Human beings have always been adaptable creatures. Last year, we saw how lockdowns pushed creators and musicians around the world to explore uncharted territory. From virtual songwriting sessions to musical festivals, the music world went online, whether to create or to perform.

This time, we have INTERCONTINEN7AL, a group of 22 musicians from every corner of the world – yes, even Antartica – coming together virtually to create 12 original songs.

When we’ve been so used to making music face to face, there are always challenges that come with making music virtually. The tool of choice for this group of musicians? BandLab.

Matt Smith recording on BandLab at his Maryland home.

So just how did they do it? We caught up with project collaborator Matt Smith to find out more about how INTERCONTINEN7AL started, how they used BandLab and how it helped them overcome the challenges of remote songwriting and recording across the globe.

How did the INTERCONTINEN7AL project get started?

This is an interesting question! So, I play guitar in a band called Toast (with Jamie Miller, Ben Gaither, Emily Betz and guest Becca Drayer) that has been performing locally in Columbia, Maryland USA over the past few years. Since March 2020, as we all know, all live music has been basically sidelined, and the collective group hasn’t really been getting together much outside of outdoor jam sessions.

Ben Gaither, Emily Betz, Matt Smith, and Jamie Miller performing as Toast.

In an effort to continue collaborating and playing together, we began researching software applications that would allow for sharing recordings. After testing out a couple of programs, it became clear that BandLab was the perfect fit – with just a quick free download, everyone is able to instantly share song ideas, apply effects to their tracks, etc. and the quality was phenomenal. Starting in April 2020, we were recording drum tracks, guitar riffs, and other ideas using BandLab and collaborating just internally with our main group and local friends who also live in Maryland. 

What if we take the Sonic Highways concept that Foo Fighters had of recording music with artists from several cities in the United States, and totally expand it to move forward.

After a couple of months, we decided to publish some song ideas and make them “forkable” to the BandLab public community, to see if perhaps we could incorporate other perspectives from artists outside our band. In late August, we posted a grunge-inspired instrumental acoustic song tentatively called “Aslin“, and added a few tags including “#needsvocals” to see what would happen. Within a few days we received multiple lead/harmony vocal submissions, including excellent tracks from David Lee Rendon of Texas, Hope Gray of San Francisco and Gustavo Prida of South America, sung in Spanish! The final version on the album is Gustavo’s “No Somos De Este Lugar“, with backing vocals by Hope. 

Shortly thereafter, we put together a blues idea titled, “When I’m Gone“, starting with a draft drum pattern by Jamie Miller, some of my guitar ideas on top of it, and Texas’s David Lee adding his own lyrics and vocal melody. We published it once again and I believe within a couple of hours it had a blistering lead guitar solo from Robert James Shoveller from Australia! Again, a complete stranger to us at that time.

I believe this was around late August 2020 when we had these two songs begin to take shape with contributions from these wonderful musicians, along with a few other ideas that were still being kicked around. At this time, I remember walking outside my house in Columbia, and an idea suddenly popped in my head – what if we take the Sonic Highways concept that Foo Fighters had of recording music with artists from several cities in the United States, and totally expand it to move forward. We could have an international cooperation, trying to get a musician from every continent to participate? We already had North America, South America and Australia by sheer accident, so now we only needed the remaining four! The name INTERCONTINEN7AL was born, with the “7” in the name inspired by the band Tool’s song “7empest”. 

The end goal of this effort was to prove that music can still be created and enjoyed, even virtually, during the pandemic, and also to use our talents to generate any fundraising efforts that we could.

How did you find the other musicians?

For the remaining musicians on the INTERCONTINEN7AL project, we took a hybrid approach: we reached out to friends and family who were fellow musicians or folks we have played with previously. For example, Devin Heritage whom I played with in a band called The Cause back in the mid-2000s. He provided bass on two songs for this album and has also handled the vast majority of our communications and marketing thus far.

Devin Heritage recording on BandLab

Another musician, my cousin Alex Burke, lives in New Jersey and I started collaborating with him in a separate band in BandLab, Burkesmith, before inviting him to join in on six songs for this album.

There was no doubt we were going to use BandLab on this project – we did not even realize the capacity of what we could accomplish until we started “accidentally” collaborating with other artists from around the globe that were unbeknownst to us.

Dirty D and his saxophone playing featured on the song Bad Education.

We also used Explore and the Creator Connect feature on BandLab to make some musician connections. For example, I used keyword searches and hashtag searches for saxophone, and in less than three hours, I went from not knowing Dirty D to having him play an incredible sax solo for our song Bad Education! For the international musicians, Explore/Creator Connect came in handy when looking for musicians by specific locations. We targeted musicians who have similar musical interests in Africa, Asia, and Europe since those were not covered yet in our recordings. I believe Josh Pearlson, the talented guitarist from Cape Town, was discovered this way. 

We did luck out with another “accidental” find in September when Rieneke from the Netherlands provided remarkable vocals for a guitar idea we uploaded for forking, titled “So You’re Different” on the album. Another excellent musician, Strangely Coincidental aka Marcin Nawrocki from Poland, had added a song idea of ours, “Albatross Flight“, to a potential collaboration collection he was putting together. I was notified of the update via BandLab alerts, and I got in touch with him via BandLab messenger. As a result, we built up a collaborative relationship and he ended up performing and writing on five different tracks! 

We also reviewed musicians profiles that we were following to see who they were collaborating with, or who was commenting on their songs to try to recruit other participants. One example of this approach was the phenomenal multi-instrumentalist Nerse, who we eventually invited to play on five songs as well, with him providing violin, slide, and flute on select tunes. If memory serves me right, Jeff Hobbs, a gifted guitarist and piano player from the United Kingdom, was also found using this technique, and he added his talents to two songs on the album. 

Photo Credit: ESA/IPEV/PNRA – S. Thoolen

The hardest part, of course, was the Antarctica angle. We were unsuccessful in finding anyone within BandLab that appeared to be legitimately from the continent, so I basically found email addresses for most of the active research stations in Antarctica (I believe it’s around 25 or so, but I could be wrong), and in September 2020 contacted each one separately to see if there happened to be a musician on site who has an instrument and would like to participate. Fortunately for us, we ended up with two skilled artists who responded and recorded: Aymar de Lichtervelde from Belgium, stationed at Princess Elisabeth Station, and Stijn Thoolen from Netherlands, stationed at Concordia. 

Stijn Thoolen and his egg shaker stationed at Concordia in Antartica. Photo Credit: ESA/IPEV/PNRA – S. Thoolen

What function did BandLab play in the collaborative process?

There was no doubt we were going to use BandLab on this project – we did not even realize the capacity of what we could accomplish until we started “accidentally” collaborating with other artists from around the globe that were unbeknownst to us. BandLab was pivotal in the collaborative process, as we would invite musicians to respective projects using the tool, and they would upload their recordings into the project within BandLab. 

How were songs written and what was the creative process? 

The songs generally started out from a guitar chord progression, a drum beat, a vocal melody – basically anything that could be built on. For example, Manor Hill – the song that has musicians from all 7 continents – that began with a chord progression that I was working on, and the concept of having an “epic” song that could go from a minor key that’s all dark and depressing to eventually a major key that’s light and uplifting. Basically, trying to mirror the timeline of the pandemic. We’re thinking “November Rain” meets “We Are The World”! [laughs].

I received input from fellow local bandmates like Ben Gaither on how to tweak the riffs and progression to make it a bit more interesting, and as I uploaded the draft guitar track to a metronome – which I actually ended up keeping as the final version – we then began collecting ideas from the other guitarists on the song: Robert from Australia’s big solos, Josh Pearlson from South Africa and his killer clean lead style, the tight and distinct rhythm styles of our drummers Tnbt from Japan and Jamie Miller, and the two bassists; Marcin who had the great idea to add synth choir and mellotron, and Nereo, an awesome bassist/singer from South America. 

Nerse provided an absolutely beautiful violin track to the song, and Alex was able to really fill out the choruses with some gorgeous piano chords. I had some lyrics and vocal ideas which I uploaded in BandLab as a draft track, with the goal of having some real singers put their spin on it. Emily Betz and Becca Drayer replaced it with something that was far superior!

Becca Drayer, guest singer for Toast.

Stijn was able to upload his spot on egg shaker to the second half of the song using BandLab, and Aymar was the finishing touch, composing his gorgeous classical guitar intro based off of the chord progression/vocal melody! He messaged his part to me, which we uploaded and inserted into the beginning of the final track. So “Manor Hill” actually begins and ends with a different musician performing from Antarctica. Jamie Miller and Devin Heritage played a huge role on this track in mixing and mastering, providing production notes and ideas on lining up drum tracks and other instrumentation.

Nereo, bassist/singer from South America.

What were the biggest challenges?

Some of the biggest challenges on the project were recruiting from Antarctica – which was resolved through endless email communication and WhatsApp messaging – along with the delicate approach of providing notes to musicians on edits. For our band members in Maryland, it was easier for us to suggest changes or tweaks to tracks as we have known each other for years; however we were initially worried that it would be significantly harder to trade constructive criticism with musical acquaintances who were in another city/country and that we have never spoken to in person!

Aymar de Lichtervelde in Antartica.

For example, on “Manor Hill”, we suggested splicing out bits and pieces of the respective guitar solos in order to let the other tracks “breathe” a bit more. Fortunately, the feedback among the musicians was well received, and everyone was open to thoughts on edits and splices out of material to serve the greater good of the song – there was no major resistance on that aspect for these recordings. 

What were the most used tools on BandLab for the project?

Explore was heavily used for recruiting musicians for INTERCONTINEN7AL. I know Mix Editor and the built-in effects capabilities were a huge aspect of the process, I myself used it constantly – mainly in the mobile version on my Samsung phone. Cakewalk by BandLab was also used by multiple musicians on the project, either for recording or mixing. Speaking of mixing, the built-in mastering tools on BandLab are incredible, and we use CD Quality mastering presets on all of the songs to give them a bit more gloss and shine. As I mentioned previously, the message/chat functionality as well as the alert notifications were also key in being informed of interested musicians as well as staying in constant communication with them. 

And it’s all for a good cause. Any tips will go toward the COVID-19 General Relief Fund. How can people help INTERCONTINEN7AL and donate?

You can tip us directly on our Album page or donate to the COVID-19 Relief Fund’s GoFundMe page here.

Any more projects in the pipeline for INTERCONTINEN7AL? 

Yes, we actually are already plugging away on our second album, and hope to have this ready for release in the next few months. The goal for the second album is to make it more eclectic, with a wider variety of genres represented. As with the first record, any and all proceeds will be going to charity (the specific charity for Volume Two is to be determined). We have also expanded the number of musicians collaborating to 35 in total and still counting! That’s up from 22 for the previous album.

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