Saturday, March 31, 2012

It's A Virtual Thing

Some of them have never met. Some have spoken by telephone, but most have only corresponded by e-mail or a social network site. They don’t know each other personally, yet they play music together as a band, record songs and shoot videos of those songs.
How is it possible that people from different parts of the world can play and sing the same song in a video, yet none of them have ever been in the same room as the others? In fact, they can accomplish this without any of them traveling outside of their own homes.

The Internet and broadband connections offer possibilities that would not otherwise exist. Now, musicians can perform together in virtual collaborations, even if they never meet in person. Such an arrangement can open new opportunities for musicians – opportunities for musical growth, pure enjoyment, and for one man, a professional ‘dream’ gig.

The first such collaboration that caught my attention was a band called ‘Virtual Zeppelin’. The band is made up of five men - three from the USA, one from Canada, and one from Japan. They shared a common passion – the music of Led Zeppelin – a shared passion that encouraged them to record together as a band, even though they lived far from their virtual bandmates.

‘Virtual Zeppelin’ began when two guitarists – John from Texas and Jun from Japan – and singer/guitarist James Dylan of Virginia, admired each other’s You Tube videos.

John (owner of the guitar websites, and “I saw his [Jun’s] 'Hearbreaker solo' video and he saw my 'No Quarter Live' video on YouTube. We both sent a message to each other.”

Singer James Dylan also discovered Jun and his music at about the same time.

I remember finding Jun's channel on You Tube and I was so impressed by what I heard that I wrote him a message asking him if he wanted to record some music together. Jun put together the rest of the band.”

'Virtual Zeppelin'
‘Virtual Zeppelin’s first collaboration video was 'Ten Years Gone' in April 2008. They recorded a number of additional videos, available for viewing in the Video Vault, or on You Tube, including: 'Over the Hills and Far Away', 'Misty Mountain Hop' , 'Black Dog' , and many others. These productions are first class work; featuring a group of men who, if you close your eyes and listen, sound so much like the real Led Zeppelin that it is nearly impossible to tell them apart.

Jun and at least one of the other ‘Virtual Zeppelin’ players were involved in other virtual collaborations of note. These include ‘Virtual Creedence Clearwater Revival’, 'Up Around the Bend', ‘Virtual Beatles’, 'Rain', and several Byrds collaborations 'Turn, Turn, Turn', and 'Mr. Tambourine Man', that feature You Tubers ‘ScalerWave’ and David ‘Byrds1967’.

Scaler Wave, Mg4150, & Byrds1967
The Byrds collaborators have produced several outstanding videos that feature exceptional instrumental and vocal skills. These collaborators also met through You Tube.

ScalerWave contacted me through You Tube after others recommended me through another site. It was the You Tube videos that got around I guess,” said David, known online as Byrds1967.

“The first collab that we did was 'Eight Miles High',” said ScalerWave. “When I started that collab project, I didn't know who Byrds1967 was.  A tuber named Blue Antar suggested that I ask Byrds1967 about doing the 12 string parts for ‘Eight Miles High’.  I sent him a message and he told me that he'd like to do it but needed time to work on the guitar lead parts.

“After that project, I suggested that we try doing ‘Turn’ and ‘Tambourine Man’ [drums by ‘Virtual Zeppelin’ drummer mg4150] and he was interested so we got to work on those as well.  The video work was mainly ‘tongue in cheek’ trying to see what could be done with Vegas Video.”

ScalerWave continued: “We've never met in person or even spoken on the phone or VOIP. That's true with mostly all the collabs that I've done.  Everything is done via email and online file exchanges.”

John’s (of ‘Virtual Zeppelin’) website is a virtual home to many guitarists of varying skill levels. Several members have done virtual collaborations. Many of these are instrumentals – various contributors playing guitar licks over backing tracks. Lately though, the Vanderbilly collaborations have included vocals – more song oriented rather than solely instrumental jamming.

Vanderbilly member Ian (aka Glassback) of the UK is one who was inspired by ‘Virtual Zeppelin’ to initiate collaborations with other Vanderbilly members.

Definitely got the inspiration from John (VB) with his virtual Zep band, and Dono [fellow VB member Don Lambe] for encouraging me to put something up on VB when I didn't feel too confident about my playing,” Ian told me.

'Come Together'
Ian’s online friend, fellow UK resident and Vanderbilly member Nigel (aka Schnuffi) joined Ian and VB member Dr. Eve (an aspiring doctor living in Poland) for a Beatle’s cover 'Come Together'.

Nigel told me: “[I] watched a few videos of collaborations and thought I'd like to be able to do that one day. That day seemed a long way off, if ever achievable, but suddenly it clicked in my mind how to approach it, so I contacted Glassback and we agreed on a song, and we've never looked back (still looking for someone who can sing though).”

Canadian singer/songwriter/guitarist Amy McCann's videos have garnered praise on You Tube and on Her acoustic guitar style is unique and compelling on six and twelve string.  Her vocal abilities are stunning, whether she is covering another artist’s songs or performing her own music. Amy is a major talent all by herself, but she also wanted to explore the idea of virtual collaborations.

Amy McCann and friends
“The first virtual collaboration I did was for Led Zeppelin's ‘What is and What Should Never Be’,” said Amy. “I had previously managed on my own some of their acoustic numbers, ‘That's the Way’ and ‘Battle of Evermore’, but this one needed drums and bass. Also I needed someone to mix it for me, as I had no idea at the time how to use my Sonar program.

“I had been talking to a guy in England because we had both covered Grantchester Meadows by [Pink] Floyd. He actually brought the idea up saying he would be happy to lend his talents for a bass line. I immediately jumped on it because I really wanted to cover this tune by Led Zeppelin.”

Amy’s 'Four Sticks' Led Zeppelin cover collaboration with online friends Fraser, from the UK, and Isao, of Osaka, Japan, is a fine example of her notable skills on guitar and vocals. It is also a testament to what can happen when people who have never met in person and – as John (‘Virtual Zeppelin, and told me, people from “entirely different cultures” - find a common ground with music.

Mike Demers, a guitarist from Ottawa, Canada, has just begun to get into video collaborations.

'Pretty Vacant'
“The first collaboration I did was the ‘Sex Pistols’ one I just did with Ian (Glassback) and Nigel (Schnuffi), 'Pretty Vacant'. They asked me if I was interested and I jumped right at it.”

Mike’s video collaborator Nigel (Schnuffi) told me:[Mike] joined us for our latest collaboration (his first) and he experienced it all: self doubt, nerves, exhilaration, relief, the lot. He can't wait to get started on the next one.”

Mike Demers: “I had no idea how hard it is playing to just a drum track and keeping everything in time knowing the other guys are doing the same thing. They did the hard part mixing it all together.”

Jack Mayeaux is a singer, guitarist and a bluesman. Most of the video work he has done for is acoustic blues in the styles of Lightning Hopkins, Robert Johnson, Tom Waits, and others.

The first [video collaboration] I did was with Don Lambe. It all started when I asked him for permission to perform one of his songs ('Anymore'). I performed that one solo. Then he asked if I wanted to work on a song with him and we did 'Taxes', which he wrote the lyric and I did the music. So I played acoustic and laid down a track with vocals and he did the lead.

Next I asked Martin (FiveThumbsFrank) if he wanted to do 'Louise'. I had heard Tom Waits and Ramblin’ Jack Dupree do it as a duet and Martin and I did that. We were so pleased with it that we've done quite a few more.”

Jack continued: “I love doing the collaborations. I have worked as a solo but I usually worked as a duo or trio. The rhythm of the song usually flows better with some other input from another player. But they have to be on the same page. Since I don't gig anymore, the virtual collaboration seemed like a great way to carry this on.”

Jack Mayeaux and Martin (FiveThumbsFrank) have produced several excellent video collaborations. As with most of the other musicians mentioned here, they have not met. Their videos would suggest that they have played together for years.

With the technology of the Internet, digital recording, digital video and social networks (like, a lot can be accomplished in a short period and without much hassle,” Jack told me.

Two of their best are: 'Will You Miss Me' and 'Innocent When You Dream' – exceptional pieces of audio and video work. These are some of the best video collaborations I’ve seen – on the same level as ‘Virtual Zeppelin’ and The Byrds videos from Scaler Wave and Byrds1967, in terms of instrumental and vocal skills, filming and editing skills.

Jack’s videos are incredible,” one Vanderbilly member told me. “He shoots them in black and white, using dark backgrounds, and still photos intermingled with video of the performers. The cuts are kind of ghostly – fading slowly from one shot to another – fantastic stuff that fits the songs perfectly.”

Jack brought this writer into the world of virtual collaborations when he asked me to contribute to 'Highwayman'. This video also included Vanderbilly members Mike (Outrider), and English singer and guitarist Martin (FiveThumbsFrank). The Highwaymen – Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, and Johnny Cash - recorded this Jimmy Webb song years ago with each man singing one of the four verses.

Mike (Outrider) thought this would be a great opportunity for some Vanderbilly members to show what they could do.

“Mike originally picked the four Highwaymen,” said Jack. “As the project evolved, one member dropped out and the project kind of fell in my lap. I decided that you [this writer] would fit nicely as I had heard your 'Seven Bridges Road' cover and felt that you had a feel for the style of Highwayman.”

I was intrigued and flattered to be asked to participate in the ‘Highwayman’ project. Not only were Jack and Mike (Outrider) looking for me to sing the third verse, but to add some instrumentation as well. At first, like others new to the process, I was intimidated by the task. It took me awhile to record my parts, but I managed to complete it and I sent it back to Jack. He put the video together, and the four of us enjoyed the positive feedback from members.

Since that first one I’ve done two other collaborations. I worked again with Jack Mayeaux on the Sheryl Crow cover 'Redemption Day', and with Mike (Outrider) on 'Tulsa Time'.

Martin (FiveThumbsFrank) has also enlisted Vanderbilly member Ken Leber for two projects: 'Martha My Dear' and 'Julia'. Both are Beatle’s songs, originally appearing on ‘The White Album’.

“I asked Ken if He wanted to do a collab on this song after seeing his great lesson and guitar solo performance on it,” said Martin.

Ken Leber's 'Julia'
“My interest in this grew from the fact that I can't sing anymore,” said Ken Leber. “I was asked to do the first by Martin (FiveThumbsFrank) from the U.K. It seems that I inspired him with a performance video and he wanted to see if I was interested in working with him. The first song was Julia by John Lennon.”

Virtual collaborations have not only presented opportunities for musicians to share their passion with others around the world, but have also helped many to improve their musical and video making skills.

Ian (Glassback):

“The experience of doing these collabs has been invaluable as a guitar player...myself never having played in front of a crowd, or been on stage, this is definitely the next best thing. It forced me into a new level of playing – e.g. being able to play in time, and to a backing track being the biggest hurdle.

“It also opened new doors about video techniques (thanks to Schnuffi for sending me a brilliant video software called Cyberlink power Director 8) and audio mixing. All of which I'd still be in the dark about if these collabs didn't come off. I'm really having a ball doing this stuff. I would still be clueless about all these techniques if it hadn't been for the people on What a great place to spend some time eh!”

“It’s given me something to focus on and targets to achieve,” said Nigel (Schnuffi). “I'd never played to a backing track before so now I am more disciplined about practice. I understand much more about the recording and video editing process but not nearly as much as I should and want to. I sing because no one else will do it but I don't mind - if it sucks, it sucks.”

Nigel continued: “Finding the right song helps. Once you've been through the process, you can work much better with your co-collaborators. You understand each other better and can make comments, suggestions without worrying about upsetting them.”

Amy McCann told me: “These projects have helped me as a guitarist, because quite often I have been working on pieces by Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and other bands where there are more than one guitar part, so it has forced me to learn the other parts that I wouldn't normally have learned if I was playing by myself. I also feel it has given me a greater understanding toward the intended feel behind the tune. That in turn that has helped me in my own writing, to always present an emotional backdrop for the notes and to be aware when writing for the guitar what the bass and drums will be doing.”

David (Byrds1967) said, “I've honed my playing in learning the style of Roger McGuinn and pretty much learned the Byrds tunes. That in itself has made me the musician I am today.

“Doing the collaborations with ScalerWave gave me a cool opportunity to exploit my myself in a way that was better than I was able to do on my own. ScalerWave had experience in recording on a computer (DAW) as well as video experience for special effects. ScalerWave's talent has given me interest into looking into doing better videos on my own original material.”

Mike Demers:

“The thing I got out of it was, as most guitarists, we know a lot of bits of songs but unless you gig or jam, you rarely play a song all the way through when you are at home. I had to learn the song note for note.

“And if you were jamming with buddies and hit a clunker you just keep on playing. But with these you need a perfect take because it is being recorded. I must have made 80 takes, some only as long as 5 seconds and maybe 10 times all the way through and chose the best of the lot.”

Jack Mayeaux: “As a singer/guitarist, the collabs have brought me into contact with players I probably would never have a chance to play with, and they have opened up a new audience. As far as recording audio they have greatly increased my recording skills and have motivated me to strive to make better recordings. Collabs have also really increased my interest in making videos.”

One online collaboration led to a professional opportunity for one member.

James Dylan, an accomplished singer/guitarist/songwriter in his own right, went from performing on videos with ‘Virtual Zeppelin’, to performing on stage with Jason Bonham’s Led Zeppelin Experience.

“A friend of Jason's called me in January of 2009,” said James. “He told me Jason and the others in Led Zeppelin had been listening to the Virtual Zeppelin videos while at the rehearsals following Led Zeppelin's 02 concert in 2007.”

Clearly, James Dylan’s successful jump from a friendly collaboration to a professional role as front man for the JBLZE represents a rare event. Most of those participating in virtual collaborations are in it for the fun and the chance to broaden their musical horizons, as Jack put it, by having the chance to play with people one may never encounter otherwise. It’s fun and different, but most of these musicians are not expecting to profit from this work. There is a sense of satisfaction gained by contributing to such a project, and having respected peers praise the work.

What is the future of virtual collaborations? It is entirely possible that some of these videos can lead to professional opportunities. Even if they don’t, the musicians involved will continue to enjoy this new form of musical expression – the chance to play music with others who share their passion.

“It's great to work with musicians from all over the world,” said ScalerWave. “It has really broadened my perspective on life in general, and helped me hone my musical and video editing skills in ways that I couldn't have done on the local music scene. Gotta love the Internet.”

Ken Leber: “It’s nice to work with another artist from another country. It’s nice to know that someone thousands of miles away knows me, my skill, and preferences in music.”

John, of ‘Virtual Zeppelin’ said, “It was a tremendous amount of fun and very satisfying while we did it. We also made what turned out to be very good friends from around the world so it was a very positive experience for everyone.”

Everyone interviewed for this article displayed the same sentiment of fun, satisfaction, and an appreciation of the new friendships gained from the experience of collaboration. That’s really what playing music in a group is all about – sharing your passion with friends.

Even friends you have never met.

© 2012 LTM


  1. Hey Larry,

    I thought your article was very well done. Excellent writing dude.


  2. Nice Larry, I like the way you write. Always a good read!!


  3. A very good article. You Tube and home DAW have made it possible to not only meet, but also then collaborate with people from all over the world who share your same musical interests. The results as this article shows can be some very professional work. The best part is that there is no need to get on any airplane, car, or train to do so. And it's just a lot of fun to do.

    Al D Byrdfan

  4. Great article. I've collaborated with Jun on a few vids (Creedence Clearwater Revival stuff - one mentioned in the article above) and a couple of the other guys on a Zeppelin cover (All Of My Love) the latter of which, unfortunately, has been banned from being seen in the United States by the copyright holder. It's confusing to me how inconsistently permission is applied to the play of these tribute performances on YouTube. But, as a participant, I can tell you how grateful I am that most of these collabs are allowed and our passion and respect for the original artists is allowed to be shared with their fans. It has been such a pleasure for me to be included in several YT collabs with some truly outstanding musicians from all over the world, who have all turned out to be the nicest people I'll probably never have the chance to meet personally. But, I'm friends with many of them now on Facebook and that's very cool, indeed. Thanks again for the great article.