Even under the best of conditions, musical collaboration can be hard to pull off. During times when musicians can’t meet in person, it’s even tougher. Aspects like body language and in-room chemistry are difficult to translate during remote collaboration sessions, not to mention the hurdles of technology. But despite its challenges, remote music collaboration has resulted in creative work that’s gone on to change the world. With patience and planning, you’ll be able to make your long-distance musical collaborations productive and exciting. Here are five tips to help:
Create a list of goals to give your collaboration structure
Structure is critical for remote music collaboration. It’s usually a given when musicians are in the same room that they’ll slip into a predictable collaborative routine. But when we collaborate over email, software programs, or video, it’s not as easy to fall into a set structure, so we have to create one. Before collaborating, talk about what your goals are and how best to reach them by working remotely. Instead of broad goals like “finish our album,” get as specific as possible about what needs to be done and how to approach the work without seeing each other in person.
Take time mastering collaboration tech before your sessions
Even the most tech-savvy musicians run into trouble sometimes when it comes to navigating software and music equipment. No matter who you are and what your goals are for remote collaboration, testing the tech you plan to use before your sessions and not during them will save you time. Video conferencing platforms seem simple enough, but you’ll often run into sound and image quality issues. And while software programs that connect remote musicians can be great for collaborating, they often come with a learning curve. Before jumping in and starting, make sure you know the ins and outs of the tech you’re planning to use.
Approach remote collaboration with reasonable expectations
Remote collaborations are great, but they can’t replace the chemistry that happens when musicians work together in the same room. Rather than letting this discourage you, let it shape the sort of collaborative work you engage in. For example, sending ideas via email to your bandmates and working on ideas together over video conferencing platforms are good uses of your time. Trying to record those parts individually with different mics and DAWs and mixing them together probably isn’t. Some work will have to wait, but there’s plenty you can do right now remotely. Set reasonable expectations for your work and get cracking.
The roles you fill during in-person collaborations won’t necessarily be the same ones you take during remote sessions. Before you get started, have a conversation about who is doing what and why. This will help your sessions be more productive and structured, and it takes the element of uncertainty out of things.
Get as serious as you are with physical collaborations
This last tip might be the hardest thing for musicians to do. Meeting in person and hearing the sounds our fellow musicians create at their source is the most natural way of writing, recording, and practicing. Technology has come a long way, but it’s not able to fully bridge that gap. If you’re not able to meet in person, remote collaboration is something you’ll need to takes seriously. If you approach remote work in music reluctantly, you probably won’t get much out of it. Try to be positive, proactive, and open-minded! It may open up a side of your creativity you wouldn’t have been able to access otherwise. Boundaries and limitations can be great tools when it comes to inspiring creative curiosity. By getting serious about remote collaborations and learning to be productive with our time, we can make progress towards our goals without having to be in the same room as other musicians.
Collaborating remotely isn’t ideal, but it’s far better than not being able to work together at all. The things that help us work together under ideal conditions are what we should pursue when it comes to remote collaborations––patience, keeping an open mind, being prepared, communicating, and staying positive.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.