Improvisation – how social media is like jazz
What does jazz have anything to do with social media, digital marketing, and helping stories get told, you ask?
In 1968 I ran into Steve Lacy on the street in Rome. I took out my pocket tape recorder and asked him to describe in fifteen seconds the difference between composition and improvisation. He answered: “In fifteen seconds the difference between composition and improvisation is that in composition you have all the time you want to decide what to say in fifteen seconds, while in improvisation you have fifteen seconds.” His answer lasted exactly fifteen seconds. – Frederic Rzewski
Even if you’re improvising, the fact that beforehand you know certain things will work helps you make those improvisations successful. It really helps to have a certain amount of knowledge about musical structure. — John Cale
Sometimes it works, sometimes it fails, but that’s what we face when we’re dealing with improvisation. — Jan Garbarek
A couple weeks’ ago I’m on a project helping with sound and media for a church function. I’d heard that there was a video the team would want played. Not a problem, I’m thinking. What typically happens is that we get the video burned onto a DVD or some other media. It’s easy to bring it right into the MediaSHOUT software we use.
MediaSHOUT is a phenomenal software program that lets you show graphics, video, flash animations, Bible verses, and even PowerPoint presentations. Most of the time, this is done with a script file that contains all the content to be shown during the program.
The system we use doesn’t have PowerPoint installed, so we just use a PowerPoint viewer. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past six years learning more about what we can use it for, and I’m definitely impressed.
One thing the PowerPoint viewer does not do is play PPS files, PowerPoint Show files that contain timed slides and music behind them. I mention this because when I arrive at the building to help with sound and media, I learn that this is what the “video” is. Gulp.
The show must go on.
With less than 30 minutes before the event was to begin, I start thinking of different options to make this work. I’m in the business of helping stories be told, and I’m determined to find a way to make this work.
I search online for utilities that could convert a PPS to a WMV and even install one on my laptop. Can’t get it to work. Then I remember that MediaSHOUT can play audio behind graphic cues. So I ask the woman who prepared the PPS for graphic images of her slides and begin to set up the timings.
Unfortunately at this point I realize I don’t know enough about how to add audio cues to slides, so I abandon that option. I then decide that the best course of action in these circumstances is to disconnect the projection system from the MediaSHOUT computer and hook it to the woman’s laptop to play the show directly from her machine.
It’s not seamless as we would like it to be, but it gets the job done.
Fast forward to last night. I’m back at the MediaSHOUT system, and I remember what had happened. So I look up how sound cues and sound cue controls work. After testing them out, I finally know how to make this option work – not just for the situation that came up a couple weeks’ ago, but for any other use.
Like jazz – indeed.
Another quote from DailyImprov.net:
Research on jazz musicians shows that people don’t just pull stuff out of the air when they’re improvising. These are people with an extremely wide knowledge of musical genres. They have always practiced and practiced and practiced. – Kathleen Tierney
My example is one of many, and it doesn’t really explicitly involve social media as much as it does communication, media production, and passion and drive to figure out how to make something happen.
Get training, take classes as you can. Training is definitely useful. So is the energy, zeal, and determination to just figure things out on your own so that you can know which tool is needed for the situations that arise.
In other words, you’re ready to improvise.
What do you think? Does any of this make sense? What else would you add to this analogy?
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Tags: Bobby McFerrin, DailyImprov, digital media, Frederic Rzewski, improvisation, Jan Garbarek, John Cale, Kathleen Tierney, Lessons Learned, Lukasz Langa, media production, MediaShout, social media, Steve Lacy