Online music collaboration is an area undergoing rapid development, as evidenced by the various platforms that currently exist to facilitate collaborative music production. These platforms accommodate various modes of interconnected, collaborative work and are designed as social networks where musicians can meet and engage remote partners, learn from each other and create music collectively. The Remote Music Collaboration Software (RMCS) discussed in this paper takes the form of new Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs) or enables the use of established DAWs in a collaborative way, further expanding on the initial design of such DAWs. All of the above features combined with commonplace free access to RMCS contribute to the disruptive potential of these platforms. Carson (2014: 7) compares the disruption caused by RMCS to such seismic shifts in the music industry as the introduction of radio, the move from analogue to digital recording and the development of online music distribution.
As identified by Whalley and Fields, there is a body of research on the early use of computer networks to make music (2012: 1). However, the area of contemporary remote collaboration systems is comparatively unexplored in academic work, and the aim of this paper is to start a discussion concerning these new systems. I reference selected elements of user-instigated collaborative projects and explore the key components and various benefits of engaging in crowdsourcing, remixing and jamming within the context of Internet-based music production. I also highlight some of the challenges associated with this mode of work. My research draws on existing scholarship in the fields of crowdsourcing (see for example Gellert and Nowak 2004; Howe 2006, 2008) and music oriented cloud computing (see for example Duckworth 2005; Freeman 2014; Théberge 2004). The merging of these two fields is, I believe, a path to a greater understanding of the impact of RMCS on the field of the art of record production.
In addition to this existing scholarship, large sections of this paper are based on field research I conducted between November 2013 and December 2014 for my PhD project analysing the new generation of collaborative online music production platforms. In order to assess collaborative approaches to music production and musical crowdsourcing, I collaborated on a dozen musical compositions with approximately forty participants located in various geographical locations on three continents: Europe, North America and Australia. Crowdsourced sessions included on average four users per project. The collaborative projects I participated in were conducted within two online Digital Audio Workstations: Audiotool and Ohm Studio. I also used Blend, a content management collaborative system which allows multiple users to work with several established offline DAWs in an asynchronous way. Each of these platforms implements social networking functionality and is associated with a large online community of musicians. More detailed information on the number of users of Audiotool and Ohm Studio can be seen in fig. 1.
In the context of this paper, I use Howe’s definition of crowdsourcing as ‘the act of taking a job traditionally performed by a designated agent and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people in the form of an open call’ (Howe n.d.). My study required involving participants in a creative and collaborative process, which resonates with Huston’s perception of crowdsourcing (Huston in Howe 2008: 149). For my purposes, the term ‘remixing’ is understood in the more traditional way of creating a new version of an existing composition with the incorporation of stems of the original material. And lastly, I use the term ‘jamming’ in my research to define an activity involving improvising new musical ideas and assessing their usefulness to a composition.
The various platforms discussed in this paper are primarily asynchronous software systems. They offer varied degrees of asynchronicity and differ quite dramatically in their design. These design differences were among the reasons for choosing to work with these specific systems. Another factor was the set of specific features that enable advanced audio and MIDI editing and manipulation, evidenced in such operations and features as recording, editing, parameter automation, synthesis, comprehensive built-in or third party effects, exporting and support for the use of midi controllers. Two key common elements among all of the platforms are their social networking functionality as well as free access to all of the above-mentioned key features. The types of systems that I used have been classified as Collaborative Composition Systems, and characterised as being asynchronous and focused on composition (Freeman, 2014).
The artistic and musical parameters that I set for my field research included creating compositions that stylistically represent three musical projects that I produce and perform with: Koshowko, Philosophy Of Sound and Iubar Project. As a result, I worked on compositions ranging from atonal and highly experimental in relation to used instruments and sounds (often without a pre-defined structure), through tonal and moderately experimental in relation to used instruments and sounds (often following a pre-defined structure), to tonal and non-experimental in relation to used instruments and sounds (strictly following a pre-defined structure). An additional set of parameters required the resulting compositions to be ready for a commercially-viable record label release. In order to determine and evaluate the commercially viability of specific songs conceived in collaborations, I drew on my ten years of experience as a music producer. In addition to seeking contributors to songs that I initiated, I participated as a guest musician and sound engineer in projects produced by other users of RMCS. These additional roles helped me to examine engagement and crowdsourcing from a different perspective.
In summary, my projects included the following activities:
- Engaging guest musicians in creating new songs;
- Collaborative songwriting and production;
- My own contribution as a guest musician or co-producer;
- Inviting other users to create derivative work in the forms of remixed, recomposed and rearranged compositions initially produced and released under the moniker of one of my musical projects.
Figure 1. Master rubric comparing various features available in Audiotool, Blend and Ohm Studio.
Renewed interest in networked music making
The last three years have seen a renewed interest within the music industry in collaborative, networked music making. This is evidenced by a growing number of feature articles and reviews in the music technology press (Weiss 2013, Carson 2014, Pejrolo 2014, Hiebner 2015). The 2014 Advanced Audio & Application Exchange Conference in Boston featured a keynote entitled ‘The Cloud’s Transformative Powers on Advanced Audio’. This event consisted of the Audio Developers Conference, P2 Conference (Production and Performance) and Business Strategies Summit and featured a selection of panels and speakers discussing cloud production and collaboration. Speaking at the event, David Mash, a Senior Vice President for Innovation, Strategy, and Technology at Berklee College of Music, claimed that ‘Within the next five years, we’re going to see all the major DAWs incorporate some kind of collaborative experience’ (Carson 2014: p. 8). Mash’s prediction is already evident in the way established software manufacturers have started entering this field. In December 2012 Steinberg introduced the VST Connect remote recording system. Two years later Propellerheads launched the Discover network. In January 2015 Avid announced ‘New innovations to support artist collaboration and content distribution with Avid Cloud Collaboration and new services in the Avid Marketplace’ (GlobeNewswire, 2015). These technologies offer a variety of collaborative solutions, and in the case of Avid and Propellerheads we also see attempts at creating an online community of users.
My research concentrates on key developments in the field that precede the recent increased interest in remote collaboration technologies from the above-mentioned mainstream companies.
Phases of user–instigated collaborative asynchronous project development
Expanding on Gellert and Nowak’s model of phases of group development (2004: p. 183), I have defined seven phases of user-instigated collaborative asynchronous project development (fig. 2).
Figure 2. Phases of user-instigated collaborative asynchronous project development.
Phases 1, 2, 3 and 6 are solo processes. Phases 4 and 5 are group processes. Phase 7 is an automated process that does not require input from the producer/creator, past the initial set up stage.
The collaborative process within different RMCS varies dramatically as the platforms offer different sets of features that facilitate contrasting approaches to music creation (fig. 1). As a result, each system allows different levels of crowdsourcing, jamming and remixing. For example, phase 4A is heavily dependant on a platform’s functionality and communication among users is handled in a variety of ways. The implemented communication tools, such as profile pages, chat rooms and private messaging are instrumental in finding collaborators, inviting them to participate and discussing the songwriting and production processes. Phases 4 and 5 involve collaborative learning that potentially ‘…fosters the development of critical thinking through discussion, clarification of ideas, and evaluation of others’ ideas’ (Gokhale, 1995). These two phases also include crowdsourced processes of remixing and/or jamming. The process of crowdsourcing is initiated by the initial composer/producer in phase 3.
There are elements of the above phases, such as 7B, that are not supported by all systems. For example, Ohm Studio does not currently offer opportunities to monetise music created within the platform, whereas Audiotool and Blend have their own record labels that offer to sell the music of selected users. Further monetisation opportunities exist on Blend in the form of Blend Market, allowing users of the platform to sell stems, templates, plugins, presets and sample packs.
Users participating in online collaboration often know very little about their musical partners. The phase 3B is when decisions whether to get involved or not are being made and such decisions seem to be driven by the combination of following factors:
- Interest in a particular style of music;
- The timing of the advertisement of a project to the community;
- The availability and set of skills of a particular contributor.
In my fieldwork, I have discovered that one of the key aspects of RMCS is that, to some degree, creators of original compositions are able to take on a more passive role in relation to promoting their projects to the community of users. At times, there is no need to send direct invitations to individual users as the community can autonomously discover the project and users can voluntarily join in as soon as it is made public. This type of spontaneous collaboration has been particularly frequent during my work with Blend and Ohm Studio. Audiotool requires an invitation from the creator in order to participate in collaborative music making within an original project. However, I have also incorporated a more pro-active approach and invited users already known to me to join my projects. Typically, I employed this targeted method subsequent to the initial response of the community, after which I could identify musical skills required for a project. I also found that advertising projects on Ohm Studio’s public chat often led to discussing them with individual users who expressed their interest in collaborating.
The term crowdsourcing, often used on Blend, was first used within this system at the launch of the collaborative EP production campaign by Berlin-based producer Mad Zach. While defining this project he asserted:
This is an experiment in interactive musicology. Collaboration has always been there, and even internationally and remotely as of the past few years. But this project signals a new era of collaborative possibility. People from all around the world will be able to contribute their ideas to creating the original tunes. I’m still not sure exactly how it will turn out, but I’m really excited about what this could become! (Blend Blog, 2014).
This statement reflects the open nature of crowdsourcing, its global reach and uncertainties regarding the outcome. Crowdsourcing in this context demands openness from each of the parties but particularly from the person initiating the project and having to share his/her music with a large number of people. Crowdsourcing is not restricted to the Blend environment, as other software tools discussed here enable it as well.
In the context of creative work, Jeff Howe has criticized crowdsourcing as potentially leading to outsourcing and as a result diminishing the monetary value of creative professionals (2006, 2009). This resonates with the general anxieties regarding changes inflicted by new technologies on various music industries (Carson 2014). Howe’s criticism was directed primarily at visual arts industries but it seems valid to inquire whether crowdsourcing and online collaboration can pose similar risk to musicians. In my experience, this is not the case in the current landscape of RMCS. Users of the platforms discussed here frequently engage in amateur music making. This means that discussion on how to manage creative contributions and, if applicable, the division of writers credits, often does not take place until phase 5 (fig. 2).
Users engaged in remote music collaboration frequently do not take a business-minded approach, and as such contractual agendas are often ignored. A pro-active producer instigating discussion about writer credits can resolve this and hopefully achieve a satisfactory outcome for everyone involved. However, an informal, no-strings attached approach is the prevailing attitude, and the spontaneity of collaboration and the musical outcomes are prioritised as the key objectives. This spontaneity is particularly common when it comes to users’ engagement in projects created as ‘public’ and therefore open for contribution from any member of the particular community. In addition to open public projects, RMCS enable private or hidden projects and thereby a more targeted approach to choosing collaborative partners. This is especially useful for projects planned for commercial release from the onset.
In my work, I have engaged in crowdsourcing without the upfront financial remuneration and I have chosen to treat collaborators as creative equals, offering them songwriting or production credits where applicable. I have often engaged in collaborative work with the aim of releasing the resulting music commercially. However, in such projects, the key question had been how to negotiate the songwriting credit, rather than how to pay collaborators, as financial remuneration will then be dependent on the commercial success of a given release. In theory, nothing stops users from offering financial remuneration upfront to their collaborators and employing them as session musicians. Furthermore, it has been indicated that linking users’ popularity and credibility to their monetisation options is on the agenda for Blend developers (Weiss, 2013).
One of the most powerful aspects of engaging other, often unknown users who volunteer their skills and time is that it enables one to overcome one’s limitations in various areas of music composition, performance and production. A feature of collaborative teamwork is its democratic aspect. Makelberge refers to Internet-aided collective creation as:
A truly democratic way where a musician is not told by anyone else what, when and where to play, but is merely equipped with judgement and offers his or her compositions to the world, while peers reincorporate them into new creations (songs, mix tapes, DJ sets, etc.), if they find them fitting (2012).
Duckworth (2005: 167) refers to the shared experiences of amateurs and professionals as being a reflection of the democratic nature of online DAWs. Hajimichael also lists this democratic nature as a key factor attracting him to cloud-based collaboration (2011: 3), which correlates with my own experience.
Working with a large group of international musicians requires good project management and communication skills. There is also trial and error involved in establishing the level of interest and amount of contribution that participants are prepared to offer. As such, online interactions have strong parallels to working on offline projects in our individual localities, where effective communication is crucial in conducting a successful group work project. These similarities between offline and online modes of work indicate that even if a necessary prerequisite to a recording studio functioning as a networked node was the loss of studios’ initial connection with the ‘local’ (Théberge, 2004), perhaps another link between online and offline, which is more difficult to break, is the way in which we interact with each other. This too resonates with Théberge’s perception of the significance of ‘the quality of the musical and social relationships that are made with and through’ networked studios (2004: p. 779).
Redefining jamming and remixing
In relation to asynchronous cloud-based collaborative music production, the notion of jamming is intertwined with the songwriting process. Jamming here has to be distinguished from real-time distributed music performance available in synchronous software or via hardware systems. Synchronous systems have been described in depth by researchers such as Barbosa (2003), Weinberg (2005) and Traub (2005). Ohm Studio has a substantial advantage concerning the process of jamming as it offers a near real-time exchange of musical ideas, and a private chat room and messaging to discuss them. This, again, is indicative of the importance of communication systems built into RMCS. In Ohm Studio users can synchronously apply editing and mixing changes to a project, and as such I classify this software as a hybrid system (fig. 1).
Audiotool and Blend are asynchronous and as such do not offer as good an approximation of real-time work. The type of jamming discussed here is still possible but at the expense of a slower exchange of ideas. An important consideration is whether the lack of immediate feedback impacts negatively on the creative process. The production process in Audiotool and Blend is more isolated. However, there are also benefits of this type of work. For example, there is more time to refine and present ideas to a collaborator. In addition, as the asynchronous process is less fluid, it is easier to draw demarcation lines though the final compositional work and establish with greater precision the creative input of each participant. It can be argued that an important aspect of choosing a given platform is what mode of collaborative work one prefers. Maybe it is the close approximation of sharing a recording studio with a collaborative partner, or perhaps the preferred mode of work is a less immediate process — an approximation of exchanging files with a musical partner.
The remixing methodology is one of the essential elements of cloud-based collaborative music work. This is evident with all platforms enabling, and in fact encouraging, modification of the original work uploaded by users. Each platform allows users access to the original projects sessions, which in turn offers insight into how other producers arrange their work, what tools they use, and so on. As Audiotool and Blend attract primarily EDM producers, both platforms have generated a large number of remixes. Producers on Audiotool can enable each of their projects to be remixed upon publishing, which, combined with the self-contained nature of the platform, allows remixers access to an exact copy of the original project. The current version of this platform lacks private messaging and a chat room, which substantially limits the ability to advertise a project to a group of potential collaborators. Blend’s lack of a public chat or discussion forum is similarly limiting. Both of these platforms, however, incorporate the tagging system, which allows searching for projects using key words and results in a more passive approach to finding remixers.
RMCS users need to be aware of the stylistic biases that are associated with each platform, and that can impact on usability. When conducting my fieldwork, I encountered difficulties of executing certain projects if they did not sufficiently align with the generic conventions of the majority of users of a given RMCS. For example, the projects in the atonal and experimental style of ambient/drone that I initiated on Blend while generating some interest did not ultimately result in contributions from the community of users. In one case the way to proceed was to contact a local ambient music producer who I knew in person and invite him to sign up and work with me on Blend. In another case of working with this genre on Blend, several users downloaded the project but even this did not result in further contributions. Conversely, projects on Blend that I initiated in EDM styles have found a more engaged audience and led to community participation resulting in creative contributions. While these technologies could arguably be used to create any style of music, the majority of users of a specific RMCS seem to prefer certain genres.
Cloud-based collaboration is not without its set of challenges. As indicated above, the stylistic bias of users can be a restrictive factor. Furthermore, even though the available communication features are critical to establishing rapport with other users and discussing project direction, not all RMCS manufacturers have implemented them to a satisfactory level. I will return to this issue in the section on Collectivity & Communication. In addition, some of the technical issues are not dissimilar to what music producers face in non-collaborative DAW environments. For example, a lack of technical proficiency and inability to perform sound engineering tasks will negatively impact on the input of a participant. A unique challenge stemming from engagement in cloud-based interaction is related to managing complex projects. The possibility of easily finding and engaging multiple collaborators while working on a particular composition increases the complexity of the production process by necessitating information exchange with multiple parties, often simultaneously. The complexity of creative options on offer alongside changing group dynamics and new forms of expression can lead group compositions in unpredictable directions. Duckworth noted this as early as 1997 when describing his collaboration on a pioneering online composition titled “Cathedral”. Managing the complexity is increasingly an issue now, as the tools are more multifaceted and technologically advanced. The number of musicians available for this type of work is also significantly higher in comparison to when Duckworth worked on his piece. The amount of people using these platforms means finding suitable collaborators often requires a trial and error approach. Furthermore, there are situations when overcoming technical problems can be challenging, given multiple remote collaborators with varied technical skills and different types of equipment.
Cloud-based DAWs launched in the last four years cannot match the amount of features of some of their offline counterparts. Users face two choices — either adapt and use the existing functionality to its fullest potential, or perhaps use online DAWs as complementary software, while developing ideas, mixing or instrument programing in DAWs such as Ableton Live or Steinberg Cubase, where more production tools and features are available. A lesser amount of features or bundled sound processing devices can also impact on the speed of achieving production objectives. Certain operations available in specific offline DAWs are not possible in their cloud-based counterparts. This, however, is not necessarily a deficiency that can be attributed only to online DAWs, as some of the established DAWs are enabled with a set of unique features not available elsewhere.
Working collaboratively in the cloud can lead to some potential conflicts regarding the ownership of music created with various partners. Fig. 1 illustrates different approaches to copyright and project ownership management within Audiotool, Blend and Ohm Studio. While these solutions protect the song to some extent, they might not necessarily help in the event of a dispute between two or more writers. As with offline collaborations, these matters are best dealt with early on in a joint song-writing process (James 2013). Determining a song’s ownership can become a complex issue and it is difficult to predict all possible problems that can arise when co-writers engage in a lengthy creative process. Being a collaborative songwriter for many years, I am sensitive to the importance of protecting one’s intellectual property. My experience of working with RMCS has led me to a discovery that several very skilled musicians who I interacted with have not been members of performing rights organisations in their countries, which from a legal point of view prevents them from being registered as co-authors of collaboratively created songs.
A major factor characterising the types of creative relationships that can be formed while collaborating in RMCS is that they are started with great ease. This sometimes leads to the relationship being very transient. For example, I encountered collaborators offering to contribute to specific parts of a song or proposing general songwriting input without ultimately delivering anything. It is also not uncommon to witness multiple RMCS users joining projects open to the public and leaving them without any communication. In addition, the level of loyalty of a collaborator that we might never meet in person could be harder to determine early on in the process, which necessitates a stronger trust being placed on the prospective partner and their integrity. Heimans and Timms define open, participatory, and peer-driven businesses and online platforms as representatives of the New Power model (2014). One of the characteristics of the model is the ease with which people can join organisations and share their ideas. However, Heimans and Timms question the endurance of these easily formed affiliations and suggest they are fast but fickle. In relation to RMCS, there are some striking parallels. There are no costs associated with becoming a user of the software. The inclusion of social networks means that sharing is a powerful feature of the collaborative platforms. However, seeing the growing competition in the field it is valid to ask how sustainable each of the platforms can be over time. Unfortunately, the now dysfunctional Rocket Network, eSession, IndabaMusic Mantis, Aviary Myna and Geisha Music platforms are examples of failing start-ups and unsuccessful projects in this field.
Furthermore, cloud-based music production is being impacted by problems affecting all computer music production, such as viruses, hardware failures, software incompatibilities and crashes (Mountain: 2005, p. 558). The dependence on having an Internet connection adds another layer of potential risk, as on a global scale servers can be down from time to time, and on a personal scale one’s Internet connection can also fail due to various factors. As illustrated in fig. 1, offline versions are currently being developed for two of the discussed DAWs, which will eliminate some risk.
The use of Internet cloud technology has the potential to reshape music production methodologies, while also eroding or substantially reducing the time delay that is currently part of the workflow for many musicians who still choose to exchange data files via the Internet without the aid of RMCS. This breaking down of borders could also have cultural and cross-genre implications, allowing producers from different countries and musical backgrounds to collaborate without current restrictions. Freeman (2014) and Wilson and Walker (2015) refer to remote collaboration systems as being a solution to the displacement of musicians in time and/or space. In addition, Freeman (2014) lists the ability to remain anonymous as another factor encouraging the use of RMCS. Indeed, a large proportion of users that I encounter through RMCS use pseudonyms and frequently do not disclose such details as location or age.
Economic advantages exist as well, in that musicians can limit expenditure on rehearsal space hire and transport costs. Furthermore, the time required for setting up and packing music equipment in a rehearsal space can be now saved. Testimonials from users of the Jam Kazaam software, which allows real-time jamming, refer to the following benefits of online collaboration (2015):
- Instruments difficult to transfer, such as pianos, can now be used from home;
- Convenience of jamming from home with no need to leave family;
- Flexibility with choosing the time to collaborate;
- Meeting new people online;
- Reconnecting with old friends to play music together.
When discussing his experiences of online-based music production and collaborative writing techniques, Hajimichael (2011: 3) also lists immediacy and accessibility as some of the benefits of this mode of work.
Mutually beneficial exchanges of thoughts and musical ideas are at the core of networked collaboration. Makelberge asserts that ‘approaching networked music from the point of reciprocity, we will see that the three terms – collaboration, cooperation and collective creation – all spread out along an axis of less to more intense reciprocity’ (2012: p. 28). The notion of teamwork is closely connected with the ability to learn from other users. As each platform allows access to original projects sessions, this in turn offers insight into how other producers arrange their work, what tools they use, and so on. The educational value of RMCS platforms has been noted by Carson (2014), Weiss (2013) and Pejrolo (2014). Collaborative learning has been proven to enhance problem-solving skills (Gokhale, 1995). Furthermore, Clifford reports that ‘collaborative learning teams are said to attain higher-level thinking and preserve information for longer times than students working individually’ (2012). Learning from more experienced users is another key factor, making online platforms less isolating in comparison to the solitary experience associated with offline DAWs. Brown (in Salavuo 2006), while discussing the cognitive diversity of online music communities, refers to the concept of distributed expertise, where ‘individual members may possess knowledge of a particular subject, which exceeds the knowledge of the whole community’ (2006: p. 255).
RMCS provides opportunities for the teaching of music theory, performance and production, and allows substantial cost savings in the educational sector. In 2014 I used Audiotool in teaching a course on Computer Sound Production at an undergraduate level at RMIT University, whilst in 2015 I will be working with Blend and Ohm Studio. In my experience, using RMCS in this setting helps to facilitate group assignments and streamlines the access to projects at the marking stage. Another example of a higher education institution that has used Blend to deliver course content is Berklee College of Music, which used this platform to foster collaboration and distribute projects to students in their “Introduction to Ableton Live” course (Coursera, 2015).
All cloud-based platforms discussed in this research offer either fully featured or limited free access to users. Audiotool and Blend are currently completely free services, whereas Ohm Studio offers an upgrade path from free to more fully featured paid versions. Audiotool’s CTO stated that the platform is to remain free indefinitely (Michelle, 2013). This is attractive to amateur producers and allows for testing of a given platform without any financial investment. This, I believe, is one of the factors responsible for the large numbers of users of cloud-based platforms.
Collectivity & Communication
Freeman claims that almost all music is networked (2014), which resonates with Weinberg’s definition of music performance as an interdependent art form (2003). Yet there is a perception that ‘…what DAWs have been doing for 15 years now, is promoting an exception in music history — making music alone’ (Makles in Carson, 2014: 10). As a result, cloud-based networks have been viewed as a way to solve the problem of musical isolation (Théberge 2004). The key new element in regards to RMCS is the access to a vast network of collaborators, who are part of the larger synergetic system associated with a given platform. RMCS allows ‘…amateur and professional musicians, not only to coexist, but to enjoy the shared experience of performance (Duckworth: 2005, p. 167).
Since starting to work collaboratively online I have observed an unprecedented ease of finding people to work with and also being able to contribute to the work of other musicians. Collaborative work is of course also possible in the offline world, in our individual localities. However, the process of finding and auditioning potential collaborators is less immediate and restricted by time and space. Hugill (2005, p. 528) refers to the social potential of Internet collaborations as a key element that drew him to this way of working on music. Föllmer (2005, p. 443) also describes the realisation of collaborative ideas by a group of musicians working together as one of the key strengths of music production facilitated by the Internet.
In describing collectivity, Duckworth asserts that ‘A critical component of the emerging landscape of virtual music is the sheer numbers of participants that will be involved, and the power – creative and otherwise – that this connected and technically savvy mass of people will be able to evoke’ (2005, p. 165).
My experience indicates that establishing an efficient method of communication is a key imperative when discussing a project’s objectives and working collaboratively. It is also essential to communicate objectives clearly when searching for collaborators, as well as during the pre-production phase when establishing artistic direction. A level of scrutiny and goal-oriented discussion with a potential collaborator is required in order to ascertain whether both parties share the same artistic intent. This goal-oriented discussion is a measure to limit one of the risks of crowdsourcing, which, as observed by Howe, can be the fostering of mediocrity (2008, p. 17).
Lines of communication are established differently in each of the discussed platforms. The most advanced communication tools, such as public and private chat rooms, built-in internal messaging and public forum are available on Ohm Studio. All three platforms enable users to create their own profile pages where detailed description of musical experiences and links to past projects and other web pages can be listed. As indicated by Michelle, Audiotool has more advanced communication tools scheduled for release in the future (Interview 2015); however at the moment, in the absence of private messaging, some users communicate using Facebook groups dedicated to this platform.
There is a clear link between the complexity and depth of discussions that can be had and the communication tools on offer in each of the RMCS platfroms. Such tools are crucial in enabling efficent project promotion, engaging new collaborators and negotiating project outcomes. Lack of specific communication features in a given platfrom results in a producer being likely to passively wait for prospective collaborators to find his or her project page. In my fieldwork, when communication was neglected, projects would often come to a halt or users would leave feeling that they could not articulate their own creativity.
In order to foster creativity and increase community engagement each of the platforms facilitates different forms of contests and creative events. This is particularity evident on Ohm Studio where differently themed collaborative events are promoted on a weekly basis, and on Blend where a variety of high profile recording artists regularly stage contests and upload stems of their compositions to be remixed or new compositions to be developed with a crowdsourced approach. My experience of participating in platform-facilitated events indicates that they are associated with higher levels of user engagement, in comparison to privately created and managed projects. As such, participation in these events is an important way of fostering relationships within the community of users.
The collaborative methodologies facilitated by RMCS represent a major leap forward in regards to creative options available to music producers. Social networking, comprehensive communication tools and avenues for jamming and remixing can foster musical understanding, and enable experimentation and the pooling of knowledge towards a common goal. Since anyone can join projects set up as ‘public’, cloud-based collaboration opens up one’s studio to unforeseen musical guests who can contribute innovation, skills and equipment. In addition to contributing their musical knowledge, participants bring their unique instruments and sound.
All RMCS platforms are relatively new. Ohm Studio was publicly launched just over a year ago and Blend is still in a public beta testing phase. However, they are undergoing regular updates, indicating that new features will continue improving the existing functionality. I do not deny that there are challenges associated with collaborative songwriting and music production within RMCS. My own strategy to maintain the quality control is to remain in the role of the executive producer in the projects that I initiate. As such, I am able to have the final opinion on all introduced creative directions. At the same time, I am positively surprised by the generosity of musicians that form the creative communities associated with RMCS. This generosity is expressed in the willingness to spend a considerable amount of time on experimentation and project development, typically without any desire to discuss financial issues.
The large and growing number of users, free access to advanced sound editing features and the availability of new forms of engagement contribute to the disruptive potential of RMCS. The inclusion of social networks increases the engagement of participants and is likely an appealing factor for users. However promising software enabling remote collaboration is, its ultimate potential lies in coupling of the collaborative GUI features and technical solutions with thriving online communities and appropriate social networking tools. As demonstrated, various platforms implement social networking in a variety of ways, and the successful implementation of this functionality has a strong correlation to facilitating engagement of previously unknown musical partners.
My experience of producing music on a semi-professional level in the past decade without RMCS resonates with the argument presented by Carson that working with a DAW in a home-based studio is an isolating experience (2014). The use of RMCS led to changes in my compositional workflow. My songwriting process has become substantially more social and open. I am exposing my work to the input of other musicians with all its associated possibilities and unpredictability. My collaborative processes have shifted, as I am no longer restricted by geographical boundaries. Earlier in my producing career I often found that collaborators typically met offline before commencing an online exchange of ideas and sound files. However, it is apparent that there is a significant shift in this interaction in the sense that such offline meetings are no longer a prerequisite to building trust and achieving fulfilling musical outcomes.
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