Interview with Dan Zaccagnino & JJ Rosen at Rethink-Music
TMV reporter Joel Flynn caught up with Indaba’s Co-founder Dan Zaccagnino as well as the companies CEO J.J Rosen at the inaugural Rethink Music conference held in Boston last week. The indepth conversation continues below….
What is Indaba Music? You could describe it initially in terms of its application form, i.e. “a cloud-based recording studio“. However, that wouldn’t really be doing the platform justice, as the company points out, since the technology is just part of the mix. More importantly, according to co-founder Dan Zaccagnino and CEO J.J. Rosen, it’s Indaba’s collaborative role for musicians working online that really shapes the company’s existence, that is, as a community.
While on a Colbert Report guest appearance earlier in the company’s history, Zaccagnino mentioned the Zulu word “indaba” as loosely translating to “a collaborative form”. Having grown from 125,000 users at the time of the Colbert Report appearance (which was subsequently remixed through Indaba!), the company has seen a sizeable growth of its worldwide network of musicians. At the time of the 2011 Rethink Music Conference, a first-time event hosted by the Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA from April 25-27, Indaba Music community now numbers over 600,000 members.
TheMusicVoid’s Joel Flynn had the opportunity to sit down with both Dan and J.J. for a brief interview at Rethink. Both offered insights on recent discussions and developments taking place in the cloud-based perspectives of digital collaboration and education, creator’s rights, and the overall future of music in digital contexts.
TMV: Thanks to both of you for your time here today, as there have been a number of great discussions – including Indaba’s story – that seem to be just getting going. First off, perhaps we can start with the obvious question of “What is Indaba?” And, furthermore, where is the company positioning itself w/respect to the music industry and digital online innovation?
JJ Rosen: Indaba Music is a community for musicians. There’s over half a million musicians that have set up profiles and have accounts on Indaba Music and they use it for a variety of different purposes. One of the most common is to meet other musicians and collaborate with them. There’s a lot of great songs that have been written with writers that met through Indaba members around the world, and then they make great recordings of these songs.
The phase we’re in with Indaba right now is to try to add more pieces to the value chain to allow our musicians to do more things they’d like to accomplish. In that vein we recently launched sales and distribution where we now facilitate music that our members create through iTunes. We deliver their music at their demand into iTunes. We have mp3 sales widgets, we allow them to sell their songs wherever they like on the web using our widget.
Recently we’ve gotten into what we call the “opportunity marketplace”. This is one of the most exciting areas parts about Indaba right now, and one of our most heavily used areas that we have. We are connecting our half million musicians with opportunities with 3rd parts that are looking to source music. This includes music for TV shows, TV commercials, video games, any 3rd party use of content. Our musicians score and write new compositions, record new songs for these opportunities. And also we’re building up a sound library that we license to 3rd parties for this use.
TMV: A recent headline has been the development that has happened with Amazon and their cloud-based servces. Indaba is essentially a cloud-based venture, so could you explain what’s going on with Indaba’s role in that story?
Dan Zaccagnino: Sure. As everyone is kind of well aware now, Amazon had problems with EC2, their cloud storage system (going offline) that impacted a number of websites both large and small. Indaba was one of those websites, and so there was a down time of just about 24 hours which is obviously not desirable when the main thing your company does is operate a website!
But I think one of the things that drew a lot of interest to Indaba around this story was rather than just kind of leaving the site as is, we took a different approach. We put up a webpage instead of our homepage that gave musicians something to do. So every musician that came to Indaba could download a pack of different audio stems: a bass part, a drum part… different musical elements, that they could then take and write a song about how they felt about the fact that Amazon was down and that they didn’t have Indaba for the day.
So it was a real interesting dialog we created with our users, and we also sent them over to Facebook so they could talk with other musicians and we could communicate with them about what was going on. I think it really highlights something that’s really important to us, which is the community, and that’s the foundation for what we have. The technology is great, but without interacting and engaging with each other, it’s just a technology platform. Creating that dialog where we could communicate with our users through facebook and also give them something fun to do drew a lot of attention to Indaba, which was great to get some press out of.
I think in the bigger picture the thing that it really highlights something that is important to us. The cloud isn’t this magical solution for everything, it’s just another data center. For example, when we were on Rackspace a car drove into Rackspace’s server farm and took down a bunch of big websites. The cloud doesn’t solve those problems, the same issues of redundancy and needing to prepare for these situations still exists. So we were just lucky that someone in our office had this really great idea to make it an interesting 24 hours instead of a catastrophe.
TMV: How did come about spotting the need in the music community for an online offering like Indaba Music?
Dan: Well, I’ve been a musician since I was ten years old, and I got really into recording when I was in high school. I realized that when living in Connecticut, I didn’t have (access to) these incredible resources of other musicians, but when I was in New York and then went to school in Boston, there were these vibrant communities of local musicians.
So one of the things that I often did was invite these people into the studio – whether it was my studio or someone else’s – to record parts over songs (tracks) that I had already recorded. And along with another one of my co-founders, who was a college roommate of mine, I guy came in and said he was happy to play on the songs, but had already recorded a bunch of versions (ahead of time, with his own recording tools). We listened to all these versions and they were amazing. So my friend turned to me and said, “Why did he even have to come here? We couldn’t we have just sent him those tracks?”
At the same time this was happening there was all this interesting activity in social networking and the ability to find people, whether it’s for dating or to find friends and people you already knew. We just started to look at this whole landscape and realized that there’s more music being created than at any other point in history and technology is also making it easier to connect with other people through the web and also making it easier to transfer files. So the idea that two musicians needing to be in the studio wasn’t a requirement.
Now, this doesn’t mean we’re trying to replace what it’s like to be in the same room as another musician, because we’re absolutely not. But for the kind of multi-track file trading that’s been going on for a long time, there was no centralized place to do that. So connecting the social network of musicians with this collaborative feature was really the core idea, and it really came about because we were experiencing it ourselves as musicians.
TVM: Where do you see the role of other sorts of cloud-based environments, such VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) with remote virtualized desktops running applications like ProTools across a network to a community of users. Does this kind of distributed remote environment present a competitive threat to Indaba Music?
I think for Indaba, our main investment and the thing that we’ve cultivated and the thing that we’ve been successful at is creating this community. And having that community is much more important than the technology. We don’t care if people use ProTools, or Logic, or if they use our web-based DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), we’re just trying to bring people together to facilitate this kind of creation. And so if there was a distributed ProTools on the cloud, then it could be great for us to work with and interact with and connect with our community.
The other big thing about our community and that makes it so defensible is that musicians have really come to trust us. In addition to helping them find collaborators, they now want us to help them distribute it to iTunes, sell it to their fans, print CDs, and ultimately get professional opportunities, such as, collaborating with Yo-Yo Ma, to remixing Peter Gabriel, to writing songs for NFL teams. The ability to bring those opportunities to musicians is something that isn’t really reliant on the desktop, or mobile, or cloud-based applications. It’s something that we’ve been able to do by working with the established music industry and innovative and forward-thinking brands, and then by bringing [our] community to people who need music and enabling them to interact with it in really creative ways.
So to answer the question more simply: the technology is important and its something where we are always thinking about it and are on the cutting edge of, but the most important thing to us is developing this community and creating the relationships with these artists.
TMV: As for right issues around the technology and the content, what does your average Indaba musician know about the rights issues of what their doing with these remixing building blocks i.e. in terms of who own what and what their ownership stake in the creative activities would be… nor might not be?
JJ: It’s a good question, and how we deal with rights issues varies from what the opportunities are in Indaba (i.e. the “opportunity market”) that we’re currently talking about.
When we do a remix context with a label or an artist and we get the stems and publish elements of the song for our musicians to utilize, the terms are very clear. Our artists are not allowed to monetize the output and they don’t have the license to exploit it in any way outside of Indaba.
But in other cases where people are using the community for social networking for and through each other, record and write music together, there it’s very different. They’re not allowed to use samples or existing compositions, but they’re creating new content which they then have an interest in going forward.
There’s not going to be one standard policy across the board because we want the flexibility to work with different 3rd parties and do different things. But each area of the site and each general to specific kind of opportunity will have its own specific rules.
TMV: Earlier today in the “Alternative Compensation Schemes” panel, Jim Griffin made a statement to the effect of “If it works at a school, that’s a pretty good test.”* You also mentioned Indaba emerging out of things you and your musician friends and college roommates were doing. Is indaba actively targeting this college music market as a sort of natural fit?**
* Griffin’s actual quote was: “You will know when you have hit the solution on the head when it works in schools. The net comes from schools, Napster comes from schools, facebook comes from schools and so too will the next solution to our problems of copyright and compensation.”
** In the panel taking place following this interview, Panos Panoy of Sonicbids.com mentioned the college music market as being worth approximately $300 million in the U.S.
Yeah, definitely it’s a natural step. Where Indaba started was very much with musicians who were already somewhat proficient with an instrument, had recording equipment, had high speed internet access, and had an interest in connecting with other musicians. And that’s were we’ve been most successful (that is) at the higher end of musicianship and recording.
But when you think about the number of people out there who are interested in learning an instrument and recording and instrument, (you realize) a recording musician and a performing musician are very often not the same thing. But the tools to record are so ubiquitous now that it’s much easier for some one to record that idea and share. And similarly I think the opportunities for people to engage a new instrument and learn new music are greater than ever before.
So for us, as we continue to think about how we grow from 600 thousand musicians to millions of musicians, education and teaching people how to play how, how to record, and connecting them others – whether that’s with teachers or with other students – is a big part of where Indaba is heading.
TMV: The artists who provide their content for remixing, do they play an active role in mentoring the Indaba musicians they’re essentially collaborating with?
It’s a great question, and it depends a lot on who the artist is. A couple years ago when we did a big remix contest with Mariah Carey, she wasn’t exactly engaged with the contest on a daily basis. It was something we mostly did with Island Def Jam.
But when you look at artists like Yo-Yo Ma, Peter Gabriel, and Weezer, those artists have really taken a much more active role in the community. They’ve invited musicians they’ve collaborated with on stage, to be part of their official releases.
Often times they use the site without us even knowing it, which is always interesting. Rivers Cuomo, we found out, was paying people like $219 or $247, really random numbers, to help him flesh out demo ideas he had that he could then take to (his band) Weezer for ideas for new songs. It was interesting because when he was so active, he said (to us): “People aren’t really engaging the way that I want them to.” So we said, “That’s probably because nobody believes it’s actually you”. Sure enough we told our musicians: “It’s actually Rivers and he really wants your help”, then all of the sudden there’s this flurry of activity.
That’s also been successful with the band Marcy Playground. They sourced an entire remix record from Indaba, and Jon Wozniak who’s been one of our most active users has developed relationships with musicians in Australia and New Zealand and continues to work with them on an ongoing basis. That’s the most exciting thing, when they take an interest in the community beyond just the program they came in for.
Profiles from http://www.indabamusic.com/about#our-board
Indaba Music co-founder, is responsible for the overall vision and strategy of the company, and is primarily focused on Indaba’s product development and business development initiatives. Dan graduated from Harvard University where he co-founded the student run record label, Veritas Records. Throughout college he also worked for Blue Note Records and Virgin Records. Dan is an active musician, songwriter, and instrument collector, a member of The Recording Academy, and a member of the Steering Committee for the non-profit, Education Through Music.
Previously was Executive Vice President of Sony Music Entertainment’s Commercial Music Group where he oversaw the group’s digital marketing activities as well as the core strategic marketing and business development efforts, including the company’s master synchronization licensing activities for film, television, commercials. He also supervised the Custom Marketing Group, which included managing the direct marketing business and its products, partners and strategy. Mr. Rosen joined Sony in 2002 when the company he co-founded, Run Tones, was acquired by Sony Music as part of the launch of the company’s Mobile Products Group. Prior to that, Mr. Rosen was the co-founder and a President of N2K Inc., a publicly traded music company that was acquired by CDNow. Mr. Rosen holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Economy from Tulane University, and an MBA in Finance from Rutgers University.
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