WE are witnessing the End of Days for telephone-pole fliers seeking "Drummer, must keep beat" or "Glockenspieler: You are wanted." No need to waste time plastering Xeroxes around town when the musician you need -- whether she's in Downey or Düsseldorf -- is but a keystroke away. So rest easy, your ballad will have its glockenspiel by morning.
The long-established rules of music production are being rewritten, according to a now-familiar refrain. Music recording, once the province of professionals and hard-core amateurs, has now become so easy that anyone with a computer can do it. Programs like Apple's GarageBand, a virtual recording studio that comes pre-loaded on every Macintosh, and Audacity, which anyone can download, offer free studio access to people who have never even picked up a guitar.
But for those who have picked up a guitar (and it's not clear if this group is larger or smaller than the other), once you've laid down a rough track, gathering some online bandmates to fill out the song has now become irresistibly easy.
Matt Kresling, a songwriter and musician from L.A., posted a combined vocal and ukulele track to the music collaboration site Kompoz.com, and two months later a darn good song popped out. "Year of the Dog" features a keyboard track from Marty Keil of Jacksonville, N.C., and Thomas Baker of Corinth, Miss., playing both drums and bass guitar. The track was mixed down by a sound engineer in West Lothian, Scotland.
Kresling, like a lot of people who have experimented with online "collabs," was jazzed about the international element of it. "The fact that some guy in Belgium is working on a bass line for my song right now at 4:52 a.m. makes all the time I spend recording in my closet seem less futile and lonesome," he said.
Kompoz is one of several next-generation websites to streamline the collaborative songwriting process. In this version of social networking, it's not just people who have profiles -- the songs do too. A person like Kresling will start a project profile -- or "session" -- by posting a track, several tracks, or just some lyrics and a chord progression. Then it's open season: Anyone can upload any kind of instrumental or vocal track, or try a mix of tracks that others have put up. Feedback and criticism are encouraged. The result is an interesting kind of free-for-all.
"You'll get three or four different guitar solos," said Kompoz's founder, Ralph Fiol. "People comment on which ones they like best, then someone will create a new mix and include one of them, and it just evolves from there."
Browsing through some of Kompoz's bigger sessions, you can see that the idea of a "band" is being redefined too. Kompoz's musicians often collaborate on several songs at once, often with completely different sets of people. And since many of them play multiple instruments, one song's drummer will be another song's rhythm guitarist.
Robert Malloy, the Scottish sound engineer who mixed "Year of the Dog," is a "kollaborator" on 17 songs and is working with more than 40 Kompoz musicians. He does jazz. He does funk. He does easy listening. "No genre is off-limits," Malloy says in his profile.
This kind of artistic promiscuity, combined with the border-free nature of the Internet, may help to spawn new kinds of international music styles, said Daniel Zaccagnino, co-founder of the collaboration site Indabamusic.com. He believes that the notion of "world music" may develop a new meaning.
Instead of the current conception of world music -- which means anything outside the mainstream U.S. music market -- Zaccagnino sees a day when "world" will be an inclusive term, with "all different sorts of genres being melded together" by multinational collaborators.
Zaccagnino, 24, started Indaba along with college buddy Matt Siegel -- both went to Harvard with Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. Perhaps not coincidentally, Indaba has a funkier, more collegiate feel than the more serious Kompoz. The advantage here is that less experienced musicians might have a better shot at finding others in their skill range.
For those who don't have GarageBand or higher-end "digital audio workstations" like Digidesign's Pro Tools, Indaba offers a user-friendly online mixing console. Would-be producers can experiment with song versions without ever leaving their browser.
At less than a year old, neither Indaba nor Kompoz has built a giant user base, but considering the number of musicians with no one to play with, there seems to be little cause for concern. One good yardstick for the popularity of online music-making is the growing number of homegrown collaborations sprouting up on YouTube.
After having purchased an inexpensive webcam and microphone "just for fun," 19-year-old Michelle Barlas of Houston uploaded a video of herself singing to Heart's "Barracuda." Her recording technique wasn't high-tech ("I did not have the karaoke track to the song, so I just used the original recording and just lowered the volume a bit"), but that didn't stop her from getting noticed by a band of middle-age guys from Ontario. They wanted to use her singing on their own version of "Barracuda."
She agreed, and the Canadian contingent edited her into their instrumental, then put together a cute video of the band playing in their living room while Barlas belts the Ann Wilson part in an inset. The video has scored 265 views and counting.
Figuring out who owns the rights to a song that's been worked on by a dozen strangers around the globe can be tricky. Kompoz.com largely evades the problem by requiring users to release material under a Creative Commons license, meaning that in most cases songs can be freely reused and remixed. Indaba offers a slightly more sophisticated system where collaborators can haggle over ownership terms and session fees up front, with the results being archived in case a dispute arises later on.
As usual, on YouTube it's not really clear who owns what, or if it even matters.
Twenty-four-year-old Elijah Lucian, a musician-producer from Canada, said that whether music is online or off, there's always the risk that someone will steal your ideas.
"But it doesn't really bother me, because I have more of them," he said.
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