event? Can we similarly lengthen the impact of a show by adding pre-event content to our invitations and announcements?

One of the most powerful tools in Jasper’s arsenal are the quarterly metric reports he creates on all digital activity, which have become a cornerstone of the organisations decision making process. Again, with time starved organisations this can seem hard to implement, and the sheer volume of free analytic can be overwhelming I know, but if you are serious about your online identity/engagement/audience it’s an invaluable spend of your time.

See Jasper’s Slides


The next presentation around online engagement was from Hugh Wallace of National Museums Scotland, but in the interim we had excellent presentations from Fiona Romeo of National Maritime Museum and Amy Wiesser of the 9/11 memorial museum, which sounds like it’s going to be a hugely powerful experience for anyone that visits; moving, respectful, appropriate, and challenging. Have a look at Make History to get a powerful sense of the overall project, I’m just not detailing them or I’ll be here all day! so I’m sticking to online engagement themes.

Hugh spoke a lot about snackable content, so perhaps not surprisingly his presentation was in itself snackable and sharable content! Full of lots of easy to digest bullet points that are definitely worth sharing. The digital journey of National Museums Scotland is particularly heartening for irish organisations who might feel that they have somehow missed the boat, or might never catch up. By they’re own admission they’ve moved from a low level of digital understanding in 2008, to a 2011 exhibition complete with QR codes and now have a digital team & digital strategy in place.

Hugh’s code of conduct for online engagement:
  • Try New Things
  • Be Responsive
  • Know Why you’re doing it
5 principles of digital media
  1. Have snackable content that is readily available
  2. Online world blends seamlessly with the physical
  3. People share their experiences
  4. Dialogue is the expectation
  5. Information is accessible

With regard to social media remember that quantity is not the end goal, but obtaining a critical mass is relevant. With Twitter you can think of it as an engine room, monitor your super users, get to know them (something Jasper and Jim Richardson both talk about) and be responsive. Remember that being responsive is about awareness of what resonates with your audiences, not just reflecting them, and don’t forget to explore and exploit your niche interests, in facet, make a virtue of your smaller niches – a topic that was returned to by speakers on day 2 who encouraged us to “be who we are- who we are is ok”. In other words know your org and it’s brand, celebrate that and stay authentic.

Hugh wrapped up with 5 top tips to bear in mind when approaching digital:
  1. Ask Questions first
  2. Don’t ignore what’s gone before
  3. Don’t get distracted by shiny things
  4. Make time for, and pay attention to, analysing your stats
  5. Employ a great team

Next up was the conference founder Jim Richardson from Sumo. Not surprisingly, given his huge experience in this area, his presentation was clear and effective. I was delighted to hear him make a clarion call for a huge bugbear of mine- Don’t Broadcast! Organisations all to often fall into an old fashioned broadcast model when communicating online. You are supposed to be talkingwith your audience, not at them.

And so- a devastatingly simple top 7 tips for online engagement:
  1. Make Friends of your superfans. (FYI this does not mean relying on Klout!) Can you group them by their jobs or interests? Bloggers/photographers/press/music fans etc
  2. Make your content easy to share – put share buttons on every page.  Facebook “like” buttons can increase traffic by 1000%, and are easy peasy to add to pages, and shouldn’t be costly even if your designer does it for you
  3. Encourage reviews (add facebook review to your page or put your twitter handle on didactics in-gallery and ask for feedback)
  4. Allow Photography. Again, a number one bugbear of mine. Why more galleries and museums can’t facilitate visitor photography is beyond me- and I don’t buy the copyright excuse. He pointed to the recent #museumpics project which generated 7,000 photographs and 4,000 tweets in 48 hours.
  5. Take a lodger. Get someone in to guest tweet (Tate do this very well as it happens) or live blog from an event, or get someone to be the resident blogger/tweeter for a period. This can mean they physically move in, or not!
  6. Run a Competition – online or off. A great example of this is Yorkshire Favourite Paintings
  7. Treat Bloggers like Rockstars!! A great example here was the V&A Cold War Exhibition blog recruitment- cold war style




Next up was Lynda Kelly from the Australian Museum. An audience researcher and a self confessed lover of metrics, it’s worth noting that the museum happily shares it’s audience profiles and attendee numbers through it’s website.

Some key take-aways from her session for me were:

  • Museums operate on 3 spheres; Physical, Online and Mobile. The best projects bring all three spheres together.
  • The Australian Museum (AM) website uses a distributed cms model, so all staff can edit any aspect of the site, and the content is managed by the content owners
  • they hold a morning web clinic once a week where staff can drop by with any questions they have about how to do things, in this way Lynda and her team are enablers, not do-ers
  • When researching audiences there are several models you can employ (together or individually) , the traditional Social Science Model (surveys, focus groups, observation), the Consultation Model (i.e. consulting with a particular community), the User Generated Model or the Building Community Model (App builders etc)



The final speaker on day one was Steve Bridger who talked to us about community building and opened with a super quote from Laurie Anderson – “Technology is the campfire around which we tell our stories”

He feels that Marketeers roles will evolve from broadcasters to aggregators, and some tips for good social engagement by an organisation were:

  • make the whole organisation social: socialise staff without generating chaos
  • encourage staff to speak for your org in public
  • trust the hiring decision
  • the digital capability that comes from online needs to be rolled into the brand
  • think of your “end users” as people, not end users!

He had a great comment to make about storytelling, a theme which we were to return to in day 2.  As organisations we often keep our best stories back for future use, when really we should be sharing them in the moment. We’re wired for sharing in the moennt and the best stories are often the most visceral ones.  His great quote from Maya Angelou summed it up best:

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did , but people will never forget how you made them feel”

And so day one drew to a close with plenty of new thoughts on audience engagement and little gems of wisdom from out in the field.Read Day 2 here>

Last year the Department of Tourism, Culture and Sport launched an excellent initiative in the Cultural Technology Grant Scheme. The idea was to match creativity in technology with the cultural sector, thus creating new ways to promote culture and the arts in Ireland. The first batch of resulting projects are starting to come to light, and revealing some very useful and clever products. I blogged about Breaking Tunes a few weeks back – a good looking phone app that delivers music event and artist info and content from emerging irish music artists direct to your phone, and now another great app has been launched today in the form of Dublin’s Cultural Trail courtesy of Temple Bar Cultural Trust and a trio of Digital Hub enterprises.

Both a comprehensive website, and a compatible iphone app, the Trail aims to bring a number of Dublin’s leading cultural institutions to life with lovely photographs of each venue, historical information and some extremely high quality videos.  It’s clearly aimed at visitors to Dublin, bringing to life as it does all of the venues both from the website and the app, though locals should find it useful too.

Both website and app have handy venue info; opening times, contact details and location maps that will come in handy for even regular users of the locations.  The app uses it’s geo-location potential to show the venues in respect of your current location, and can even map your journey to them via google maps.

The website offers a little more with an event listing service for the venues and a special offers section, two things that would have been nice to see on the app as a way to keep it dynamic and current, but possibly not everything would fit? Or maybe they are to come on an upgrade?  The site also has a clever little weather summary in the header.

The videos are great, and it’s so encouraging to see such high quality, contemporary looking product being created to promote Dublin abroad. It’s easy to see how the site will be of huge benefit to those planning trips to Ireland and may entice those who are still undecided about their trip, if promoted in the right way. I loved seeing the inclusion of contemporary cultural venues like Project, Temple Bar Gallery and Studios and the Graphic Studio Gallery, as I have a bit of a bugbear about so much tourism being heritage related, but it’s a pity then to see all three of these venues videos lumped together into one combined video rather than a separate one for each of them as with the other venues like IMMA or Chester Beatty. It may arguably work to push visitors from one to the other within the Temple Bar trio, but it’s not clearly spelled out when you start the video that you’re about to see three venues, so I initially thought the wrong video had loaded on the app.

It’d be great to see the videos becoming sharable, (especially the intro trailer) and specifically embedable, but tying the links back to the dublin cultural trail site, so that bloggers and others could better share the info about the trail, and about the great venues. At the moment there aren’t unique url’s for each of the videos either so you can’t provide a hyperlink to their exact page, whatever about embedding them,

Overall though, it’s a great initiative, and the potential for it is huge, not least of all to see irish culture and technology come together so forcefully. It’s so brilliant to see these sorts of things finally coming out of Ireland and I’m looking forward to seeing the other projects funded by the scheme come on stream over the coming weeks.

Having a bit of a music tech tester week, prompted by some new products releasing apps or irish services in the past little while so here’s a round up of the newbies.

Having been bereft of Spotify in the Irish market it’s nice to see a couple of new music streaming services being announced for Ireland, namely eircom’s music hub and We7.

eircom’s offering is innovative in that it’s the first Irish ISP to offer free streaming to its customers (or you can pay for the service if you’re not a broadband customer), plus it offers cheaper downloads than iTunes at 32c a track. In fairness to them the overall design of the service is good; a nice player on a simple site which is very easy to navigate, to find, play and save tunes to playlists.  The big down side is the database however. They might be pointing to their 4million tracks, and their deals with multiple record labels, but once you move out of x-factor /top 40 territory it’s hard to find music you want to listen to.  I’m not sure where the database comes from but it seems unusually skewed toward pop, country, world music and americana. They began with a very poor selection of irish artists before christmas but although that does seem to be slowly changing the selection of contemporary irish acts is staggeringly bad. A glaring omission, for example, is Mercury and Choice Prize nominee Villagers which is nowhere to be found, and many irish acts have a patchy album list on the music hub which doesn’t seem to have all of their albums on hand.

Interestingly, for a UK based service, We7 has gone to much greater lengths to get a contemporary irish database going, with lots of newer acts represented on the site. They cleverly asked Nialler9 to put together a top 50 irish acts of 2010 playlist for the site which he’s published today. We7 seems to play really smoothly and has a nice “favourite” feature where you can “heart” a track and send it directly to your favourites playlist to collect them up.  The free version works by having occasional ads pop up on the audio, which are less annoying than you’d think, but you can turn this off by paying for your subscription.

We7 is linked in to both facebook and lastfm, the being another music service that streams free music. I’ve been using lastfm for years but it’s been going through a lot of changes as it responds to licensing laws. If you want to play tracks on demand it’s essentially a subscription service, albeit a low cost one, but artists can choose to make full tracks available for listening for free so the artists are very much in control of their listings (not sure how that works on eircom or we7).

What I love about it lastfm though is that it tracks all your itunes plays, and based on that info, makes pretty accurate recommendations for new music you might like. It’s also a great resource for artist info- with biogs, discographies, gigs etc all available as you’re playing a song either on the site or via your itunes.  Very handy when you’ve been given a cd with tracks by artists you don’t know a whole lot about.  Interestingly Lastfm has a partnership with We7 whereby any plays you make on We7 are linked into your lastfm account to help inform their recommendations to you, so I wonder if they’re going to start using We7 as a route to providing their audio content, rather than hosting it themselves.

Of course a big new player that’s emerged in the last year is Soundcloud which allows users to upload and share music. It has special deals with some record labels, like Domino, resulting in new releases often being previewed on the site, and it allows artists to use the site to upload their music either to stream (and insert a “buy track” link to itunes) to users or to make it free to download. A huge bonus with soundcloud is that it makes the tracks and playlists easy to share so you can embed them in blogs, link them to facebook and so on making it a highly visible application.  Soundcloud has a great iphone app so you can play music straight through your phone or docking station, and a great new desktop app for mac, which allows you to search for tracks, play them or create playlists through a really simple interface. Total winner so long as the content keeps up.

Not to be outdone, however, the major labels are getting in on the act with Sony launching a new music streaming service called Qriocity (what a name) at Midem this week, as reported by Jim Carroll on OTR. As you can see from the comment thread there’s not much belief in this particular option, but only time will tell.

So a plethora of options, over and above YouTube, for accessing free, legal music online then, though I’m still wishing Spotify was available here.  Before I sign off one great app that’s been launched this week is irish app Breaking Tunes. Only available on iphone for now (android to follow if they can get the funds) it’s an extension of the Breaking Tunes website which First Music Contact (FMC) run, and has been made possible through last years excellent Cultural Technology Grant Scheme. Irish artists can create a profile on Breaking Tunes and then the app displays all of the artists registered, plays their music, shows images of them and lists their upcoming gigs (providing they’ve entered them on the site). It’s really easy to search by genre or county, and the gig listing service has a handy little option that shows you gigs happening near you on that particular day.  A whizz of a thing, if irish artists register for the site (free) in their droves and keep their listings up to date it’ll be invaluable for music lovers, both in ireland and visitors that want to get their gig on during their trip.

This post first appeared on stranded.ie