How 550,000 Artists Collaborate & Create Together

image from creativecommons.org (Read part 1 of the interview here.) The proliferation of social production tools and aligning them with the intrinsic motivations of musicians isn't enough to bring about cultural change though; musicians need real-life opportunities to act on too.

The way that musicians understand the opportunities available to them has changed drastically over the course of the last ten years. Restricted by their location and media access, the only means that musicians had to inform others of their projects and need for collaboration consisted of hanging flyers in local businesses and taking a small ad out in a newspaper's classified section.

The population of the area and its subsequent music scene, as well as, the chance that someone with similar interests saw the ad were great determinates of what got accomplished. Now, musicians can broadcast to their social networks, post on Craigslist, and reach out to niche communities online.

How do you provide opportunities for musicians that reward their intrinsic motivations, allowing them to behave in new ways? Are prospects advertised to musicians that would've been impossible previously?

Nate Lew: There is no shortage of companies in the digital music space, however, the large majority of these services, from sharing, to selling, licensing and marketing music, solve problems for musicians post-creation, and thus only serve their extrinsic motivations. So, while the commerce side of the value chain is crowded with quality tools to service music, Indaba Music addresses the other side, art, and provides a suite of tools to service musicians – tools that enable anyone with an internet connection to connect with fellow musicians, to make music and to become a better musician.

With 550,000 musicians across all skill sets and interests using Indaba Music, our core offering is fundamentally designed to reward the intrinsic motivations of musicians by providing an immersive social environment, professional creative tools and robust educational resources. The majority of the services we offer musicians would have been a pipe dream even 10 years, ago, but in 2010 they are a reality, and they’re enabling musicians to connect, create and learn in entirely new ways. Here are a few examples of what Indaba music offers as well as the intrinsic motivations (IM) that they reward:

Social Environment

- Networking tools, including personal profiles, people search and groups to meet like-minded musicians and find potential collaborators.

- Communication tools, including real-time chat and in-song commenting to communicate during collaborations and leave feedback in a song’s WAV form

IM Reward: 24/7 access to musicians around the world with whom to socialize, solicit feedback, exchange ideas. This environment is equally valuable to developing musicians who are looking for knowledge and professionals, many of whom are fragile by nature and the Indaba community provides them with a support system and sanctuary.

Creative Tools

- Online collaboration platform that enables musicians in different locations to create studio-quality music together, as well as exchange files, ideas and even rights.

- A free, web-based Digital Audio Workstation that enables anyone with an internet connection to record, edit and mix studio-quality music.

IM Reward: Anyone with an internet connection is now empowered to make music, as location and budget are no longer barriers. Musicians, once without access to qualified collaborators in their area, now have access to a global talent pool and an online platform to collaborate from the comfort of their own home. For musicians around the world who cannot afford a commercial DAW, Indaba Music provides a professional-grade alternative.

Education Resources

- 100,000+ titles of digital sheet music and tablature from all the major publishers

- 1,500+ digital video lessons

- Articles and tutorials from leading publications, including Electronic Musician Magazine

IM Reward: Musicians of all stages can learn and improve upon their craft. In just a few clicks, musicians can then apply what they learned in online collaborations or chat with like-minded musicians for further discussion.

How are these opportunities redefining the role and power of amateur musicians? Has it changed what it means to be a professional musician?

Nate Lew: Despite the fact that under the umbrella of the “music industry” there are (largely) independently operating industries for education, production, recorded sales and talent discovery, for musicians, this value chain is much more fluid. Many musicians, for example, use Indaba to make music and become better musicians, partially because they love music, but also because they have extrinsic motivations to monetize their music and establish themselves as artists with the public. As such, we’ve worked hard to provide our community of musicians with professional opportunities to further their careers and introduce their music to a world beyond the walls of Indaba.

Beyond sheer talent, getting work as a musician historically required a combination of physical proximity to opportunities (i.e. being in a major city), as well as a healthy number of industry connections. 10 years ago, the prospect of a bedroom musician in rural Canada dueting with Yo-Yo Ma and having that recording released by a major label, or a church organist in Detroit having his composition included as the theme song for a television show would have been unheard of, but, these types of opportunities for musicians are now possible through Indaba Music. In the past year alone, all 4 major record labels, as well as brands, film studios and video games have elected to bypass traditional “go to” musicians to source music for their projects, and, instead, tapped Indaba’s community of musicians.

Here’s a quick video that illustrates just some of the opportunities Indaba has facilitated for musicians around the world over the past year with artists ranging from Ok Go to Linkin Park, T-Pain, Derek Trucks and Matisyahu.

When the playing field is leveled to such a degree and a global audience of musicians now has equal access to high-profile opportunities, the notion of being a “professional” for many musicians becomes more of a qualitative distinction (i.e. is your music deemed “good” by industry decision makers” than a quantitative (i.e. is 51% or more of your income from making music?) distinction.

Bylin: Still, even with a cognitive surplus of free time and an abundance of musicians, the proliferation of social tools, the intrinsic motivations of musicians, and the opportunities for them to take part in massive collaborative projects; there is another element needed to facilitate these kinds of activities: culture. In the words of Shirky, culture "is a community's set of shared assumptions about how it should go about its work, and about its members' relations with one another."

He argues that, "To really take advantage of combinability, in other words, a group has to do more than understand the things its members care about. Its members have to understand each other, in order to share or work together well."

Effectively, what Indaba Music is, in the words of independent sociologist Etienne Wenger, is a "community of practice." It's an environment where musicians come together to share their knowledge as a way of getting better at what they do.

Why is it necessary to create and maintain a shared culture that helps the members of Indaba function and collaborate together effectively?

Josh Robertson: People come to Indaba to connect with other musicians and to break down the barrier of distance in the creative process. Something magical happens when you create a piece of music with someone else, and the excitement and energy that comes from this collaborative process feeds the creative spirit across the site. Because the creation and discussion of music is such a personal and sensitive topic close to peoples’ hearts, it’s crucial to maintain a positive online culture that fosters - not suppresses - creativity.

As with any large-scale gathering of Internet “personalities”, the culture of Indaba is always changing, and moderating the community is a challenging and interesting process. By interacting directly with our community of musicians on a day-to-day basis, and setting clear examples and guidelines of acceptable behavior on the site, we have managed to create a supportive environment that encourages creativity, collaboration, and positivity. Led by one of our co-founders and head of community, Mantis Evar, we’ve worked with our users to create an evolving set of necessary norms to keep the site on the right creative path.

One of the amazing developments that we’ve seen over the course of Indaba’s growth is how our members have embraced the basic principles and norms that we adhere to and have helped reinforce this culture across the site. While we steer clear of artistic and musical censorship, we do not tolerate offensive behavior or the posting of spam on the site – and neither do our users who care so passionately about the community environment on Indaba that they often self-police and squash issues before we even know about them. This organic community development is essential to maintaining the creative environment on the site as the site grows.

We love hearing stories from our users about how the culture of Indaba has opened doors and allowed them to communicate and create on an entirely new level. We’ve heard from house-bound users, whose lives have been literally changed because they finally have the ability to collaborate musically again, and from musicians in remote areas who can break out from their geographical restrictions. As Indaba continues to grow the possibilities will only expand, as more and more people embrace new ways of communicating and creating with one another.

Bylin: "The spectrum from personal to communal to public to civic describes the degree of value created for participants verses nonparticipants," Shirky writes.

"With most sharing, most or all of the value goes to the participants, while at the other end of the spectrum, attempts at civic sharing are specifically designed to generate real change in the society the participants are embedded in."

He argues that we should care more about public and civic value than personal or communal value because "society benefits more from them, but also because public and civic value are harder to create." In effect, how this relates to Indaba Music and its role in harnessing cognitive surplus and the abundance of cultural creators is that if the kind of value produced is limited to its members and the group as a whole than we've failed to nurture the most beneficial value.

Have you been able to create a group of musicians that work outside of the existing market and managerial structures, in pursuit of opportunities that produce public and civic value, plus, generate real change?

Dan Zaccagnino: There have been many groups of musicians who have come together to collaborate in ways that are outside of the traditional structures on Indaba. One of my favorite examples to talk about is the group Peace Partners, led by Canadian musician Patrick Lajeunesse. When Patrick moved to a more rural part of Canada, he discovered Indaba Music and quickly realized the creative and civic power that he could harness from Indaba and direct towards something great. He organized a group called Peace Partners and began collaborating with other musicians to create albums that could be sold, with all the proceeds going to charitable organizations. To date over 260 Indaba members have joined Peace Partners and their collaborations have yielded two albums with all proceeds from album sales going to Amnesty International. It's one thing for major artists to do a charity event now and then, but it is even more powerful when hundreds of individuals come together to use their musical creativity in such a positive way. A Canadian news station recently did a story on Patrick and Peace Partners, and you can view the segment here.

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Nate Lew - Head of Marketing, Business Development
Josh Robertson - Head of Content, Programming
Dan Zaccagnino - Co-founder, Co-CEO


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