remote musical collaboration

Are you ready for a remote musical collaboration?

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If you need to collaborate with another musician to make your project come alive, when do you look locally and when do you cast a wider net? Here are some guidelines to help you decide when remote musical collaboration is right for you and your project.

In “Remote music collaboration: How I got a live cello on my recording,” I wrote about a recent and very positive experience I had working with a musician who was hundreds of miles away. Remote musical collaboration can be a wonderful thing, but it’s not for every indie artist, and it’s certainly not for every situation.

If you need to collaborate with others to make your project come alive, when do you look locally and when do you search beyond? Here are some guidelines to help you decide when remote musical collaboration is right for you and your project.

It helps to know exactly what you want

When you collaborate remotely with someone, you miss the face-to-face magic that can happen when you’re together in the same room with fellow musicians. You also lose the opportunity for instant feedback and conversation that can help get a musical part exactly where you want it. I’ve found that the most successful remote collaborations I’ve engaged in have been the ones where I have the proverbial jigsaw puzzle almost complete and know, note for note and phrase for phrase, what I want my flute player, electric guitarist, or cello master to fill in. The clearer your vision, the more precise your guidance and feedback can be and the greater the chance that you’ll get back tracks that do the job just right.

You’ve got a lot going on

Whether you’re touring, holding down a day job, taking care of a family, or working on multiple musical projects simultaneously, it can be hard to carve out the hours to produce a studio session and get all the people you need for your project in the same room. Given that, sometimes remote musical collaboration can simply be a matter of efficiency. If you think it’ll be significantly easier to write some emails and send some files, and that your music won’t suffer from such an approach, give remote collaboration a try.

You have a great collaborator in mind

Remote musical collaboration requires a good amount of trust in your creative partners. After all, you’re not there in-person to guide the process. It can be a worthwhile strategy if you’re working with people with whom you have a history or collaborators who know your work and can provide parts that will fit nicely with the vibe you’re trying to create. Similarly, if you can tap your network and get referrals for great players who are adept at remote collaborations (like I did), you could be on to something good.

You have a collaborator in mind

Let’s say you really want your track mixed by a certain engineer, who happens to live continents away. Even if there are plenty of talented mixing engineers within a few miles of where you’re based, there’s no reason not to take the plunge and work with your dream collaborator; you may just need to be diligent about setting up feedback sessions via Skype, FaceTime, or email as needed. Similarly, if you specifically want the stylings of a certain London-based guitarist on your latest track and you’re based out of Florida, it’s either get on a plane or hop on the Internet — so save yourself the travel and give remote collaboration a try.

You don’t have the local resources to do the job

Let’s say you’re crafting your album in a peaceful, country studio, two hour’s drive from the nearest major city and you need a bagpipe part to finish up your folk ballad. If your needs are highly specialized and you don’t think your local town or city has the musicians to do the job, working remotely can be the solution.

Also, keep recording quality in mind. Let’s say you’re on tour, don’t have access to good microphones, are producing on a laptop out of a hotel room, and need a delicate violin part recorded in high resolution and perfect isolation. You may get your best results in that kind of situation by calling on a remote collaborator who has a home or project studio designed specifically for such purposes.

You like time to process

While having live musicians together in a studio creates an unmistakable magic, it can also be subject to uncomfortable time pressures. Unless you have the budget to lock out a studio — and musicians — for days on end, you will often have a limit of a certain number of hours to get what you need before everyone goes their separate ways. If you value having the opportunity to listen to a part a number of times, on your own time — on your headphones, car speakers, studio monitors, etc. — before giving feedback and getting that next take, remote collaborations may be for you.

Are there other scenarios in which remote collaboration can be a great strategy? Tell us in the comments below.

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, or purchase through CD Baby. Follow Michael on Twitter at @Michael_Gallant or on Facebook.

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