3 Major Innovations That Made Large-Scale Music Collaboration Possible Online

image from creativecommons.org Central to the founding ideology of Indaba Music is the notion of collaboration; they strive to empower musicians with the means to network and make music together. Since 2007 the website has grown to harbor over 500,000 musicians—from amateurs, who make music for the love of the craft, to Grammy Award winners, who've created music on the professional level.

Prior to the emergence of the social web, the tyranny of geography inhibited musicians from collaborating on a large scale and class distinctions were far more predominate than they are today. This prevented amateurs from gaining access to commercial works and professionals from seeing the value that they can create. In the music industry, we've reached the point where more music is being made and consumed than at any other point in history and Indaba has positioned itself to harness the sheer abundance of cultural creators behind it.

According tech-evangelist Clay Shirky, there's now a cognitive surplus, an excess of free time and talents of the developed world. When considered as a whole, this amounts to well over a trillion hours a year. Part of the reason that it hadn’t been experienced as a surplus up until now mainly because there was no possible way to pool it together in aggregate and there was no way to introduce people with disparate, yet complementary skills or interests. With the rise of the Internet, what we got was a network that was natively good at supporting social communication and participation. Thus, not only do we have copious amounts of musicians and singers, but we also have a surplus of free time, combined with a public media that enables them to pursue activities that they like and care about.

What are the steps that you've taken to recognize the potential of this massive cultural resource and how have you tried to understand what we can make of it? What opportunities do you foresee in harnessing it?

Dan Zaccagnino: As the Indaba Music website has evolved we have taken many steps to understand not just what musicians want to do online, but how they want to do it. We've re-conceptualized the process of online collaboration several times to reflect what naturally evolved as people began seriously collaborating online more and more. In 2007 we imagined what a typical collaboration would look like and designed the Session (the central tool for exchanging ideas, tracks, and discussion) to reflect that "typical" process. In 2009 after looking to our users for their feedback we began to understand that collaborations were happening in so many different ways and for so many different reasons that we re-designed the Session platform to be a much more flexible project management tool that doesn't impose unnecessary process or restrict the way people want to work.

Now, in 2010, with the launch of our new platform, we addressed a number of services across the value chain that musicians have been asking for – from creative tools, like a library of over 10,000 royalty-free clips to more career-oriented ones, like iTunes distribution and royalty allocation. It became clear that if people were meeting musicians on Indaba and creating music together there, they wanted to be able to harness additional digital tools without logging in to 10 different websites. The new platform enables them to do just that – they can find musicians, create a song, sell it to their fans digitally and physically, distribute it to iTunes, use widgets to promote it on other websites, and so on.

Really, with a platform that spans each area of an artists evolution – education, networking, production/collaboration, distribution, promotion – the possibilities for harnessing the creative power of a community such as Indaba's, is remarkable. By continuing to offer additional tools that make musicians' lives easier, we can continue to foster the incredible artistic output of our community by enabling musicians to focus on making music instead of trying to remember all the passwords to the different fragmented services they use.

Bylin: Within the traditional record industry the means of production, distribution, and marketing were limited to the elite who had been scooped up by social institutions like record labels and deemed commercially viable enough to sell to the mainstream consumer. Those classified as amateur musicians; they created music too, but did so within obscurity of their homes, churches, and dive bars.

If they were lucky enough, these musicians may have been able to build local followings and establish a name for themselves, but, essentially, their inability to reach a wider audience could be traced back to the reality that the tastemakers and gatekeepers had not given them the tools and financial means to do so.

The tools for production, distribution, and marketing are now in everyone's hands.

What developments had to occur in order for massive collaborative projects to be facilitated on a global scale and what tools for social production are needed to be created to enable these efforts?

Chris Danzig: In my mind there were three major innovations that set the foundation for large-scale online collaboration (or collaboration on any scale for that matter).

  1. The falling price of digital audio production equipment. The commoditization of digital circuitry during the eighties and nineties brought the price point for professional quality production equipment within reach of the average consumer. For the first time, independent artists and amateur musicians had the production resources necessary to produce music in the same fidelity as the major studios.
  2. The falling price of bandwidth. Throughout the nineties advances in delivery and compression mechanisms in the telecommunications sector made bandwidth increasingly inexpensive. The result is a world where media is more easily, and in turn more readily shared. The drawback of this accessibility is of course piracy- the advantage is the early simmering of collaboration through bulletin boards and FTP.
  3. The birth of the social web. The birth of the social network acclimated the public to bringing previously off-line social behavior online. For examples see dating, professional networking and gaming (among many others). Music is no exception to this rule. As an alternative (and in some cases a replacement) for the offline music experience more and more musicians are turning to the internet to fulfill their music needs which is (of course) largely of not entirely a social experience.

Bylin: Access to tools is meaningless if musicians aren't motivated to use them. 

In what ways have you alligned your platform with the intrinsic motivations of musicians and why is it vital that every musician who visits your site is greeted with the notion that they cancollaborate too?  

Matt Siegel: The intrinsic motivations of musicians combined with global production tools don't actually change the motivators for artistic creation. Individual artists create their art for many reasons – commercial gain, amusement, passion, therapy, or some combination thereof. The scale of global production just means that there are far more opportunities to create art, whatever the driving motivation.

We designed Indaba Music to be a flexible platform. So, if you're a studio musician looking to perform work-for-hire, you can find work and use Indaba to create and deliver studio-quality music to client, as well as get paid for your contribution. On the other hand, if you're just a beginner or a hobbyist and are looking to develop your skills or create music at your leisure, you'll find the platform equally as useful. For hobbyists, finding musicians to collaborate with through Indaba is extremely simple through search, as well as through the array of social applications we have on Indaba, and on any given day there are hundreds, if not thousands of active collaborations. To serve musicians who don’t own production software (or don’t have their rig handy) to record, edit and mix music, in April we released a powerful web-based Digital Audio Workstation, Mantis, that enables anyone with an internet connection to create 16-bit/44.1 audio. Additionally, for those looking to become better musicians, we have a robust education section that offers over 100,000 titles of sheet music and video lessons, educational tutorials and more.

It's vital that every musician who visits our site is greeted with the notion that they can learn, create and collaborate because every musician's motivation is different. Some want to learn their first instrument. Some have won Grammys and are at the peak of their careers. If we don't make all feel welcome then we lose vital segments of the global musician community and all they have to offer.

Dan Zaccagnino – Co-founder, Co-CEO
Chris Danzig – Co-founder, EVP Product
Matt Siegel – Co-founder, Co-CEO

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