Working with the web, a note to a young colleague (helped by a pot of coffee) 11 7 2000

Posted on July 11th, 2020 by

‘I  realise, that my observation was not as clear as it should have been!  Please accept my apologies, while I try and explain what I was trying to say. This might get a little wordy. 

Coffee in the beautiful silver pot presented to Bull by the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1836- Bergen 2017

What I meant, was that you should be in control, as much as possible, of the material that is out there online. The various aspects of web-presence are something that I find to be a very useful tool, and one which, for the past decade, I have monitored, and learn from, daily . This is something which is particularly important for creative, independent artists, so we can mediate between what we present, what the media (in the broadest sense) offer, and what the corporate world puts out there about us (usually generated through algorithms!). 

My quotidian process begins with my website stats for (this site!) Naturally, this gives me a slightly different overview than the public search engines,  but its 1000-plus pages (which I try and improve, repair, add to, cull at least 3 times a week) give me an opportunity to see what people want from me. So …. I have just logged on to my ‘dashboard’ in the back end of the site (which I would do with my morning coffee anyway, so I am just narrating the process this morning)… It tells me that, yesterday ,the most popular topics (the web posts include recording, film, writing, archival material, photography and drawing) were (these are the posts with multiple visits – and I am not including visits to the home page – which by the way, is updated at least every few days)  _____12 Paganini and Posture,  Baltazar Richard (1600 – post 1660)– C minor ‘Violino Solo’, David Matthews – 3 new works for solo violin & Quartet,  Nicosia-June 2016,  Mateis Morning, Dvid Matthews – ‘Midwinter Song’ World Premiere, 30 Days of Tartini-‘Piccole Sonate’,  2 Locatelli & Gorton: Talk/performance’The Violinists’ Practice Desk’ III at ‘The Exhale’ 17 6 2020, David Matthews-Sonatina (Unheard),  Thomas Baltzar – Prelude More stats 2 Paganini – ‘Nel cor più non mi sento’ (Two versions!), Giuseppe Colombi(1635 — 1694),  Beethoven and Tsar Aleksandr. A Polonaise, Spring-summer/Lockdown 2020 [art]. Trockne Blumen-Schubert_____. Some of these, like the last, are posts which are visited all the time, others might not have had a visit for a while (with 1000s pages that happens!), so I try and understand the trends of interest. 
The next stage is to think about where I might like to lead my listeners/readers/viewers – which may/may not be informed by the daily stats. So I put out breadcrumbs through social media –  for example, the Baltazar Richard piece (which is from a fragmentary MS in Germany) had not been getting attention, so perhaps it needs more, OR do I need to think about what that tells me about future programming plans, both virtual and real (as we are beginning to think in that direction again). This process also informs my daily online presentations – I make a recording/film every day, and the themes of these YouTube-presented films are partially the result of ‘listening to my listeners’ as described in part above. 
But all of this is in the context of the main thing that I was talking to you about, which was looking at first page results of searches about you, and making sure that you control the narrative. This is easiest to illustrate visually. Here’s the first page of an image search under my name: 

Today’s Google first page image search

A brief scan of these 50-odd images gives me about 15 of my CD releases, some dating back a long time, a dozen photos taken in performance, plus pictures of instruments, collaborating composers, my quartet, and some of the historical figures I specialise in. Whilst I only put up about a 1/8th of the images, it’s a cross-section I am comfortable with-there are no unpleasant surprises, and it looks creative-ish (if too driven by pictures of old violins!). 
So then lets do the same with the film material search. Here’s the first page of results:  

Today’s page 1 film search

If I scan this there are about 9 of the studio films I of various music/themes that the company Optic Nerve has produced with me, 4 or five shot by institutions that I collaborate with – the Metropolitan Museum, Library of Congress (x2), V&A, and the Swedish Maritime Museum (!). There’s TED talk filmed in Norway, a bunch of concert films,  from various countries, two of the auto-generated films that any commercial recording generates, and the rest are my own productions, some are rehearsal films, some ‘at the desk’ recordings with short films. You get the picture. I am moderately happy with this, and interested to see what is most/least viewed . 

I won’t bore you further with this – the same process can be done with the standard name search, news, books etc. For decades, the great Buckminster Fuller talked about how important it was to understand these processes (and he died in 1983, just as the Internet was beginning to be of relevance in the academic sphere, but a decade before it entered most people’s lives). I think that there’s a relationship, an important one between what we learn from something, and what we offer to it – you could think about our work as musicians as an example of that. Controlling our web-presence is not 100-percent achievable, but I know from happy experience that it can be a creative and useful activity. I have been given thought by my little survey today, and by the chance to talk about it to you, so I will make some adjustments.