With social distancing becoming the new normal, it should not keep you from writing and producing music with fellow musicians. The internet has made it easier than ever to make a remote music collaboration with another artist or producer. Even though traditional recording studios have been pretty quiet the past few months, the pandemic has caused a home-studio boom and artists are still making new singles and records.
Converted bedrooms and living-room studios have provided artists with a creative outlet for their cabin fever. But, working in solitude each day can become exhausting if you’re used to teaming up with others in a studio environment. Thanks to technology, working on a musical project in collaboration with another individual has never been easier. Here are eight tips that will help you streamline your next remote music collaboration.
1. Have a Rock-Solid Plan
“If you fail to plan, you’re planning to fail!” – Benjamin Franklin
Creating a rock-solid plan will help you execute your collaborative project. There’s a good chance that you will have some sort of preexisting relationship with whoever you collaborate with. Take time to chat about the project and share ideas about how you’ll complete the project. It’s helpful to establish an open line of communication for when more questions arise.
Decide on the style of the song or the nature of the project, hash out the musical details, and set expectations of who’s responsible for what. A one-size-fits-all planning approach is not suggested. Everyone has a unique style and preferences. We recommend that you create a unique plan for each of your collaborations.
2. Use the Same File Formats
Make sure you know the preferred file format before you ever export a track. It’s helpful to get this squared away when planning, but just ask your collaborator what they prefer if you’re unsure.
Stem files (files with specific musical elements) are a crucial link for remote music collaboration. You need to be mindful when sharing stems because there may be a discrepancy between the two DAWs. For instance, one software might export the files at 32-bit while the receiving user’s software can only open 24-bit files. When all else fails, a good approach is to export the files at the same Bit Rate and Bit Depth that you recorded the project in.
3. Appropriately Name Your Tracks
It’s vital to name your tracks before sharing. A typical song might have over 30 individual tracks to it. You might know what instruments “Audio 001” and “Audio 002” refer to, but sloppy file names will cause frustration and confusion for any collaborator.
Use titles that make sense are easily identifiable. For example, a 30-track project might have the following names for the files.
4. Bounce Individual Tracks
Whenever you’re ready to bounce the session’s tracks, export as individual files. Some artists and engineers might have different preferences, but it’s helpful to send everything you have so they will have the most insight into your tracks. For example, the 30-track project that we mentioned earlier in the article could be bounced as 30 individual files. This will give your collaborator full access to everything in your session.
Note: You can share your entire session if you and your collaborator have access to the same DAW. This will help you save time.
Learn how to bounce stems from your DAW by following one of the appropriate links below.
5. Make Sure Everything Lines Up
When preparing your tracks for a bounce you need to make sure that everything lines up. Choose a start and endpoint for each of your clips and be sure to stick with the same parameters for each track that you bounce. It is a nightmare to sync up multiple tracks that aren’t aligned properly.
Preparing stems that don’t line up makes you look unprofessional and lazy. Take your time and double-check your files before sending them.
6. Include Dry and Wet Versions
Generally, you’ll want to send “dry” versions of your stems. Dry stems are files that don’t have any added effects.
Sure, you might think that a reverb-soaked snare drum sounds great and your tape echo helps tie the vocals together but send those tracks separately. By sending stems, you are already limiting the options that your collaborator has compared to when they have access to the whole session. Wet stems (i.e. reverb, delay, etc.) will limit their creative options even more.
It helps to send all the unprocessed “dry” tracks and include additional “wet” tracks if you think the reference is necessary. This way, your collaborator can go to town and get creative by adding their own effects and to the track.
However, keep in mind that every producer, artist, and engineer has their own habits and preferences. Try to square these details away when you’re planning out the project.
7. Send Multiple Takes
Give your collaborator even more options to work their magic by sending multiple versions of the same track. Think “mild”, “medium”, and “hot” when recording different takes of the same track.
As artists, it’s easy to stay in your comfort zone and inclinations, but try to add some variety. This will give your collaborating partner different varieties to play with. The outcome may sound different than what you’re used to hearing, but that can be for the best!
8. Pay Attention to Your Levels
Be mindful of your volume levels and make sure nothing is clipping the master. If any of the tracks in your session are over panned, too loud, or not loud enough, fix the levels before exporting the stems. Do this by lowering the volume of the tracks rather than the master fader. You can select all of the tracks and simultaneously lower the volume levels until nothing is clipping anymore.
9. Use Cloud Storage and File-Sharing
A remote music collaboration will need to be shared multiple times before completion. Thankfully, cloud storage applications make it easy to share files. You can get free online storage (up to a certain limit) on Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox, and iCloud.
This will help you efficiently bounce ideas back and forth, keep files well organize, and have an up-to-date thread between the collaborators.