This year the blog celebrates its 10th anniversary, something of which I'm enormously proud and in many ways amazed by, why? Well read on and see how the simplest little act thing can change your life forever.
For those who don't know the Expert blogs started life in 2008 as the AIR Users Blog. People were complaining that Avid (then Digidesign) was not supporting users of the recently acquired AIR instruments. At this point, this mainly consisted of the paid-for products like Structure, little did we know that in version 8 of Pro Tools AIR would become a vital part of the product with the addition of Boom, Vacuum, Structure Free, DB33 and Xpand2 as well as the AIR effects.
Anyway, people were complaining they were not getting the support they required to use the products and that 'someone' should do something about it. What they meant by 'someone' is anyone but them. At around the same time, my wife had started a postgraduate qualification in Politics, this course was in addition to her having a full-time job and she would be studying every evening and weekend for a year - she told me to find something to do with my time.
So with spare time on my hands, many years experience of using gear in studios and lots of cool tips I'd been shown by fantastic studio professionals I had sat alongside in sessions, I decided that in the absence of any other volunteers I'd offer to try and help. I had no idea what this would look like, I also had a full-time job working in a post house in Soho, so anything I did would have to happen in my spare time too.
I had never written a line of web code in my life; online video sharing was in its infancy, this was when YouTube was SD. I had no formal training in journalism or publishing, no financial backing, no contacts within Digidesign, no one else to help me. Just me, a Mac laptop with a noisy fan, a problem to solve and a willingness to try and be the answer.
I do recall that in the early days there were those who described the blog as 'self-appointed experts' I had to laugh, no one else was offering to do the job. Certainly none of those critics who would sneer at what I was trying to do were making themselves available, it reinforced the quote "it only takes a mouth to criticise."
And so with a problem to solve and limited resources, I set about creating the AIR Users Blog. The aim was to remove the barriers for those wanting to use AIR software by offering tutorials, tips and free sounds. The blog was built on some basic principles;
- High-quality focussed content.
- Make as much material as possible free to the end user.
Ten years on and those values still apply, much of the Expert sites still is free.
This model all sounds pretty standard today, but ten years ago few sites offered this kind of focussed, free, independent content.
As I have already said I had no formal training in journalism or publishing, I did not know the rules, so I didn't know when I was breaking them. I just did what I thought was right and would serve the community best, to be frank, I didn't care what anyone else from the established world was doing, this was for the community and no one else.
So I made tutorial videos, uploaded to Vimeo, the only HD site at that time and hosted on the Blogger platform. I had to learn to blog, create videos and write articles as well as keep my ear to the ground to get tips, tricks and news from what was a pretty non-existent network of contents. All of this for no money. I lost count of the number of times I was asked how I was getting paid or making money out of it and when I said it was altruistic people would look at me as if I had gone mad. For me it was simple, some people needed help, I had some of the skills needed, a lot of spare time and I hoped a few people would benefit from that.
I remember sitting in empty edit suites during coffee breaks and lunch hours creating posts for the blog. Coming home from work and going into my make-shift studio office and working until midnight to generate the content every night and on weekends. I estimate that in the early years in addition to my full-time job I spent about 40 hours a week on the blog.
There were notable moments of help from early followers of the blog, some who got what was happening and would do what they could to create sample libraries for Structure or help in other ways.
I look back on the early weeks, months and years at some of the content, especially the videos and cringe, for various reasons. Suffice to say they weren't perfect, despite my efforts to do my best. I didn't know how large the audience was on the blog, but I knew there were those who depended on it and appreciated the effort to try and support them.
What you see today is a blog created by many ideas. Some of them worked, others got scrapped, some experiments were plain dumb, and lots of things no longer exist. I suppose one thing I've always done and always encouraged in others is, within reason, try something to see if it works, if people appreciate it. Some of those ideas will work and flourish; others will fail. Work hard to make the right stuff better and kill the bad ideas - it's as simple as that.
As the blog grew, it became apparent that what I thought was a little club for a few hundred people to get some help from was becoming something significant. The visitor numbers went from tens to hundreds and then over the months to tens of thousands and up and up. It seems the blog was scratching an itch and a far bigger one than I had thought existed.
Previously ignored by almost everyone including Digidesign I started to get emails from those in Digidesign asking to talk about the blog, it seemed even they wanted to talk about what I was doing.
It is perhaps a good time to say that in the early years, around the first five, the blog did not generate any significant income, and not enough to allow me to give up my job. Again I recall snarky comments that I was only doing it for the money; still, I would laugh and think if you want to try and run a blog as a 'get rich scheme' then knock yourself out.
In 2012 the AIR Users Blog became Pro Tools Expert, and with that change, Mike Thornton joined. It was perfect timing as I was also being approached by brands to help them with their marketing and I felt that if I were to do that, then I would need to take a step back from the blog. I mentioned independence earlier and in particular things like reviews could no longer be conducted by me, especially for brands I was working, I wasn't prepared to allow that to be compromised.
So over the last few years, Mike has taken up the editorial leadership and built a fantastic team around him to help take the blogs from strength to strength. Now I'm allowed to have a rant once a week with my Saturday post as part of my writing, other than that I have a leadership role that is mainly to make sure the core vision is maintained and I'm also used a sounding board for new ideas... however mad they may be!
You would think that letting go of something one has conceived, birthed and nurtured over many years would be hard. As a father, I can say that organisations are just like children. Hence my choice of words conceived, birthed and nurtured. In the early years, your involvement is vital, but as time passes if you hold on too tight, then you limit growth. I am the father of children who range from 3 to 23 yrs of age; I'm intimately nurturing my baby girl and at the same time looking on with pride as my older children do their own thing without me.
So what has this decade of blogging taught me?
Firstly, offering to help people can change your life forever. Little did I know when I offered to help that this idea would create the Expert blogs - I didn't set out to own a publishing group called Production Expert and have an amazing team, some of whom rely on the income from this work to pay their mortgages. Remember for the first few years it didn't even pay me; I'd not set it up to make money, just to help people - I think there is a lesson for all of us.
Secondly, my life is filled with some of the most talented, intelligent, funny, warm, people on the planet. Many of whom I count as friends, some who were previously heroes. They are still heroes, but now friends too.
Thirdly, I never imagined I'd own my marketing agency, which was born out of the blog. I now work with some of the smartest brands on the planet helping them to create products you use every day. I help them to communicate with you in a meaningful way and also assist some of the best artists in the world to use them to make award-winning music, movies and TV with those products.
Finally, it has taught me a most important lesson. If you set out to help people not expecting anything in return, then it might change your life forever, it has changed mine, and I am eternally grateful.
As I write this article it's uncanny that my wife is again back to study, this time a two year MA in Law, with me again being told to entertain myself every evening and weekend. Perhaps it's time for me to find another group of people to help? Who knows what could happen?