It's a familiar scenario, but I rarely start talking with someone in this industry before they say to me "are you the Pro Tools Expert." Then begins a slightly complicated conversation about how I was, but now I'm not and how I'm doing other things now and how a fantastic team run the Expert sites but they let me write the odd article (internally called Russ' rants!), and it's not just about Pro Tools anymore. I suppose I could say yes but I think it gets even more complicated, perhaps I could prime people to ask me if I am the guy who started it then it would make for quicker answers.
It's a conversation I've recently had with a sound engineer in a Belfast recording studio, with producer/engineer Dave Darlington in New York and one of the marketing team at Eve in Berlin, Germany. I've met people at weddings and was even stopped in a pub in London when someone recognised my voice from the podcast, but they had never seen my face... but I've always had a face for radio anyway.
I suppose this constant recognition is a sign of the enormous reach and impact the blogs have had and a sign of that somewhat nebulous term 'success.'
Another measurement of that is around half a dozen people now make a living from the Expert sites and many more supplement their income from it... even better for the most part for you the site is free, except of course for a small section of premium content which also helps to supplement the income of the video authors. But making the content free was always one of the core principles when I started the 'Air Users Blog' in 2008.
But here's the most significant fact, I never planned or imagined that the blog would garner the following it now has from hobbyist to Grammy-winning producers and certainly never thought it would generate any income, let alone enough to keep the roof over a lot of heads.
For those new to the story and for fear of repeating myself it started because my wife was doing a university course every night and every weekend for a year and told me to find something to do with my time. I was in the DUC (the Avid user Forum for those that don't know about it), and people were moaning about how Digidesign was not supporting users of the Air virtual instruments that were starting to appear in Pro Tools. I had the time and thought I might be able to help. I didn't know how but I thought if I could pass on some of the great things I had learnt from other producers and engineers over the years then it might benefit a few people... and so the blog began.
I started a blog because while in principle I understood how forums could help people in practice they rarely did. Often inhabited by those with nothing better to do with their time than belittle newcomers, have pissing contests with other people about who has the most technical knowledge. Or there are those who continuously hijack threads with an axe to grind, irrespective of what the subject is they turn it into their little cause célèbre and before you know it the conversation has gone from someone asking about setting up the grid to Avid being Nazis because they didn't put a red light on the Mbox. Oddly enough ten years on and some of the people who were moaning about Digidesign not supporting the Air users are still moaning now about something else. That said the DUC has been an enormous help to me and countless others over the years, but for me, a forum wasn't something I wanted to run.
Secondly, I had and still have on the most part little coding knowledge, so a blog was the easiest way for me to be able to put out content without having to have a degree in rocket science. I also had to figure out how to make videos people could see, YouTube didn't introduce HD until November 2009, so I decided to use Vimeo, the first consumer site to offer HD back in 2007.
And so the blog began, some guy with a few ideas about helping people, few connections, no other help and some of the same people in the DUC who had complained about getting no support telling me I was a self-appointed expert. They were right, but as no one else had stepped up to the plate, I wasn't going to let a few people who complained whatever solution was offered them stop me from serving those who needed and valued help.
At my best guess, I thought a dozen or so people would visit the blog and find the videos, stories and free Structure sounds useful. By the end of 2008 the blog had 3,300 visitors, a year later 415,000 and by 2011 over 1.2 million. Now it's several million visitors a year. I'm the most surprised at that kind of impact considering where it all started. I often recall running into my wife and shocked the first day the blog had a 1000 visitors.
People often ask me what does it take to create a successful blog and my answer is simple principle but hard to practise. I blogged every day irrespective of how tired, sick, broke or busy I was. I had a growing group of people who were depending on me and I couldn't just blog when I felt like it, I felt responsible even though I wasn't getting paid. Over the years I've seen more and more blogs and podcasts appear and disappear just as quickly, blogging is a marathon and not a sprint. If you want to do it for fame or fortune then do something else, the AIR Users Blog didn't create any meaningful income for me for the first five years. It certainly didn't have people asking if I was the guy from the Air users blog, most people thought from the name that it might be an asthma support blog.
Over the years as the blog grew I began to be approached by companies asking if I could help them. I did not feel it was possible to do that and run an independent blog with the potential conflict of interest but felt drawn to this work. Several years ago I decided it was time to hand over editorial control to someone else and concentrate on this new venture.
Which leads me to why I think the Expert sites continue to flourish. The essential element of the blog is the fantastic team that now run it. I was once told that effective leadership is to find good people who are smarter than you and then let them get on with the job. That's what I have done with the Expert sites which have been run for several years by Mike Thornton as Editor who is supported by a fantastic team of men and women, all of whom are music and post-production professional practitioners who want to share their tips and tricks with the world... and I'm enormously proud of them. I remember standing in Mike Thornton’s conservatory in Manchester and asking him to help… little did we both know where that would lead.
In closing, if you happen to bump into me or find yourself on a call or email exchange remember the question is "are you the guy who started the Expert sites?" Then I can answer yes I am but a decade on it's a group of amazingly talented and committed men and women who do it now.
I want to say a huge thank you to every single person who has supported the blog over the last ten years. I've made many friends doing this, and I know that the stories of how the blog has helped to support those working in this industry are a fraction of the ones I've never been told. If you have one, then I would love to hear it.
As the title of this article makes clear, ten years of successful blogging has been achieved because it was the last thing on my mind.