Eric Nakassa was lying in bed when the notification came through. Ahead of everyone else, the team at Vine had chosen his clip as an Editor’s Pick. The decision meant his loop was suddenly visible to almost every user of the app, triggering an explosion in views.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he says wistfully. “I looked at it gaining thousands of likes every ten seconds and I was just speechless.”
Eric is one of many talented musicians to have embraced Vine, the bite-sized video-sharing app owned by Twitter. The platform is still in its infancy, with no native advertising and only a small number of active brands. Similar to the early “vlogger” generation on YouTube, the service has allowed new, often unsigned artists to come forward and find an audience.
Nakassa has a style unlike anyone else on Vine. For one, he often layers instruments on top of one another using a loop pedal. This approach culminates in complex tracks with richer, intricate sounds. For another, he cares about not just the quality of the audio, but the angle and composition of his shot. Nakassa’s work is often lit with minimal sources of light, or from a first-person perspective. They’re interesting and stylish, without looking too professional.
Fitzpatrick, who goes by the name 80Fitz, takes a vastly different approach. A sensational beatboxer, he doesn’t require any instruments or backing tracks to support his melodies. Everything he creates is done with his vocal chords and the results, sometimes literally, are jaw-dropping. Within six seconds, Fitzpatrick is able to imitate a phenomenal range of instruments, sounds and digital effects. He does some fantastic originals too, which is a refreshing contrast to the overwhelming number of covers on Vine.
“I like the charm of the simple,” he says.”Just me in front of the camera. My style isn’t very overblown, so I try to stick with the old school way of doing stuff.”
Nailing the loop
Earlier this week, Vine released a major update for its iOS app with new capture and editing features. Most notably, it also introduced the ability to import existing videos from the Camera Roll, just like Instagram.
It’s a significant development for the service; before, it was awfully tricky to record a perfect six-second loop. While the community adopted workarounds, Vine only promoted its simple “long-press to record” capture workflow.
In short, users can tap and hold the screen to record a new shot; releasing creates an edit. When you press to record again, the new clip is stitched in front of the previous one automatically. It’s simple and effortless, but the limited tools meant there was (until recently) a black art to shooting. Recording and coordinating shots could be difficult, and making sure the first and last frame were almost identical, thereby creating a perfect loop, was even tougher.
But it wasn’t impossible.
“Looping was difficult to get used to,” Nakassa muses. “A lot of people still don’t know how to do it. The playback on Vine – it pauses for a little bit, so it doesn’t show you the complete loop. You’ve got to film just a bit more than you think.”
One trick is to use AssistiveTouch. The clever tool is a system-level feature of iOS and can be enabled in the settings app. It allows the user to record a gesture, such as a circular swipe, which can be triggered with an on-screen button. In short, Vine users can record an extended finger press and then trigger it when they want to record a new loop. As soon as the shortcut button is pressed, the video is recorded “hands-free” and the user can focus on their performance.
To take this process to another level, Viners stack gestures on top of one another. By pressing on the screen in a place that wouldn’t normally trigger a recording, an extended press is initiated. This acts as the countdown; the user then taps on the live viewfinder to stack a second long-press which will record the final Vine. While the first gesture plays out, the user can prepare and make sure they’re playing in time for when the actual recording begins.
Next page: Leslie Laine, Trench and more
Laine, a music teacher, is known on Vine for her outstanding piano covers. Over time, she’s also mastered AssistiveTouch in order to play more complex and demanding songs with two hands.
“People get really fancy with their gestures and I have fun with this little bit too,” she explains. “If you wanted to loop a song that you hear on the radio, or a song that you really love, you would create a gesture that has perfectly timed out the part of the song you want to loop.”
But it’s not always that simple. The AssistiveTouch gesture has to be timed to precision and syncing it with a backing track is even tougher.
“Sometimes AssistiveTouch is a little buggy and sometimes, you think you’ve held it down for the right amount of time – but really it’s too long,” Laine adds. “People spend hours creating that perfect gesture for a song.”
Not everyone uses AssistiveTouch though. One such Viner goes by the handle “Trench,” a virtuoso fingerstyle guitarist and harp player that shoots calming, picturesque videos outside with his dog Maple snoozing in the sun.
Trench has tried it all. Recording with his nose, his toes and even by placing a stylus in his mouth to get the perfect shot: “Some edit and upload their Vines, but I prefer the authenticity of recording everything live within the app.”
This gruelling, “no shortcuts” approach only adds to the respect, creativity and intrigue that surrounds the music community on Vine. Performing a cover, or an original track is already difficult – recording it within the apps’s various restrictions seems borderline Herculean to many outsiders.
Nakassa is the same: “I use a piece of flat wood, because I play out in the basement where there’s carpet and all of my music equipment. I keep my phone on the ground and use my toes to record. Oh, and I try not to get my legs in the shot. I kind of bend over and then I play the guitar or something.”
What to shoot?
Six-seconds. A musician on Vine has just six seconds to impress the community with their latest loop. Such a short timespan means that conceptualizing a video beforehand is crucial. To cover a classic track by the Beatles, for instance, a musician needs to pick out a passage that will last six-seconds or less. It also needs to be instantly recognizable and interesting enough to hold the viewer’s attention. Fulfilling all of those criteria is no easy task.
Laine says the trick is to pick a strong melody that’s repeated multiple times in the track. The precise timing can be adjusted by slightly increasing or decreasing its speed, but that’s a technique that needs to be used wisely. Push it too far in one direction and the musician will lose the original feeling.
“The other day I did Fireflies by Owl City and sped it up by 60 beats per minute,” she says. “At first I was like, ‘oh yeah this will be fine,’ and I caught some fireflies, put them on the piano and thought ‘this will be so cool!’ But as I was playing, I realized, ‘this is really fast. This should not be this fast!’ Sometimes it just doesn’t translate well if you have to alter the tempo of the song drastically.”
Recording an original piece of music for Vine is entirely different. Artists might take a slice from a longer track; it could be one they’re currently working on, or something they’ve already released. Furthermore, a Viner could also be jamming in their own time and stumble across an idea that would fit perfectly in a six-second loop. As their experience and notoriety on Vine increases, there’s also the possibility that musicians will actually sit down with the express intention of creating new music to share with their followers.
“It’s usually when I’m practicing, or when I’m working on a beat for a YouTube video, or a longer routine,” Fitzpatrick suggests. “I’ll hear something or come up with something that I like and think is worthy of Vine. I’ll then create the loop quickly and see whether it works – I have hundreds of Vines saved as reference ideas. It usually doesn’t happen when I say, ‘Okay, I’m going to create a Vine.'”
The future of Vine
Vine can often feel like a garden of Eden. A wealth of creative, experimental and downright bizarre ideas are posted by its users every day, and yet it remains largely unblemished by advertisers and large corporations. Look hard enough and you’ll find accounts for Mercedes-Benz, Nest and Burberry, but the volume of these posts and the influence of these brands feels lower than other video-sharing platforms, such as YouTube or Instagram.
That could soon change. Vine recently introduced loop counts, which show the number of times a video has been viewed in real-time. Watching the number steadily climb can be mesmerizing, but it also gives Viners – and perhaps more importantly, brands – a better sense of how their Vines are performing.
“I used to think that not a lot of people were viewing my Vines because I only had 5,000 likes,” Nakassa says. “But now I look and it’s 200,000 loops. It’s really an eye-opener, to show you just how often you are in the public eye.”
Fitzpatrick adds: “The fact they implemented a way to gauge impressions – and I’m guessing it will continue to build out – I think that’s going to be a really powerful tool for advertisers, and something they’ll be able to measure. So I think we’re going to start seeing more ads.”
Is this the right course for Vine though? The app’s music community is unsure. Some, such as Fitzpatrick, like the charm of Vine and the ‘do it for the love, do it for art’ mentality that many musicians have embraced. But just like YouTube, the interest of brands and advertisers could help some of these artists gain exposure and earn a living. As Viners such as Shawn Mendes have shown, the app could also be used to kickstart a professional music career.
“Vine is a wonderful platform for new musicians to be discovered,” Trench says. “Some have gone from being unknown, recording Vines in their bedrooms, to touring the country, getting record deals and releasing albums.”
The bright lights of the recording industry will certainly appeal to some, but the benefits of Vine can also be more personal. Laine has always struggled with performance anxiety, but creating Vines has helped improve her confidence. Recording a video in a controlled environment is, undoubtedly, more relaxing than a live performance. But Vines can be seen by millions and learning to cope with an audience on that scale, even remotely, can be beneficial.
“Hopefully that’ll guide me to go to coffee shops and start doing that more, because I’ve always wanted to be in a band or do something like that – but I just haven’t found the outlet,” Laine says. “But I think Vine has been an excellent outlet for me – it’s encouraging me to perfect my craft and be a better musician.”
In the meantime, there’s always the allure of another Editor’s Pick. To have a Vine selected by one of the company’s curators and shown to almost everyone in the community is, for any musician, a special experience.
“I got a notification and it said ‘Editor’s Pick regarding your post’ and there was six of them, so I presumed it was for different countries,” Laine recalls.(The selected Vine is shown above.) “I called Trench because we’re buddies now, and I said: ‘Oh my gosh, I think I just got Editor’s Pick, what’s going on?’ and he replied ‘I’m so happy for you!’ and then we were all really excited about it!”
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