How to make your music collaboration a success

The music you make with collaborators takes everyone to the next level. Music collaboration is a brilliant (sometimes difficult) artform in itself. Anyone in a band can tell you all about it…

Collaboration is an extra pair of ears, hands, and an additional brain to work with. It gives you VIP access into someone else’s workflow. It helps you overcome creative blocks. It even brings out creativity you didn’t know you had.

But collaborating is hard. Where do you find a network? Where should you start? And how do you make it work for your music? Here are a few tips to start (and keep) a collaboration with other musicians.

How to find your music match

Sometimes finding your music partner is as simple as looking around your group of friends – and their friends too. Getting involved in your local creative community is the best place to start.

If you need to dig a bit deeper, here are some ideas on where to find music collaborators:

  • Look on SoundCloud and contact people whose music you like
  • Go to livestream shows in your city and make connections in your local scene
  • Play livestream shows – people will be more inclined to ask to collaborate if they hear you live
  • Find Facebook Groups in your area and get involved
  • Get involved in online music forums, many of which have official feedback threads where artists can post their music and get feedback.
  • Ask your local university if you can put an ad in the music department (you never know!)
  • Share your tracks with people already in your network and ask if they know anyone else who might be able to help

Once you’ve found your other musical half, here’s how to make things work:

1. Know your own strengths and weaknesses

To be a good collaborator, you gotta know what you’re bringing to the table. That way you’ll know what you’re looking for in a music partner.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What can you contribute with your creative voice and skills?
  • What are your short-term goals? What are your long-term goals?
  • What is your process missing or needing help with?
  • What kind of music do you wanna make?
  • How often can you jam or rehearse?
  • What musical and visual aesthetic you’re going for?

Being on the same page about commitments and goals is crucial.

Don’t just ask at the start either. Ask yourself these questions often during your collaboration. Open communication is key.

It will help you both get the most out of your work together now and in the future.

2. Treat it like a jobship: A friendship and a job combined.

You’re gonna spend a lot of time with a collaborator. You better like each other as friends first!

Treat your relationship like a responsibility too. Take deadlines seriously. Arrive on time. Be courteous and accountable. Remain open, flexible and kind. A critique goes down better if you let them know what’s good first. Balance how you talk about ideas but don’t pull punches either.

3. Work Work Work Work Work Ethic

Good collaboration starts with the music. Pick collaborators based on the music they make AND the work ethic it took to make it. If your work ethic, sound or both, don’t match it simply won’t work.

‘Work ethic’ means their values and how they work. So when you’re looking for someone to collaborate with ask yourself

  • Are they easy to work with?
  • Do you have good communication?
  • Do they value the same things as you?
  • Are they punctual, able to meet deadlines?
  • Do your schedules match?

The most important point on that list is communication. Sharing projects and staying connected throughout the creation phase is key, and bouncing around between Dropbox, Gmail and Soundcloud is a huge hassle.

Good music collaboration needs great chemistry, but it also has to work on a practical level as well.

That means the right tools that take the confusion and hassle out of working together whether your in the same studio or thousands of miles away.

4. Set clear and complementary roles 

There’s nothing worse than stepping on feet when collaborating. If the roles aren’t clear you’re gonna get frustrated.

A vital part of collaboration is every member delivering on their part of the process.

Good music partnerships are often based on individual strengths complementing others’ strengths. Let each member shine doing what they do best.

Define the roles early – whether it’s divided by instrument or by step in the songwriting process (writing lyrics, arranging, mixing, etc.). However you do it, set everyone up to excel at their strengths.

5. Make Respect and Trust a Priority

Collaborators don’t always agree—and that’s normal.

The important part is being able to express your opinions with respect and care towards your collaborators. After all, music is a very personal thing.

Don’t let egos get in the way of your work. You’re all working towards a common goal: Good music. Try every suggestion before discarding it. Let yourself be challenged and surprised.

Respect each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Support and encourage each other. Ask for feedback. Give feedback in a constructive and respectful way.

Collaborating means learning from listening AND learning from teaching someone else.

6. Make a plan: develop a vision and concept

A music project is exciting because it’s a whole universe. The best music projects bring you into a total world of sound, imagery, fashion and imagination.

Like Die Antwoord: in addition to their music, they’ve nailed the art of creating personas, unique videos and a recognizable aesthetic that others wanna copy.

So when you’ve found your perfect match, take some time to plan and dream together. Share music that influences you. Brainstorm your overall aesthetic and visual concept. Keep a mood board of things that inspire you. 

Also think of what you want your live performance to look like (costumes? lights?) and how you’d like to be represented in press photos.

7. Have fun or don’t do it

Always remember to keep things fun for everyone involved. Let your collaborators know that you value their work. Praise them when they’re doing something really awesome.

You couldn’t have gotten where you are without each other, that’s well-worth celebrating! Cheers!

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