Online recording, collaborating, and remixing has come of age
When world-famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma offered musicians a chance to record with him – via the internet on indabamusic.com – thousands took the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play with the virtuoso. Ma offered the opportunity as part of a competition to win a spot recording with him on his forthcoming album in the hopes of making the CD a more interactive experience.
Yo-Yo Ma is not the only artist harnessing the power of the internet to build interactive relationships: Radiohead, Mariah Carey, Nine Inch Nails, John Legend and many other artists are using new online tools to foster collaboration with other musicians and fans, creating a viral buzz online while expanding the boundaries of what is possible with regard to recording.
There are a range of companies providing remote remixing and collaborative recording solutions – among them are Indaba, YourSpins, Jamglue, MixMatchMusic, and Pacemaker. All are internet-based, relying on a dashboard-style browser application that allows you to create a profile on their service, and then upload your music. Then, people can access your tracks for a variety of purposes.
The two most popular applications seem to be remixing tracks, either for fun or as part of a competition, or doing virtual collaboration – in essence, adding tracks to a song via the interactive tools provided. You can post basic tracks, or a sketch of a song, and pretty soon you can have a an organic musical growth culminating in a finished song ready to mix.
Indaba, a Zulu word that refers to a gathering or a forum for sharing ideas, is one of the leading companies in what is becoming an increasingly populated field of online music collaboration software firms. This 2 1/2-year-old NYC-based company serves more than 150,000 users who range in musical skills from novices to Grammy-winning artists.
Each Indaba member builds a profile which can include a bio, photos, influences, favorite songs, etc. Then, you upload your music for collaboration. You can choose to share individual parts, complete songs, or any type of work in progress. You have to have a means of recording your music before you can upload any files, but once you have your music posted, the possibilities for collaboration are practically endless.
You can have other Indaba members do remixes of your songs, or send an invitation asking a particular musician to add parts to a tune. If an artist you admire is working using Indaba, you can send a request to “Audition” to be able to add a part to their latest work.
Indaba harnesses the power of social networking through its “Groups” feature. If you are a singer/songwriter, you can join a group of other singer/songwriters; if you are using Cubase or Acid recording software, you can chat with other users of those programs to discuss their finer points. Message boards allow a steady back-and-forth between members to talk about anything from favorite artists to what amplifier works best with acoustic guitars.
Members can even host online CD release parties, internet-streamed concerts, mixing parties, and other events to help build community. “We also see professional members looking for up-and-coming talent,” says Mantis Evar, Indaba Executive VP of Artists and Community and co-founder.
“These pros are taking the time to mentor and help others achieve success in their musical careers. We also see amateurs and semi-professional musicians creating virtual bands, hiring session musicians, or remixing each other’s work. It’s great to see how supportive members are of each other’s work – it’s a true community.”
“The two core concepts of Indaba,” Mantis explains, “are helping connect people to one another and giving them a place to collaborate. A ‘session’ is simply a digital workspace for creating music with others, a virtual recording studio. You can browse or search the community to find interesting members and invite them to join in on a public or private session that you have created.” (Ed note: Public sessions are open for any Indaba member to “audition” for, while private session participation is limited to those members you send an invitation.)
“Typically, sessions start with an instrument track that has been uploaded by a session member,” Mantis continues. “Other members can then add their instruments, building the song piece by piece and mixing the tracks together using Indaba’s online console or their own recording software. To keep communications going smoothly, you can text chat with other session members, or set up a conference call using the free conference line that each session has.
“Another way we encourage creativity is by challenging Indaba members through our community sessions and artist campaigns. We can set up special sessions and contests where members can collaborate with content that we find particularly exciting and innovative. Examples include the duet with Yo-Yo Ma, remixing Mariah Carey, or helping Third Eye Blind finish up their new album. Such opportunities can offer increased exposure, cash prizes, an album credit, or other interesting creative collaborations.”
One of the most helpful things about belonging to a music-centered community like Indaba is the ability to give and receive constructive criticism for member’s musical ideas. In this way, you can refine your own talents with the help of others who share the same interests and goals, something that may not be easy to achieve in your own home town. Indaba’s user-friendly features and the fact that top artists such as John Legend, The Roots, Derek Trucks Band and The Alkaline Trio are using the platform to widen their own fan base make it a one-stop destination for both collaboration and online brand-building.
MixMatchMusic (MixMatch for short) is taking a slightly different approach than Indaba to build its online music community. Started by three college roommates (Charles Feinn, Derek Prothro, and Alan Khalfin) who didn’t want to lose musical touch after graduation, this Silicon Valley-based company is built on an online community of musicians and music lovers who want to collaborate with one another for fun and profit.
MixMatch’s site has only been public since last September and is rapidly becoming a destination for many artists who see remixing and mashups as a key component of building income and their career profile. One of MixMatch’s most popular features is their Remix Wizard, which provides established and emerging artists the opportunity to engage their fans with remix contests hosted from the artist’s own website, while fans can discover new music and artists in the MixMatch online community.
Importantly, MixMatch offers a range of rights-protection and payment options for artists and songwriters who wish to use the platform to distribute their music – from individual beats or loops all the way up to complete tracks – all of which are referred to as “stems” in the MixMatch universe. MixMatch also has a robust user forum where community members discuss a wide range of topics ranging from protecting your music to recording tips.
One recent remix success story involves MixMatch artist Pepper, who installed the MixMatch widget on their MySpace page which resulted in more than 10,000 plays in a three-week time span. “Each remix contest creates a whole range of new content for fans to discover on the artist sites they already frequent,” muses MixMatch co-founder and CEO Charles Feinn. “Remix contests also help to raise awareness for stems as musical currency and help our community find and collaborate with like-minded musicians. Our rights management system encourages creativity because musicians always know who is using their music, know they will be attributed in any remixed works, and know they will be paid royalties when they are due.”
Feinn notes that MixMatch artists collect 85 cents on each dollar transacted, which emphasizes the artist-centric nature of this site. He went on to reemphasize that remix contests are a proven form of viral marketing that can help any artist build their brand, using the same tactics that bands such as Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have pioneered.
The tool set provided by MixMatch is available free online and is readily usable by experienced musicians or fans alike via the company’s MixMaker dashboard. This allows users to sequence, remix, match, and manipulate various stems to create a new piece. Like Indaba, established artists can seek out emerging artists, while up-and-coming artists can partner with more established artists to build a relationship via remixes created using an established artist’s work as a basis. This encourages a level of creativity and interaction that is one of the most powerful benefits such applications provide to musicians at all levels.
The roster of artists who are part of the MixMatch community is growing rapidly (as of this interview, the site boasted 1,700 members and more than 6,000 available audio files) and include many up-and-coming artists including Pepper, Zion I, and MC Lars. Such artists are aggressively building their fan base by inviting friends to remix, mashup, and create whole new pieces based on their original stems. Additionally, traffic continues to build across the MixMatch community as a survey showed that 200 recently-created remixes had received an aggregate of more than 45,000 plays.
Regardless of whether you want to start out by hosting a remix contest or simply find a talented studio musician to contribute virtually to your new song recording, spending some time learning how to leverage these new music collaboration sites is a savvy way for emerging artists to build their connections and fan base from the comfort of their own home. What’s not to like about the new frontier of musical collaboration afforded by trailblazing companies such as Indaba and MixMatch? Getting your music heard and finding creative ways to interact, collaborate, and record are getting easier every day.
Special thanks to Jay Maddox for his research assistance on this article.
YourSpins: a UK-based firm that boasts a wide variety of members around the world, many of whom host remix competitions. Features a simplified, easy-to-use track mixer that allows you to add various effects.
JamGlue: one of the first companies to offer remixing tools to musicians, founded in 2006, with more than one million users and over two million mixes posted to the site. JamGlue shares a lot with Indaba, i.e., upload, user profiles, and social networking features that help you connect with other members.
Pacemaker: another online community, based in Stockholm, Sweden, focused primarily on the DJ market, providing the tools and community for aspiring and established DJs to build their fan base. Features groups, discussion boards, and a free remixing app.
The founders of Pacemaker.net are also the inventors of an innovative pocket-sized fully featured DJ system also called Pacemaker which has gotten rave reviews around the world. To see it, go to http://www.pacemaker.net/Products/Pacemaker