It’s hard to believe it’s been almost three months since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic and people all over the world were asked to comply with a quarantine order. We’ve spent a lot of time in our homes, we’ve cheered on those who are working on the frontline, and in the case of artists, we’ve created art. What is sure to be a hugely defining event for entire generations, this pandemic has spurred a true rollercoaster of emotions and anxieties.

A few days after this declaration back in March, German artist and producer Sebel wrote “Zusammenstehen” (or, in English, “Standing Together”). Sebel had experienced what a lot of us felt: this gut reaction of knowing this event could impact our everyday lives for years to come. But he approached the song with a sense of optimism, writing: “Even if it threatens that everything will fall apart, it could be that it welds us all together”.

Upon releasing the song and inviting others who may be feeling the same way (but unsure how to channel their creativity) to contribute, “Together” went viral and Sebel was flooded with feedback from artists all over the world who were eager to get involved. Working in a collaborative nature with artists via Skype, WhatsApp and other platforms, Sebel worked with over 220 audio files to translate the song across five languages. All proceeds have been routed to the German Orchestra Foundation, the first relief fund in Germany set up for freelance musicians.

“The project “Standing Together” is a unique document of the time of a historical event”, Sebel says, “It is a polaroid of lockdown, which shows how well collaboration at a distance can work if you stand together in the heart. Who would have thought that this song would end up sounding like music with around 180 contributions from around the world?”

Check out this video below to learn more about Sebel’s creative process, collaborating with artists, and using TuneCore to get the song out to the world. Below that, we chat with Sebel about getting this project started, his background and music career, why he values virtual collaboration and more.

1. How long have you been making music? When did you start using TuneCore to release your music?

I’ve been making music since I turned 13. Back then I started playing the keyboards. I started my first band when I was 15 and my parents provided a rehearsal space in the basement.

Since then music turned into a passion. I think if you’re starting a band when you are a young teenager, with all that comes with it, it’s very formative; for me maybe the most formative time in my career as a musician. I remember very well how we copied our first demo tapes with a stereo. Then we xeroxed the covers in the copy shop and cut them out.

Last year, (26 years since I started playing), after many successes but also failures, I decided to turn my back on the regular music industry and to start my own label, where I can produce, release and promote my music on my own. Since then I’ve been using TuneCore.

2. How would you describe your music and your work within the music industry?

Because I’ve been in the ‘music business’ for quite a few years, I partially remember the ‘good ole days’ of the industry – a time when the biggest goal was to sign a recording deal because only record labels could produce music, manufacture and promote it, and then bring it into the living rooms of the fans. The times have changed.

Artists must be more than artists these days! They are artists, sound engineers, video producers, photographers, graphic designers, distributors, promoters and bookers, and all that at once! That’s a curse and a blessing at the same time.

3. At which point during this pandemic did you get inspired to write “Zusammenstehen” [“Standing Together”]?

During the days when the WHO declared the virus to be a pandemic which needed to be taken seriously, I was on tour through Germany. COVID-19 was at that point the main topic for the whole crew. At that point, I had a gut feeling that this might be a very far-reaching and serious event for the whole world. When the tour got cancelled a few days later, and Germany declared a lockdown, I came home with that gut feeling and a lot of thoughts. Within the next two hours I wrote down my thoughts and composed this song.    

4. How did the collaboration with other artists come to be? Did you work with artists with whom you’ve already worked in the past?

I pretty quickly got the idea to integrate other artists into this project.

I said to myself: “How many musicians are currently in exactly the same situation as I am? The guitar is leaning against the wall, you have tons of time and you want to fill this time with creativity. If we as a society have to stick together and stand together during this quarantine, then we can put this energy into music as well!

I was very surprised about the many, many contributions from people I’ve played music with before, but also from musicians I only had the honor of getting to know because of this project.  

5. Tell us a little more about your ability to work with others and collaborate as you did – especially in times of a quarantine like these.

Even though I’ve been traveling as a solo artist for years now, I am enjoying every moment where I get to play and create music with other people. As a solo artist it is important to have a clear idea of what you want to create, how your music should sound, and what you want to say. But if you can put your own ego aside for a while and you can include the opinions and viewpoints of others into your art, there’s a chance of a result, which inspires you and frees up new energy.

Music is a universal language, and it is part of human nature to communicate with others and to collaborate with them. To make music with friends and to be creative with them, to me, is the greatest feeling in the world!

6. How did TuneCore contribute to make all this possible?

I think that every artist wants their art to be noticed and ideally liked by other people. These days artists simply have the opportunity to use the internet as their stage. A distributor like TuneCore provides this stage in a very quick and straightforward way. A project like “Zusammenstehen” probably wouldn’t exist without these opportunities, or it would have been a pretty much impossible effort to get this project as a ‘DIY artist’ to the listeners and fans. Once I am done mixing and mastering, I sit down in front of my computer, put a cover together and upload the tracks. Within days the song is available in all the stores, and I can quickly work on a new project.

But I also find it important to mention that during these times music shouldn’t be seen as a free product that you can consume however you want to without remunerating the artist and songwriter. This needs to be developed further in the future. But I like the current philosophy behind TuneCore because all the revenue goes to the artists.

7. What is your recommendation for independent artists who want to collaborate globally while they are locked down due to the quarantine?

Just do it! Today’s opportunities mean a lot of chances to be creative and to work with other musicians. Sometimes you just have to dare to ask!

“Hey people… I have an idea! Is anybody out there interested in contributing something to it?”

Initially I was skeptical, too, whether people would get in touch. But things turned out differently, and now I would ask this question with way more self-confidence!

8. What was your favorite part of this huge shared production?

A key moment was a conversation on Skype with a French musician who translated the song into French. He actually is a guitarist and not a trained singer, but I loved his interpretation and wanted to work on his vocal performance over the phone.

Over a distance of 1,500 miles, we put together his microphone, set up his preamp and produced line for line. I told him when to sing more quietly, when to sing louder and how far away he should be from the microphone. It was almost as if he was standing in my studio.

During that moment I realized what it meant to have a “collaboration” while being distant and how this is possible if you have a vision in your head and if your vision and the energy of another musician merge. That was the most beautiful moment of this project!

9. Can you give us some insights on the artists you worked with from all over the world?  

There was a drummer from Los Angeles (Wally Ingram) who lived in quarantine in his studio for two weeks, away from his family. Then there’s the world-famous guitarist Carl Carlton who recorded his track on the island of Gozo in the Mediterranean Sea. An Italian singer (Ilenia) probably came out of one of the most exhausting quarantines. Then there’s the Russian accordion player who had to get to the other side of town in a cloak-and-dagger operation to record there. But there was also the guy who played the bagpipe and sent a video with him in a kilt. I thought he was from Scotland, but he actually lives 3 miles away from my hometown!

10. When you created this song, did you ever expect such a huge success despite so many cultural and linguistic hurdles?

When I heard the song for the first time after I recorded it, I broke down in tears. I got the feeling that I had written something I am really touched by.

I didn’t expect that so many other people would be touched as well. After the second or  third translation it became clear that the song probably was pretty good. I just noticed that “even in this language you can’t destroy the song”.  In the first few weeks I was so busy integrating the contributions from other people into the project that I almost didn’t realize how successful the original German version had already become.

11. What’s next for you? What can we expect from you in the second half of 2020?

I will do what I’ve always been doing! I will write music, play and produce. And if I still can’t play live, I will write and produce more music.

I am looking forward to what happens…. And I am looking forward to seeing if my experiences with the project “Zusammenstehen” will change my music. I think so! Not because of the success, but because of the experience, which I was able to make because of this great project!

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