Tips for Remote Collaborations (Getting the Best Results!)

Author: Tomas Morton | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

When cloud collaboration features found their way into recording software, we saw a massive jump in online session sharing. And guess what? The biggest push for remote collaborations came when we all had to hunker down at home during the pandemic, and popping into a physical studio was off the table.

It’s pretty wild how it seemed like technology had a sixth sense, ensuring our creative sparks kept on glowing. What ended up happening was that we all set up our own little creative corners at home, regardless of size or quality.

So, if you had a speedy Wi-Fi connection and a knack for recording, you had a pretty good shot at finding work in the music recording industry. Yet, this also shone a light on folks who didn’t quite have the skills to call themselves producers or engineers but were taking on jobs they weren’t ready for, all in the name of making ends meet.

Since then, I’ve had the joy of guiding a group of enthusiastic learners on how to elevate their online collaboration skills. The pandemic was a journey of discovery for me too, and I’ve collected some friendly advice on how to make online session exchanges as seamless and fruitful as possible.

Artists

Let’s not forget that at the end of the day, the artist is the heart of the recorded music industry. They’re the VIPs, the stars of the show.

Sure, producers often get the spotlight for a hit recording, but without a talented artist to kick things off, there could be a bunch of issues popping up during remote collaborations. So, what makes a good artist, you ask?

Well, in my book, and in the eyes of many of my professional pals, a good artist is someone with a unique identity, original talent, and a knack for standing out as a singer or instrumentalist. They’re not just trying to mimic someone else for a quick dash of fame.

They’ve put in the time and effort to sharpen their skills, and they’ve got something special to offer.

So, as an artist working remotely with a producer or session musicians, it’s super important to have a clear vision for your final mix, product, or song. Sometimes, artists have so many ideas flying around that it’s hard to narrow down the choices.

That’s where a producer comes in! My first tip is to start your journey with a producer. They can help with arranging, finding musicians, and giving your songs a critical ear.

Sure, it might mean a little extra cost, but trust me, a good producer is worth their weight in gold.

I can’t stress this enough though, do your homework! Ask producers for their credits, listen to examples of their work, and make sure they can deliver the sound you want in the style you love. It’s super important because, let’s face it, some producers might promise the moon just to land the gig.

Producers

Being a producer is quite a challenge when collaborating remotely, isn’t it? There are two aspects of being a producer that are absolutely crucial for a successful remote collaboration.

First, you need to be super organized and technically savvy. It’s all about making sure file transfers are foolproof, ensuring DAWs are compatible, and double-checking that the sample rate of files is correct, and so on.

Secondly, you need to be simultaneously creative and technical, a tricky balancing act indeed! This means that your technical skills, like knowing your software, understanding your instruments, and being able to create styles in different genres, need to be top-notch.

At the same time, you should be able to truly listen to the artist’s vision and know how to start working towards achieving their goal.

Now, here’s a friendly tip for online collaboration as a producer: don’t take on a job unless you’re confident that you can do it justice. Many producers live by the ‘learn as you earn’ motto, but that can lead to chaos when collaborating remotely.

The reason is simple – you don’t have the luxury of sitting down with the artist and talking things out. Sure, you can hop on a Zoom call, and exchange ideas, but it’s more challenging to read the energy and nuances of the artist remotely.

So, if you do take on the job, it’s a great idea to send the artist your “work in progress” regularly, instead of waiting to finish your masterpiece. This way, you can get instant feedback, which is super helpful in ensuring that you’re heading in the right direction.

When the artist is in the room with you, they can instantly react to certain sounds. For example, they might instantly dislike a kick drum you’ve chosen. You get immediate feedback about what they like and don’t like. It’s harder to get this instant reaction remotely, so regular check-ins can really help bridge this gap.

Collaborative Songwriting

Songwriting might seem tough to do remotely, right? Normally, there’s this awesome back-and-forth between songwriters or between the artist and songwriter.

You strum a chord on a guitar, belt out a line that pops into your head, and then the artist picks up where you left off. When the chemistry’s just right, it’s almost like magic!

I’ve whipped up songs in 30 to 40 minutes that I absolutely adore, all thanks to the electrifying energy in the room.

Sure, you might get a bit of that vibe on Zoom, but it’s not quite the same, is it? Here’s my little tip for successful songwriting collabs: send each other files before the Zoom meeting!

A stereo file with the music, and another with a vocal guide, both trimmed to beat one and labeled with the tempo. Once you both have the track, and the tempo, and you’re on the grid, start swapping sections of the song to work on.

Maybe you tackle the verse and they handle the B-section, then you both jam out on the chorus. Just keep sending each other these little sections, trimmed to the first bar to keep everything in sync. Trust me, this method does wonders!

This method of writing can be such a fun alternative to in-person sessions. It encourages you to vocalize your ideas, which can often lead to discovering even catchier melodies for your songs. It’s like a surprise bonus to the writing process!

Plus, it nudges you to put extra thought into your lyrics. You know, it’s one thing to casually hum some ideas into your iPhone’s voice memos, but it’s a whole other ball game when you’re fine-tuning a guide vocal to share with a co-writer.

Sure, it might take a bit more time, but the payoff is totally worth it.

Recording Session Musicians

Recording with session musicians can certainly be a challenging puzzle to solve, given the latency and delay on video chats! If you’ve ever tried to do it over Zoom, you’ll know that the full richness of the musician’s sound can get lost through those small iPad or laptop speakers.

That’s why I’ve found that sending them a detailed demo guide works wonders – it’s a bit more personal than your standard sheet music.

So, let’s paint a picture: imagine that I’m recording a cello for a piano ballad. I’ll take a virtual cello instrument, like the expressive Spitfire Audio Solo Cello, and create a MIDI version that’s very close to what I’m envisioning.

It’ll include everything from short notes to vibrato, essentially any detail that helps convey my idea. In other words, I aim to make the performance sound 80% like a real cello.

This approach really helps the musician understand what you’re after. They usually do a stellar job of not just reproducing what you wrote, but adding their own personal touch to it, which is really all you need to make the track shine.

Mixing

Mixing collaborations can be a bit tricky! They’re not exactly remote collaborations, they’re more like a multi-track mastering session. It’s not really practical to have your Zoom open while the engineer is starting to mix your track.

After all, you can’t really know how it sounds in their space, so you might end up giving them notes that don’t quite hit the mark. Plus, you might accidentally make the mix worse because your perception of the sound might not be accurate.

Here’s a friendly tip for getting the best mix: try doing a rough mix yourself first. This gives you a chance to balance out how you hear certain elements, maybe add a little EQ and compression on the master before bouncing down.

You can also add notes on the instrument tracks themselves of any specifics you want the engineer to keep or maybe try.

For instance, sometimes I ask artists to let me know which sounds are primary and which ones might be optional if I think there’s a better take or a better instrument. Artists often like to suggest a Reverb, but I might have a better one or I might use a hardware Reverb, so they’ll note that it can be replaced.

It’s a helpful guide that gives me a sense of the flavor they’re after.

But here’s the most important tip for getting the best mix possible: As an artist or producer, you should definitely send the engineer a reference mix of how the session sounded on your end before you sent it.

You’d be surprised how many times certain things get muted or something goes wrong when you send the session, and the engineer has no clue something’s missing. If they hear a reference mix, they’ll be like, “Hey, what happened to the synth line that I’m hearing but not seeing in the session?” So, this is super important, folks!

Final Thoughts

Isn’t it fantastic how remote collaborations are reshaping the way we work together? Just imagine, you can have contributors from all corners of the globe adding their touch to your track, even if you’re not based in a music hotspot like Los Angeles or New York.

What’s more, it encourages artists to delve into the technical aspects of producing and engineering, enhancing the overall sound quality.

But the cherry on top? It allows you to really zone in as a professional producer or songwriter and boost your productivity. After all, there are fewer distractions compared to having a room full of people.

Don’t get me wrong, that can be a blast, but when you’re up against a tight deadline, it could be more efficient to provide clear instructions, let everyone do their thing, and have them upload their parts to the cloud when they’re finished.

Just like that, boom, it’s done!

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About Tomas Morton

Tomas is a record producer, engineer, and synthesizer enthusiast based in Pasadena, CA. He received training at Berklee College of Music in Boston and the Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA. When not in his studio, he can often be found scouring garage sales or Craigslist ads for vintage gear treasures.

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