Collaborative Music Production – by “Alexander F”

For my final project, I wanted to explore collaborative music production and create a piece of music collaboratively here at Yale.  Collaborative music production is where numerous individuals who may not know each other, or even be geographically near to each other, contribute to a song in pieces. One person may write a bass line, put it up on the internet and ask someone to record a great sax solo over it. There are many different permutations of this pattern, but has frequently allowed the music to be “copylefted” as each person contributes something new to the piece of music.

Currently, Indaba Music has been put in the spotlight for its increasingly successful website and the collaborative music experience it provides. Just recently even, Wired magazine has asked its readers to crowdsource a song using Indaba’s innovative online software. Check out this link for more

During this project, I got a chance to ask some questions to one of the founders of Indaba, Dan Zaccagnino, and learn about some of the challenges collaborative music making presents, and also the ways they have been able to make it work.

These answers may not represent the views or opinions of Indaba Music, there are merely opinions of one individual in response to a purely academic inquiry.

1.) What form of copyleft or Creative Commons licensing have you felt to be most effective in collaborative music compositions for encouraging creativity and dynamic musical interactions, and why?
Dan -“We use two CC licenses on Indaba – Attribution Commercial 3.0  and Attribution Non-Commercial 3.0.  They really tend to cover how most musicians on Indaba are looking to protect their music online. We also still offer traditional copyright if you want to protect your music in that way. Certainly the CC licenses encourage more creativity as they don’t require that two musicians discuss the terms of the collaboration – it’s inherent in the license. But it’s important to a lot of musicians to have the flexibility to be as open or closed as they want with their music so having the full copyright protection sometimes actually gets people to put their music up for collaboration when they wouldn’t using only CC. Hopefully as CC becomes a more prevalent option it will become the norm. We’ve been successful using CC licenses in collaborations with artists such as Marcy Playground, K-OS, John Legend, The Roots, Derek Trucks, Snoop Dogg, Weezer, and many others.”
2.)What do you think can be done to make collaborative composition or music remixing more accessible to a wider audience of creative minds since there is such a steep learning curve? (I had to hunt down people familiar with Sibelius for instance, which was a challenge)
Dan – “The complicating factor in music remote music collaboration is that there are barriers in that process beyond just being a musician who can write a song with another musician. Everyone becomes a recording engineer in addition to being a musician and people need to establish how they are going to communicate clearly so that things don’t get lost in translation.
Indaba’s approach to facilitating the collaborative process is centered around two things: first, through the session, a project management system that keeps all the discussion, audio files, permissions, and people organized and provides a forum for bouncing ideas back and forth via audio, text posts, audio/video chat, etc. Second, our browser-based DAW, Mantis is meant to address the fact that not everyone has recording software and hardware so now they can use our free in-browser tool to capture their ideas without expensive technology. The other major thing that helps with compatibility issues is just dealing with audio. Since Indaba just handles audio tracks it doesn’t matter if one person is using Apple’s Logic and the other is using Pro Tools.”
3.) Do you foresee crowd-sourcing of musical compositions in the future? (In limited form such as underscoring for movies or video games for instance, or with bigger pieces?)
“Absolutely. In fact, Indaba is already working with partners to do exactly that. We have a partnership with the Wenstein Company where our community will be creating music for trailers to their movies. We have sourced music for the PBS program The Music Instinct, and have sourced material that has been released on major artist albums from SONY, EMI, and Universal Music Canada.”
4.) Beyond just artists who have their works remixed, what have your observations been on how composers react to their works being remixed and used as creative ledges for other composers?
“Well, everyone is different (obviously) and music is very personal to musicians. There are artists who are more sensitive about their work and use our platform just to source missing pieces – I have a song and it needs a bass part, etc. That said, most people on Indaba are open to suggestions, critiques, and modifications to their work. A big part of the community is giving and receiving feedback so I think the people who are drawn to online collaboration are somewhat predisposed to being open about their music. In terms of being creative ledges for other composers I think most people are positive about that because they are a part of the new creation, even if it’s different from the original. For example, Marcy Playground sourced a re-imagined version of their last album from Indaba. It was totally different than the original but John Wozniak (singer/guitarist/songwriter for MP) loved it because with little additional effort he took an album and created an entirely different musical creation out of it (not to mention creating a new revenue stream for the band and for all the musicians involved).”
5.) One of the cornerstones of any sort of collaborative or crowdsourced process is the idea that the knowledge and skills of many (even averaged skilled) people can do things better or more efficiently than one single expert working alone. Do you think this holds true to collaborative music or not?
“I think that for something as artistic as music it is difficult to make a blanket judgment on this either way. Is it possible that a bunch of people bouncing ideas around on the internet would create Bach’s Cello Suite or Pachabel’s Canon? I guess… In the same way that if you gave a monkey a typewriter and eternity he would eventually write Shakespeare. I think the beauty of online collaboration isn’t creating “better” music than what a single expert can, it’s more about taking advantage of creative possibilities that aren’t always otherwise accessible. You can find any instrument, any genre, anywhere in the world and have that be a part of your creation. It’s like having an endless sample library except there are real musicians who can create music specifically for your song. The process can also spur new ideas… Cross genre collaborations are huge (and very exciting!). Yo-Yo Ma ended up recording with a heavy-metal guitarist on the traditional song Dona Nobis Pacem. Everyone loved the collaboration so much that Sony released it as a bonus track on Yo-Yo’s duet album re-release this past Christmas.”
6.) With the advent of 4chan, we’ve been able to see how anonymity can create both lots of junk as well some works of tremendous creativity. Do you think the same could ever work in a collaborative music sense? Do you think we’ll see music memes, or do you feel they already exist?
“I think there’s a balance. Two musicians who know each other well and can really connect around the creation of a piece of music is very important and, I don’t believe, will ever be replaced by online, anonymous collaboration. But the beauty of music creation today is that it’s not an either/or… The moments where musicians really connect intimately can exist along side a giant playground on the internet for exchanging musical ideas, building on each others work, and leveraging the creativity of others to create something new. That’s a lot of what happens on Indaba and elsewhere around the web – people just throwing up ideas and seeing what direction others take it in.”
I’d like to thank Dan Zaccagnino a lot for being willing to share some of his time to help me out!
So on to the project itself!
Since I’m a composer, I frequently find myself attached to the notes on the page that I write. While everyone is different, just as Dan pointed out, I’ve observed that frequently people adding guitar riffs on top of a bass track doesn’t upset the person who wrote the bass part very much, while someone rewriting a piece of composition on paper tends to land them in hot water. So the other part of this project was to see how classically trained composers respond to others tweaking their work in a collaborative environment.
For two weeks, a group of 11 Yale Undergrads composed a piece of music for cello and piano by collaborating anonymously via the internet and using the proprietary composition software available at on computers here at Yale, Sibelius. Since the music community here is small enough that everyone knows each other, I found it to be absolutely necessary for people to remain anonymous in order to really see how this might work without people joking with friends. They composed, tweaked, and sometimes stepped on each others toes a little by altering each other’s ideas, but the piece came out surprisingly well considering we lacked a sleek interface like Indaba’s “Session”. Interestingly, they were able to adjust to each other’s writing styles over time, and the were able to, in some cases, create a very consistent compositional “voice” even thoughthey never got to directly interact with each other during the process. Here’s the piece, linked below, and since they all contributed to it and passed it on for further alteration, it is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
Enjoy! Alex Fayette CPSC184 Project Piece by alexanderfayette

2 thoughts on “Collaborative Music Production – by “Alexander F”

  1. Thanks for posting that audio clip, Alex. I was very curious to see how the final composition turned out. I would be interested as well to see how this piece evolved into the very nice final production at the end. The other thing that I was wondering is if the piece was limited to only two instruments, as we heard here. I feel that if I were one of the people contributing to this, I would have probably added at least another track, with another instrument to accent certain parts.


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