Finding Collaborators and Feeling Free

A screenshot of the Feel Free Jam project on

Chatting about the music and the process

On the beat, I paused the music, put down the finger I had been waving in the air, and then clicked back to my tab. Fingers poised above my keyboard, I looked up. Jeff was looking at me, three rows away.

“Can I get your ears on this?”

“Yeah, give me two… five minutes, at the max.” 

I had just read the elevator pitch for a family-centered communication tool and wanted to give my first-impression feedback before it faded. This was a hackathon. More accurately, it was the six-hour in person session – hosted at App Academy – of a month-long hackathon sponsored by FindCollabs.

At another hackathon, you might expect to find recent bootcamp grads writing MVP prototypes of a phone app. You might envision a rapt audience of friends watching someone playing through a web-based hack-and-slash fighting game, snapping open the dev tools when an animation froze. You might imagine people pitching their ideas to recruit a team to help them in the hopes of snagging a cash prize. At the FindCollabs hackathon, I saw someone jamming on a baritone guitar they’d never heard of, people sketching art for a board game they’d never seen played, and, yes, people doing all those software development things you might expect. As a twenty year veteran of Silicon Valley’s code-to-live, live-to-code culture, it was a wonderful change.

Screenshot of using the FL Studio software to compose a song
I’ve tried to use music composition software like this, but my results suggest I should find other people to write the music.

Seven minutes later, I was taking off headphones. “Wow.” The new version was much better already. “Did you speed it up? I’ve got some lyrics that I think are going to work really well for this. It’s, uh… It’s outside my comfort zone, stylistically, but that’s great. I’ll grow into it.” After a little more detailed feedback, Jeff put his headphones back on and put himself back in the zone.

As the organizer and originator of both FindCollabs and today’s hackathon, Jeff Meyerson is, of course, ineligible for any of the $5000 in prizes. But he’s not in this for the money, anyway; he enjoys the process of collaboration. “I like to work with creative, committed people.” Luckily for me, music is one of his happy places. “I produced an album, recorded entirely with people I hired through Fiverr,” he later tells me. It’s part of the origin story of the FindCollabs project, and similar to how I ended up there.

Screenshot of a spreadsheet, tracking various song ideas
Every tool enters the market competing with a spreadsheet.

Years ago, I asked my family, friends, and whoever else felt like it to record my songs. I called the project “Feel Free”. I had written a few songs – because I am always writing songs, if making up ditties for crying children counts – but I couldn’t finish them. They had lyrics, and a cappella “singing in the shower” sketches, but I had never recorded instruments or, indeed, written down the tunes. So I was asking people to perform any of them that caught their fancy, however carefully or creatively they desired. The only rule was: Feel Free. Want to edit the lyrics? Feel Free. Modify the melody? Feel free. Change the genre? Make up a new rhythm? Mash them all up together? Feel Free. I got some really interesting recordings, which I could hardly call my songs any more.  By that point, they were communal efforts, well outside my usual style. It was great. Exactly what I wanted.

And so, when I wasn’t drumming on the desk figuring out how this very new version of one of my fairly old songs was going to go, I was bouncing around offering feedback on the other projects. Lots of people were a little outside their comfort zones. It was great.

The FindCollabs hackathon runs until midnight Pacific time on April 14th. It’s not limited to software; any creative, collaborative project is welcome to enter. Details are available at


Berkeley, CA

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