Are we learning from Lady Gaga and Troy Carter?

You don’t have to like her music, you don’t have to like her fashion sense, but you do have to have some admiration for the way she conducts business.

English: Lady Gaga performing on the Fame Ball...
English: Lady Gaga performing on the Fame Ball tour in Minneapolis, MN at the Fine Line Music Café. Remastered with Photoshop. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve long thought Lady Gaga is one switched on lady, and yesterday I read an article in Wired.CO.UK that proved it. Troy Carter, Lady Gaga’s manager, was the subject of an interview that described how he has made the most of social media to propel her career. Not only that, he is now in the process of creating a new social media platform called Backplane, that looks set to provide a community hub for the Little Monsters (Lady Gaga’s fans) and a means for her to bypass the record companies and sell her content directly through the platform. Here’s how his plans have been described in the Wired interview;

For several years, Carter has been plotting a digital disruption of the music business and, by extension, the whole entertainment industry. In addition to his offices in Los Angeles, which employ talent managers and communications and support staff, he has a team of nearly 20 engineers and executives in Palo Alto, working seven days a week developing something called the Backplane, a social-media platform that will allow celebrities to combine all the elements of their social-web presence.

Yes, that’s right. This platform is not just about Lady Gaga, it’s about the entertainment business in general, and plans are afoot to pull other celebrities and even sporting clubs in. Here’s more detail from the interview explaining their grand plans;

The Backplane aims to gather content and interaction into one hub, which could completely alter the economics of Hollywood: revenue that once flowed to corporations will flow to artists. “Up until this point, we’ve been data dumb,” Carter says. “If a kid goes and buys a CD at Best Buy, we have no idea who the person is, how many times they listen to it, or anything like that. But we’re building to the point where one day we’re going to have access to all of the data. There will be a time where we’ll be able to release music through the Backplane, where we’ll be able to release music videos through there, we’re going to be able to sell all our tickets through there. Over a period of time, we’ll be able to build that audience so they’ll know exactly where to come.”

As it stands now, many celebrities use a variety of tools to communicate via social media. Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and YouTube are all employed, but they are all separate entities. Backplane has stated their intention on their site;

The Backplane team is creating a new type of social corridor. We believe that audiences seek new and more meaningful ways to connect and engage with each other. Backplane fills a gap in the current social spectrum by empowering sharing and conversation that is effortless but not automatic.

Smart, huh? And look what they’re doing to enable discussion with fans across language barriers;

They needed a chat function. That was already in the works; the Backplane was using Google’s translation software so people from all over the world could chat in one language.

There is much to learn from Troy Carter and his vision. This kind of entrepreneurial thinking needs to emanate from somewhere. Troy grew up in a rough neighbourhood in West Philadelphia and got some breaks that found him working with Will Smith. His willingness to do pretty much anything that was required led to other job opportunities. He even went bankrupt at one stage, but eventually found himself introduced to Lady Gaga. Me, I’d like to know more about his schooling. Was he introduced to creative thinking in the classrooms he occupied? Was he inspired by someone in his youth who saw something in him and encouraged this kind of willingness to take risks and think outside the square?

What are the implications of this new approach to shaping and growing a career for education? Plenty, in my book. We need to be exploring this new business model in our classrooms and make sure our students have a keen understanding of the benefits of utilising social media to create your brand and proactively develop employment opportunities. Schools themselves can learn plenty from this. How many are utilising the tools of social media to communicate with their communities and grow their brand in a positive, proactive fashion?

Take note too of the job industry driving this change. If you take a look at the jobs board on the Backplane site, you’ll see that coders are in hot demand. If we’re going to see the Web become the vehicle for dissemination of not only ideas, but content, then we’re going to need a skilled workforce to meet the demand that is sure to ensue. The Khan Academy are about to release an education portal that teaches Computer Science fundamentals through interactive drawing. But let’s not rely on the self motivated to fill the positions that will arise. Let’s open up kids’ eyes by teaching the elements of coding in our schools and educating them about the career prospects that await them if they choose to master it.

Another lesson here also for the book industry. Publishers, are you taking note? Because I bet authors are. We’ve already seen J.K Rowling begin to control her ownership and distribution of content with Pottermore. I’m guessing there are quite a few high profile authors, and low profile ones too, who would be interested in Backplane and the possibilities there for controlling their content and profit margins.

Changing times call for changing approaches across many sectors. Lady Gaga and the team behind her are people to watch. You can learn more about Troy Carter’s background and his approach to the music business by watching this Keynote interview from the Music Matters conference in June 2012.

He speaks my language.

Screencasting as assistive technology – Sal can teach us a thing or two.

I came across Salman Khan and his work last year, well before Bill Gates did the big shout out for him that led to the Gates Foundation and other Venture Capitalists injecting tens of thousands of dollars into his Academy that produces videos explaining maths, biology, chemistry, physics and a myriad of other topics. I was impressed with his work and continue to be so. I’ve pointed students to the Khan Academy and even recommended it to my daughter tonight to help her understand physics concepts.

He spoke recently at the TED conference about using video to reinvent education. Sal began the videos as a means to help his nephews who he was tutoring. As he says in the video above, they told him they preferred watching his videos to the face to face tutorials. I think that is the key to Sal’s success. Students need to see things explained and it helps if they can revisit it to see it explained again if they didn’t get it the first time around. So, why does this seem like a new idea when in fact, it’s quite easy to do?

I’m going to make a stab at surmising why we haven’t seen our teachers take this approach on a widespread basis.

They don’t know how to do it.

Yes, I think most would understand that this type of assisted instruction is worthwhile, and if they record themselves explaining a concept, it means that they would have more time working with students in their classrooms as they nut out problems. What holds them back, I think anyway, is a lack of understanding about just how easy it is to record your screen and audio as you explain something. To do what Sal does, also requires you using a tablet device and most of our teachers are working with computers that are not tablet computers. Most probably don’t have access to a tablet attachment for a laptop.

I’ve been using Jing for a couple of years now, and have used the video screen capture option to explain ideas and leave instructions for my class when I’m unable to be there. It’s very easy, but every time I show it to someone, they are really surprised that something like that is possible. There are other free alternatives too. Screenr is an online application that will record your screen and allow you to share a link with others so that they can view your recording. Phil Bradley has a list of other screencasting alternatives too. Even Interactive Whiteboards offer screen recording options that can be saved and shared with your students.

Time is no doubt an issue too. Many of our teachers are on very full teaching loads, and are tied up after hours with correction and preparation. Yes, a screencast could be a part of that preparation, but a lot of people would find it a skill that requires refinement. Some just aren’t comfortable explaining a concept while recording, and it would take multiple attempts to get it right. I’ve done that quite a few times myself!!

Perhaps what is needed is some professional development time allocated to staff to get work like this done. It lends itself to maths concepts, and videos could be prepared and shared across classrooms. There’s a great site called Mathtrain, a free educational “kids teaching kids” project from Mr. Marcos & his students at Lincoln Middle School in Santa Monica, CA. It’s there where students are uploading screencasts explaining concepts. They even include videos explaining their screencasting techniques. Getting our students to create screencasts themselves is a great teaching idea. To teach something effectively to others, you need to demonstrate your own understanding. What an innovative assessment tool a screencast can be!

Sal’s work complements the work of teachers in classrooms today. He’s not replacing teachers as some are claiming in the comment stream on the TED talk. We should be embracing what he offers, and thinking about how both teachers and students can use screencasting as assistive technology to explain concepts that can be revisited.