Paul Simon in Conversation

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Paul Simon; photo credit, Myrna Suarez

On a new edition of the All Songs Considered podcast, Paul Simon walks host Bob Boilen through the construction of the opening track on his forthcoming album. It’s a fascinating 40-minute lesson on narrative mechanics, offering a rare and candid glimpse into the process of one of America’s great songwriters.

“What instruments I use and where they sit in the track,” Simon explains, “there must be hundreds of those decisions, or maybe thousands, for all I know, of tiny decisions, about whether there should be some piece of musical information or whether you don’t need it at all.” According to a New York Times preview, four of the album’s first six songs don’t use any guitar.

In so many ways, the conversation is a revelation. Simon discusses line-by-line how the lyrics came together—the song’s first words were changed, for example, because they reminded him too much of “You Can Call Me Al.” (Also on the subject of his back catalog: at 22:20 of the podcast, he calls attention to backing vocals lifted directly “Late in the Evening.”)

The full album, Stranger to Stranger, will be released on June 3rd, with a “first listen” available via NPR beginning on Thursday, May 26th.

Innovations in Sustainability at the Oregon Convention Center

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The Oregon Convention Center has an ambitious goal: To be the most sustainable convention center in the country. From solar panels on the roof to a rain garden that filters water before it drains to the river, OCC is constantly finding new ways to make their LEED Platinum-certified facility even better for the planet.

Sheepscot worked with OCC to create a video telling the story of the Convention Center’s innovative new waste management program, which prohibits non-recyclable materials from showroom floors. Now, shows at the Convention Center must donate, recycle, or remove materials they bring into the building—materials that would otherwise end up in landfills. With policies like these, OCC is changing the way their industry does business. We were thrilled to help them tell that story.

Workshop: Strategies for Arts Marketing Success

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Last year, the Regional Arts and Culture Council invited Sheepscot to host a workshop on a subject that’s near and dear to our hearts: How arts organizations and artists can leverage existing resources to tell their stories more effectively. Time spent on marketing is time spent not making art. We can help make that time as painless and productive as possible.

We got a great response to that sold-out workshop, and we were thrilled to be invited back for another round.

Join us on February 13 for Narrative Mechanics: How to Design and Deploy Strategy for Arts Marketing Success, an interactive workshop from Sheepscot president Dave Weich:

YOU HAVE A GREAT STORY TO TELL, but where do you begin? What’s the best way to frame your narrative to ensure that you’re making an impact with the right audiences? From public events and print materials to social media platforms, how should you allocate resources to best achieve your goals?

Learn to construct a story that will resonate with your audience, inspire actions that benefit your bottom line, and evolve over time as your relationship to fans and consumers changes.”

Narrative Mechanics: Strategies for Arts Marketing Success
Portland Community Media, 2766 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Portland, OR 97212
Saturday, February 13, 11 am-3pm, $30
Register here.

Beer from Sewage: Pure Water Brew Smackdown

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Earlier this year, Team Sheepscot made our first foray into WWE-style trash-talk videos. (We can only hope it’s not our last.) The occasion? Clean Water Services needed a quick ‘n’ dirty video about Pure Water Brew, a beer brewed with recycled wastewater, to show at an upcoming water conference.

Pure Water Brew is a radical experiment aimed at changing how the public thinks about water reuse. The brew is made with effluent (read: sewer water!) that’s been purified to exacting standards; the purified water is cleaner than the water that comes out of your tap, and perfect for brewing beer.

Searching for a lighthearted way to showcase this project at the water conference WEFTEC, Clean Water Services decided to go toe-to-toe with a similar beer brewed out of another great beer city: Milwaukee, Wisconsin’s Activated Sludge.

We spliced this video together out of a quick afternoon’s shooting at Clean Water Services and some iPhone footage from the team in Milwaukee.

The rivalry is all in good fun, of course, because both teams have the same ultimate goal: Changing the way the public thinks about recycled water. By partnering with Oregon brewers to make beer from wastewater, Clean Water Services hopes to inspire a public conversation about water reuse. And what better way to combat the “ick” factor than by turning recycled sewer water into something so delicious?

There’s Only One Amazon, and for Amazon’s Partners That’s a Problem

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Last week, Amazon introduced its Prime Now app to Portland. Our city joins 10 more where Amazon Prime members can place free, 2-hour delivery orders at popular local businesses — in Portland, participating stores include New Seasons Market, Uwajimaya, World Foods, and Cupcake Jones. And when you simply can’t wait for your Kombucha, cupcakes, and organic dish soap, a $7.99 fee buys you delivery within the hour.

The announcement spun me back a decade—to my years as the director of marketing and development at Powell’s Books, to the time when we went into business with Amazon.

By the early 2000s, Powell’s already had a business relationship with Amazon; like many booksellers, we posted our inventory on secondary sales platforms such as Alibris, eBay, and Amazon Marketplace. Then news came through back channels that Amazon didn’t know what to do with its overstock. Up in Seattle, they were sitting on thousands of recently published books that hadn’t turned out to be quite as popular as the company’s buyers had hoped. Apparently Amazon had better things to do with its warehouse space than store surplus copies of The South Beach Diet Cookbook. Powell’s did not.

Amazon started selling overstock to us by the pallet. Many pallets. Powell’s was unique among potential buyers in that we sold enough books to replenish in such bulk, and Portland is just a short drive down I-5 from Amazon. We made easy partners.

Those books quickly became our most profitable inventory. They sold much faster than used books, and at a far greater profit than new ones. Priced at a discount, a viable market existed for them. So Powell’s bought more and more. And then Powell’s bought more warehouse space to accommodate the more and more. Our dot-com and marketing teams moved from a 10,000-square foot building in the gentrifying Pearl District to a 60,000-square foot warehouse on the edge of the city. Our staff grew in order to handle all these books: receiving them off trucks, unpacking boxes, data entering and shelving, and then only a few weeks later pulling the same books from those shelves and packing them to ship. We got very good at all that.

We weren’t naive. No one doubted that we needed to diversify our inventory sources. We had no illusions about our business partner.

Trouble was, there were no other sources of such fast-selling books at such low prices. There was only Amazon.

And of course they stopped selling to us. Amazon realized that they could make more money by holding onto the books a while longer and selling directly to their own customers; and when they were ready, they did. But not until we’d invested in infrastructure and equipment, not until we’d hired staff, not until we’d scaled to serve customers who thereafter didn’t find many of the books they’d come to expect in our stores and at That sucked.

New Seasons is a beloved Portland-based grocery chain. I want it to thrive—for the city’s sake, for the employees’ sake, for all the charitable causes the company supports and because my eating life would be a total shambles without their prepared foods. So I can’t help wondering: What is New Seasons’ plan if Prime Now catches on? How will their model evolve to handle the growth? They’ll need new and expanded supply chains, right? What else? More warehouse space and staff? Will they ramp-up investments in technology? Can they maintain the superior food quality and best-in-town in-store experience?

The articles I’ve read haven’t mentioned how much money Amazon takes from each transaction through Prime Now, but you can bet it’s a healthy cut. That means that as the delivery app catches on, an ever-increasing proportion of New Seasons’ revenue will be generated at smaller margins.

And all of that revenue, day-to-day and quarter-to-quarter, will be dependent upon the functionality and features of the app, which no doubt Amazon will reinvent when and how it pleases.

I’d like to ask a publisher, or any of Amazon’s other so-called partners: How should these businesses protect themselves for the day when “The Everything Store” deems that it’s no longer in its best interest to make the partners as profitable? Or, worse and just as likely, once Amazon has established the local infrastructure and customer base to compete directly.

As a dedicated New Seasons customer, I hope they have a plan.

Tree for All: One Community, One Million Trees

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In 2014, Tree for All’s public and private partners in the Tualatin River watershed set out to plant a million trees and shrubs in one planting season.

It was a privilege to document the Tree for All project for our clients at Clean Water Services, and to see first-hand the incredible work done by regional partners like Friends of Trees, Solve, Cascade Education Corps, Westside Economic Alliance, Scholls Valley Native Nursery LLC, and many more.

Nine months after volunteers put the first tree in the ground, we’re proud to share their story.

Narrative Mechanics Workshop: “How to Design and Deploy Strategy for Arts Marketing Success”

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Team Sheepscot has serious roots in the Portland arts community: Dave spent years as the director of marketing at Powell’s, and I covered arts and culture as a writer and editor for nearly a decade. So naturally, when the Regional Arts and Culture Council invited us to host an arts marketing workshop for artists and organizations, we jumped at the chance.

On Saturday, April 4, Sheepscot will present “Narrative Mechanics: How to Design and Deploy Strategy for Arts Marketing Success“:

“YOU HAVE A GREAT STORY TO TELL, but where do you begin? What’s the best way to frame your narrative to ensure that you’re making an impact with the right audiences? From public events and print materials to social media platforms, how should you allocate resources to best achieve your goals?

Learn to construct a story that will resonate with your audience, inspire actions that benefit your bottom line, and evolve over time as your relationship to fans and consumers changes.”

Narrative Mechanics:
How to Design and Deploy Strategy for Arts Marketing Success
Saturday April 4th, 2015; 12 p.m. – 4 p.m.
Location: Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA), 511 NW Broadway, Portland, OR 97209
Cost: $30

Update: RACC has invited Sheepscot back for a repeat engagement of this Narrative Mechanics workshop on February 13, 2016. Full details here.

Joshua Ferris | All literary art is basically the art of perspective

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We invited author Joshua Ferris to a party at my house, to talk about his novels and share ideas about how stories get made.

Each party guest brought a unique perspective on narrative mechanics. Among us: an illustrator, a publisher, a biographer, a teacher, a playwright, a recording engineer, a creative director, a magazine editor, an actor, and a consumer experience designer.

We put a wireless mic on Josh as soon as he arrived.

People mostly hung out in the kitchen, as people at parties will. Lisa and Michael roamed inside and out, shooting on Canon DSLRs.

My friend since middle school tended bar. (Thanks, Vitz.)

We drank and mingled. For a while, everybody gathered in the living room to talk as a group. And then before that could get old, we disassembled to drink and mingle some more.

Josh’s most recent novel, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. The paperback edition hits stores on March 10.

Voices of Oregon Culture: Meet Gary, Nathan, Anne-Marie, and More

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The Oregon Cultural Trust supports arts, heritage and humanities nonprofits across the state of Oregon. And the Trust itself is funded by a unique tax credit: Donate to any of more than 1400 qualifying nonprofits by the end of the year, make a matching donation to the Trust, and receive the whole match back on your taxes.

If you’re not convinced, just take a look at these videos Sheepscot made to showcase some of the worthy nonprofits supported by the Trust, including Oregon Humanities and the Independent Publishing Resource Center.

To see more videos in our Voices of Oregon Culture series, visit the Oregon Cultural Trust’s website.