New tech­nol­ogy lets mu­si­cians of all abil­i­ties col­lab­o­rate across con­ti­nents — and get paid if they cre­ate a hit, writes David Sin­clair

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music -

SO, I’ve just writ­ten and recorded a song with Ste­wart Copeland, drum­mer with the Po­lice, and now he’s talk­ing to me on the phone from Los Angeles. “Have we got a hit?” he asks. “How do we divvy up the Gram­mys?” Al­though Copeland and I have col­lab­o­rated to cre­ate a song called Fri­day Call, and made a video of us per­form­ing it to­gether, we haven’t ac­tu­ally done so in the same room, or even on the same con­ti­nent. We have done it through the mod­ern-day magic of a new app called WholeWorldBand.

WholeWorldBand is a plat­form that en­ables mu­si­cians to record and in­ter­act with each other in a vir­tual world that cir­cum­vents all phys­i­cal and ge­o­graph­i­cal bar­ri­ers. It also cre­ates a level play­ing field on which big-name pro­fes­sion­als such as Ron­nie Wood, Brian Eno, Dave Ste­wart, Pas­sen­ger, Gemma Hayes and Ethan Johns per­form on an equal foot­ing with fledg­ling acts and un­known am­a­teurs.

The app is still in beta (test) mode, and for the time be­ing can only be ac­cessed with an iPad. But al­ready it is at­tract­ing singers, song­writ­ers and mu­si­cians of all stripes and abil­i­ties like moths to a flame. Any­one can join in, and with such com­par­a­tive ease that, given a fair wind, it could trig­ger a revo­lu­tion in the way mu­sic is cre­ated and con­sumed.

So how does it work? The mu­si­cian sets up an iPad and videos them­selves play­ing or singing. It could be a fin­ished song per­formed with a gui­tar ac­com­pa­ni­ment; an un­fin­ished melody sung a cap­pella; a chord se­quence; a drum track; a key­board line; even the sketchi­est of gui­tar parts. This is called a “seed track”. The artist posts it on the WWB plat­form, in­vites other mu­si­cians to add to it, then waits.

Mean­while, you can add your con­tri­bu­tion to other people’s seed tracks, as I did, adding my own vo­cal melody, lyrics and gui­tar chords to Copeland’s drum track. Once this has been done, the var­i­ous con­tri­bu­tions can be com- bined (mixed) into “mo­saics”, so a song — or maybe even sev­eral com­pletely dif­fer­ent songs — grad­u­ally emerges.

WholeWorldBand is the brain­child of Kevin Godley, the ac­claimed video di­rec­tor, song­writer and main­stay of 10cc. The gen­e­sis of the idea goes back to a com­mis­sion he re­ceived in 1990 to make a BBC2 tele­vi­sion pro­gram to il­lus­trate the no­tion that mu­sic is a “global lan­guage”. Godley came up with an idea called One World One Voice, which was es­sen­tially a mu­si­cal chain let­ter. He started record­ing a piece of mu­sic with a film crew, then trav­elled around the world, pick­ing up other mu­si­cians and adding their con­tri­bu­tions to the track in ev­ery place they stopped.

“The fin­ished re­sult was ex­cit­ing,” Godley re­calls, “but the idea ir­ri­tated me to a cer­tain ex­tent, in that the mu­sic was set in stone. It was fin­ished. And there was some­thing about the process that felt as if it should be able to con­tinue. Mu­sic shouldn’t al­ways be a fi­nite ex­pe­ri­ence. It should be some­thing people can tap into and add to and sub­tract from and change at will. But that was sci­ence fic­tion at that time.”

In 2008, Godley re­alised tech­nol­ogy was rapidly catch­ing up with his idea of a con­tinu-

ous mu­si­cal chain let­ter. He filmed him­self with a dig­i­tal cam­era and sent the footage to a friend in Amer­ica, who tried to add some gui­tar chords. It wouldn’t sync up. With sub­se­quent at­tempts and re­fine­ments, how­ever, us­ing tech­nol­ogy that is now com­mon­place, the idea has fi­nally be­come vi­able. “My re­vis­ited dream has be­come a re­al­ity,” Godley says, as if he doesn’t quite be­lieve it’s hap­pened him­self.

He as­sem­bled a small team of tech­ni­cal and mu­sic ex­perts based in Dublin, and se­cured fi­nan­cial back­ing from in­dus­try heavy­weights in­clud­ing Paul McGuinness and Trevor Bowen, of Prin­ci­ple Man­age­ment (which has looked af­ter U2 for more than 30 years), Cyril McGuire and oth­ers. Godley de­cided that all in­ter­ac­tions on the plat­form should be mon­e­tised. “Record — Mix — Earn” is its slo­gan: an ethos that goes against the pre­vail­ing trend for on­line ac­tiv­ity in­volv­ing recorded mu­sic to be a cost and earn­ings-free zone.

The sums in­volved at this stage are nom­i­nal. The app is cur­rently free to down­load. To put up your own seed track costs €0.18 (about 30c). To make a con­tri­bu­tion to some­body else’s track — as I did to Copeland’s — costs up to a few dol­lars. Ap­ple takes 30 per cent of the ses­sion fee and WWB takes up to 25 per cent, leav­ing net earn­ings of about 45 per cent to be shared be­tween the seed-track artist and mu­si­cians whose con­tri­bu­tions have been used in the var­i­ous mixes (mo­saics).

Should an artist wish to record and re­lease a WholeWorldBand song in the real world, sep­a­rate to the plat­form, there are buy­out clauses and copy­right agree­ments de­signed to pro­vide an eq­ui­table di­vi­sion of earn­ings, roy­al­ties and ses­sion fees in most en­su­ing sce­nario one can think of — short of divvy­ing up the Gram­mys.

The no­tion of a pay-to-par­tic­i­pate struc­ture has drawn crit­i­cism from some com­men­ta­tors, who would pre­fer any mu­si­cal ser­vice pro­vided on­line to be free at the point of de­liv­ery as a mat­ter of prin­ci­ple.

The process is at such an early stage in its de­vel­op­ment, and so rev­o­lu­tion­ary in its scope, it is dif­fi­cult to pre­dict how it might ul­ti­mately be of most gen­eral use. Clearly, DIY artists can use it to record and pro­mote them­selves. But if it were to spread far and wide enough, Godley’s idea that recorded songs should live on and change and evolve over time, in­stead of be­ing a “fin­ished prod­uct”, could con­ceiv­ably be­come com­mon­place. Fans could cre­ate their own pre­ferred ver­sions of their favourite act’s songs. The vis­ual di­men­sion would en­able film­mak­ers or ad­ver­tis­ers to put up clips with di­a­logue or other footage and in­vite con­tri­bu­tions for a sound­track. Bands or pro­duc­ers want­ing to au­di­tion mu­si­cians could use it to nar­row down their search far more quickly and ef­fi­ciently than re­quir­ing ap­pli­cants to travel to a par­tic­u­lar lo­ca­tion. Song­writ­ing part­ner­ships and record­ing ses­sions could evolve across coun­tries and time zones. Artist and reper­toire de­part­ments could trawl the plat­form in search of po­ten­tial hits be­fore they had even been writ­ten.

Copeland is ex­ited by what he calls the democratis­ing po­ten­tial of WWB. “This ap­pli­ca­tion brings mu­sic closer to the people,” he says. “I think that’s a good thing, for mu­sic and for the en­joy­ment of mu­sic. It’s re­viv­ing the power of camp­fire mu­sic — that mo­ment when mu­si­cians of dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties join in, rather than sit pas­sively and watch some­body else do­ing all the work. It’s a drag for the pro­fes­sional mu­si­cian, be­cause you open the flood­gates and ev­ery­body can do it. But now ev­ery­body’s got a chance to share that cool idea.”

Ron­nie Wood, be­low, is one of sev­eral big-name mu­si­cians to have col­lab­o­rated on the WholeWorldBand


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