With music professionals at the helm and software from Emagic, Tonos.com is another way for musicians to collaborate online. Mark Wherry makes some connections.
In the area of online musical collaboration, Rocket Networks is one brand name that has become pervasive. They provide the technology to 'Rocket power' popular musicmaking packages such as Logic Audio and Cubase, allowing users to turn their sequencer into a virtual studio space where musicians around the globe can all work on the same song at the same time. However, Rocket Networks are not alone in trying to encourage musicians to collaborate: another similar company with a more targeted vision is Tonos, founded towards the end of 1999 by multiple Grammy award‑winning artists/writers/producers Carole Bayer Sager, Kenny Edmonds, and David Foster.
While both Tonos and Rocket Networks use Internet collaboration, their services can't be compared directly, as they set out to achieve different goals. Rocket provides the online studio space for musicians to work in, and while there are public studios available, the idea is that you book a private studio to work in with people you know, where distance is a problem. Tonos sets out to help you make connections with other musicians you don't know, and hopefully to nurture unsigned talent.
Tonos describes itself as a "Musician's Insider Network". One of its aims is to use the Internet to discover and develop new talent through education and collaboration features — the last made possible by $10 million of funding from Softbank Venture Capital and Sequoia Capital. (Sequoia also provided funding for another well‑known online music venture, mp3.com.)
In order to make use of the services provided at Tonos.com, you need to become a member, which won't cost you a penny and is a simple matter of entering the usual personal details into an online form. Once that has been taken care of, you can start to explore the site and download the necessary software. We'll be discussing that later on.
To The Collaboratory
The musical collaboration aspect of the Tonos site is centred around an area called the Collaboratory, whose content is organised into Profiles and Projects. You can create a Profile to tell other Tonos members about yourself — what styles you can work in, and so on. If you're looking for a musician to collaborate with — perhaps a singer or lyricist, for example — you can search the Profiles created by other members and find the person you think might be best suited to your music.
In addition to the basic information mentioned above, Collaboratory members can also upload an mp3 file to give others an idea of their style, and a picture, either during the process of setting up a Profile or at a later date. While browsing Profiles, users can then listen to each other's mp3 files.
It's possible to start your own 'Project' (a piece of music in development) or join one started by another Tonos member in the Collaboratory, but before you can start creating or joining Projects you must set up your Tonos member Profile. You can then start using the Tonos services fully, but it takes up to two days for your Profile to become approved and publicly available.
Emagic have been working with Tonos for over a year now, providing the TonoCorder desktop recording software for musicians to work with. The original program was a fairly simple affair featuring just two tracks and a reverb effect. However, at the recent NAMM music show Emagic unveiled TC8, the next generation TonoCorder — a fully functional 8‑track recorder with effects.
TC8's user interface is elegant, simple and largely selfexplanatory, with help text provided as the mouse hovers over the controls — though an excellent step‑by‑step animated Flash tutorial, a PDF manual and a set of frequently asked questions are also provided on the web site.
Each track features the usual pan, level and mute controls, and there are five insert effects: compression, distortion, a threeband equaliser, chorus, and a noise gate. In addition, there's a global reverb effect, to which each track has a send. The usual transport controls are featured, along with a cursor for scrolling through the music; each track also features an Erase button, for removing that track from your local copy of the Project.
Of course, TC8 isn't going to (and doesn't pretend to) replace a sequencer like Emagic's own Logic Audio. Its purpose is to provide a quick way of getting ideas down and allowing you to upload them to the Collaboratory. However, if you've created a polished backing track in your sequencer and want to upload this, TC8 can import a stereo WAV file, that you can then upload as normal.
TC8 can be downloaded for a free 30‑day trial with use of the Collaboratory; if you get hooked, a further 12 months access costs a very reasonable $29.95 US. At the time of writing, this software is only available for Windows, but Tonos plan to release a Mac version by the end of March, which should be available by the time you read this.
Starting A Project
Creating your own Project begins with TC8. As well as making new recordings and importing existing ones with the software, you can even download 'Jump Start' tracks to get you going. The number of Jump Start tracks (ten at the time of writing) is slightly disappointing, though the potential is clearly there. The name of each track describes its style, tempo (in BPM) and arrangement — drums, drums and bass, or full backing track.
Recording and mixing is very simple, and once you're happy to upload your track to Tonos you simply click the 'Upload Music' button and enter your username, password and a name for the track. This is where it gets clever: TC8 now begins to communicate over the Internet with Tonos.com to upload your track to their database. This procedure is seamless and automatic, exactly as it should be, with all the complexity hidden from the user.
Before the music is uploaded, TC8 mixes down the track and then data‑compresses it with technology from QDesign. It took me just under 15 minutes to complete the whole upload procedure for a four‑minute song, using a single‑channel ISDN connection. Obviously, it will take longer without ISDN .
After the track has been uploaded, your web browser is opened by the program, so that you can assign that track to a new Project and fill in some basic details. You have to place one Wanted ad during the Project registration, for the type of musician you need to collaborate with, and you can place more Wanted ads later on if required.
Projects can be accessible in two different ways: you can assign them Community access, which allows anyone to join in; or give them Controlled access, which means that a person must request your authorisation to join your Projects. Naturally, setting access to 'Community' is the best way to attract the greatest number of musicians to your Project. A streaming Real Audio version of your track is instantly available on the Tonos site and is played by the TonoPlayer, a small HTML‑based application that uses an embedded Real Player.
Within 24 hours of my uploading my first simple backing track, five people joined my Project, and one of them uploaded a vocal track, which shows that the site really works. How many times have you joined an Internet music community only to find that nothing happens and you get lost in the crowd?
Unfortunately, you don't receive notification when people join or add a track to your Project, so you have to keep checking your Projects regularly on the web site for activity. A streaming Real Audio version of all the contributions is available and if you like them, or you want to hear them in the context of your track, they can be downloaded one at a time to TC8. Simply click the 'Download Music' button in TC8 and select the track you want to add from the list available. After the track is downloaded it is decompressed and assigned to the next free track in TC8.
Every member is allocated 40 minutes of track time on the Tonos server for Projects, and to help you manage this space you can use the online Project Manager, where it's possible to delete entire Projects or the individual tracks that you and other Project members upload.
Every page on the Tonos web site features a 'Profiles And Projects' search facility, where you can indeed search for Profiles and Projects! If you find a member you'd like to work with, you can send them a 'T‑mail', an internal messaging system within the Tonos web site; they obviously want to keep you coming back, rather than retreating to your email client!
Searching for Projects to join is very easy; for example, if I'm a female rapper specialising in the classical style, I simply select 'Female rapper' from 'Find a Project', 'Classical' from 'Select a Style', and click 'Go'. Tonos displays a list of suitable Projects, based on the wanted ads placed by other members. You can then listen to these Projects via TonoPlayer and join ones you like. All the Projects you join, including the ones you start yourself, show up in the list of available downloads when you click the 'Download Music' button in TC8.
As well as the Projects you can join that have been started by other Tonos members, there's a selection of 'Hitmaker' Projects, which are essentially the same, but have been started by celebrity partners. The current line‑up of Tonos Hitmakers includes many renowned American musicians, including the major songwriter Diane Warren, Backstreet Boys' writer and producer Max Martin and, of course, the Tonos founders. This is one area that could become very interesting if Tonos attract more 'celebrities'.
But Wait, There's More!
With the features discussed already, Tonos would be a compelling resource for musicians, but there is much more tucked away in various parts of the site. There is a growing collection of articles, commentaries and interviews from musicians such as Hans Zimmer and Aimee Mann. In addition to the reading materials, there's also streaming video content covering subjects that include music therapy and making music with TC8.
To complement the services home‑grown by Tonos, last year the company acquired two other Internet services, NetMusic School and The Velvet Rope. Developed by leading music educators, the NetMusic School brings piano and guitar lessons to Tonos, fulfilling the goal to provide online education for musicians. Some free examples are available within the 'Own It' section of the site; and 12 months access will cost you US$15.95. The Velvet Rope is a message board for exchanging contacts that was established in 1993 and is frequented by many industry professionals.
Tonos has much to offer the Internet‑savvy musician. I hope this column has managed to whet your appetite enough for you to point your web browser at www.tonos.com. And if you're a classical female rapper, I'd like to hear from you!
Whose Music Is It Anyway?
In Tonos' terms and conditions you are asked to respect the intellectual property of other members, which is a polite way of asking you not to steal ideas contributed to your Project by other members. If you believe that someone has infringed your copyright, you can contact the Tonos copyright agent and they will act on your behalf to resolve the issue.
Part of the www.tonos.com site is dedicated to helping members 'get discovered'. Featured in this section are the Tonos Challenges. At the time of writing, Tonos are running a Road To Fame Challenge, offering contestants the chance to win the Road To Fame treatment on the VH1 show of the same name. A selection of backing tracks for well‑known songs (both male and female voices) is provided, and these can be downloaded directly into TC8. The backing track level is controlled by a separate Backing Track fader, and you can record a vocal track onto one of the spare tracks in TC8. One cool feature this challenge illustrates is that TC8 has the ability to display karaoke‑style lyrics, which might be fun even if you don't want to enter the challenge!
Once you're happy with your entry, simply click on the 'Upload Music' button and, because TC8 and the Tonos server know this is a Challenge, once the upload is complete your browser will display a Challenge entry form, allowing you to complete your submission.
Also featured in this section is the Demo Derby, which allows unsigned artists to submit a demo to Tonos. Every week one artist is then chosen for some free exposure on the site. Although, as the Derby name suggests, you might not get chosen, Tonos do at least promise to listen to every submission.