On June 9, a woman in Florida named Bri Dasilva posted a six-second clip from her cover of Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen” to Vine. The shot shows her delicate manicured hand on the piano, and even while singing “I get high with my baby; I just left the mall, I’m getting fly with my baby, yea” she makes the song sound less like its original rap version than it does like Norah Jones.
A month later, Mark Flesch, a music producer in Ontario, Canada, decided to add to the song. He opened Vine, rested his phone on the cymbal of his drum set, and played Dasilva’s clip, adding a drum track as he recorded a new Vine of the collaboration. “Getting’ fly with Bri Dasilva,” he labeled it on his account, Marks Records.
Then, 1,500 miles away, in Manitoba, Canada, a bass player named Trevor Whatman saw Flesch’s video on Vine. Five days later, he posted another version. This one features a phone displaying Flesch’s Vine, with Dasilva’s original playing inside of it, and, in the background, Whatman’s bass. “Groovin’ along with the wonderful duo of Bri Dasilva & Marks Records,” reads the post.
CJ Everett, a graduate student at the University of Georgia, saw that Vine and added rhythmic guitar. The resulting video inside of a video inside of a video inside of a video looks a bit like mirrors facing each other inside of a funhouse, but what was once a solo sound bite has–through cross-continent collaboration between strangers–become a song.
So goes the collaborative process in Vine’s burgeoning music community, which has turned jamming together into a pastime that requires no mutual location or even mutual agreement. Just discover a sound clip that inspires you, remix it, add to it, or accompany it, and then tag its creator in the result.
“I would almost liken it to a meme,” says Flesch.
Flesch, who took to Vine two years ago while working as a security technician, is an early adopter of the process, and his collaborations have unusual breadth. He has made a clip from comedy account BatDad, which shows a young girl banging haphazardly on the drums, sound like an intentionally produced song; added beats to rap clips; and added a cappella backup to a guitarist’s vocals. He collaborated with U.K.-based artist Ben Charman to create a rotoscoped version of one of his videos with a new track. In one case, he took a Vine of a guitar-and-harp compilation outside to add rain sounds.
On Vine, collaboration–whether you’re a comedian or an artist–has been part of the culture since the beginning. As the app has evolved to allow more editing and imported content, music-scene collaborations like Flesch’s have become more elaborate. “People were making them, but they didn’t necessarily sound that great,” says Jason Mante, Vine’s head of user experience. “They didn’t loop very nicely. And the cameras, because the phones weren’t as good as they are now, they just weren’t that good. [Marks Records] will not only do an amazing remix in pro software, but he incorporates it in incredibly compelling visual composition. It’s a big difference from just the phone sitting on the table and the person singing along with it.”
A veteran of local rock bands, Flesch started producing tracks by himself after finding it difficult to coordinate with other musicians while working a full-time job. At some point, he just started using Vine as a source for sound samples instead of album tracks. Though now he often sets up collaborations in advance, at first he just chose whatever he liked. “If they don’t like it, they don’t acknowledge it, and it just sits there on your feed and doesn’t hurt anybody,” he says.
In another breed of collaboration, musicians make covers of each other’s work and label it “inspired by” or “IB.” Dasilva, for instance, recently posted a six-second clip of an original song she wrote called “Subtweet,” which inspired others to copy it and tag her in their post. Others added to the song with their own lyrics, and they also tagged her. A similar process happens with well-known songs. Even if the song is not original, it can be “inspired by” the person who played or sang it on Vine. Which is how, for instance, a trend of people doing different versions of Outkast’s 2003 song “Hey Ya” broke out on Vine in 2015.
There are always new takes on the idea. One account collected 58 Vines from different musicians, comedians, dancers, artists, and other creative people and compiled the six-second snippets into the full “Bohemian Rhapsody” song. After Caleb Natale, who often features film special effects in his Vines, one of which features Shia LaBeouf, set up a beat in his kitchen using a seemingly autonomous rolling pin, whisk, and oven door, a popular musician named Will Gittens added a guitar and four-part melody to turn it into a version of Britney Spears’s “Toxic.”
Everett, who has a more modest follower count, stumbled upon another collaboration format when he started a “musical conversation” with Asa Martin, a musician in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who he has never met in person. Everett had asked for suggestions for song topics, and Martin had suggested “being nervous and excited at the same time.” Naturally, Everett sang about asking a girl out, which happened (no surprise) to be exactly what Martin was about to do. He reported back in song form “so here’s what happened man…I went & saw her tonight, I spilled my guts, but got no reply.” Everett sang back. “Life is a trial and error. At least she knows you care for her. Respect her decision and show her what she’s missing.” They’re still going back and forth.
“Working with people has always been why I play music.” Everett says. And on Vine, it’s easy to do. “If you are knowledgeable about music theory and have a good ear for music, six seconds of music is not that hard to come up with harmony or come up with a matching guitar riff or something,” he says.
It’s also easy to find collaborators on Vine. “The pool of musicians that I have to pull from in my town, there’s a limit,” says Whatman, who works as a graphic designer in Winnipeg, Manitoba. “I am finding new people every day on Vine to play with. And then I introduce myself and sometimes we become friends.”
Before joining Vine around Christmas, Whatman had taken a break from his decades-long music career. It had been two years since he played his bass. Part of what appealed to him about the platform was its looping effect, which worked well for music, and the short, six-second commitment. The other part was that it was easy to collaborate. “As a bass [player], I’m a support instrument, so what happens is usually people come to me with a melody, and I add my bit to it afterwards,” he says. “The collaboration is perfect for what I feel is my strength.”
Whatman has no intention of getting famous. He’s just happy to be playing. “This is the most relaxed I’ve been producing music my whole life,” he says. “If you’re in a band you have five or however many people who you’re butting heads with. This, it’s just me. And it’s wonderful.”
Others see Vine, and collaborations, as a new road to a music career that artists like Vine native Shawn Mendes, whose debut album recently opened at number one on the Billboard chart, have successfully followed. That’s the case for Josh and Zach Page, brothers who post on Vine under the account Brothers Page. “It’s to grow a following so that we can release original songs,” says Josh. “We already have so many original songs, but if you just put it out there, with nobody to hear it, it can be a little bit of a waste of time.” Collaborating helps build an audience because the other party will likely introduce you to their followers via a “revine,” the Vine equivalent of a retweet. It’s also a way to interact with a nascent fan base. The Brothers Page, for instance, have hosted contests in which they ask users to submit a clip and collaborate with the winner’s version. They also advertise their full-length tracks and live concerts (hosted on Periscope) through the app.
“A Vine is almost a bite-sized piece of what you’re offering somebody,” says Flesch. “You can make it represent your larger offering, your larger business.” Through connections made by posting on Vine, he attracted enough production work to quit his other job In February. He now works full-time on sound projects, including producing Vines for Gatorade, HTC, and General Electric.
Easy collaborations on Vine similarly function like trading business cards. They allow people to work together in six-second snippets before diving into more intensive projects, like when Flesch collaborated with the Brothers Page on a cover of “Eleanor Rigby” or Whatman traveled to Denver to meet four of the people he’d been working with on Vine. “When it comes time for me to look for a guitar or a singer,” Flesch says, “I have this catalog of friends who I’ve made, who I know can sing and I know can play guitar that I can go and reach out to.”
Lately he’s been doing that a lot. He is in the process of producing a full-length album of music composed by people who he’s met on Vine. So far, there are 15 collaborators, all based in different corners of the globe, all working together through the Internet. “People say, make a band with these people,” Flesch says. “Make a super group with these five people from Vine. But it’s not like that anymore. It’s like, everybody benefits from the community that is built around all the great musicians on Vine.”