Finding the right person to collaborate with on a musical project can be a difficult thing. Collaborating on a musical project involves compromise; compromising ideas, time and creative direction. Having said this, the benefits can be immense. Collaborating with someone exposes you to their musical background. It introduces you to new ideas and methods, and hopefully results in some original and creative music that you couldn't have come up with on your own.
So how can we maximise these benefits and minimise the frustration and friction that collaborative situations can sometimes cause? Below is a list of do's and dont's that i've generally found are helpful when you have two or more people in the studio working on a piece of music.
1) Give Them Space
Make sure you give your partner plenty of time and space to flesh out an idea. Go play Xbox, have a cigarette or make a phonecall. There's nothing worse than feeling like you need to hurry up and finish something because the other person is waiting to have a go, it creates tension and makes the process of writing music less enjoyable than it needs to be. This can be difficult if you aren't used to the way they develop ideas, you're going to want to interject and take the project in a different direction using a method that you know works. In a word, don't.
2) Build on Their Ideas, Don't Change Them
Don't simply change a melody that your partner's come up with. Instead of altering what they've done and changing certain notes, build on the melody. Add other sounds and harmonies, after all a collaboration is meant to be about building on each other's ideas, and pushing yourself to be creative in this way. If you simply change what the other person's done then you're going to end up changing all of their ideas until they sound like your own.
3) Agree on Limits
Each member should have the right to veto any elements that they don't like in the track. After all in a collaboration the final product bears all of the producer's names. No one should have to put their name on a song with a part to it that they dislike. All of the producers should have the right to say that they don't want a particular sound, melody or atmosphere in the final arrangement.
4) Leave Your Ego at the Door
If one producer thinks that they are more talented than the other, then the collaboration won't work. You have to respect the other person's creative ideas enough that you'll want to include them in something that has your name on it. If you don't respect the person that you are working with, you'll end up censoring all of their ideas.
5) Structure Your Time
Get a timer and set a fifteen minute limit. If you can't come up with a coherent idea for the aspect of the track that you are working on in that time, then it's time to give your partner a turn at finding an answer to the same question. There's nothing worse than sitting idly by not knowing when you are going to have a chance at putting an idea you've had down because your partner is fiddling around with something that you know isn't going anywhere.
6) Prepare Ideas and Materials
It's a good idea to come to a session with something that you've created. This will speed up the process and allow you to focus on the creative rather than polishing and processing sounds. For example, I always try and prepare a couple of drum loops before a collaboration. This is because drums are a difficult, fiddly and time consuming thing to get right. Preparing them beforehand removes the need to process and polish a bunch of sounds while you're collaborating, and allows you to focus on the creative first.
7) Focus on Your Strengths
If one person has a lot of knowledge of music theory, let them use this knowledge, and let them come up with a variety of melodies and harmonies that can be used in the final arrangement. Similarly if one person is a better engineer, let them focus on the mixdown at the end of the arrangement process. Although somewhat obvious, it's worth noting that by giving each partner a main area of responsibility they can take charge of it creates a better end result.