A highly anticipated music release of 2008 is likely to come from the band Postal Service, whose 2003 album, "Give Up," came to define the instant-messenger generation.
Postal Service was the brainchild of indie pop star Ben Gibbard and electronic mastermind Jimmy Tamborello. Each would record his parts at home and literally mail the result back to the other. Hence, the name.
It seemed like a funny piece of trivia at the time, but Postal Service may have foreshadowed a key trend in musicmaking. It's no secret that the traditional record-label model is not long for this world, but what about the notion of the band itself? A new Web site is challenging the traditional model.
Indaba, which launched earlier this year, provides a meeting ground for musicians. Anyone can upload a track — whether it's a beat, or a melody or a full-fledged song — and can solicit other musicians to record new or different parts. Similarly, musicians looking to add or build on other people's songs can search for these open "sessions," which are tagged by genre and instrument. They can ask to be invited to play and can send audition tracks.
"Most of the users on the site would be classified as serious hobbyists, but it's been interesting because the site has been useful for amateurs, too," said Matt Siegel, one of the site's co-founders. Indaba was founded by Siegel and his Harvard University classmate Daniel Zaccagnino. The name comes from a Zulu word that refers to collaborative forums held by tribal leaders.
"We actually found [the word] on the back of a wine bottle. Maybe it was the wine, but it really resonated with us at the time," said Zaccagnino. "It embodies what we want to create: a place where people can come together from all over the world, especially because there aren't very many places online where musicians feel comfortable."
Though the Indaba guys were at Harvard at the same time as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and plan to release their own Facebook application, they do not rely on social networking alone to drive the success of the site.
"The social networks that are really valuable are ones that have a purpose," Siegel said. "We think about our product as a social network, but it's also a Web application. The two are fused together, but they have different, overlapping functions."
The Web application to which Siegel alludes includes not only file transferring but also recording. For users who don't have Pro Tools, the software used by many professional musicians to mix tracks, Indaba offers its own Web-based program.
Of course, no matter the purpose, the worth of a social network is measured by its reach, and Indaba is already global. According to Siegel, the site has 5,000 registered users, 30 percent of whom are outside the United States. The site has benefited from certain "viral incidents," he said, in Russia, South America and Israel.
For many users, Indaba may just be fun and games — a place to experiment, make connections and get feedback. Professional musicians, though, need the reassurance of legal terms to make sure their work is protected. To that end, Indaba allows musicians to negotiate over the rights and establish contractual terms.
"To us, it's really important that artists of all levels can work on real music and overcome the issues of geography and schedules, but we're not trying to change why people create music," Zaccagnino explained.