In 2001, the band, The Postal Service, began working on what would become their debut album, working from opposite coasts of the United States. Unlike most songwriters, they didn’t follow the time-honored tradition of sitting together in a room, slaving away over notebooks full of scrawled lyrics and chord progressions. Instead, the members recognized the power of remote collaboration — each member could work in comfort, using their preferred methods, working together to create something neither could have alone.
How did they collaborate?
They mailed DAT tapes back and forth, adding the parts in their own home studios and eagerly awaiting the time it would take the physical materials to transit between them. A DAT tape could take days or weeks to arrive in the mail, so the band had to be very organized, patient, and creative using recording technology as they were limited to the available tools.
At the time, that was one of the only ways to collaborate remotely. Another option was to place a call on a landline, place the receiver down and play something (loudly) through a stereo or an instrument. What an incredibly painful process that was back then!
Is it easier now?
Today, even with the advent of new technology, musicians are still using the old ways of collaborating. Now, instead of using the USPS to move media, they kludge together bespoke systems incorporating a variety of components and subscriptions — all held together with the hopes that others are at least as technologically sophisticated as they are. After all that, they still have to try to find the time, energy and inspiration to complete their audio. It’s no wonder that so many projects and fantastic ideas are abandoned, if that’s the way they’re forced to work!
In the age of the internet, it seems like everything should be more efficient—especially audio collaboration.
What is Audio Collaboration?
Audio collaboration is the process of creating and working on audio projects with other people. It’s that simple – it really is! But, collaborating properly and effectively? That’s an incredibly deep topic, one we’re going to start exploring here.
Audio, by its very nature, is collaborative — to experience it requires at least a creator and listener. Creating audio is also collaborative, traditionally with people working in the same room or facility. New technologies, however, allow us to go beyond tradition and explore new ways of finding and collaborating with others. While this is empowering, and exciting, it can also be overwhelming; especially if you’ve never done it before.
Don’t worry—we’re here to help.
Why Should I Collaborate?
At a basic level, collaboration is simply ‘individuals working toward a common goal’. Collaboration can not only help you achieve your vision quickly, it can make for a stronger product. Let’s dig in deeper, and look at some of the ways collaboration can improve your projects.
Working solo can have a certain appeal to it—however, when you think about it, no works of art are truly completed alone, right? When you work with others, you can bounce ideas off each other and brainstorm, arriving at new ideas that you might not have come up with on your own. Leveraging your combined skills and experience to arrive at new solutions is one of the best ways to improve a project.
Learn New Things
As we just mentioned, when you work with others you gain access to their skills, experience and knowledge. This is an incredibly powerful tool you can use to learn new things, outside of a traditional classroom. During the course of collaborating, you might pick up some new songwriting skills or production techniques that you can incorporate into future works. One of the best things about learning skills this way, is that you know they have immediate, practical, real-world application.
When you learn something in a traditional classroom setting, it can sometimes feel abstract and theoretical. But when you learn something through collaboration, you can immediately see how it can be applied to your own work. This can make the learning process more engaging and rewarding.
In addition, collaboration can also help you to develop your critical thinking and problem-solving skills. When you are working on a project with others, you need to be able to communicate effectively, to compromise, and to solve problems together. These are all valuable skills that can be applied to all areas of your life.
When collaborating you can complete the work more quickly by applying a ‘divide and conquer’ strategy. This doesn’t just help when a tight deadline is looming in the future, it makes the individual workloads more manageable and accommodates potentially busy schedules. Plus, you can divide the work according to each individuals’ respective strengths, skills or interests, creating a stronger final product.
Setting deadlines and communicating regularly with your collaborators are key factors when working this way. Accountability is a vital skill when collaborating remotely; others are counting on you to deliver, just as you’re counting on them. Be clear about expectations; this will help to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that the project stays on track. When you’re collaborating with others, you’re not only responsible for your own work, you’re also responsible for the success of the entire project.
It’s More Enjoyable
Working with others can be 1000% more fun and rewarding than working alone. Let’s look at a musical collaboration for a moment (and we’ll be using that as the default for the rest of this article). Not only do you get to interact with others and share your work with them, you get exposed to their work and inspiration. This can lead to new ideas and avenues of exploration and discovery. This cross-pollination of influences helps everyone grow as artists and musicians, enriching the world.
You can also get greater motivation and support when working on a project with others. Knowing you have people working towards the same goal as you is empowering, and can help you overcome challenges.
Collaboration is an easy way to grow your catalog. For example, consider using remixes. A remix is a new version of a piece of music that is created by rearranging or adding to the original recording. Remixes can be created for a variety of reasons, such as to update an older release for a new audience, to give a song a different genre or style, or to simply experiment with the music.
Of course, there can be some challenges to collaboration. For example, it can be difficult to align schedules and make sure everyone is on the same page or sharing the same vision. However, with a bit of planning, these challenges are easily overcome—and we’ll explore those later. We’re 100% confident the benefits of collaborating on audio projects outweigh the challenges.
Who Should I Collaborate With?
In a nutshell – everyone and anyone you can! One individual typically can’t do everything themselves, no matter how hard they try. Collaborating with others on audio projects is one of the best things you can do to further yourself as an artist. It can be inspiring to share your ideas and see others get excited about them, and excitement fuels creativity. Plus, if you have writer’s block, or want an instrument you don’t play for your latest track, you can easily find them by looking through your pool of collaborators. What, you don’t have a pool? Don’t worry – we’ll show you how to build one in the future.
One of the most common musical collaborations is ‘words & music’. In other words, a songwriter writes the melody and harmony, while a lyricist handles the words, combining their talents to make a stronger piece than either could by working alone. Many bands and very fruitful musical partnerships have grown out of this kind of collaborative relationship. Lennon/McCartney, or Simon/Garfunkel, anyone? However, there are plenty of other collaborations that can happen, as well.
If you’re a musician, collaborating with other musicians can lead to new music. We aren’t just talking new songs—we’re talking you could create entirely new, unheard-of genres! It’s also a great way to get feedback on your ideas and learn new skills and techniques quickly.
It’s hard enough to wear all the hats necessary as creatives, so collaborating with an audio engineer during recording, mixing or mastering can make our life easier—and better-sounding! There’s no better way to make sure your project sounds its best than to get some guidance on the technical aspects of production.
If you’re involved in a commercial audio project or a musical project, a producer can help you tie it all together. Not only can they offer creative guidance and new ideas, they usually have a roster of other artists they collaborate with who would be willing to help. Look at that, you’ve just expanded your network, effortlessly—that’s pretty cool. A producer can also help with project management, and keeping everything on-track.
If you’re a student, collaborate with other students on your projects; you’ll learn twice as quickly as you would just working on your own. If you aren’t a student, and want to brush up on some skills, collaborate with a student. They’ll benefit from your experience, and you can gain a fresh perspective to bring to your future work. Also, film students are ALWAYS looking for people to collaborate with—an easy source of material for a demo reel, if you’re working on one.
These are just a few of the people you can collaborate on audio with, and how they might help you. We’re sure there are plenty of others out there needing your unique talents and are waiting. So what’s stopping you?
How Do I Collaborate?
Well, okay, we can see how that question might be stopping you. So, let’s examine a few of the skills and processes that can help make a collaboration successful.
Set Clear Goals
Before you start collaborating, you have to know what you’re collaborating on. What are you trying to achieve? What are the deadlines? What’s the budget (Is there a budget?!?) Once you know what you’re trying to achieve, you can start planning your collaboration.
Clear, honest communication can mean the difference between life and death for your collaboration. Make sure you’re all on the same page by using a central repository for notes, and make sure to use that same repository for versioning (keeping track of various changes). Timestamping comments is essential when you aren’t reviewing the material at the same time. It’s also incredibly helpful to have everything, and we mean EVERYTHING, associated with a project in that same, secure repository. There’s no better way to ensure everyone’s on the same page, than for you to own the page!
When collaborating, things will not always go according to plan. Take a deep breath, and read that again—things will not always go according to plan. That’s okay. Sometimes, it can even lead you to a new, better idea. Be flexible and willing to adapt to the changes. Be willing to give-and-take with your collaborators; and always be open to others’ ideas.
There’s a silver lining in every cloud if you remember to stay calm, adopt a positive mindset and communicate with your collaborators about the changes. Many great moments in musical history have happened by accepting “happy accidents”.
When you achieve a goal, whatever that may be, make sure you take the time to celebrate. It helps to motivate you and your collaborators, and serves to remind you that there is always an end in sight. Here are some tips for celebrating your wins:
- Be specific. When you celebrate your successes, be specific about what you’re celebrating. This will help to reinforce the positive memories, making them more meaningful.
- Be public. Don’t be afraid to share your successes with others. This will help to build excitement and motivation for future collaborations.
- Be creative. There are many different ways to celebrate your successes. Get creative and find a way that is meaningful to you and your collaborators.
- Be consistent. Don’t just celebrate your big successes. Make sure to celebrate your small successes as well; this can help you stay motivated and on track.
When Should I Collaborate?
There’s a variety of reasons you might consider collaborating on an audio project. Perhaps you want a different point of view. When you collaborate with others, you get to hear their thoughts and ideas, which can help you to see your project in a new light. This can lead to new and better ideas, and it can also help you to avoid making common mistakes.
Maybe you require a very specific set of skills? Not everyone is an expert at everything, and that’s okay. If you need help with a particular aspect of your project, such as mixing or mastering, you can collaborate with someone who has the skills you need. This can save you time and money, and it can also help you to get the best possible results.
Sometimes, you’re just stuck and don’t know what to do next. Don’t sweat it, if that happens—we’ve all experienced it at one time or another. If you’re feeling stuck, collaborating with others can help you get unstuck. They can offer new insights and perspectives, and they can help you to see your project in a new light.
When You Need Help
If you’re working on a large project, or if you’re not sure how to do something, collaborate with someone who has more experience or knowledge than you. Not only will the project stay on-track (or return to it!), you’ll learn some valuable knowledge you can apply in the future.
If you’re not sure how to do something, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are many people who are willing to share their knowledge and expertise. By collaborating with others, you can learn new things and grow. So, next time you’re faced with a challenge, don’t try to do it alone. Reach out to others and collaborate. We’re betting you’ll be glad you did.
When You Want Feedback
Collaborating with someone offers a chance to get feedback on your work, while it’s still being formed. This can save you a lot of time by keeping you focused on the project, instead of wondering, ‘Is this any good?’
Be specific about what you’re looking for feedback on, and remember to be open, even if it’s not what you want to hear. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you don’t understand something, and ALWAYS be respectful of the person’s time. They don’t have to help you, so be appreciative (and don’t forget to return the favor if you get a chance.)
When You Want To Learn
If you’re interested in learning new skills, collaborate with someone who is an expert in the field you’re studying. This provides someone who understands the challenges you might be facing AND who can help you get clear of them. This is particularly effective if you’re learning a new DAW, plugin or other technology.
Some other things to consider when deciding if you should collaborate or not are:
- The size of the project: If the project is large, collaboration helps you divide and conquer.
- Your skills and experience: If you don’t have the skills or experience to complete the project on your own, collaboration can be a great way to acquire them and grow.
- Your goals: If you have a specific goal, collaborating can help you get there quickly and effectively.
- Your budget: Collaboration can be a cost-effective way to get things done. If you’re on a very tight, or non-existent budget, sometimes it’s the ONLY way to get things done.
- Your timeline: Collaboration is the easiest way to get a project done quickly, if you’re on a tight timeline.
- Your personality: If you’re a team player and enjoy working with others, collaboration can be a great way to get projects finished.
Ultimately, the decision of whether or not to collaborate is a personal one. There is no right or wrong answer, and the best decision for you will depend on your specific project.
Why Tonic Audio?
Tonic Audio simplifies the status quo; we have a better way to collaborate than existing methods. Currently, it’s tough to share music and get feedback, find others to collaborate with, AND the tools and utilities that commonly get hacked together weren’t designed for musicians.
We have a better way to collaborate. One that lets you keep all your files, securely, in one place. One that also supports the approval process, with automatic file versioning, notifications and time-stamped commenting. One that lets you build your community, your way; one that lets you execute your workflow, your way. One that also gives you a way to connect with other creatives while adding the extra edge your projects need to shine.
Tonic Audio is built from the ground-up for one simple thing: making collaboration and community easier. But, we aren’t content with just building awesome tools for you — we also want to empower you to make your vision real. In this article, and many future ones, we’ll be exploring the art of collaboration and how it makes you more effective. We get the struggles; we’re musicians and recording engineers ourselves. We’re here to help you navigate the challenges of collaborating.
It can be challenging to create a community of eager, engaged citizens, but we’re going to help you do that. We’ll show you how to get a release party going, host an online performance and distribute your music to the masses in the form of an interactive remix contest. High-quality stems will be available for you to use as the basis of your collaborations, or as an educational tool for you to practice
Come along for the ride—it’ll be fun!