Some of the best music in the world has come from collaboration, but creating with partners doesn’t come naturally to some songwriters. Every collaboration is a relationship, whether you’re writing with a partner or performing music as a six-piece band. When these relationships are built on trust, communication, and respect, creativity is allowed to thrive. If you’re looking to get the most out of collaborating with other music-makers, consider these tips:
Keep the lines of communication open
Communication is essential in every relationship, and musical collaborations are no different.
For collaborative partnerships to be fruitful, it’s important that everyone involved feels comfortable sharing their thoughts, ideas, and concerns. When everyone involved in your collaboration commits to speaking freely and listening, your best ideas are able to develop naturally and clearly, with everyone’s input being considered. Your collaborations can’t reach their full creative potential without open communication, so make this a priority.
Have a “no bad ideas” policy
Every idea should be considered to have potential and merit in musical collaborations, even if you’re unsure whether they’ll go anywhere or not. Hearing out everyone’s ideas in a patient, respectful way creates a positive and open culture in your collaborations, and this is essential for keeping ideas rolling and each member of the partnership feeling like they have skin in the game. You might hear someone’s idea and immediately think it’s dead on arrival, but the truth is that you really don’t know until you explore it. It’s completely possible for the ideas you judge as poor in the beginning evolve into something you later love and stand by, so commit to giving everything your collaborators bring to the table a fair shot.
Leave your ego out of it as much as possible
Unchecked egos have laid waste to countless musical projects, and it can pose a serious risk to your collaboration if you’re not careful. Everyone in your creative partnerships should be treated equally, even when members contribute more or less than others. A person’s musical talents have nothing to do with their need to be respected and heard. When we make collaborations about ourselves more than the music being created, our best ideas get drowned out by petty competitiveness, jealousy, and grudges. Truly setting aside someone’s pride and purely focusing on creating does not come naturally to many musicians, so doing this for you might take a lot of conscious effort and work, but it’s well worth it if you want healthy and fruitful collaborative relationships in your life.
Respect each other
Every tip on this list revolves around a foundation of mutual respect for the people you’re collaborating with. If you don’t feel respected in your creative relationships, there’s no way you can create freely and at your full potential. The same goes for the musicians you work with. All the songwriting and musical performance talent in the word can’t make up for bad behavior: talking over people, belittling someone, dismissing someone’s ideas before you’ve heard them out, competitiveness, etc. The same qualities that make a person a successful friend, work colleague, or romantic partner will help you be a respectful musical collaborator.
Try listening more than talking
Your collaborations will thrive when each member makes an effort to make sure that everyone’s voices are heard. Many of us naturally want to share our ideas instead of listening to the ones our partners bring to the table. But doing this repeatedly creates an unequal dynamic within the relationship. Much of the time, the collaboration itself as well as the music it produces will be better off when everyone is heard and taken seriously, and this can’t happen without listening. Remember that when music takes priority over everything else, listening will come naturally. You might be so excited to create that you just want to get to creating and end up forgetting to hear out your collaborators, but try to resist that impulse and listen instead.
Other people in the room during the songwriting process means that you’re creating in an entirely different dynamic than when you write alone. When your creative relationships prioritize respect, communication, and openness, you’re able to make your best music.
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.