One of the most important aspects in creating music is that of the creative partnership. From Lennon and McCartney to Daft Punk and Pharrell, some of the best work comes when people pool their creative resources and work together. But it’s not always plain sailing. So here are some tips on how you can get the best out of a creative partnership, both in terms of artistic results and improving your own skills!
Take The Lead
In general, someone’s going to need to take the lead in proceedings. This can mean a few things – where are you going to work? Your place or someone else’s? What’s the setup going to be – will it be computer based, and if so who’s going to do the clicking and programming? It’s also useful to have someone with a rough vision – vaguely what style you’re going to work in, what kind of tempo, what mood the track will be – push things a little bit. It’s better to have someone pushing a track that others can react against, if needs be, than everyone trying to agree on everything first.
Follow The Leader
Of course, not everyone can be the focal point. And for some people, it can be difficult to sit back and let someone else take the lead, especially if you’re used to working alone in your home studio where you get complete creative control. You have to be prepared to trust someone else, even if they start doing things that you wouldn’t normally do. It’s this kind of creative friction that brings new and original results! Certainly, make your artistic views heard – but don’t worry if the track starts going in a strange direction. You can always tweak things later on. But outside your comfort zone is sometimes where the best stuff happens.
Play To Your Strengths
Obviously, in a solo track you’d be doing all the elements yourself, but when there are others at the table, you can split things up somewhat. If you’re working with an expert drummer, let them handle the rhythms. If you’re working with a singer or songwriter, let them suggest arrangement or structure ideas, and maybe leave more space in the track for their vocal. It might not be what you would have done on your own, but splitting duties will be more efficient and help you move things along more quickly.
Don’t Get Bogged Down In Details
…and don’t let the others do! When you’re working on your own, it’s easy to get sidetracked, whether it’s tweaking the drum loop by the tiniest smidgen, or agonising over that one lyric in the second verse. But when you’re in a group, that kind of detailed work can be saved for later. If people are on a good run, don’t hold everyone up by fine-tuning things. Let the creative juices flow, and you can work out the details later. Conversely, if it’s someone else tempted into this situation, it’s often out of insecurity; if you think their keyboard part or lyric is actually fine and doesn’t need altering, then let them know. They’ll be able to relax and move on to the next thing without worrying about it too much.
Use Your Social Skills…
Working with others can be a tricky process. If someone has just spent a while recording a synth part that you think is rubbish, don’t just welly in there and delete it without further ado. Talk it over as tactfully as you can, see if you can’t morph it into something better, and if all fails, leave it for a while – you may find they change their mind about it on reflection. The worst thing you can do is make someone nervous about putting any more ideas forward. Discretion is the key! This applies even more to people who may be intimidated by the situation – an acoustic musician who doesn’t ‘do’ music production perhaps, a music producer who doesn’t ‘do’ chords and harmonies, or a young singer walking into a roomful of techno producers. A lot of people can feel awkward volunteering lyrics or vocal ideas, so you need to make sure everyone feels as comfortable as possible. When people are relaxed and happy, that’s when they’re also at their most productive. And if you are the intimidated party, try not to be too precious about your ideas – it can be tough when you feel you’re baring your soul, but being confident and taking criticism on board, even if it’s badly delivered, will get you much further than retreating into the corner.
….And Be Professional
This might sound like a side-issue, something that stands behind the main issue of making great music, but actually it’s really not. Professionalism in this context doesn’t mean being an amazing engineer or session guitarist; instead it’s a case of being on time, and doing what you say you’re going to do. So many people rock up to writing or rehearsal sessions a couple of hours late (if at all), forget to bounce the stems they said they’d do, or are too drunk on stage. It makes everyone else stressed and irritable, and that will impact on the music you make. It may even mean the collaboration comes to a premature end – people get kicked out of bands for this kind of slackness. Nobody wants to look bad on stage because a band member didn’t practise!
Learn A Lesson
The best thing about working creatively with others is that you can learn so much from them. Whether it’s tiny things like keyboard shortcuts on your DAW, or more musical ideas like harmonies, chord progressions, or even how someone approaches their career, there are always loads of things you can find out and apply to your own music. Communication is the crucial factor, here as anywhere else. So keep your mind open to new ideas, share your knowledge with the others in the room, and even if you don’t write a single note you’ll still come away with more knowledge ideas, and inspiration than when you went in.
Categories: Music Industry Advice