Elevate Your Music by Collaborating Inspiration All Around Us

Many creatives in music have strong opinions about their musical ideas and what effect they want these ideas to have both within the work itself and on their fans and audiences. The freedom to make these autonomous decisions feels really great if we’re afforded that opportunity. However, it doesn’t always mean the end result will benefit or even be that great.

with Robin Holcomb recording. Photo by Carrie Robinson.

(With Robin Holcomb in studio. Photo by Carrie Robinson.)

Oftentimes a sequence of checks and balances within the creative process can elevate the final result for everyone. We all know of artists who gained notoriety in a well-known band. They had several amazing releases in the group before breaking out on their own in search of the much-desired ‘artistic freedom’ or spotlight. The solo work allowed them to fully express the ideas they may have had developing for years, but it isn’t always as good as the music that was made with their band.

Of course there are artists who went on to make way better music during their solo career. But if we carefully study the credits on these solo records, the same names pop-up time and time again as collaborators – either as producers, programmers, arrangers, musicians, engineers, songwriters, managers or lyricists.

As things stand today, someone can sit in their bedroom room with their laptop and make really quality music in almost any style. The days of needing a big budget for creating original music of any kind are fading away. With more affordable hardware, music production and notation software; one person could literally be a factory – creating large volumes of new music.

If we can do all of this on our own, why would we want or need to collaborate with others when creating? We don’t really need to, especially not all the time. Working on things alone is a great way to formulate our ideas and develop our artistic voice.

There are times when collaborating with a community can elevate both your solo and collaborative work. Here are some benefits of collaborating…

  • You can gauge how your art is coming across by the reaction of your collaborator(s).
  • Writer’s block, procrastination, self-doubt and losing focus can be less-harmful when others are on your side, helping you through the process.
  • It’s easier to sustain momentum and energy with others contributing.
  • We are inevitably forced at times to defend and justify our decisions – this isn’t always a bad thing… It’s often a very good thing for the end result.
  • Everyone has strengths and weaknesses – collaborating allows everyone to contribute in their strong areas. It also helps us get better at things we aren’t as good at by peer-based teaching/learning.
  • Creating music with other people makes it more human and personal. One reason Duke Ellington wrote such unique music is because he wrote each big band part to the strengths of each person in his band. Creating music like this makes it more meaningful to your collaborators and your audience.

How do we expand our creative circle to include more collaborators? Here are a few things to consider and try…

  • Your musical collaborators should be like family to you. Find people you love being around. There will be some tense moments when different headstrong people clash over artistic differences. It’s part of the deal and oftentimes the music will be way better after these disputes. But personal relationships can suffer or become toxic. So first and foremost, work with people you love and respect on a personal level so that the artistic differences won’t make things unbearable between collaborators.
  • Hang out with people (in person or online) who get excited about the same music you get excited about – and for the same reasons as you.
  • Start with a small step and let things build over time – reach out to someone you would like to have as a featured artist on a track. Have them do a verse or something that would be straightforward. Or have someone write a melody to an accompaniment you’ve created or vice versa.
  • Look for people who could use your unique talents. If you’re a great keyboard player and want to get on modern recordings or in a band, find a beat-maker you like who doesn’t play keyboards and offer to play keyboard over their beats. Find a band who doesn’t have a keyboard player and reach out to them with playing over some of their tracks.
  • Join online communities like Reddit, Tumblr, SoundCloud, forums specific to your musical interests, YouTube,Twitter and Facebook groups to start sharing ideas and your music with others who have the same interests as you. Over time these can become very deep bonds – both musically and personally.
  • Go to shows and talk to artists who really get you fired up. Don’t pester them, simply be yourself and when it’s appropriate share your work with them.

Keep making cool art and build your circle of collaborators. The quality of your work will certainly benefit… And it will probably become way more fun for you.