In 'Theme Music,' Amateurs Collaborate From Afar Melissa Block talks to Matt Brown, creator of "Theme Music." Each week he selects a theme and musicians across the country virtually collaborate to record a cover song on that theme.

In 'Theme Music,' Amateurs Collaborate From Afar

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THE THEMESTERS: (Singing) Good, good, good, good vibrations.

BLOCK: To my year, that's an impressively spot-on re-creation of that Beach Boy's song. It's part of an online collaboration that's been going on for a couple of years now called "Theme Music." Every week on Facebook, a topic goes out to the group - maybe it's songs starting with the letter C or songs about cats and dogs.


THE THEMESTERS: (Singing) This is a story of a famous dog.

BLOCK: The Themesters - as they call themselves - form ad hoc musical groups, laying down tracks, sending them around, adding on parts until they have a song and a video. Up they go on Facebook. And the next week, they do it all again. The guy behind the theme music is Matt Brown, a former professional musician, now a lapsed one. He joins me from Somerset, New Jersey, from his home studio - also known as his bedroom. Matt Brown, welcome to the program.

MATT BROWN: Thank you. It's great to be here.

BLOCK: Some of the videos - it's interesting. Some of them are really low-fi, right? It's just one musician with a guitar playing into his iPhone. But there are also really big, elaborate collaborations. And I want to talk to you about my favorite one 'cause there are about 40 of you playing on this song.


THE THEMESTERS: (Singing) Runaway American dream. At night we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines.

BLOCK: OK. So nobody's going to confuse this singer with Bruce Springsteen. But part of what I love about this is that the videos show dozens of people here. We see them in their bedrooms. There's a guy out in his garage. You see rakes behind him. I mean, you get a real sense of these people's lives.

BROWN: Exactly. That - to me, that's the magic of it is it's just so human. I mean, that song in particular, everyone's really just having fun.

BLOCK: Matt, why not join a band? Do this face-to-face? What's the appeal of doing this collaboration online?

BROWN: Well, for me personally, the real thrill is collaborating with new people every single week. Usually the person who has an idea will just start privately messaging people and saying, hey, I'm thinking about doing this song. Do you think you could play piano? And some people will say, well, no I can't do it this week, you know, I'm babysitting my grandson, or whatever it is. And someone will usually say, hey, I'm free. I can mix it.

BLOCK: What are the mechanics for putting all these pieces of a song together, especially when you have so many, like with "Born To Run" here?

BROWN: It sometimes can be tricky. But for the most part, if I start and I record at a certain tempo, I can then upload that file somewhere where someone else can access it. They'll take that file, pull it down, and then they'll play along to that file. And we just keep doing that process until finally all the tracks are there and we can assemble them all together.

BLOCK: Do you get the feeling, Matt, that these are a lot of people who had some dream years ago that maybe they could make it as musician, didn't work out that way, but this is some avenue they have for that now?

BROWN: Really what it is is it's an avenue for people who were once very creative, and have had to let that go for any number of reasons. I think what happened is that you sort of forget that you need to make time to be creative. And so we sort of support each other in doing that and say, hey, you know, you're going to have to find the time to do this silly, little video. But it's worth it.

BLOCK: Do you have a favorite week of all the themes that you've put out there for the last two and a half years?

BROWN: I'd have to say the theme was birth year mash-ups. One band took Pink Floyd's "Time" - the music - and sang David Bowie's "Space Oddity" over the music. And the result was just perfect. I mean, it just sounded like they were meant to be together.


THE THEMESTERS: (Singing) Ground Control to Major Tom. We're receiving.

BLOCK: Thanks for talking with us.

BROWN: Thank you very much, Melissa.

BLOCK: Matt Brown is the founder of the Facebook group "Theme Music."

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