New York musician j.viewz and digital design agency Hello Monday have launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund an interactive website that will document the making of a new electronic album as it happens, allowing fans to contribute to tracks and listen to each song as it’s completed.
With just under two days to go, the project has received almost $62,000 in donations from 950 backers, exceeding its target of $60,000. As j.viewz (Jonathan Dagan) demonstrates in a tour of the beta site (below) the project will allow fans to follow the album's progress via a timeline, and view 'the DNA' of the album: audio and video clips and images from recording sessions, meetings and events that influence the development of tracks.
Using existing track Oh Something Quiet, Dagan reveals how a timeline might begin with the idea for a song, then at different points, reveal clips from recording sessions or experiments with vocals and harmonies, as well as the making of the video or album art for that track and incidental events which contributed to its development (Dagan met the visual artist behind the promo for Oh Something's Quiet, for example, after advertising online for a new room mate).
The site will also allow users to download audio samples to remix or use in their own music and upload photos, sounds and art. From time to time, Dagan says he will put out requests for certain sounds or imagery when looking for inspiration, allowing people to contribute to the album, comment as it develops and share content with other users.
Dagan says he came up with the idea for the project after completing a song which featured vocals from a singer he’d met on the Subway and was in part inspired by a trip to the South of France.
"I was almost ready to release the song when I thought, 'I can't release it without telling the story [behind it]. It has an artistic value, almost like the song itself," he explains.
Once the website is launched, Dagan will upload tracks in real time, as they are completed, at a rate of around one track per month for ten months. “Usually you finish a song, put it aside and wait for other ones to be completed before you release anything. It almost feels like you’re releasing old material. The concept behind this is to release songs in context - for example, if I make a summer song, I can release it that summer and not two years later," he explains.
He also hopes to launch a kind of 'creative toolkit' by uploading samples of beats and music from tracks, as well as unused material from recording sessions. “I might only use ten seconds of a two-hour drum session, but the rest of it is still valuable content, so [with the DNA project] I can share it and let other people do their own thing with it," says Dagan.
"When you make an album, it feels like 80 percent of it sits in a drawer [or on a laptop] and is never seen or heard. Of course, you want to release a crafted, edited version, but with this, I can give those by products [of the album] a little air time, too," he adds.
The DNA Project is one of a number of unusual digital experiments from Dagan, whose rendition of Massive Attack’s Teardrop, played using vegetables which he had turned instruments using a homemade kit which translates electricity signals into keyboard sounds, received over one million views on YouTube alone:
In 2012, the video for the title track from his album Rivers and Homes was nominated for a UK Music Video Award and an MTV O Music Award: after filming a video with Erin Amir and director Shelly Carmel, he printed out every frame and handed the images to fans, who were filmed holding them. Over 200 clips were assembled in a stop motion video and fans could tag themselves online.
He’s also created music using his heart as a metronome and is offering to use Kickstarter backers’ heartbeats in the album (other rewards include CD and vinyl versions of the album and a package containing an item from the making of it, such as an airline ticket, accompanied by a personal letter).
“The vegetables was just a fun experiment and it opened a lot of doors but in general, I want to stay away from anything gimmick-y - there's a fine line between making things interactive and preserving the art," says Dagan.
The site is still in beta testing but Dagan says he hopes to launch it this month and will add new songs at regular intervals until August 2015, when the finished album will be released in digital, CD and vinyl formats.
Promising to deliver a new track roughly every 30 days, and sharing the development of songs in real time is a bold move, but it's a fascinating experiment, and an unusual alternative to releasing clips or finished tracks on Spotify or Soundcloud.
Since Bjork’s pioneering Biophilia app was released in 2010, several artists have experimented with apps and digital projects: Radiohead teamed up with Universal Everything on one which guided viewers through a series of never-ending landscapes, set to music from the song Bloom, while the Roots released a narrative app telling the story of a fictional character on whom their harrowing concept album, undun, was based. Earlier this year The Smiths launched an online timeline, allowing fans to scroll through the band’s history while stopping to listen to tracks along the way.
Most of these projects, however, are designed as visual or narrative accompaniments to finished, edited albums. And while most musicians today regularly post pictures or updates from gigs, tours and recording sessions online, few, if any, have offered an in-depth, real time look at an album's progress, allowing fans to follow the making of it as it happens.
Dagan will still release the album in traditional analogue and digital formats, but the subscription based model encourages fans to regularly check on his progress, while releasing songs individually should help generare fresh excitement for new track.
By offering up sounds and samples for users to play with, the site also encourages interaction between users, creating a sense of community online and providing a kind of creative toolkit for fans and practising musicians.
It wouldn’t work for every artist, but it's a fascinating concept, and it will be interesting to see how the site is used by fans – and how Dagan maintains it – once it’s launched.
See the DNA Project on Kickstarter here.