In late January, an online forum for the songwriting project February Album Writing Month (FAWM) received a cryptic post from its founder, Burr Settles.
"FAWM intergalactic headquarters has been working on a top-secret project with a music tech startup that should make your FAWM collabs easier and more awesome," he wrote. That startup is the Pittsburgh-based Nebulus, and the project is a month-long partnership between the two dynamic collaborative-music sites, which started Feb. 1.
Last April, Carnegie Mellon University graduate Robert Kotcher founded Nebulus as an online audio workstation for long-distance collaboration. Nebulus has since shifted its focus to arrangement — as opposed to recording — but the underlying problem remains: It's hard for musicians to collaborate effectively online.
"We still want to solve this issue where musicians have trouble working together if they're not in the same place," says Kotcher. Instead of recreating a workstation like Garageband, Nebulus' six-person team created a clean, simplified workshop where musicians can edit, arrange and collaborate on their demos online.
Around the same time, Settles, who works full time as a software engineer at Duolingo, was working on a rebrand of his own. FAWM, which challenges songwriters to write 14 original songs in February, needed a new website. When Settles started FAWM with three friends in 2004, it was simply a way to jumpstart their musical output. But the project and its blog gradually caught on. Last February, FAWMers from 61 countries across six continents produced more than 10,000 songs in the short month.
While online collaboration between FAWMers was always encouraged, it was not particularly easy. So when Nebulus reached out to FAWM in late 2014, Settles saw a mutually beneficial opportunity. FAWM needed simplified online collaboration; Nebulus needed user feedback.
By Feb. 1, the new FAWM site was finished and Nebulus began hosting the demos through its own site, while providing users with new interactive songwriting tools. For the first time, FAWMers could comment, collaborate and interact on their songs all in one place.
"We're hoping it's a good springboard," said Settles. "Because we've already got thousands of motivated songwriters from all over the world who would jump at the chance to use this."
In the first 24 hours of FAWM 2015, they received more than 600 songs.