When sharing music tracks, having a plan for how to prepare your material for easy remote collaboration can save significant time and help avoid headaches.
Indie musicians everywhere are taking advantage of powerful digital audio workstations (DAWs) like Pro Tools, Logic, Digital Performer, Ableton Live, Cakewalk’s SONAR, and many others to transform their musical inspiration into playback perfection. With the ubiquity of such recording and production programs, it’s also becoming easier to collaborate on tracks with creative partners a city, country, or ocean away.
The concept is simple — you record some portion of a new song on your own DAW and then send what you’ve done to a collaborator, who loads your work-in-progress into his or her own DAW and records, edits, mixes, or does anything else necessary to the music before sending the material back to you. Musical partners can digitally exchange tracks just once for simple overdubs, or hundreds of times for more in-depth music collaboration — whatever’s necessary to get the music to where everyone wants it to be.
When it comes to sharing music tracks, though, the devil can be in the details. Having a solid plan for how to prepare your material for easy remote collaboration can save you significant time and help you avoid big headaches. Here are a few tips to get you started.
Agree on a format
Are you and your partner(s) recording in WAV or AIFF formats, 44.1 or 88.2 kHz, or something else entirely? Even though most DAWs can automatically convert file formats, better to agree on a standard at the beginning and go from there. If you’re just sending rough ideas back and forth with a songwriting collective in Norway, MP3s might be fine; if you’re adding some guitar tracks to a forthcoming surround sound album from your favorite West Coast psychedelic rock band and they’re mixing the album in 36 hours, full-res, mix-ready files are likely a better way to go.
If possible, share your entire session
If you and any collaborating partners are all using the same software (Pro Tools, for example), streamline your collaboration by sharing your entire project folder the first time you send your work to your remote cohorts. That way, you and your partners can just open the session file and start working without having to import anything manually; plus, any mixing automation, effects, and other edits or tweaks you’ve made on your end will automatically be accessible and editable when your partner opens your session. Just make sure you are all using updated and compatible versions of whichever program you are working in, and that any external plug-ins you’ve used are available to your partners as well.
If you can’t share your entire session, bounce your tracks separately
If you and your collaborators are working in different programs, the smoothest way to collaborate is often to bounce each track of your session individually and send them all over in a ZIP file. That way, your partners can simply drop or import all of your tracks into their own DAW and get to work.
DAWs will often let you select a feature called “Bounce All Tracks” (or something similar) which will essentially do the work for you, leaving you with a collection of nicely-labelled individual files, one for each track in your session. If you have to bounce your tracks manually, one by one, simply solo each individual track before bouncing it, make sure your click track is silenced, and save all of the files into the same folder.
While bouncing and sharing every single track separately will give your partners the most flexibility, it might be overkill in some situations — if you recorded a choir with twenty different microphones, for example, your collaborators might not need every single one of those twenty tracks, shared individually. Communicate ahead of time to see if your partners just want a rough stereo mixdown of, say, the drums, instead of a separate file for every mic that you placed on the kit.
Have all of your tracks start and end at the same place
When you’re bouncing tracks, make sure they are all exactly the same length and have precisely the same beginning and end points — even if one track contains four minutes of silence and only a single cymbal crash at the very end of the song.
The reasoning? When your collaborators receive tracks, they don’t want to have to waste precious time puzzling over which tracks line up where. Being able to simply import all of your tracks, line them up so they all start at the same time, and know that everything is synced correctly is a huge time saver.
Use a dependable file sharing program
Services like WeTransfer, DropBox, MediaFire, and Google Drive all allow you to efficiently share large files over the Internet — and new services for transferring large amounts of data seem to pop up on a daily basis. Find one that seems stable and intuitive for you and your partners and give it a try.
Label your files with a system
When you are sending individual audio files back and forth, make sure you name each file so it’s easy to find. Include the name of the song, the instrument or sound featured in it, and the version — something like “MyAmazingTrack_crunchysynth_take1” — so you can tell, at a glance what file you’re looking at.
Though it takes a few more seconds up front, thoroughly labeling your files will be a huge help if you have to go back to a session six months later and remember what tracks went where in which version of the song, or if you’re searching through your Downloads folder and don’t want to have to listen through 20 tracks all ambiguously called something like “guitar.wav” to find what you’re looking for.
Communicate about bpm, effects, and automation
Save early and often
Every time you are set to send or receive tracks, be sure to save a new version of your session in a clear way that shows a song’s progress. Doing so will help you keep clear track of what the latest incarnation of your song is — and also make it easy to look back at previous drafts for reference. As per individual tracks, make sure to name your session files effectively and thoroughly — e.g. “MyAmazingTrack_V2.1” or “MyAmazingTrack_June18Draft.”
Look for new ways to collaborate
Remote collaboration is not a new concept, and there are always new innovations to make sharing your projects more efficient and artist-friendly. Keep an eye on updates with your DAW, as well as new products or services from outside companies, to see if the latest developments can help make your own remote collaborations the best they can be.
Disc Makers’ regular contributor Michael Gallant’s debut trio album Completely received a four-star review from DownBeat magazine and a five-star review from Critical Jazz, which stated: “This, my friends, is the future of jazz. Fresh, invigorating, progressive – there are simply not enough positive adjectives to list here.” Learn more, download through iTunes, jam along with the new JamBandit app, or purchase through CD Baby. Follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant or on Facebook.
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