Google+ has become the social media platform of choice for many musicians, with its Hangouts video chat feature and new Hangouts On Air feature, which enables users to post content from Hangouts to YouTube where it can be seen by millions worldwide. Many independent artists are taking advantage of this technology in new and innovative ways, completely changing the way music is created, performed and shared.
“We have been amazed to see this incredibly active and passionate community of musicians develop on Google+,” said a Google spokesperson. “Hangouts On Air has been a real game changer for musicians in particular, enabling them to share their music with audiences all over the world.”
In just one year, independent musician Daria Musk rose from obscurity to worldwide recognition by becoming one of the first to use Google+ Hangouts to hold worldwide concerts. Heather Fay, a singer-songwriter, graduate student and mother of two, was another early adopter and one of the first musicians to hold worldwide “Open Mic” sessions, which enabled her to grow her global fan base and continue to pursue her dreams.
For other musicians like Adolfo Delannoy and Andres Delannoy, who make up the Spanish rock band Lateral, Google+ is a valuable networking tool to meet other musicians and fans – but they want it to go one step further: to enable users to play in real time together across great distances. As the technology gets better exponentially and the Hangout real-time worldwide jam comes closer to reality, musicians are continuing to use Hangouts in new and innovative ways.
A worldwide concert and the evolution of Hangouts On Air
A year ago, indie musician Daria Musk was lugging an amp through the rain in upstate New York, heading to a dive bar to play in front of about 25 people when she received a phone call from her brother about Google+. After becoming one of the first artists to hold worldwide concerts through Hangouts a few days later, she is now considered the face of the DIY movement in music and is speaking at the Grammy Future Now event in Santa Monica, Calif. on June 23, along with the engineer who recorded Adele’s 21 album, Andrew Scheps, and the guy who built the Tupac hologram, Nick Smith of AV Concepts, among others.
“My life literally changed overnight,” said Musk “It is so surreal to go from sitting out in the woods of Connecticut and only my mom and a few friends and family knowing my music to today. I had people tell me that I was the first artist to break globally rather than locally.”
Musk, who is sponsored by Taylor guitars, has also been featured in Billboard magazine, performed at events like TedxRainier, and has a worldwide fan base with more than 1.5 million Google+ followers. Oh, and she ran into Grammy-award-winning director Chris Robinson (Alicia Key’s Falling, Usher, Nicki Minaj) in a Google+ Hangout and he ended up directing her first music video.
When she first came across Hangouts, she decided to try to have a worldwide concert because she “figured it would be easier than lugging my amp through the rain.” So, on July 16, 2011, she set up in a studio with her producer Don and signed in to her first Hangout. When she signed in, there was no one there. Soon, however, people from all over the world began to show up.
“The first song I ever played in a Hangout, I got global applause,” said Musk. “It was mind blowing. My heart just burst and I knew in that moment my life had changed.”
Word spread across Google+ and Musk performed for 6.5 hours while people rotated in and out of the 10 spots in the Hangout. Her innovative use of Hangouts inspired the evolution that would eventually become Hangouts On Air. She also works with Google to test audio and new functionality and even appeared in a recent Google+ commercial. Her innovative uses of Hangouts did not just stop there, however.
This past year, she brought in the New Year with people in time zones around the world, holding 19 half-hour concerts and witnessing 19 New Years countdowns. One of Musk’s fans, who she calls G+niuses, actually started a Global Map through Google maps, and everyone started tagging each other on the map during the concert.
“It was such a life-changing night with so many incredible moments,” said Musk.
At the TedxRainier event, large screens were setup behind her so people from around the world could watch her in a Hangout while she performed in front of a live audience. The speech coach from TedX warned her beforehand that “This is an intellectual crowd –don’t expect a music club audience.” When you watch the video, however, you see that people in the audience got up and began dancing in the aisles during her performance.
“It was a 360 degree musical experience with a live and global audience having a truly emotional experience together,” said Musk.
She recently released an EP titled You Move Me, (released on Google+, of course) which charted that first night and included live audio from Hangout concerts on it. She is currently working on a full-length studio album which she hopes to release in late summer or early fall and her music video is in production.
“I don’t take anything for granted. It has been so remarkable, heart opening and encouraging,” said Musk. “I constantly interact with people – music is my medium and Hangouts is the venue.”
Google+ Hangouts as a Worldwide Open Mic Session
Music has always been a part of singer-songwriter Heather Fay’s life. A graduate student and mother of two from New Haven, Connecticut, she can remember her mother singing to her when she was little and has been singing herself for as long as she can remember. She picked up a guitar as a sophomore in college and signed up for a class – although she ended up only attending twice.
“I could make sounds that I liked and I jumped right in to writing,” said Fay, who has been playing full-on since about 2008 and credits artists like Tom Waits and his songwriting as inspiring her to pursue her dreams of music. “When I discovered him, I dove into his music and the way he can lyrically express himself,” she said.
Fay was feeling guilty about the time and effort she was spending away from her family to focus on her music career and came close to abandoning her dreams. After discovering Google+, however, everything changed. Fay is considered an “early adopter” of Google’s Hangout technology and one of the first to hold Open Mic sessions with other musicians from around the world, which is how she met many musicians that she regularly interacts with now.
She was also a beta tester for Hangouts On Air, has worked with Google to test audio upgrades to the Hangout technology and was even featured on the official Google Blog on Mother’s Day. Most importantly, she is able to pursue her dreams and balance her family life, reaching a worldwide audience and community from the comfort of her home.
“Music has been my lifesaver, it is such a part of who I am,” said Fay. “On Google Plus, there is this resurgence of people who couldn’t pursue their dreams, but now are able to.”
She recently did an Open Mic Hangout with an entirely new group of musicians, some hailing from as far away as Australia and Japan. For the musician from Japan, it was his first ever Hangout. He initially just stopped in to see what it was about but ended up performing at the Open Mic.
“When musicians come on for the first time, it is so cool when they have this ‘aha’ moment of discovery and realize that this is going to change everything,” said Fay. “It’s not only a cool thing technology-wise, but on a human level to see people with child-like excitement about being able to pursue their dreams is amazing.”
Her husband has seen how much Google Plus has changed her life and is a big supporter, and a recent photo shoot with her daughter inspired a new music video for a song on her upcoming album. Fay previously released an album titled Scrape Knee’d Girl, and plans to release the new album this summer or fall.
“I’m reaching this new worldwide audience,” she said. “This is the future.”
The elusive worldwide jam: Can Google make it happen?
While Google Plus has been groundbreaking for solo artists, it has been more difficult for bands to collaborate through Hangouts, especially if they live far apart like brothers Adolfo and Andres Delannoy, who make up the Spanish rock band Lateral. Adolfo lives in Los Angeles, while Andres is studying to get his PHD in Physics at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland and lives in Ferney-Voltaire, France. Utilizing tools like Pro Tools, Dropbox and online video, the two are able to collaborate and produce tracks across far distances, but playing together in person in a Google+ Hangout is still not possible.
“The first thing I thought when I heard about Hangouts was that I wanted to get five people together and play together live,” said Adolfo. “As soon as you try it, though, you realize that it can’t work – the sound reaches the other people with a delay.”
The question remains, is this something that Google can fix? Correcting the time difference is hard, but it can be done says Adolfo, who refers to a module box called the jamLink that enables up to four people to play together in real time as long as all four buy the box and each has a speedy internet collection.
“We don’t have a similar product but the team is working hard to address this issue,” said a Google spokesperson when asked about the jamLink technology. “The drawback is one that is unfortunately inherent in any technology today – even in cell phones. The time lapse could also be associated with bandwidth issues based on the individuals’ connections.”
Adolfo says that jamming in real life with people all over the world is at the top of his “musician wish list.”
“It would revolutionize the way musicians interact, increase collaboration and promote creating music,” said Adolfo. “Imagine if all of a sudden you can jam or improvise with random musicians from different locations around the world. It’s mind boggling that we’re not at that point yet.”
In the meantime, Lateral continues to make music together from opposite ends of the world. When Adolfo gets an idea, he records himself playing guitar on a video camera, and then sends it by email to Andres in France. They use Dropbox to share the files, and once Andres listens to it, he learns how to play the song by ear and adds some new parts. The guitar and bass are laid down and uploaded to a database of tracks in the cloud. Finally, the song is sent to other musicians for other instruments such as drums, using the same method.”
The two brothers have been playing music together for about 13 years. It all started around 1998-1999 when a band that Adolfo was in broke up during his first year of college. He noticed Andres, who was in high school at the time, had picked up the guitar and became very good very quickly. Soon they started jamming, Andres began writing parts of songs and they began practicing with a drummer named Omar Alayon almost every weekend. They toured Puerto Rico from 2003-2006, built a following, and recorded an 8-song EP which they gave out for free.
Lateral has a full length album and a three-song EP that was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, and also recorded several more EPs in a home studio. The next step for Lateral is a music video, adding art to their album and printing copies and placing it in I-Tunes. They haven’t let long distances destroy their dreams of music and can’t wait until they can play live over the internet no matter where they are in the world.
“I’ve seen great bands break up when people get frustrated, or tired of touring and eventually move away with their families,” said Adolfo. “This technology could allow great musicians to re-connect and continue to release great music.”
HIRL: Hangouts in Real Life
Google Plus Hangouts aren’t just happening online – they have also inspired people with similar passions to meet in real life, or HIRL. Heather Fay and Daria Musk shared a stage at a HIRL event in February in New York. People from all over the world came for the weekend event, even from as far as Vienna, Austria.
“It felt very different and genuine because we had hung out in Hangouts prior to meeting in person,” said Fay. “It was almost like family reunion, there was a lot of conversation and growth.”
There are plans to have another one in the fall. There are not only HIRLS for musicians, but for other passions as well.
“In addition to musicians, photographers have been a prominent community to develop on G+,” said a Google spokesperson. “There have been photowalks and conferences that have all come about because of the community that initially found each other on Google+.”