At age 12, Alec Wiggs picked up a guitar for the first time, a Squire Stratocaster. Twelve years later, he still hasn't put it down.
As passionate as ever about music, he's now writing his own songs and playing in three bands. Like a lot of musicians who live in small towns, Wiggs has struggled with scheduling conflicts, a general lack of resources and finding like-minded players.
But thanks to leaps in digital audio and mobile technologies, Wiggs and others no longer have to find bandmates who live in their own backyards. They now have a world of talented musicians at their fingertips.
That hit home for Wiggs after reading a piece on Medium about song crowdsourcing.
The idea was simple: take one song idea and send it around the web via an app called Fiverr, a crowdsourcing marketplace where people offer all sorts of services for five bucks and up. Wiggs found that the app had a surprising pool of talent at rates even independent musicians could afford.
Always eager to experiment musically, Wiggs decided to try it himself. All he needed was one good guitar riff …
Step 1: the guitar track
"I chose GarageBand because it offers simulated amps," Wiggs said. "I chose a sound that had a natural, clean gain with a phaser. Then, I recorded a second guitar over the initial track. No bells and whistles."
Just for fun, Wiggs decided to play in an entirely different style than he was used to.
Keeping expectations to a minimum, Wiggs exported the track and sent it off to a complete stranger, a bass player from Arizona he’d found on Fiverr.
Time: One day
Money spent: $0
Lesson learned: Always be willing to try something new, like your recording methods or genre.
Step 2: the bass track
Matt LeFevers, a 30-year-old from Chandler, Arizona, has played bass for about 11 years. He joined Fiverr to force himself to experiment with his instrument and play more supportive roles.
"My main gig right now is as a lead guitar player," LeFevers said. "I chose bass for Fiverr so I'd have an opportunity to practice and play new styles of music."
Wiggs messaged the track to LeFevers with little to no direction.
"I think you have to fully leave the creative liberties in the arms of the people you're hiring," Wiggs said. "You may get a different interpretation of your music that you may not have noticed otherwise."
LeFevers’ bass took the song in an unexpected direction, and Wiggs ended up preferring LeFevers’ take.
"I wouldn't change anything because his tone is warm and works well with the song," Wiggs said. "It was also pretty crazy that the track came in less than a day."
Time: Two days
Money spent: $5
Lesson learned: Stay open to new directions; be ready for a quick turnaround.
Step 3: the drum track
James Knoerl is a 21-year-old graduate from Berklee College of Music with a degree in drum set performance. With a guitar and bass track in hand, Wiggs set out to incorporate Knoerl’s drum expertise, which was an easy decision after watching the intro video on his Fiverr profile.
Like Wiggs' interaction with LeFevers, all their collaboration took place through Fiverr's in-app messaging. He gave the Boston, Massachusetts-based drummer free reign other than suggesting a couple of areas to leave blank.
"We went through two takes due to some timing issues," Wiggs said. "But James' final take was really colorful and powerful with rolls that were cool. It was definitely along the lines of what I wanted."
"Alec gave me little requirements and just let me have my own way with it," Knoerl said. "I just recorded what I thought would fit, and it turned out he loved it."
This step took a bit longer than Wiggs expected because of the second run for the drum tracks, but he still enjoyed the process since Knoerl seemed eager to deliver a high-quality performance.
Time: Five days
Money spent: $55
Lesson learned: Don’t be afraid to ask for a second take.
Step 4: the vocal tracks
Wiggs suspected that vocals would be the hardest portion to source-and his experience confirmed it. Most vocalists on Fiverr sing but don't write lyrics. Since he needed both, it reduced the available talent pool.
Wiggs spent $90 and three days on a vocal track from a singer in Arizona, but after mixing, he felt he needed to hear another option.
Well under his budget and ahead of schedule, Wiggs messaged Jenyi Lee, a 25-year old resident of Los Angeles who studied vocal performance and songwriting at Berklee College of Music. Lee said she joined Fiverr because of its potential to expand her reach in ways that seemed impossible before.
Since Wiggs gave the previous vocalist little to no direction, he decided to be a little more specific with Lee.
“I gave her a couple of YouTube links that explained the shoegaze style and genre I wanted,” said Wiggs. “I think giving good directions for the vocals is the most important part of creating a song with strangers.”
Lee set out to provide lyrics, a melody and vocals and said she’d get back to him in a few days.
“It was slightly different than what I’m used to on my own, since I don’t often write with a genre in mind,” said Lee. “With Alec’s project, he had a particular sound in mind, which was very helpful for me in crafting the song.”
One day later, Wiggs received a notification on his phone saying the order was complete.
“I think Jenyi did a great job with taking my examples and matching the genre very accurately,” said Wiggs. “We had a volume issue in the track at the chorus, but she was very fast with giving me another take to mix in with the rest.”
Putting a song together with apps proved interesting to Wiggs as he watched his guitar track come to life piece by piece.
“Now that I have the vocals, it’s very interesting to see a song come together without the overwhelming effort you have to put into being in a band,” said Wiggs, who mixed all incoming tracks using GarageBand on his phone.
Time: Nine days
Money spent: $225
Lesson learned: Providing examples of your vision will help the people you collaborate with hit your mark.
Step 5: mastering
In 2010, 29-year-old Michael Ibrahim began to study the art of sound engineering and used Fiverr as a means to practice and learn the craft.
“It was the best decision I made because I learned so much and got to meet so many people in the music world,” said Ibrahim, who is based in San Luis Obispo, California.
Choosing Ibrahim—who has more than 600 five-star reviews on Fiverr and a well-designed seller page—was an easy decision for Wiggs.
"Alec's first message had an obvious enthusiastic tone to it," Ibrahim said. "Connecting with the artist and the music helps open up the mastering process even more, allowing more room for creativity, which I believe gives a better end result."
Wiggs and Ibrahim ran into some issues with the volume on the track, but in the end they were able to sort them out.
Time: 10 days
Money spent: $230
Lesson learned: Seller ratings and profiles are the best way to identify talent.
The final song
"If I find people who I work well with, I can write a whole album without even leaving my living room," Wiggs said. "And that's where I think the huge advantage of Fiverr is-the easily accessible amount of musicians at someone's fingertips at any given point in time."
In the span of 10 days with $230, “Hydrangea” was made with four strangers spread out across the United States—all of whom love their craft enough to do it for an affordable price.
Wiggs sums it up this way:
"Fiverr has made me realize that I have a vast outlet to be creative in ways I never imagined. That's definitely the most worthwhile feeling at the end of this process."