We've all been home pretty much since March and if you are a creative you must have tried some zoom, FaceTime, skype or Google hangouts collabs. By now you must have figured out most of the technical difficulties such as bad internet, bad audio or feedback.
I've been really lucky to have met some great new cowriters from all over the globe via zoom and 90% of these writes have been amazing and eye opening, but 10% of the writes have not worked out and were a complete bust. Some of my songwriting friends had some hilarious online cowrite disaster stories.
So, how can we make this experience the best experience? Since we are probably going to be doing this for a little while longer, we might as well make this a great experience and learn some new skills too!
It's just another room.
Remember the old days? 3 or 4 people all cramped into one room writing and vibing with each other? Humming melodies, throwing words back and forth? We can still do that, actually if you don't follow that process because you're on zoom and there is a mute button you're missing the point. The other day I was in a session where the writers kept muting themselves, sometimes for 30 minutes at the time, and sending voice notes via text, both working on different sections of the song.
The result, no one was listening to each other, getting inspired by someone's idea and improvising around it and of course, 3 hours later and 20 notes back and forth we ended up with an ok verse and un unfinished song. A zoom room is nothing different than a real room, you don't walk out of the room each time you have an idea in real life, you don't talk over the other person when they haven't finished a sentence, you don't send each other voice notes. In this time of Covid, interaction and communication is the key.
It's even more important to listen to each other, if someone's connection is a little off, ask them to repeat it, if you can't hear a few words, make sure you got it right, make sure you share your ideas as much as you allow the others in the room to express themselves.
External software solutions.
There are some great tools that you can use to help the process run even more smoothly. Here are some easy solutions:
Editing Lyrics. If you're all on an iPhone, use iCloud for all your notes, share through messages so it pops up on everybody's phones and you can collectively edit. The same goes for Google docs, or Context.
High quality audio streaming. Are you working with tracks or are you recording vocals right into your DAW while you are writing so you can remember melodies and lyrics?
Zoom has a great share screen > share computer sound function, where your cowriters can hear it straight from your screen. Make sure you do change the preference settings in your DAW. You can also use Audio movers my absolute personal favorite, you can put it on the stereo output of your DAW and it creates a link that you can send to anyone who needs to hear it. This is also amazing for long distance recording sessions with bands. The quality is absolutely amazing.
Loopback is for the people among us who have multiple devices, interface, mike routed through interface or mix pannel, headphones and speakers, iTunes, Spotify etc, Loopback lets you route whatever you want to route into your online session. The quality is great and apart from some feedback issues, it's been working amazing for me.
Prepare prepare prepare.
If you are the track person, make sure you have a few track loops ready for each session, research who you are writing with and FOR who, and make a few setups to make the other writers feel inspired. It is really hard to build a track as you are going, with the feedback, the sound issues. You don't want to constantly mute yourself because you are building a track and you also don't want to disturb the creative process, so be prepared and individualize each session. You don't have to make a track for each session but you can pick the right tracks between the once you have that fit the sound and feel of the write. Send a text with your tracks a few minutes before the write so people can jam with it and feel it out.
If you are the writer, listen to the artist you are writing with/for before your session and maybe even request some new material from them or their team. This will help you make a nice title and concept list tailored to the artists. I usually do a little bit of a social media search and see If I can figure out who this person I'm writing with really is. The artist will appreciate the effort and it will safe you from wildly guessing.
If you are the artist, have your stories, melody ideas, personal anecdotes ready. Did you just go through a break up, did you lose a friendship, did you just move to a new town, do you feel lonely? Introducing yourself and getting close with new writers online is hard, so choose what it is that you want to share with the writer/producer and lead the session with that.
Did you sent a zoom link and one of the writers can't login no matter what you do? Be prepared to make a quick switch and find new solutions. Zoom broke? try FaceTime or Hangout. Internet broke? Try it via the phone with a regular group call, Don't go down the rabbit hole of fixing issues that might not even exist on your end, instead, make sure you have some options ready to go. Try to confirm upfront if everyone has the link, if the connection is ok on their end and if they are ready to go!
Follow up and show grace.
A lot of top-liners are now also recording their own vocals, for a lot of people this is a new experience and it's pretty overwhelming. Give them the time to figure it out, and show them the grace you wish people gave you when you were still learning. There is no point to finish a song and expect a full demo the same day, it's possible, but with Covid and record labels taking a little longer, there is no musical emergency, so don't create one and therefore create a ton of stress.
Make sure you follow up regularly (once a week) and if they really have a problem recording it, either offer them some help or assume they are not excited about the song and use that track for something else.
Another way of putting this is, DON'T BE PUSHY. Because of Covid a lot of people in the music industry might have taken on extra work to make ends meet, don't follow up every day. I've been really clear with my cowriters when I have another deadline for another project. However if there is any urgency or delivery deadline, I'm always willing to move things around, Just be clear about your expectations as an artist and your schedule as a producer. When someone constantly hounds me to get something done but can't give me a reason why, it creates a lot of extra stress since I sometimes plan months ahead of time and the stress creates a tension for me I'd rather avoid.
We're all doing the best we can do during this situation, don't forget to take some time for yourself to charge your own battery, you can't be a good collaborator if you are exhausted and worn out.