mat martin | Blog

  • Sketches, ideas, field recordings, demos and other such nonsenses are collected here, and can be filtered or searched below. Field recordings are often made while someone else takes a picture, and in those cases end with the shutter click.

    Readers are reminded that this is an intermittent service and despite all good intentions is often neglected in favour of proper work.

  • 12 April, 2017, 10:30 | Blog · Branding · Creating Designs · Resources

    Branding Statements - Vision & Mission, Essence, Personality and Positioning

    In order to clarify the message of a brand it can be useful to create a series of statements of intent for a business. Doing this can focus a branding project and make a business much more effective as a result. Whether or not you choose to share your branding statements publicly, they should clearly express the core values of your business, of which your client should be aware.

    Branding statements express the various aspects of your business’ persona in language. This is similar to the areas defined within the Kapferer Brand Identity Prism, and along with that diagram they can give us some resources with which to understand the nature of a brand. An effective way to arrive at these statements is by answering a set of questions designed to elicit detailed reflection on the brand in question.

    Questions for creating Branding Statements

    The questions included here are researched and designed to help you identify, develop and communicate the key qualities of your brand. Note that this is not a one-time exercise, and that successful brands revisit, fine-tune and sometimes outright change up their branding statements, identity principles and assets according to the market and to the development of their business. The more experience your company gains, the more accurate and insightful the information it will be able to feed into this process and the more precise your branding statements will be. Make a note in your diary to come back in a year and see if anything can be adjusted or has changed.

    SWOT Analysis:

    A quick SWOT analysis will never hurt to prepare you for the more specific questions which follow. It’s good practice to have a sense of your business in these terms in any case. To the best of your current knowledge, jot down some thoughts on the following subjects with regard to your business.

    • Strengths: Characteristics of the business or project that give it an advantage over others.
    • Weaknesses: Characteristics that place the team at a disadvantage relative to others.
    • Opportunities: Elements that the project could exploit to its advantage.
    • Threats: Elements in the environment that could cause trouble for the business or project.

    Vision Statement:

    Your Vision Statement is “a one-sentence statement describing the clear and inspirational long-term desired change resulting from an organization or program’s work”. Is is a simple expression of your company’s intention and desired end-state. Consider the following things, without worrying at this stage about how you intend to achieve them. This is about what you want to achieve.

    • What are your most important products and services?
    • What products and services will you never offer?
    • What is unique about doing business with your brand?
    • How would your customers describe your brand?
    • Where do you want your company to be in five years?

    Now – what, in one sentence, sums up your company’s vision?  For example, here is the Oxfam vision statement: “A just world without poverty”.

    Mission Statement:

    Your Mission Statement should clearly sets out your company’s purpose. This should be free from specialist language (it should make sense to the average general reader without further explanation). The Vision Statement is where you say something inspiring – here it’s more important to be clear than anything else.

    Be careful to consider the Vision Statement’s intentions when creating this. Consider the difference between these two of Apple’s Mission Statements:

    “To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.”

    or

    Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.”

    Both of these statements have been part of the Apple brand at different times, and they are quite different in meaning. The first clearly puts quality of life and the advancement of humanity at the fore, where the second concentrates on a purely technological set of values.

    Consider the following:

    • What are the specific market needs the company exists to address?
    • What does the company do to address these needs?
    • What are the guiding principles that define the company’s approach?
    • Why do customers buy from you and not your competition?

    So, what is your company going to do to achieve its Vision Statement? Example: Google’s mission statement is: “To organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”, whereas their Vision Statement is: “To provide access to the world’s information in one click”.

    Essence:

    The search for the Essence of your brand can be reduced to a simple question: What does your archetypal customer feel when using your service? Examples include “safe” (Volvo) or “magical” (Disney). Perhaps your customers will feel “enabled” by the support and/or information you offer them, or perhaps they will feel “luxurious” when experiencing the richness and extravagance of your product.

    • What emotions are elicited by your customer’s experience of your product or service?
    • If your brand were a person, how would you describe its personality?
    • Take a look at this blog post on cultural archetypes in branding for some guidance on defining the personality type of your business.

    What single word would best describe the experience of interacting with your brand? How will your customer feel?

    Personality:

    This is, simply put, the manner in which your brand’s Essence is communicated. Think about the various messages we send via the decisions we make about how to present ourselves and interact with others. For some businesses it will be appropriate to have a fun, mischievous personality; for others a serious, even old-fashioned tone will be more appropriate (consider the difference in tone and style between Apple’s and IBM’s brands for example – they are effectively selling the same product but have vastly different personalities). When thinking about this, give attention to the frame of mind your customer is likely to be in (e.g. Does your service offer help at difficult times in people’s lives?) but also the frame of mind you would like your product or service to elicit (see Essence).

    • Are you playful or serious?
    • Is the nature of your business one which requires a certain style or tone?
    • Is it more important to inspire – for example – trust or excitement in your clients?
    • How does your client feel about approaching you?

    Again, this blog post on cultural archetypes will give you some labels which might help you to identify what kind of personality your business has.

    Position:

    In one or two sentences, your company’s Brand Positioning Statement expresses the unique value and benefit of your product or service. It should “define the audience, define the category in which the brand exists, cite a clear product or service benefit, set your brand apart from your competitors, and instill confidence the brand will deliver on its promise.”

    Think about the following:

    • To whom are you speaking? (Target market, demographic, and persona)
    • Which market segment does your product or service serve?
    • What is your brand promise? (Both rational and emotional)
    • Why is your product or service different from the competition, and why should your clients care?

    A strong statement of this type will take into account the target market/consumer, the frame within which the decision to buy this product over an alternative and the points of difference between the product/service in question and the alternatives on offer.

    For example, ZipCar’s Brand Positioning Statement is “To urban-dwelling, educated techno-savvy consumers [target], when you use Zipcar car-sharing service instead of owning a car [competitive frame], you save money while reducing your carbon footprint [points of difference].” [source]

    How would you describe the position and unique benefit of your product or service in a single sentence?

    In Short

    Use this series of questions to define five concise and definite branding statements. They will offer you most if they avoid vague language and are explicit in their intent and meaning.

    Further Reading:

    10 April, 2017, 16:00 | Blog · Branding · Creating Designs · Resources

    Keyword Research and the Language of your Brand

    In an increasingly online marketplace businesses can consider branding from a perspective of visibility and/or searchability. When deciding what language to use to describe your business, it may be very useful to do some keyword research into using a word or words which link directly to the USP or Vision Statement of your intended brand. This can apply to anything from choosing a name to deciding how to title your latest blog post.

    The Importance of a Consistent Business Language Style

    Branding is about personality. The Kapferer Prism shows us that in large part the reality of a brand is defined not by the intentions behind it but the way in which it is received by the public. As such, the tone of voice and style you employ in language can be as important as your logo, the choice of fonts and colours or the shape of the packaging your product comes in. A consistent style will help with this, and is also likely to create a more pointed message that may be more likely to reach your core demographic.

    When considering how to approach this it is important to balance the tone and style of your message with keyword research about the way that language is performing in searches within your sector. This kind of information costs only time to gather, and can make a huge difference to your ability to reach the audience who are interested in what you are doing.

    These considerations are not only about making the big decisions associated with defining and creating a brand – established businesses can benefit hugely from this practice, and it is one which can be entered into to an almost infinite level of detail. SEO is a huge and complex beast, and there are highly qualified experts out there who can help you refine your targets, keywords and optimisation in highly targeted ways, but even some broad strokes can be very useful.

    Keyword Research – Identifying Useful Search Terms

    Be aware that search terms evolve and that you will find it hard to maintain brand recognition if the static language of your business (business name, mission and vision statements etc.) evolves with them too specifically or too quickly. For these aspects of your business try to be broad enough to overcome this whilst still keeping your research in mind – just being aware of the relationship between what you are putting out there and what people are looking for can be a very powerful position to start from.

    There are a few simple things you can do right away:

    1. Open a Google window and begin typing everything you can think of to do with your product/service. As you type, Google will offer suggestions – these are based on most common searches and thus actually offer you some very valuable information on keywords and search behaviours.
    2. Make a note of all the Google search term suggestions which seem relevant. Once you have these you can research them a little, and try to come up with some key terms which people are likely to use to find services like yours.
    3. Try to find out/predict the keywords (and -phrases) your potential clients are likely to use to find you online. Google offers tools for this, and it is possible to leverage the analytics of social media, too – see this article, and the resources below.

    In this way you should be able to create an initial list of words and search terms associated with your business’ proposition(s), and perhaps even a sense of which of them are most used by the demographic which best fits your ideal client profile (see Brand Questions Sheet).

    Online Tools for Keyword Research

    Finally

    It may be useful to compare these keywords to the language you have used in the first drafts of your Vision and Mission Statements, to see to what extent you are already speaking in the language of your potential clients.

    When you have a shortlist of options it’s a good idea to use these tools again, to see what associations each has in search trends. You may find that some of them are ‘cleaner’ in this respect than others.

    Finally, keep a note of your key search terms – they will be invaluable when writing copy for your website and print documents.

    Further Reading:

    8 April, 2017, 14:00 | Blog · Branding · Creating Designs · Resources

    The Kapferer Brand Identity Prism

    The identity of a brand is traditionally understood in terms of its intended clients’ experience and perception. The Kapferer Brand Identity Prism attempts to create a map or diagram of the DNA of this. It sets out a number of distinguishing qualities which come together to create the facets of a brand based upon the ways in which these experiences and perceptions are formed.

    Brand identity differs from brand image significantly in terms of the direction in which attention is focussed. Where brand image is considered mainly in terms of the receiver’s decoding of a brand, brand identity as a concept allows us to focus on the intention of a brand and therefore assess its efficacy and adjust approaches to improve results. To put it simply: brand image is perceived, whereas brand identity is projected.

    The Kapferer Brand Identity Prism

    In 1986, professor Jean-Noël Kapferer sought to identify the key elements of a brand which contribute to its identity. Considerations such as the nature of the service or product offered, or the name chosen for a business, led him to use a language of human qualities to do this. He laid these out in what is now known as the Kapferer Brand Identity Prism.

    These key elements are defined as follows:

    1. Physique
    2. Personality
    3. Culture
    4. Relationship
    5. Reflection
    6. Self-image

    In these terms Kapferer defined what he considered to be the six distinguishing features of a brand’s identity. As the distinguishing features of a person help us to identify them, so is it with a business or service. A strong brand helps a business not only to make a clear and useful impression but to be remembered and recognised (how many times have you spent on a service or product from a source you consider trusted due to your experience with and knowledge of the provider, compared to investing merely on the basis of price or circumstance?).

    Kapferer put it this way:

    Strong brands are capable of weaving all aspects [of the prism] into an effective whole in order to create a concise, clear and appealing brand identity.

    The Kapferer Brand Identity Prism places these six features in relation to one another by considering their position between the business (sender) and client (recipient), and back again. The areas it defines between these points range from internal (subjective, implied, emotional) to external (objective, defined, tangible), and the shape of the prism makes it clear that many paths can be drawn to join them up.

    The Kapferer Brand Identity Prism

    To better understand the nature of a brand’s behaviour in this space it’s useful to look at each of these terms separately.

    1. Physique

    The physical features and qualities of the brand. Think of the shape of a bottle of Coca-Cola or Orangina, or of the physical qualities of almost any Apple product (sleek, minimalist, elegant) and you’ll be considering the physique of a brand. Kapferer stated that this should be considered the basis of the brand, although this is a simpler consideration if you are selling a tangible product rather than a service.

    2. Personality

    A brand’s character is nebulous at best. It can be communicated through a choice of colour, typography or even a celebrity endorsement (think of George Clooney’s association with the Nespresso brand). It really is about personality – what is your brand like to be around? Would you be more likely to go to a board meeting with your business, or out for a drink?

    3. Culture

    This refers specifically to the culture of a demographic in which it is necessary for a brand to base its behaviour. A brand like Budweiser trades on traditional, even stereotypical North American values, and yet markets another version of their product – arguably further to its core than its main one – as a traditional Czech product. A clear example of a company adapting its brand identity culture to distinct markets.

    4. Relationship

    We are talking here about the relationship between brand and client. Where does a brand sit on the spectrum between client-focused red carpet treatment and haughty aloofness? Again, Apple provide an excellent example of a company who successfully walk a very delicate line between providing a high end luxury product alongside a level of customer service and focus on customer experience which appears to value the individual client very highly. This article’s analysis of brand identity relationships makes a strong comparison between BMW and Lexus).

    5. Reflection

    This refers specifically to the reflection in branding and promotional material of the stereotypical user of the brand in question. For example, Coca-Cola’s focus on the 15-18 age group with strong messages of fun and friendship, or Marlboro’s strong, masculine and neo-mythical cowboy styling. Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign uses this aspect of brand identity very effectively. This article at Brand Manager Guide has some very interesting breakdowns of these brands and more, drawn directly around Kapferer’s Brand Identity prism and demonstrating very clearly this particular concept.

    It is important to note that a brand which effectively reflects to a very specific audience can also perform very well in much broader terms (again consider the real demographic for sales of Coca-Cola compared to that brand’s reported 15-18 demographic).

    6. Self-image

    There is an important yet subtle point of difference between reflection and self-image. Where reflection works with the sender’s perception of the client image, self-image deals with the client’s own idea of self. Often the client of a luxury brand doesn’t buy into that brand because they are in the targeted demographic, but rather because they want to identify with that demographic: People may well borrow beyond their means to buy a luxury car so as to project an image of success to themselves and those around them. Both Zeynep Çıkın and Tools 4 Management point out in their articles on this subject that customers of the Lacoste brand appear to see themselves as belonging to a sports club, even when they do not.

    In Short

    Kapferer’s list provides a means by which to identify some key aspects of the communication of a brand. Thinking in these terms invites us to consider the role of the client in forming a brand identity and take this into account when managing that brand. The Kapferer Brand Identity Prism illustrates the various relationships we can seek to nurture between these areas, and thus between business and client.

    Sources:

    6 April, 2017, 11:00 | Blog · Branding · Creating Designs · Resources

    Brand Design Questions for Businesses

    When defining and/or developing a sense of brand identity it is important to be familiar with a basic set of information about your business. This may seem obvious, but it is surprising how often we cannot answer simple questions if we haven’t put some thought into what they mean for our practice. Brand design questions can be as simple as “What does your business do?”, but can lead to answers which help a brand to gain clarity and really define what it is trying to communicate.

    Try working through the questions below, and making a note of your answers. Put together, they should go some way towards providing a basis for the decisions you make about how to present your brand to your clients.

    If you are considering working with a designer on your brand assets (logo, style etc.), website or print material, the more time you have been able to spend considering such brand design questions, the better you will be able to get them to understand what you need. Good designers may well be able to see further into ideas than their clients, but even their best ideas can only come from what they are given to work with. Take some time to prepare yourself for this kind of investment in your business – it will make for much more rewarding results.

    Brand Design Questions

    Many of the questions in this article are owed to some fine work done in this article over at SitePoint, with a few tweaks here and there. I have included some of the information again here as part of a series intended for clients’ reference, but highly recommend reading the full article too.

    About Your Business:

    1. What does your business/product do? (1-2 sentences)
    2. What problem do you solve for your clients?
    3. Who are your three main competitors?
      • What do you like about their brand/presence?
      • What do you dislike about their brand/presence?
    4. What makes you different from your competitors? Why should your clients choose you? This is your USP – see this article for a more in-depth discussion of how to define yours.
    5. Describe your company in 5 words of any kind.

    About your Clients:

    1. Who is your ideal client? If you need help defining their attributes have a look at this article.
    2. What is the main message you would like to convey to your clients? This can be a feeling as much as it is verbal – think about how you feel when someone mentions some of your favourite products.
    3. Describe your ideal client in 5 words of any kind.

    About your New Brand:

    1. What is the reason for doing this? Why now? What do you hope to achieve from this exercise?
    2. Share 3 examples of a brand whose identity works for you. Why are you drawn to them? What do you like about them?
    3. Share 3 examples of a brand whose identity you dislike. What do you find weak? Why don’t they connect with you?
    4. If you have an existing brand, what is no longer working for you about it?
    5. Do you have any specific guidelines about the brand you wish to create (dos and don’ts on e.g. colour, imagery etc.)?
    6. Describe the desired look and feel of your new brand in 5 words of any kind.

    Practical Information

    If you’re working on a specific project with a designer or consultant it may be useful to ask yourself the following questions, too. The clearer you can be about your needs and expectations, the more likely you are to have them met.

    About the Job in Hand

    1. What are the desired deliverables on this project (logo, stationery, brand guidelines, fonts and colours etc.)?
    2. Do you have existing materials which need updating?
    3. Who is leading this project for the business / who is the decision-maker on the project? What is the turnaround time on decision-making?
    4. Do you have budget/timeline restrictions?

    Wrapping Up

    Take a look at your answers to these brand design questions. What have you learnt about your business that you didn’t know at the start of this exercise? How could knowing how to express your business’ strengths, qualities and intentions more precisely help communication with service providers, colleagues and peers? Better still, how could knowing this shape the decisions you make about how you present your business to your clients?

    The document you have created is one to which you should be able to refer back regularly, and one which will benefit from regular updates as you come to know your brand better over time. The clearer your communication with your clients, the better the feedback you will receive, and the more you will be able to refine your answers to these questions.

    Further Reading:

    The following articles go into greater or lesser depth on the type of questions included above – depending on how much time you have to spend on this it may be useful to read through them and see how other people frame these questions or break down their constituent parts.

    13 November, 2016 | Blog · Music · Playing · Recording

    Bass player on Chris Cundy’s new album ‘Gustav Lost’ – Dominic Lash – had the foresight to put together this little ‘Looking for Gustav’ film from the sessions at Wincraft Studios in Bourton-on-the-Water last year. Chris’s album comes out in December 2016, and can be ordered via his Bandcamp page. He’s written a nice accompanying piece to the release over at his site:

    Rather than blurring lines I want to see how a coexistence between composition and improvisation can bring out eccentricities in the music, where they interrupt each other, and how this throws things into high relief. For a number of years I have worked with songwriters, in popular music, and theatre. Rather than keeping my interests separate I wanted to combine some of these elements. To some extent this project follows on from Gannets – the tea dance gone wrong band, which also features Fyfe Dangerfield and Dominic Lash as well as myself. The aim with Gustav Lost was to keep the spontaneity we had enjoyed in that group but to combine it with some rather different energies and structures. The joy of doing this is that I can create segments of music which sustain cyclical moods but also enter sudden changes of direction. It was important that compositions work as fully formed ideas that can exist in their own right. I’m not interested in composing music that attempts to mimic the complexities at the heart of improvisation. In many ways I want to respect the improvisations that we as musicians have made together and are still in the process of making. This music should be given its own space in which it can breathe, surprise, express a madness of its own, or whatever it is that liberates that part of our psyche. I wanted an aspect of music-in-the-making, a playfulness of it being toppled, and of it being picked up again in these recordings.

    Each musicians’ contribution enhances the writing and arranging I put into place in ways I wouldn’t have imagined at the outset. Hannah Marshall is an experienced improviser with a flare for the cello that goes far beyond its wood panelled historicity. Mat Martin is a multi-instrumental string player and although we have worked together previously, this is the first time we have explored anything using partly improvised elements. Mat had a lot to offer the group in terms of temperament and lyrical expression. I have worked with Fyfe Dangerfield in many different guises, initially in a hip hop outfit we called The Executive Caveman and later as an additional member of his indie-pop group Guillemots. I have garnered a great deal from working with Fyfe over the years, leading to my own desire in striking a balance between popular and experimental music. Dominic Lash is a multi-faceted bass player with an ability to absorb a wide range of traditions and techniques yet his own playing remains vibrant and entirely his own. My first exposure to Mark Sanders was seeing him with the saxophonist Evan Parker, and this sparked a desire to discover the ecstatic possibilities of free improvisation on my own terms. Mark’s drumming on these recordings remains brilliantly relaxed yet he offers a sharp ability to corner the compositional lines exactly where and when it matters. Stuart Wilding offers some additional textures using a rarified assortment of junk yard instruments and percussion.

    12 November, 2016 | Blog · Music · Playing · Recording

    James Brute - Here She Comes

    ‘Here She Comes’, from the recent recordings made with James Brute and the band we have built around his songs over the last few years. The sound is really coming together now.

    James Brute: Vocals & Guitar
    Mat Martin: Guitar & Vocals
    Dave Ferrett: Bass & Vocals
    Johnny Manning: Keyboard & Percussion
    Fin Brown: Drums & Vocals

    Well I feel like Don Quixote on mezcal and peyote
    Taking on the windmills of my mind
    With a bottle of chianti and my trusty Rocinante
    Sancho Panza rides along behind
    Sancho Panza, he rides along behind
    Then swimming through my vision like some holy apparition
    To the sound, the sound of distant drums
    My eyes they won’t believe me but my ears they don’t deceive me
    Here she comes, here she comes, here she comes

    As the fog it clears, I wake up in Ikea
    With a bag and a bucket and a basket and a buggy and a bin
    And they rifle my possessions and start to ask me questions
    Like who am I and where have I been?
    Who am I and where have I been?
    I traded beads for deeds of honour, she kept a bracelet on her
    And there’s rings on all her fingers and her thumbs
    Like the ghost of Pocahontas I swear she walks among us
    Here she comes, here she comes, here she comes

    I have been a thousand places, I have seen a thousand faces
    But there’s only one, one that I hold dear
    She has brought me to my senses, bust down walls, broke down fences
    Now I see so brightly, now I see so clear
    Now I see so brightly, now I see so clear
    She speaks with the Orishas, she swims among the fishes
    She feeds me figs and dates and oranges and plums
    I’ve smoked her chillum, drunk her gourd
    I’ve held her plastic sword
    Here she comes, here she comes, here she comes

    4 November, 2016 | Blog · Music · Playing · Recording

    The Gustav Lost album from my dear friend and wonderful musician Chris Cundy is finally being released in a limited run of physical copies via FMR Recordings and is already available for pre-order at Chris’ Bandcamp page. As well as being a superb composer and improviser, Chris has had the pleasure of recording and performing with (among others) the likes of Timber Timbre, Guillemots, Gannets, Devon Sproule, Little Annie and Cold Specks.

    As always, a real pleasure to play with not only Chris but a host of great players and improvisers. We had a lot of fun making this record last year and I’m very happy to see it come out.

    Chris Cundy: Bass Clarinet
    Mat Martin: Guitar
    Fyfe Dangerfield: Piano
    Hannah Marshall: Cello
    Dominic Lash: Double Bass
    Mark Sanders: Drums
    Stuart Wilding: Percussion

    The album saw a lovely early review from Downtown Music Galery, NYC recently, too:

    Featuring Chris Cundy on bass clarinet & compositions, Fyfe Dangerfield on piano, Mat Martin on guitar, Hannah Marshall on cello, Dominic Lash on double bass and Mark Sanders on drums. This is a most impressive debut disc by UK bass clarinettist Chris Cundy, of whom I hadn’t heard previously, as well as not knowing of his frontline bandmates, Mr. Dangerfield and Mr. Martin. I’ve seen cellist Hannah Marshall’s name on several disc over the past few years with Veryan Weston, Alexander Hawkins and a trio called Shoreditch. Bassist Dominic Lash also has been getting around and working with the Convergence Quartet, Alex Ward and for lower-case projects on the Wanderweiser and Another Timbre labels. I can’t say enough good things about drummer Mark Sanders who remains one of the most in-demand players on the UK scene (for Paul Dunmall, Evan Parker & Jah Wobble).

    I played this disc three times in a row last Sunday (10/30/16) while working alone and marveling at how great it is. The first thing that stands about this sextet is the combination of instruments: bass clarinet, cello, piano and guitar, warm, wooden-toned and most enchanting. Often the bass clarinet and cello either shadow or complement each other, playing thoughtful, rich harmonies together, gracefully at times, creating lush autumnal colors. There is one piece dedicated to the late British saxist Lol Coxhill, who always had an odd sense of humor. The piece is called, “Hello Pigeon” and it captures Coxhill’s quaint spirit just right. This song had me whistling along and even snapping my fingers, smiling throughout. I like that Mr. Cundy combines a blend of playfulness with more unpredictable arrangements. Thus making this disc most charming and uplifting. A pleasant departure from the more complex or darker side of music we usually review.

    – Bruce Lee Gallanter, DMG

    28 October, 2016, 10:30 | Blog · Resources · Site Maintenance

    Protect Your Content: Backing Up WordPress

    The WordPress install

    It may not be the most intuitive way to visualise the contents of your site, but everything you publish on a WordPress site is kept in a database on your server. Each page or post can be reduced to a matrix of title, contents, images, links etc. Backing up WordPress by keeping a copy of this database is key to the health of your site. No matter how well constructed and maintained, any site is in some danger of suffering from a hack, a server error or any number of other corruptions which necessitate a restore. Keeping regular backups protects you against loss of content and unnecessary down-time.

    Remember: If you wait until you need a backup of your site to start making one, it will already be too late: you cannot back up what has already been lost. So, take a moment to review the information and options below, talk to your developer, and make sure you’re looking after your content. If you never need your backups, you can count yourself lucky and you’ll not have have lost much time at all.

    Types of data, types of backup

    Consider the structure of your data as existing on two levels. The database contains text and formatting information, and instructions on what to do with media files (images, audio, etc.). The media files themselves are stored separately and called by the database when necessary; they form part of the complete set of files which make up the WordPress install. This set of files also includes your theme and the WordPress core.

    Both of these sets of data need to be backed up, as they work together to create the front end of your site. It is important to note that a full backup of your site consists of two things:

    1. A copy of the SQL database (suffix .sql, most likely only a few KB in size),
    2. A full set of files, exactly as appears in the root folder of your install, on your server (anything from a few MB to a few GB).

    This can be achieved in a number of ways. The database file itself is small and easy to backup regularly, whereas the full set of files which make up the contents of your install can stretch to one or more GB in size, depending on how much content your site offers. Consequently, full file backups are usually made less often than database backups.

    If you use an automated script or plugin to create your backups (see below) these elements may come bundled into a single file or folder, but it is worth being sure all of this information is present in one form or another.

    Backing up WordPress regularly and to a safe location

    The important thing is to make sure that you have available to you a version of each of these sets of information which is current and fresh at all times. For this reason I recommend downloading and filing away a fresh copy of both sets at least once a month.

    Keep these safe, on a high quality external drive if possible. this is good practice for two reasons:

    1. your backups can take up a considerable amount of space which on your computer’s hard drive could definitely be used more efficiently,
    2. if your computer dies, is stolen or explodes, you won’t have lost everything (would now be a good time to mention backing up other things, too?).

    Backing up with a plugin

    This is the simplest option, and in some cases can even be automated. I suggest installing a plugin that will either take care of backups for you or allow you to make them from within the WordPress dashboard, thus keeping things as easy as possible. This will mean you are much more likely to get around to backing up than if you rely only on the manual approach described below. It is important though to make sure the backups your plugin is creating work properly and can actually restore your site. To protect yourself against this danger it is a good idea to make a manual backup (or ask a developer to do it if you’re not sure) twice a year or so at least, even when making more regular backups in this way.

    There are many free plugins designed specifically for backing up WordPress – wpmudev have a good list of them here. There are paid options with premium features which doubtless offer more options (and probably more support) than most free ones, too. Here are the two I have experience of using.

    Backup plugin: BackWPup

    BackWPup is the plugin I use to back up this site. I am currently using the free version which still allows me to schedule a number of backups of differing types to happen automatically. It also saves them directly to a designated folder in my Dropbox. I suggest setting it up to perform a full backup of your site once a month, and a database backup once a week (unless you are updating the site on a daily basis).

    To install BackWPup within your site is to visit Admin > Plugins > Add New in your dashboard and type “BackWPup” into the search bar. Once found, you can simply hit “Install” followed by “Activate” and you’ll see the BackWPup menu appear in the left hand menu bar. Click on this to open the BackWPup dashboard. To set up an automated backup task follow these steps:

    1. Go to BackWPup > Add New Job
    2. Name your job (e.g. Monthly Full Backup)
    3. Under “Job Tasks” select everything you want the backup to contain/do. For a full backup check all boxes. To backup the database only (a much smaller task) check only “Database backup”.
    4. Fill in the remaining options on this page according to your preference. The file naming convention will work well if you leave it untouched. I suggest choosing “zip” under Archive Format, and using either “Backup to folder” or “Backup to Dropbox” as a job destination (thie latter option will ask you to link your Dropbox account with your WordPress account).
    5. Hit “Save changes”, and navigate to the “Schedule” tab at the top of the page.
    6. Under “Schedule”, if you select to start job using WordPress cron a “Schedule execution time” table will open up lower down the page. Here you can select the parameters for your backup times before hitting “Save changes” once more.
    7. Leaving the default settings under “DB Backup”, “Files” and “Plugins” should give you the results you need when backing up.

    Backup plugin: Duplicator

    Duplicator is an established, regularly updated plugin with both free and premium versions. The simplest way to install Duplicator within your site is to visit Admin > Plugins > Add New in your dashboard and type “Duplicator” into the search bar. Once found, you can simply hit “Install” followed by “Activate” and you’ll see the Duplicator menu appear in the left hand menu bar.

    The free version does not allow for scheduled/automated backups or connection with third party services such as Dropbox to store your backups, although both of these options are offered in the Pro version if desired. This means that backups must be made manually and downloaded if you would like to store them elsewhere than on your server. It’s easy to do:

    1. In the WP admin area, navigate to Duplicator > Packages and hit “Create New”.
    2. The next screen shows the proposed name for the backup (YYYYMMDD_sitename – change it if you like), and offers some other options which we can leave at the default settings. Hit “Next”.
    3. The plugin will scan your site to create an overview of the backup and predict any possible issues. Ideally you will receive a green “Good” status for all aspects of the package but you can receive a warning in some cases (e.g. if you have very large files or any of your posts have unusual titles). Provided the plugin will allow you to, acknowledge the warnings and proceed by hitting “Build”, as often warnings can be false.*
    4. When the scan is complete you will be given the option to download the entire package (put it on that external drive we mentioned earlier). It will also be stored in a directory in your root folder (wp-snapshots) so it can be accessed later either via the WP dashboard or via FTP.

    *If you get warnings in Duplicator and they are not false the package will not be created and the process will be interrupted. This could be due to the size of the files being backed up and the timeout settings on your server being incompatible. There are different ways of circumventing this, including contacting your hosting provider and asking them to alter these settings. The plugin’s developers offer a good troubleshooting guide here, too. If you’re still stuck, you may need to ask your developer to install a backup system and get it working for you before you can begin creating backups from within WordPress.

    Backing up WordPress via cPanel and FTP

    Important: This is quite a complex process and while it shouldn’t affect your site at all, it does give you access to the databases on your server and thus the ability to change or even delete them if you don’t know what you’re doing. Unless you’ve very confident here, use a plugin (above) or speak to a developer about backing up your site for you.

    This is the manual approach to backing up, and is perhaps both the most complicated and the most reliable. These instructions assume you have a basic knowledge of file management via FTP and can gain access to the cPanel interface as a way of managing the contents of your server. Not all hosting providers offer this service but it is by far the most widely used option. If your host does not offer this the chances are they have something similar within their own site, or will be able to advise you on gaining access to your PHP files.

    You will need information sent to you by your hosting provider when you signed up. Remember that email? If you didn’t file it, make a note of the info, or just can’t find it now, then contact your host and ask them for the following:

    1. Your cPanel access or equivalent (URL, username, password),
    2. Your FTP credentials (server address, username, password).

    Step 1: Backup your database

    For this you will need to access your cPanel dashboard. Visit the URL given to you by your host and log into the system. Once you’re in you are looking for the function labelled phpMyAdmin.

    Backing Up WordPress

    Open this and you will be redirected to the phpMyAdmin service, where you will see your database listed on the left (if you see more than one database and you’re not sure which one is for the site you’re backing up, check this post from wpmudev). Follow these steps to download a copy to your computer:

    1. Hit “Databases” in the list of tabs along the top of the page, then select your database on the resultant page. This will bring up a list of the tables that make up your database, under the title “Structure”.
    2. Now that your database has been selected, click on “Export”, again in the top list of tabs.
    3. You will want to use the “custom” options here – check the box and you’ll see a list of variables come up. In my experience, only one change is needed from the defaul settings in there: scroll down to “Object Creation Options” and check “Add Drop Table Statement”.
    4. Scroll to the bottom and hit “Go”. This should generate a download via your browser.

    Step 2: Backup your files

    This requires access to your server via an FTP client (I use FileZilla). Using the server address, username and password provided for FTP by your host, establish a connection with your server and locate the folder which contains the WordPress install. It should look something like this:
    Backing Up WordPress: Protect Your Content

    A WP install root will usually look similar, and will always contain the folders wp-admin, wp-content, wp-includes and the wp-config.php file. This is a surefire way to recognise that you’re in the right place.

    On the left here I’ve created a folder on my desktop called SITE BACKUP, into which I can then download the entire contents of that root folder (that’s everything – all files, all folders, every time). This copies everything to a new location (in this case the folder on my desktop), which I can then group with the database file downloaded as above, and the two together complete the backup.

    A developer would then be able to restore your site to the point at which this snapshot was taken, regardless of what happened to it next.

  • [ N.B. This series of posts is intended as a resource for my development clients who are using WordPress sites which I have created for them. Much of the content is applicable to any wordpress.org site but some of it may reference specific functionalities or plugins which I have written or installed and set up. Where third party code is used or referred to I try to give the appropriate credit. Please contact me for further or more specific information. ]

  • 21 October, 2016, 10:00 | Blog · Resources · Site Maintenance

    WordPress Account Management: Basic Navigation

    WordPress Account Management:

    WordPress account management is quite a simple process provided you know where to find the various settings and variables within the dashboard. In order to give you access to your WordPress site, the system automatically creates an identity (ID) for you as a user. For sites with more than one contributor this is used to identify the author of a page or post, and to offer differing levels of access to the site’s content and settings to different people. For static sites or sites with a single user the ID simply manages your security and settings.

    Here are a few things about running a WP account which it may be useful to refer to.

    WordPress: .org vs .com:

    It is easy to get confused between WordPress’ .com and .org offerings. The accounts are not identical, and the basic differences are as follows:

    1. .com is a free service hosted by WordPress themselves – you sign up and create your site on their servers, using an off-the-peg theme to adjust the look of the site. Content is managed entirely via their online CMS (content management system).
    2. .org is more complex, but still free at the WP end – you host this system yourself via a third party hosting service (Not free, but can be cheap. I recommend HostPresto [disclaimer: that’s an affiliate link] for this), and manage the content via a combination of their CMS and by managing the files on your server.
    3. .com offers limited options and functionality compared to .org. If you are having a bespoke site built you will almost certainly be using the .org platform, although a good developer will take care of everything apart from the in-site content management, so your user experience should be similar to that of a .com site.
    4. .org allows the use of plugins, which we’ll go into in another post, but which allow for a great deal of extended functionality, from virus protection to multilingual site management. Again, these will most likely be researched, installed and set up by your developer.
    5. The visual/design aspect of a .org installation is much more controllable. With a .org site you can choose from a much wider variety of existing themes, both free and premium, or even develop your own bespoke theme (or have one developed). The level of control possible on a .org install far exceeds that of the basic .com version of WP.

    These differences in WordPress account management are all set out pretty neatly by WP themselves right here.

    In some cases it will be necessary to have an account at wordpress.com even if your site is built in a .org install. Examples include setting up a Gravatar image for use across the platform, or for certain plugins/functionality. These instances will be covered in these articles as and when they come up.

    Login & Access:

    On handover of your new site, you will have been provided with a login URL, username and password. It is important to keep these safe and accessible. The login URL for your site is usually [your domain]/wp-login.php, where you will be prompted to give your credentials in a screen which looks like the one above.

    You’ll see that there’s a lost password link beneath the sign-in box. You can use this to generate a new password if you lose the current one, provided your email settings are correct (this is worth being sure of). If you need to choose a new password be sure to select something secure – WordPress is one of the most popular CMS platforms in the world and thus is subject to attacks from hackers who will trawl and crack simple passwords much more easily than ones which include symbols, numbers and a combination of upper and lower case letters. This article on the construction of safe, memorable passwords is worth a read.

    Alternatively, you can use a password generator (a search will offer you a selection) to create something random, which you’ll need to write down or record in a safe place.

    Your account settings:

    WordPress Profile LinkYour account settings are accessed, once you have logged into your website, in the top right hand corner of the page. When logged in to a WordPress site you’ll see a black admin or tool bar along the top of the page (by default you’ll see this whether you’re looking at the front end (pages) or the back end (admin area) of the site, although there’s a setting to turn this off on the front end of the site – see below). This admin bar is key to handling yourWordPress account management. In the top right hand corner of that bar you’ll see a greeting. Hovering over this offers you the option to edit your profile or to log out. Clicking on it takes you straight to the profile edit screen, where you can adjust the settings.

    The Profile Edit Screen:

    1. Visual Editor: Disabling the visual editor will remove the option to select “visual” or “text” tabs above the content areas in your page/post edit screens. This is only useful if you’re comfortable enough with basic HTML code to add your own hyperlinks, paragraph/header tags and the like in-line, and even then it can somewhat interrupt the flow of typing. However, leaving it enabled won’t restrict your access to the “text” tabs if you do need to get technical.
    2. Admin Color Scheme: This makes no difference to the running of the WordPress system, but is good if there isn’t enough purple in your life.
    3. Keyboard Shortcuts: By default, this is left unchecked, but you can use it to allow use of the keyboard shortcuts as defined here by WordPress within the admin area of your site.
    4. Toolbar: As mentioned above, you can choose here whether or not you want to see the black admin bar on the front end of the site when logged in. I recommend leaving it checked, as the bar provides an excellent navigational route between front and back ends.
    5. Username: This cannot be changed within the WP system, so is greyed out here.
    6. First/Last Name: Not required but can be useful in some contexts, especially if you begin commenting on your own or others’ blogs.
    7. Nickname: This is a required field, as it is used by the WordPress system. Usually if this is left blank the username will be used.
    8. Display name publicly as: This dropdown will give you a choice between the last three options, for display on the front of the site should you be named as the author of a post or comment. This can be carried over onto other WordPress sites if you engage in discussion there.
    9. Email: The main admin email for your site. This will be used for warnings, admin updates and password resets. It is very important that this is up to date. It shouldn’t be displayed publicly at any point, although it is possible for some themes to call it (I never do this on client sites, but if your theme wasn’t built by me you can check with your developer or theme author).
    10. Website: This can be left blank, you can input the URL of the site you are in, or indeed the URL of another if you have more than one. The link will be displayed if and when your nickname is used on sites.
    11. Biographical Info: An optional field which allows you to add a little detail about yourself or your business for display if anyone views your profile directly. It isn’t bad practice to simply duplicate your Twitter bio or similar here, in case it might help with your SEO.
    12. Profile Picture: This is set via WordPress’ .com service, using a system called Gravatar (see below).
    13. New Password: Here is where you reset your password for your account, and your access to your site. A password generator is offered, which should keep your account secure.
    14. Sessions: This allows you to make sure you are logged out everywhere. Useful if you’ve been using a public or borrowed computer to work on your site, and worth remembering.

    Avatar/Gravatar:

    Your WP avatar image is not as straightforward a proposition as you might think. This is because WP uses Gravatar to make sure that your visual ID on their platform is scaleable and helps your online presence to be coherent. Here’s how they put it:

    Your Gravatar is an image that follows you from site to site appearing beside your name when you do things like comment or post on a blog. Avatars help identify your posts on blogs and web forums, so why not on any site?

    Signing up for a Gravatar is entirely optional, and not doing so won’t stop you doing anything with your site. If you do want one though, this is one of the situations in which a wordpress.com account is needed even if you don’t run a site there. The signup is here – it costs nothing and could be useful later, too – for example if you want to incorporate the JetPack plugin into your site (more on that in another post), or if you use other Gravatar-compliant services like HootSuite.

    Multiple users in one site:

    A note should be made here to acknowledge the possibility of adding several users to a single WordPress site. In many cases this simply won’t be necessary, because separate authorial voices or levels of access are not relevant to the content of a site which either represents a single individual or an organisation with a master admin account. However, on blogs where conversation is encouraged or contributors’ identities are to be made distinct this is an important aspect of the WP functionality.

    Users can be granted one of four levels of access. The following is reproduced from WordPress’ own article on the subject (there’s little point in rephrasing what the horse says).

    Types of user account:

    • Administrator: An administrator has full and complete ownership of a website, and can do absolutely everything. This person has complete power over posts/pages, comments, settings, themes, plugins, import, users – everything. Nothing is off-limits, including deleting everything.
    • Editor: An editor can view, edit, publish, and delete any posts/pages, moderate comments, manage categories, manage tags, manage links and upload files/images.
    • Author: An author can edit, publish and delete their posts, as well as upload files/images.
    • Contributor: A contributor can edit their posts but cannot publish them. When a contributor creates a post, it will need to be submitted to an administrator for review. Once a contributor’s post is approved by an administrator and published, however, it may no longer be edited by the contributor. A contributor does not have the ability to upload files/images.

    There is one more level of access that can be granted in some cases:

    • Subscriber: In your comment settings, if you’ve selected “Users must be registered and logged in to comment”, once they have created an account, they will be given subscriber role. Subscribers only have the ability to leave comments.

    To create a new user within your site:

    This can only be done by Administrators, who select the level of access the new user receives.

    1. Go to Dashboard > Users > Add New.
    2. Fill in the new user’s name, email and other info, as above (if this user already has a WordPress account or Gravatar they will be recognised by the system when you complete this process).
    3. Generate or set their password. Check the box to “Send this password to the new user by email” and they’ll receive a confirmation of their new account and the means to log into it.
    4. Select the role you wish to assign to the new user and click on “Add New User”. This will take you back to the main user screen.
  • [ N.B. This series of posts is intended as a resource for my development clients who are using WordPress sites which I have created for them. Much of the content is applicable to any wordpress.org site but some of it may reference specific functionalities or plugins which I have written or installed and set up. Where third party code is used or referred to I try to give the appropriate credit. Please contact me for further or more specific information. ]

  • 18 October, 2016, 19:00 | Blog · Field Recordings

    River Lune, October 16 2016

    Sunday morning birdwatching walk with Edward, having spotted goosander, greylag and bean goose, goldeneye and grey wagtail. Water movement in the shallows on an autumn morning. My old friend reminded me that John Cage had described this sound as “applause with gongs”.

    14 October, 2016, 10:00 | Blog · Resources · Site Maintenance

    Achieving a Clear Browser Cache: See What's Really There

    A Clear Browser Cache

    A clear browser cache is a beautiful thing – it’s like the mind of a meditation guru. It allows us to see what is really on the page we are viewing, and means our experience isn’t clouded by fragments of past experiences.

    I admit I’ve made it sound very good here. The caching features on our browsers are there for a reason, of course. Our interactions with the sites we visit on a regular basis are rendered much quicker by their processes. This is done by the browser “remembering” stylesheet info and keeping copies of images which have been downloaded previously. For the most part it’s a positive thing: it has been developed to make our online life less frustrating.

    However, caching can cause problems when repeatedly viewing sites which change regularly. This is particularly evident when developing a new site: I often find that changes I make to in-progress sites are not rendered, or rendered incorrectly, when viewed by clients. This is because the browser is helpfully “remembering” the site from last time and either ignoring new information or being confused by it.

    Here are some things you can do if you suspect you’re not seeing something on a webpage that should be there*:

    N.B. PC/Linux specific information is researched for inclusion here but not tested as thoroughly as on Mac systems. For the purposes of this article I’m using the most recent (at the time of writing) versions of the browsers on Mac OS, which are:

    • Chrome Version 53.0.2785.143
    • Firefox Version 48.0.1
    • Safari Version 10.0
    • Opera Version 40.0.2308.81
    • Internet Explorer Version 11 (not on Mac system)

    Hard refreshing

    A hard refresh or two is your first port of call in the search for a true page read and will usually fix any issues. The benefit of this is that you are changing nothing in the browser and it’s very easy to do. In theory at least this should force the browser to reload everything on the page from scratch instead of reloading with the cache (think of the difference between the C and AC buttons on a calculator), although it doesn’t always work perfectly. Browsers can sometimes hold onto their memories very tightly (can’t we all?).

    • Chrome: Mac: Cmd+Shift+R | PC/Linux: Ctrl+F5 or Shift+F5
    • Firefox: Mac: Cmd-Shift+R | PC/Linux: Ctrl+F5 or Shift+F5
    • Safari (Mac Only): Shift+Click on Refresh button in address bar
    • Opera: Mac: Shift+Click on Refresh button in address bar | PC/Linux: Ctrl+F5 or Shift+F5
    • Internet Explorer (PC/Linux Only): Ctrl+F5 or Shift+F5

    Hard refreshing in mobile browsers

    It’s harder to force a complete reload on most mobile devices (iOS, Android). A cache clear (see below) will usually work, but even then it’s often necessary to refresh a page several times. Just look for the refresh button, in or near the address bar.  It usually looks something like this: ⟳

    Clearing the cache

    If hard refreshing the page once or twice doesn’t help, it’s time to clear your browser cache.

    Important – Read this first: Clearing your cache removes information from your browser’s temporary files. This can affect some features you may be relying on, such as auto-saved passwords. Ideally this should not be information which you rely on browser caching to keep track of for you in any case, so consider keeping track of your passwords in a safer way. Officially, clearing only the cache should not remove your cookies, browsing history or auto-fill info, but because each browser is different this cannot be guaranteed. Different browsers also offer different levels of control over exactly what you can avoid clearing along with the cache. As always, the lesson is: back up, and make sure that you are not relying on your browser to remember things for you.

    After doing any of the following, it’s a good idea to hard refresh the page you are looking at one last time.

    To clear browser cache in:

    1. Chrome

    History > Show Full History… (⌘Y / Ctrl+H) opens a new window/tab. From here hit “Clear Browsing Data”, uncheck everything except “Cached Images and files” and hit the “Clear Browsing Data” button to complete the operation.

    2. Firefox

    History > Clear Recent History… opens a new window. Use the “Details” dropdown arrow (⌵) to reveal the options and uncheck everything except “Cache” before hitting “Clear Now”.

    3. Safari (Mac only)

    Safari > Preferences… (⌘,) opens a new window. Select the “Advanced” tab and make sure the option to “Show Develop menu in menu bar” is checked. Once this is done you can clear the cache at Develop > Empty Caches (⌥⌘E).

    4. Opera

    History > Show All History… (⌘⇧H / Ctrl+H) opens a new window/tab. From here hit “Clear Browsing Data”, uncheck everything except “Cached Images and files” and hit the “Clear Browsing Data” button to complete the operation.

    5. Internet Explorer (PC/Linux only)

    Click the gear icon in the top right of the window, and select Safety > Delete Browsing History… (Ctrl+Shift+Del). In the resultant window uncheck everything except “Temporary Internet files and website files”, then hit “Delete”.

    N.B. If you use Internet Explorer and really want to make sure you are having a true and optimised web experience most developers (myself included) will tell you that the best thing you can do is download Firefox or Chrome and use that instead.

    6. iOS (Apple phones)

    The iOS browser is a version of Safari, and its settings are accessed from within the iPhone’s Settings app, rather than within Safari itself. The pathway is as follows:

    Settings > Safari > Clear History and Website Data

    After doing this, return to the Safari app and refresh the page once again using the ⟳ button in the address bar.

    7. Android (most other smartphones)

    There are many variables in this area due to the number of device models and browsers available. A quick search should reveal any more specific information than is given in the main points below. Type in “clear browser cache on [my phone make and model]”.

    • Android browser: Launch your browser, and go to Menu > More > Settings or Menu > Settings > Privacy & Security. Tap “Clear Cache”.
    • Chrome: Launch Chrome, and go to Menu > Settings > Privacy. From here tap “Clear Browsing Data” at the bottom of the screen, uncheck everything except “Cache” and tap “Clear”.

    After doing this, return to the browser and refresh the page once again.

     

    *Key sources: Wikipedia: Bypassing Your Cache, Refresh Your Cache.

  • [ N.B. This series of posts is intended as a resource for my development clients who are using WordPress sites which I have created for them. Much of the content is applicable to any wordpress.org site but some of it may reference specific functionalities or plugins which I have written or installed and set up. Where third party code is used or referred to I try to give the appropriate credit. Please contact me for further or more specific information. ]

  • 5 October, 2016, 19:00 | Blog · Field Recordings

    Lake Harriet, MN, USA, September 24 2016

    Sound of insects and a little traffic at Lake Harriet, Minneapolis MN, USA. Also heavy on the wind noise.

    5 October, 2016, 18:56 | Blog · Field Recordings

    Herold Cemetary, WI, USA, September 24 2016

    Sound of air and gates near the entrance to Herold Cemetery above Alma Wisconsin, USA. Heavy on the wind noise.

    9 August, 2016, 11:30 | Blog · Field Recordings

    Les Evettes, France, July 31 2016

    Sound of insects in grass near the top of Les Evettes, Savoie, France.

    8 August, 2016, 19:00 | Blog · Field Recordings

    Crèt du Midi, July 31 2016

    Sound of insects in grasses from the Crèt du Midi above the Arly Valley, Savoie, France.