Collaberation in the 21st Century

My romantic vision of a co-writing session looks something like this: two people sitting in a room, one with guitar in hand, one at a piano. The lights are dim. There’s a cigarette in an ashtray.

So cool.

But as interconnectivity become more accessible it looks like I’m going to have to re-imagine things a bit.

Come Together
In the early days of the internet many people feared it would rob of us our social connectedness. Instead of interacting with one another in the real world we would spend more and more of our time staring through a screen into an artificial one. As the internet has matured it seems to me the opposite has happened: people with unique or specialized interests (like songwriting), who once felt isolated by geography and distance, are connecting, sharing, and creating with one another in ways never before possible.

Songwriters and musicians have benefited as much as anyone, and in the last few years sites like kompoz, myonlineband, and indaba, have begun making it easier than ever to create music over the internet. Starting an account allows you to manage individual song projects. You can allow only those you invite to contribute tracks to the song, or you can solicit help from total strangers. Want an organ track, but don't have a keyboard, or don't know how to play? Make your project public and you'll soon have keyboard players knocking at your door.

Creating music this way also has a huge creative perk: the end result is often unique and completely unexpected. Remember those activities where three people each draw part of a person – head, body, and legs – without looking at what the others are doing, and the reveal a completed drawing that combines everyone’s work into something unique and original? It’s sort of like that…but cooler.

With a Little Help From My Friends
Over the last few years I have had a few unusual collaborations with songwriters that I have never met in person. One was with a guy from Norway. We “met” in a BBS forum site, drawn there by our common interest in recording. In a thread on songwriting one member threw out the idea of writing 26 songs, each based on a letter of the alphabet. Every word in the lyrics of each song could only start with that song’s letter.

It was an interesting challenge, and the two of us decided we would give it a try. I began working on the lyrics, and posted them in the thread as I completed each song. Then my newfound Norwegian friend would take my lyrics and write music around them. Over the course of a few months we completed all the songs (we fudged a little, combining X, Y, and Z into one song). The project yielded some really creative stuff that I don’t think either of us would have come up with if not for the collaboration, and the challenge of a third forum member. We titled our album The AB-CD.

Another was for a song I had already completed, but needed keyboards for. I posted it on ReverbNation, where it was heard by another musician who created weird soundscapes via keyboard. He contacted me to let me know he liked the song, and when I heard his music I thought it would be a perfect fit. I asked him if he would like to contribute tracks for my tune, and he was happy to oblige.

Not exactly two guy sitting in a smokey room.

Fixing a Hole
In places like Nashville, where every diner table is bussed by a budding songwriter, this "global community" approach is not always needed. For the rest of us, however, finding and creating with fellow songwriters via the internet has been nothing short of revolutionary.

Sitting down in a room face-to-face with another songwriter will always be a great way to write. The internet can never match the vibe and spontaneity that exists in a situation like that. More and more, however, I'm becoming convinced that the internet is sparking it's own kind of creativity. It is essentially allowing writers to offer up their song's code as "open source", to a community of like-minded contributors that can create something two people sitting in a room never could.

And that's cool too.

*photo by Jessie Lynn McMains


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