The Ultimate Guide to Music Collaborations

Music collaboration is one of the purest forms of artistic creation. It takes people with similar music interests (and sometimes vastly different interests) and puts them in the same session – playing off of each other’s strengths and coming up with something completely unique.

Collaboration always comes with a bit of compromise though. The entire process is about giving up some level of control over your art and giving in to creating something bigger and better. There’s no doubt that some amazing music has been created in isolation, but if there’s anything major label releases have taught us, it’s that having multiple minds working together toward a shared goal can turn into massively successful results.

Collaboration can be challenging, especially for solo artists who traditionally work on their own. Where do you find people to work with? How do you start the process? And most importantly – how much do you contribute vs how much control you give up?

Finding Artists To Collab With

Collaborating with other musicians comes naturally to musicians who have played in a band before. You know what it’s like to work with different personalities and technical abilities. For better or worse, you’ve seen the good and the bad that collaboration has to offer.

But what do you do when the musicians you’re used to collaborating have moved onto other projects or aren’t the right fit for you anymore?

If you need to get outside of your existing network, start looking around online. Between streaming services and social networks, finding new collaborators is easier than ever.

Some of the best releases I’ve heard in the past year came from musicians who have never even met each other in real life. They’ve linked up after chatting in Facebook Groups like the JST Forum and realizing they had shared interests. With more home studios than ever before, getting professional collaborators capable of delivering studio-quality tracks is quickly becoming the norm.

Facebook isn’t the only way to connect though – SoundCloud, Bandcamp, online forums, Craigslist… The list goes on and on.

If you’ve got an idea of what sound you’re after, don’t be afraid to throw it out into the world and see who else might be interested in working together!

Play Off Your Collaborative Strengths

The biggest questions I get when recommending people go to places like audio mixing forums to find collaborators are things like “how do we decide who mixes the track?” and “who handles the programming/editing?”. They’re valid questions, but in the world of collaboration, there is no right answer.

Experiment with the formula. If someone is clearly the better mixer, use their skills to your advantage. The same goes for things like programming, editing, comping, tuning, and EVERY other aspect of your collaboration. If there’s not a clear winner in a category – you can each give it a shot. Or hand the work off from session to session.

Divide & Conquer

The important thing is keeping yourself business minded as you work through various aspects of the collaboration. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re doing 90% of the work in something that’s supposed to be an equal partnership.

Start early on with a plan of attack – set deadlines for yourselves to keep things on schedule and stick to the plan. It’s okay to venture off for a bit if you find a cool sound that you want to experiment with, but as soon as it becomes something you might want more for your personal collection and not share credit on, put it to the side and get back to the project at hand.

Know what you’re expected to do and make it clear to your collaborators what you’re expecting of them. 

Being creative in the studio is natural, but so are distractions. When you collaborate with someone else, you’re both mutually agreeing to block out those distractions for the sake of shared growth. And while you don’t need to dedicate every waking hour to this project that you’ve agreed to, setting boundaries about when you’ll work on it and how much time you’re ready and willing to commit can be a huge help when splitting up workload and creating timelines for your project.

If you’re not ready to give up that much control (or take on that much responsibility), maybe a feature on a track is a better fit for you.

Communication Is King

As with any job, working collaboratively on music depends on good communication between contributors. While you might not be in the studio together all the time (especially if you’re based in different parts of the world), video calls, emails, and texts can keep you connected.

Having a set time to touch base on project updates each week can help keep any session on track. Passing session files back and forth can help mold the sound of your track in near real-time and feedback is just a call or text away.

Keep Your Head In The Game

If you’re not feeling a certain project, there’s no shame in admitting it. Sometimes, things just don’t go in the direction you want them to. There needs to be some chemistry there or your collaborations just fall flat.

If you find yourself in a situation where you’re not feeling it anymore, make a decision about whether it’s worth finishing out the track or bowing out gracefully. Your peers will respect you for it and any short-term frustration becomes water under the bridge over time. 

Similarly, show others your appreciation for the work or they may leave you on far worse terms. Making music is supposed to be fun. You wouldn’t start a collaboration if you didn’t see the potential in it, would you? Neither would anyone else – so respect them and their role in the process. It makes it all that much more meaningful when you succeed together.

Now get out there and start collaborating!