Collaborations: 1+1 = 3
While the world reels with changes due to the current global pandemic, which is an incredibly painful time, but it’s expediting a positive shift that’s taken root over the last decade. An entirely distinct, more balanced, more resilient music industry is springing up around us. It’s converged on creating communities rather than just content, and the global lockdown is only going to hasten its progress.
The leading voices in this new music industry share their processes on Instagram, Youtube and Twitch, are regularly releasing music on Bandcamp, connecting with their audiences on Discord servers, and fund their work on Patreon through the support directly from that audience. They embrace new voices into their collaborative way of working, knowing that each unique voice enriches everyone’s musical world. Collaboration has always been at the heart of making music, and now more than ever, it’s a requirement.
Recently, when Facebook announced the Collab Music Initiative, it furthers the cause of Collaborations in Music. Collaborations have existed for centuries. Earlier, making a song with someone on the other side of the world would require a 10-hour flight, a couple of taxis, a professional translator, and enough money to book a studio for a few hours at your destination. Now the trickiest part merely is coinciding time zones. The whole idea behind the creation of a differentiated work stems from a collaborative effort. Typically there are two schools of thought for the musicians — Solo and a Group. Taking a composition view on them would mean a Folk View (Individualistic) and a Collaborative View (Teamwork), which means one dimension and multiple dimensions.
The Concept of Collaborations
The science behind collaborations is driven by the evidence that a certain amount of uniqueness or new areas of musical works can only be developed through multiple artist engagements. The partnerships allow the musicians to experiment with unique sounds and styles and expand their creative horizons. This leads to breaking existing monotonous patterns, entering new markets, and developing new audiences. Many times creativity becomes repetitive. Learning from engineers or scientists who have a big belief attached to finding the next big vaccine or innovation, artists refresh their vows to remain on their creative path by finding inspiration through other creative minds.
Academic Institutions, Music Accelerator programs, Incubators, and Creative Startups are designed to invoke fresh thinking. Creative artists have always ventured into these spaces created to bring new perspectives not just in songwriting but also in ideation. The critical element for collaborations and creative artists is enhancing innovation and building on the perception that exists.
In the last decade and from many conversations, Hans Zimmer and Pharrell William’s discussion on collaborations stand out as both go on to collaborate. Williams looks at this concept as “Light Towers” and expresses that people who show light in the right direction are the most significant contributors; if one is willing to listen, they can reach the desired destination.
Zimmer and Williams express this further, “Spending time with Pharrell is like experiencing a hurricane of ideas. His music is borne out of a thirst for the knowledge of everything — painting, writing, science, psychology, history. But it’s not a cold intellect that informs his art. At the center is a constant real concern for the human condition, and the charm he brings to his work is grounded in genuine love for his fellow man — Zimmer.”
“Hans is one of the most gracious spirits that I’ve ever come into contact with. His belief, support, and generosity with projects, and his willingness to be patient with me and teach me, has just been an experience… I don’t know how to put it into words. His generosity is just unmatched — Williams.”
The essential factor here is, the mutual respect they have for each other ever since they worked together and Happy became a phenomenon.
Among many, in India, we have two creatively innovative minds Ranveer Singh, and Navzar Eranee, who have made significant contributions to the rise of Hip Hop in India and reached the 92nd Academy Awards through a Bollywood’s Gully Boy, a Zoya Akhtar Film scripted with Reema. Rapper Nas joined in as the film’s Co-Producer. The exciting aspect here is the collaborative synergy between the innovators. Ahead of the movie, their partnership dates back to the campaign created for Jack and Jones, Don’t Hold Back. This product was hugely successful and created a new dimension of brand-music integration through multiple milestones hit by the team, including Anushka and Shikhar Manchanda. Four New Artists Devil The Rhymer, SlowCheeta, Spitfire & Kaaam Bhaari were introduced.
Bollywood and Classical Music
Bollywood is full of stories of collaborative works. Musical diversities that have led to deep friendships and lifelong relationships. Trust, Loyalty, and Dependability are the critical ingredients to the success of any collaborations. Global Artists like Akon, Snoop Dogg, Kylie Minogue have collaborated with the significant Indian producers and stars in the past, this continues into the future.
Just like startup partners, success, and failure are dependent upon how deep the commitment, trust, and protection of Partner’s interest. Music Collaborations provide this great learning to all businesses through its integrated and ethical approach.
Among India’s most celebrated music producers is legendary R.D. Burman. His versatile style of music touched many styles and genres, including Arabic, American Country Music, Folk Music, and Mainstream Pop. Not only he created timeless music, but he also had terrific collaborations with Lyricist Gulzar, Singers Lata Mangeshkar, Kishor Kumar & Asha Bhosle, Film Director Nazir Hussain, Bollywood Superstar Rajesh Khanna. Aka Pancham Da, not only his music was magical, it still continues to inspire multiple generations of upcoming musicians. The legacy and memories that continue are stories of great collaborations and magical moments.
Classical Music collaborations date back to the 1800s, and multiple composers would rarely work on the same compositions. Few that stand out are:
- Hexameron, a set of variations for solo piano on a theme from Vincenzo Bellini’s opera I Puritani. It was written and first performed in 1837 by Franz Liszt, Frédéric Chopin, Carl Czerny, Sigismond Thalberg, Johann Peter Pixis, and Henri Herz.
- F-A-E Sonata, a sonata for violin and piano, written in 1853 as a gift for the violinist Joseph Joachim. The composers were Albert Dietrich (first movement), Robert Schumann (second and fourth movements), and Johannes Brahms (third movement).
Popular Music has an extensive integration of collaborative works. Not only as groups, but solo musicians tend to enhance their skills by collaborating with other artists. Many times such associations are out of their comfort zone, geographies, and languages.
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Artists and Independents in India
India’s Independent Music Industry is not shying away from collaborations either. Recently 66 music producers from the country got together to create a compilation unlike any other. Ketan Bahirat came up with the idea of collaborating with 21 different music producers in April, and they all decided to create a pool of 22 samples and made 22 tracks using all the samples within 2 days! Sounds exhaustive, but 22–2 team has now upped the ante and for their second volume have put together 44 producers together to do the same thing! This resulted in two distinct compilations coming out of their collaborative challenge. One was released on June 19th, while the other comes out on July 3rd. It is interesting to see 66 musicians come together to make music for the sake of making music, but they also work with Graphic Designers and Motion Graphic Designers. And all of these efforts are raising funds that are being donated to NGOs like Goonj, Mukti, and Bandcamp (to help them raise money for the NAACP Defense Legal Fund.
Collaborations are also crossing different media to create a unique entity. Another excellent example can be seen with Antariksha Sanchar. It is a trans-media project envisioned by visual arts director Avinash Kumar (Thiruda) and electronic music producer Sri Rama Murthy (Murthovic), Red Bull Presents Antariksha Sanchar has toured across Mumbai, Delhi, and Bengaluru in the past two years.
The project is inspired by the rich culture of South India and the dreams of math genius Srinivasa Ramanujan as he hopes to travel from his home in early 20th Century Madurai to visit other planets in the Solar System.
India’s first fantasy Bharatanatyam Dance Opera (scored by a Carnatic-electronic fusion band led by Murthy), collaborated with visual projections provided by Avinash’s team of game developers who are creating a video game based on the storyline of the live show.
“Collaboration is to the benefit of an artist to keep learning and unlearning in their process of evolution, a surefire way of doing this is to collaborate with other artists — a real exchange on multiple planes and an inspiring space where creation rests. Besides, there is a crossover of audiences, which is not just great for the artists but for the music labels too. I find that in the process of true collaboration, I am inspired, renewed with fresh energy, bringing projects to fruition more efficiently and am walking away with a bunch of tips and tricks. It is a win-win!” — Anushka Manchanda aka NUKA
The most prominent recognition for the music industry and artists has < 30% nomination categories that work on the principle of being collaborative. They are specific like Best Rap/Song Collaborations, Pop Duo/Group Performances, or Pop Collaborations with Vocals. Since 1994, the nominations attracted one of the most exceptional musical talents in the world — Van Morrison, Sting, Ray Charles, B.B.King, Christina Aguilera, Santana, Mary J Bling, Gorillaz, Norah Jones, Steve Wonder, Robert Plant, Pink, Seal to name a few.
Recently, Grammy Recording Academy announced 9 changes in the Grammy Awards process, including collaborative work on Rap performances, which now stands revised from production to melodic rap. These collaborations can be in a group or solo.
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A trend that started in the 80s and continues to thrive is Jam Rooms. Creative Artists, Musicians, Theatre Actors, and Entrepreneurs spend an enormous amount of time rehearsing and prototyping. Jam Rooms, as a concept, is a space that allows artistic and creative freedom at the point of intubation, along with opportunities for diverse creative minds to come together and collaborate. ‘Let’s Jam Together’ expands itself to original lingo as well. We know that whenever we hear such statements, there is an invitation to create something unique, fresh, and out of the ordinary, which can break existing patterns. The Jam spreads itself into a few formations: its an economic model for physical space like a studio or gallery, a network of sorts where like-minded or diverse skill set creators can find each other, and IPR becomes a product.
In the last decade, Berklee College of Music created the Berklee Indian Ensemble. The objective of the Berklee India Exchange is to enable collaborations between the Berklee students around the globe and Indian musicians. The program also supports scholarships, music education, and workshops.
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As the music started to move on to television, it is but natural that the collaborations would find a way in the mix. One of the biggest, unique, and collaborative music productions for a TV Show came through the creative and music team at Channel [V].
The [V] Jammin in the 1990s is perhaps one of the most innovative music albums produced in the mainstream and popular music segment in Indian music history. The product got together multiple artists in distinctly different styles and created a unique track. These artists had never collaborated before this collaboration. Biggest of the Pop acts of India came together like Shaan, Sukhbir, Euphoria, Alms for Shanti, Mehnaaz, Vasundhara Das, Taufiq Qureshi, Shankar Mahadevan, Pentagram, Strings, Ila Arun, Talvin Singh, Mika, Silk Route, Sanjay Maroo, KK, Suneeta Rao, Sagarika among a few.
The future innovations in this space included the famous Coke Studio Series and Amazon Produced Remixed.
Collaboration concepts have limitless possibilities and blur the boundaries of silos in performances and styles. The compositions are unique, and the energy in performances is exceptionally diverse. Shakti, a formation of Traditional Music and Jazz, is one of the many examples where the artists have created their own unique signature style, created new genres, and created new landscapes of musicality and high energy live performances. Versatile Artists Shankar Mahadevan, Zakir Hussain, John McLaughlin, and U. Srinivas created magic with their collaborations.
In 2011, Rolling Stone Magazine did a poll to see which collaborations they find the best in the history of music, and the readers came with inspiring names.
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Cross-Genre collaborations are of high interest to global artists. It is not limited to musicality, but opens new languages and markets and creates fans collaborations for artists. Last year we saw interest in many such artist partnerships, bringing down the internet on social media engagements, conversations, and blocking media narratives as they broke the existing perception barriers. (1) BTS and Halsey — Boy With Love, (2) Lil Nas X and Billy Ray — Old Town Road, (3) Young Thug and Elton John — High, (4) Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul Mccartney — Four Five Seconds, (5) Jay Z and Eminem — Encore / Numb, (6) Britney Spears and Madonna — Me Against The Music, (7) Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow — Picture, (8) Music Fonsi feat. Justin Bieber — Despacito, (9) Avicci and Aloe Blacc — Wake Me Up, (10) Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong — Summertime (11) J Balvin and Willy William — Me Gente, are few of the fantastic works musicians have created.
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Language and Regional Music in many parts of the world, including India, embed influences of cultures, instrumentation, and styles. Not only does it reflect the identity that the musicality gets created, but it also has a loud voice to its character. Punjabi Music is an example of global references in production, choreography, videography, and storytelling. With strong ties to the film industry, Music from this region is cross border, collaborative and reflects brotherhood. Very much like the genres in the west developed and stood for something very unique, Rock, Pop, Punk, Hip Hop, Punjabi Music carries a global collaboration theme. From the early Bhangra Beats to creating improvisations and breaking new talent, this genre has created creative unification rules. Jazzy B’s contribution to the global music business is unparalleled, and it is perhaps due to his early involvement, the international collaborations found a prominent place in the music business.
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The Internet and Being Social
From the beginning of time, the internet creates a seamless environment for global collaborations. The technology used rightfully brings efficiency for global creativity between the creator, audiences, and advertisers.
The earliest reference of internet-based collaborations dates back to the mid-1990s. The Internet Band, aka Online Band, made collaborations through digital networks and the world wide web. They used a Creative Commons license to share samples using data networks and collaboration of works. Nora Farrell and William Duckworth created Cathedral, perhaps the first online collaborative work using the World Wide Web. Their goal was to create an interactive website where any musician can use any samples to create their music. This would extend to online performances and the creation of a placeholder on the web as acoustics music.
Cathedral went online in June 1997 to stream audio-video, animation, images, and text. Globally, the internet, at that time, had < 1MN Websites, and < 2% were capable of playing any sound. This was soon followed by the Peer-to-Peer revolution with Napster, a clear voice of the music fans bringing music and collaborations on the internet. MySpace, YouTube, iTunes followed building the digital business. Social Media, which drives the most amount of conversations today, dates back to the mid-’90s. Perhaps, Six Degrees was one of the earliest Social Networks letting users create online profiles to network.
As digital music and technology continued to grow, so did iTunes in the distribution of digital music. The initial adoption of the users on social networks like Facebook and Twitter was increasing rapidly, which Apple stepped in to innovate. Apple’s intention was to create a Social Network for the Music Artist using iTunes and have the right place of engagement between artists and fans. The Product names PING Network, because the fastest user adoption model when iTunes created > 1MN users in 48 Hours. Launched in 28 counties, this was a powerful collaborative platform for engagement and searching for music information.
Stockholm is where most of the streaming focused innovations are. Off the many startups that emerged, Soundcloud came as a refresher for Music Artist collaborations. Similar to Wordpress and Flickr, this was about music and bringing artists, music together. At the beginning of the journey, Eric Wahlfross, Co-Founder, Soundcloud, explains — “We had a lot of trouble trying to collaborate with people. Trying to use the web and getting sent music all the time. Getting it to our inboxes and getting the weird FTP logins. One day, we realized that it’s actually annoying when people send us new music they’re working on when that should be like a happy moment.”
Mobile and cloud computing that emerged simultaneously meant all the activities of creative artists and fans would move to the internet. Email Texting, Shared Docs, Pictures, Mastering, Editing are some of the great collaboration tools existing for all creative innovators. Music being the early adopter in every form of technological change, creates an excellent environment for new ideas to develop. Remote collaborations found its way into the wireless sync world. Wireless sync did two things — create engagement in a local small radius and use the internet to connect to a global audience. PubNub enabled is one such idea, Jam Machine, as expressed by the Founders, was early on building real-time collaboration for musicians creating music, while Pinterest went on to create community conversations for ideas.
Tools, Products, Platforms, and Services
While Soundation is one of the many online collaboration tools that have emerged in recent times. Others like Kompoz, Blend, Vocalizr, ProCollabs, Melboss, Soundbetter, Audiu cut across Artist Networking, Mastering, Production as a community collaboration.
Splice has been leading the market with not only a center point for musicians to collaborate, but also provide the tools for production on a rent-to-own model and specific subscription models to pick up sounds from musicians around the world.
Spotify has also entered the market by buying Soundtrap and has provided a podcast and recording studio on its website, with unlimited storage being offered in their free tier.
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Alicia Rius, Co-Founder of SoundStorming explains — We connect this fragmented world of music collaboration, streaming, and discovery in one place. There is an unbelievable amount of content out there, but it’s scattered. It’s a massive problem for artist discovery. SoundStorming is a way for artists to connect with fans, engage with others, and be discovered.
This we are moving to a new world heavily dependent on the Internet, always connected, and has a unique way Artists and Fans Collaborate. It will be safe to assume that from hereon,> 30% of New Music will come collaborations and performed, recorded anywhere. As we complete + 40 Years of Walkman that created portability of music and conversations, iPod + iTunes created accelerated a compressed music movement, Internet goes deeper in engagements, Zylia is a new dimension in how music can be recorded or making studio portable to creating music anywhere, anyhow and on-demand.
We have come full circle to where we began the conversations on collaborations in the history of music and humanity. Pandemics have created a new market segment where musicians are thriving on partnerships. The media speaks of this segment as the Lifeline of the Musicians at this point, which is helping them stay creative and engaged. Zoom’s immediate adoption changes the face of music in many different ways, from Artist Live Shows to Creative Discussions to Real-Time Collaborations and their Live Streams. This has triggered a new wave of Creative Artists, Fans, and Technology Engagement, where significant platforms and services will step in. On one end, there is going to be a world of existing libraries and curation activities on top where Engagement will play a significant role, including enhancements like Podcast and Unbundled Raw Content.
Applications like Audiomover’s ListenTo provide a way around the latency issues musicians face while collaborating over Zoom. It is so invigorating that technology comes up with a solution in the time of need.
The other dimension is going to the rising power of Artist — Fan Direct, ENTER Patreon, and the new world order driven between the Hybridisation and likes of Zoom, Podhero, and Fortnite.
Fortnite and Club Matryoshka
On April 23, more than 12 million players of the battle-royale video game Fortnite put down their guns to watch a digital avatar of Travis Scott teleport around a beach, tower against a blood-red sky, and launch audience members into outer space. It was all part of a 10-minute virtual concert, the game’s most significant event ever, according to Fortnite maker Epic Games. All told, including four replays spread across three days, 27.7 million unique gamers attended the digital gig 45.8 million times!
Another excellent example of musicians collaborating with others and using technology has resulted in the formation of Club Matryoshka. Club Matryoshka is unlike any other bar. It has no cover charge, overpriced cocktails, or annoying strobe lights. Most of all, it can’t be found on any street in the world, but in a private Minecraft server created by musicians in Manila looking for an alternative space to share their work.
The music producer and head of the BuwanBuwan music collective created Club Matryoshka with fellow musicians Ahju$$i, Cavill, and dot.jaime. The name is a reference to Russian matryoshka dolls, which are mimicked in the virtual establishment’s seemingly never-ending rooms. On the other hand, the club’s facade is a mashup between Berlin’s Berghain nightclub, Alcatraz, a museum, library, and dungeon.
Collaboration can multiply any musicians’ growth, and thanks to the technology we have today, the workflow has become increasingly convenient in this post-pandemic world, and musicians can connect with other artists and their fans easily.
It will be exciting to see what the new normal is going to be bringing forth to the world of collaboration…
- The contents of this post are personal views of the author and the collaborator.
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