Social Media is a Vehicle for Change
OK, this article is going to talk about social media, not doom and gloom, and not shaming idiots who make sex noises during the Australian Open for their 15 minutes of fame. This article is going to talk about how social media is not just a tool that helps the Marketing and Communications industry, but also a tool that is relevant to almost any degree.
Social Media has enabled our society to share ideas at an unprecedented level and speed. Yes, a vast majority of those ideas are selfies and cat videos, but on occasion, social media has stepped up to be the driving force of social change and has given lifelines to cultural practices that otherwise would have been lost to globalisation. This story is about how my friend Jenny and the Irish College she worked at did their part to modernise the Gaelic Language and the part that YouTube and Facebook played in making it a reality.
Jenny is an Irish musician, freelance writer and yoga instructor I met while traveling in Sri Lanka. When Jenny is not teaching yoga in South East Asia, she is back home in Ireland working at TGLurgan – a summer program at her old school Coláiste Lurgan in Galway, Ireland – as a vocal coach and also to produce music videos with a cast of over 500 young people.
The TGLurgan Program began as an activity to keep young people entertained on rainy days when they were stuck indoors. Since that first rainy afternoon in 2009 , TGLurgan has slowly built a YouTube channel which today has a combined 31 million views and over 91 thousand subscribers – but that’s not the most impressive outcome that has come from these humble beginnings. As the channel grew in popularity, the leaders of the TGLurgan program formed a band called Seo Linn that has performed all over Ireland as well as throughout the UK, USA and is currently touring in Australia. Their music videos have led to participants appearing on ‘The Late Show’ and have attracted celebrity guest appearances from stars like Macklemore. But if you ask Jenny, the programs greatest achievement was the attention it drew to the Irish language as a relevant part of young people’s lives in Ireland today.
TG Lurgan – The Cup Song
Jono – Jenny thanks for agreeing to chat with us, could you summarise yourself in a short paragraph?
Jenny – Hi! I’m an Irish yoga teacher/musician/freelance writer, pretty much trying to just weave all of these outlets together to live as creative and balanced a life as I possibly can! I also love coffee.
Is that a paragraph? Probably not. I’m not that interesting, really.
Jono – How did TG Lurgan start and what is your role there?
Jenny – TGLurgan started as a collaborative project with the Irish college Coláiste Lurgan in Galway, Ireland in 2009, and was initially intended to provide a fun group activity for students during rainy days where outdoor activities couldn’t take place (if you’ve ever been to the West of Ireland, you’ll know that these days are quite common!).
All of the videos created and uploaded since then have been created simply with the aim of modernizing the Irish language (Gaeilge), which is compulsory for all second level students in Ireland. Our hope was simply to create a fun, enjoyable approach to language learning which incorporated elements of the young people’s lives which they already enjoyed – music, art and drama, for example.
I initially went to Coláiste Lurgan as a student myself, and over the years returning there every Summer and working with the production team I gradually started teaching and then a group of us turned our attention solely to working on the music production side of things. My job was primarily to coordinate the choirs you hear in the videos – between translating and adapting songs to suit the group we had, teaching the students, recording them and then helping to make the rest of the video/audio tracks work around this. We are like one big huge family at Coláiste Lurgan, so much group effort goes into organising and producing every one of these videos that there is no one person that I can imagine doing it without.
Jono – Who came up with the idea to sing songs in Gaelic and produce them?
Jenny – It’s hard to pinpoint this one! For years before TGLurgan became a Youtube channel, the college’s manager Mícheál Ó Foighil, encouraged music and song translations as a great way to boost the student’s creativity and get them working together – all through Irish. There are literally hundreds of rough recordings that were made in the office before we got our hands on any fancy recording/editing equipment, and if I’m honest I still listen to some of them today! It was just a question of modernizing and solidifying a systematic approach to producing the songs and videos that was needed. I feel in the past few years we’ve gradually found a system that works – although it’s still quite chaotic most of the time!
Jono -What was the first song you recorded with the camp participants at TG Lurgan?
Jenny – The first big ‘production’ we did was a version of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ in 2009. It was a rainy day in Connemara, the students needed something to do that didn’t involve outdoor sports – so we taught them the Thriller dance. I recorded a translation of the song, we put it to music, got a camera to record them all (500+ students) the following evening, and that was that! The first ‘major’ production we did happened 2 years later with the ‘Beo Lurgan’ song – ‘Some Nights’ by Fun as Gaeilge. The following year we started with a version of ‘The Cup Song’ with 500+ students doing the cup song…things kind of escalated from there!
TG Lurgan – ‘Some Nights’ by FUN
Jono – How did you get the word out about the video?
Jenny – It was a very gradual thing – from the first casual videos in 2009/2010/2011, we had built up a solid base of listeners – mainly teachers and friends who used the songs in their lessons as a way to have a fun activity with kids after class. The ‘Avicci vs Lurgan’ cover in 2013 then just took off from that strong foundation and was purely spread by video shares on Facebook and other social media platforms. There’s a big audience for Irish language stuff in both America and Australia, and people just seemed to genuinely enjoy listening to the covers.
Jono – Why do you think these videos have been so well received on YouTube?
Jenny – I think the wide reach of the videos just served as a means to draw attention to the Irish language as a relevant part of young people’s lives in Ireland today. So many people I’ve met abroad as I’ve travelled have either not been aware of the existence of Gaeilge or have assumed it was an irrelevant, ‘dying monkey language’. The latter being a quote used both in light-hearted mockery of the general view of Gaeilge today and as a derogatory term to reinstate those negative opinions. As the word spread on these videos, we were asked as a group and as individuals to perform the songs in various places, and thus the band ‘Seo Linn’ was formed. I performed with the group for several years before taking a break to focus on yoga and other pursuits, but the guys are still going strong today and we’re still really great friends!
Jono – Which was your favourite to make?
Jenny This is a tough one…because I generally judge it based on the BUZZ that was there on the night/day of filming and it’s hard to capture that feeling in the end product. I guess though the day and night we filmed Mumford and Sons ‘I will wait’ as Gaeilge and Avicii vs Lurgan (both happened on the same day!) everybody kind of knew there was something special happening and the buzz with the students and team members alike was infectious!
Jono – What was the mood like from the staff when you were making the first video and did it change as you made more?
Jenny – Definitely – it started as a bit of craic, and then gradually people realised that it was actually really, really worthwhile and beneficial to be doing what we were doing. People with young families from the surrounding area would come in to watch as we filmed, and other staff members really started to give it their all too!
Avicii Vs Lurgan – “Wake Me Up”
Jono – What was the mood from the young people at the camp when you made the first video and did it change as you made more?
Jenny – Same idea as the teachers – from the beginnings as a way to pass time when the weather was bad, we’ve since had queues of kids waiting to audition to have the lead vocal on some tracks…Coláiste Lurgan has now become notorious as the ‘irish college with the music videos’, and so a lot of the kids who come now are already musically inclined, meaning that we’ve had some SERIOUS talent pass through the hall over the last few years!
Jono – How did the videos going viral affect your (and the band you were in) life? Where has it taken you, what opportunities have come from it etc.?
Jenny – Seo Linn would not exist without the videos of TGLurgan. I personally would not have pursued or continued with music and other creative pursuits as I have in my life if it weren’t for the encouragement and support of Mícheál Ó Foighil, and I’m sure many of the others involved in the projects will say similar of him.
It has given everyone involved a sense of community, fulfilment and purpose to see the Irish language elevated to an online platform – before this Gaeilge was pretty much non-existent online, and I think we’ve succeeded in at least garnering awareness for the language abroad through the medium of song.
In terms of the band, Seo Linn have now gigged across several continents, including a trip to Uganda, Africa with Self Help Africa in 2013, London, Edinburgh, several trips stateside to Boston and New York, and most recently some festivals in Australia. They are due to play at a string of events in Australia early this year again – so check this out!!
A big thanks to Jenny for taking time to share her story with us: if you’d like to see more of Jenny’s music check out the links below:
YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/user/tglurgan
Blog – www.upwardfacingblog.org
Whether you will be required to use social media to increase sales and marketing for a corporate entity or to instigate social change as Jenny has – Social media trends change every day, but one thing is for sure – social media in one form or another is here to stay.
If the job you want in the future involves sharing ideas or products in front of as many like-minded people as you can, learning more about search and social media marketing is a skill that you will need to have regardless of your industry or discipline.
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