Crowdsourcing local music scene documentation: The #PhilMusic hashtag on Instagram

Some years back, around the time the first generation Digital SLRs made their appearance. the photo bug bit me hard. Of course, every “serious” photographer eventually finds a speciality – mine was the area of concert photography. I liked the scene, loved the exaggerated stage lighting, and the unique expressions coming from musicians. 

Armed with a media pass, I prowled the backstages and mosh pits of some of the more raucous music events in Manila in the late 90s and early 2000’s. I would shoot several times a week, thinking I was doing my bit in documenting the events of that period.

My weapon of choice was a large and heavy camera rig, a Canon SLR (I eventually settled on a Canon 40D) and my favorite lens was the formidable Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS  zoom – superb low light optics that was about a foot long weighed a ton or two. I nicknamed the white beast “the bazooka”.

That lens is one heavy bitch to carry, but the results were always worth it. With it’s tack-sharp focusing and versatility in low light situations, it was the perfect concert lens, and I could always count on it to capture dramatic closeups of guitarists grunting and vocalists emoting on a distant stage.

Well that phase went by quickly. My beloved Bazooka stays in a cabinet unused for most of the year. I stopped going to gigs. I moved on to small cameras that shot fine stills and HD video, like the Lumix LX-3, and lately, the Canon S95. The pocketable S95 is about as small as a smartphone, so this is my go-to “real” camera.

But more often than not, my photographic weapon of choice nowadays is a phone. I went through a number Android phones over a 2-year period before settling on an iPhone 4s as the primary phone – and primary camera.

“The Bazooka”

With its sharp focusing, vivid colors, and most of all – wide array of camera apps, coupled with the ability to share photos instantly via social media, the iPhone is often the only camera I use and need, even on travels where I would have lugged along an SLR body and several lenses in the not so distant past. Indeed a number of tech blogs have posed the question, “Is the iPhone 4s the only camera you need?

Among the many fine photo apps is Instagram, a portal to a community of cameraphone photo enthusiasts, which is more fun than  barrel full of monkeys.

The photo sharing app with the hipster filters has evolved into photo-oriented social network. And the twitter-inspired hashtag concept has found new meaning in the Instagram – a popular hashtag used by a number of people in the Instagram community becomes a crowdsourced photo album for that topic. Click into a hashtag and you can see an album of thousands of photo contributors all posting with the same theme.

So with that in mind, I remembered my “music photojourno” persona of years past and figured that Instagram might be the best vehicle to revive that aesthetic. And at the same time, I no longer have the time or even the stamina to attend the hundreds of music events that pop up in Manila. But it’s a sure thing that other people will be there, armed with their smartphones.

Last night’s Fete de La Musique street scene in Makati Avenue, posted on Instagram

With the right phone in the right place (usually a smartphone), anyone can be a music photographer like Annie Liebovitz and Instagram can be your  Rolling Stone. Why not crowdsource the role of music scene documentation, and provide a venue (in this case a hashtag) to collect all the photos in one convenient place?

Hence the birth of the #PhilMusic hashtag. I propose this as the hashtag for photos of music events in the Philippines. I hope that if it catches on , anyone who wants to get a bird’s eye of the local music scene can just click on the #PhilMusic hashtag and get a glimpse of the vibrancy of the local music scene.

As an example, just last night, the annual Fete de la Musique festival took place in Makati Avenue, which took a lot of people by suurprise. The festival wasn’t promoted too extensively, so it sort of snuck up on a lot of people and a lot of people missed it. But if enough people on the scene were posting photos on Instagram and tagging them with #PhilMusic, others could at least check in on the “channel” to view photos of the gigs and attend them vicariously.

Granted that peering into a smartphone or tablet screen won’t give you thrill as actually being on the scene in person, at least it gives you  bit of the flavor, less the smell of the moshpit sweat!

Here’s how to post a photo on your smartphone (an iOS or Android device running the Instagram app)

To post to the #PhilMusic hashtag “channel” on Instagram, just add the tag #philmusic to any photo covering a music-related event.

To view the #PhilMusic album – look for a photo tagged with #PhilMusic and click on it. Or use Instagram’s search function to search for the hashtag #PhilMusic.

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