Carl Morris on Sleeveface
What’s your headline description of Sleeveface?
one or more persons obscuring or augmenting any part of their body or bodies with record sleeve(s) causing an illusion
How did the project come about?
While DJing I occasionally like to hold a record sleeve in front of my face to check who’s paying attention. Another one is putting an empty sleeve on my head like a massive hat. I’ve never been a ‘serious’ DJ. This stuff is supposed to be fun, no?
So a couple of years ago I was DJing at a bar in Cardiff, I held up a record sleeve and my friend took a photograph. The album was McCartney II by Paul McCartney. I posted it to a local music scene forum called Clique. The photo and the sharing were the important next steps.
Not long after this my friends and I were ransacking our collections looking for suitable sleeves. David Bowie became an early favourite, but it was anything we could find – from Barbra Streisand to Ted Nugent and an electronica/sampling artist called Solex.
I thought it needed a web-friendly name and definition, ergo the name Sleeveface and the definition above. I wanted a brand name like PhotoShop which was easy to remember and to spell. So I had to resist the urge to call it “Vinyl Visage”.
We had a small community of people doing it for fun, all people in Cardiff who we knew.
What were your original objectives?
The word ‘objectives’ seems funny because Sleeveface was – and always has been – about playing around and making pictures. I thought it would be popular with vinyl junkies at least but was surprised by the reactions, especially from abroad.
I think we did want to have a ‘hit’ though.
Making Sleeveface pictures became slightly competitive in a good-natured way.
The idea of the book was mooted early on but we weren’t in the book business. After a few months the book people took notice and got in touch.
What got you interested in the idea of a collaborative / participatory project?
It became very obvious that it was something greatly enhanced by multiple people participating with their own favourite records, styles, locations, friends and family members. And pets.
The resulting pictures embellished and expanded the existing idea.
How did you set up the participatory side of the project?
This side was intrinsic to it, it started in a bar and was social. People would see it or talk about it and then they would try it.
Did you already know the people who have participated offline?
Initially yes. But because of online sharing, new and unfamiliar names would emerge. Some of the “stars of Sleeveface” are complete strangers to us. Some we have met offline as a result of Sleeveface.
How did you promote the project?
When I coined the name I also bought the domain name and my friend John started a Facebook group. It turned out to be a key time in Facebook’s growth too, when the act of joining a group was still new to most people. Later we started a Flickr group too and Twitter.
It took a little while to get sleeveface.com running in its current form.
We also did some parties in Cardiff and London where the Sleeveface element was billed and there was a stack of sleeves to borrow. Our next party is in Boston, USA for ROFLCon in April 2010.
How many people have been involved overall?
It’s hard to say, but a few thousand people have been involved in making pictures. More have spread the word on their own blogs/Twitter/etc and bought the book.
Do you give a platform to all the images that come in? Is there any selection process? If so what guides it?
Most of the pictures are very good indeed but the ones I publish on sleeveface.com are the ones that do something new, good and interesting with Sleeveface. People are free to post pictures in the Facebook/Flickr groups and their own blogs and so on.
How was/is the project resourced?
Our creaking shelves of records were already available. Then we used just a bit of money from our own pockets to cover small costs.
How much time has it involved?
Many fun hours.
Who is your target audience, your actual audience? Can you give some headlines re user numbers? What do you know about the ratio of participants to ‘viewers’?
The target audience is anyone who finds it and likes it. It’s nice to think young people are discovering vinyl as a format for the first time, via Sleeveface.
The sleeveface.com website gets around 40,000 visits per month, most of whom are new. Our Facebook group, also called Sleeveface, has around 16,000 members.
There are many more viewers than participants but it’s hard to estimate the ratio.
How did the project grow? What have been the key drivers of its growth?
Word of mouth and sharing on the web. It’s quick to pass on the name or the web address. Then a Sleeveface image almost holds out an invitation to participate. So it’s quick to grasp the main idea.
An individual image can be shared, by URL for example.
How do you monitor useage – how has that developed?
Sorry, I don’t understand this question. You mean projects which have been inspired by Sleeveface?
My friends send me SMS texts when they see Sleeveface used in adverts. Or I see it on the web because I’m monitoring mentions on blog search, Twitter, YouTube and so on. People also email me, for example when it’s used in their music videos.
I do like to look at the sleeveface.com website analytics for emerging countries.
How do you assess the success of the project?
I’ve always enjoyed doing it and seeing people’s pictures and seeing them enjoy it. As long as that happens, it’s a success.
Do you have plans to develop or rework this approach? Can you say what they are?
I like record sleeves. I continue to buy records, listen to them and find other ways of using them. So I hope to do more in this area in the future.
Any other comments re participatory / collaborative creativity?
You need to choose something you’re enthusiastic about. This applies to anything in this category from open source software development to art projects. You probably need to be the most dedicated person in the network. Even if you haven’t met your collaborators offline, this will shine forth.