I’ve recently started an incredibly challenging project that is teaching me a lot about songwriting collaborations. There is a big difference between a collaboration and a “co-writing” situation – often, in a collaboration, there are 3 or more people involved! To make matters even more difficult, we are under serious time constraints to complete the process.
The project is called the 5FM MashLab and every month I go in to the recording studio with two other different artists (it can be full bands, rappers, solo artists or DJ’s – or in some cases, all of them) and we have to write, produce and record a brand new single for release at the end of the very same month. The single gets released and played nationally on the last Thursday of every month on the national broadcaster, 5FM. And it has to be good!
That works out to approximately two and a half week to get two sets of Top 40 artists into a room to write a song and then back into another room to record the song. Then production, editing, mixing and mastering – and at the same time, having to take everybody’s opinions into account on every single decision.
And to make things almost impossible, other people – who are not even in the room with us – are setting all of the parametres for the songs, including subject matter and genre! 5FM’s listeners get to vote as to which artists will be collaborating and even the subject of the song itself. So you can imagine, it’s a high-stress and extremely creative environment.
As I said, I am learning a lot about being in this situation. In case you are ever in a similar situation, here are 4 basic rules that will not only help you survive a collaboration, but that will ensure yours is a success.
1) Don’t be scared of references.
Music is a universal language, yes. But everyone speaks a different dialect. When lots of musicians are in a room trying to express where they think the song should go, things can go horribly wrong because language is so diverse and words can mean different things to different people. Someone might use the word “heavy” to mean a totally different thing to someone else. In these instances, do not be afraid to fire up the Ipod and listen to a few songs together that contain elements of where you are trying to go. This is such a valuable tip that if it wasn’t so Fight-Club-y, I’d write it as the second and third tip as well.
2) It sounds dumb but : Have Fun.
If you are not having fun, the collaboration will not work. Being in a creative environment with lots of people – especially when some of them are highly successful – can be like being in a zoo with a lot of wild animals. If you lose your cool, they will bite your head off and run away with it. You’ll never get your head back!!! In a collaborative environment, putting too much pressure on the success of the outcome can create a really harsh working environment, not to mention mediocre work. DO NOT TRY TOO HARD! So keep it cool and realize that whatever you can do together, you will do together. Do not try and control the process, just have fun!
3) Do your homework
I think one of the hardest things you can ever do to yourself is come into a creative environment with a group of people unprepared and hoping to rely on your sparky creativity to kick into gear when you need it most. This will not always work. Come already prepared with a whole host of ideas, written, recorded or at least presentable and malleable. Let everyone chat about the different ideas of what could be done together and go with the flow. But if you get stuck, bring out one of your already prepared ideas. I PROMISE you this will save the day!
4) Leave your ego at the door.
When you are in a large group of creative musicians, there are plenty of egos to manage and juggle. Don’t add yours in to the mix. Leave your ego at the door and stay focused on the song. Remember : it should always be about the song! It’s all about the song! When everyone else in the room has forgotten that and just want to add his or her flavor, just keep listening to the song and turn your ego off. The song will tell you what it wants.
I hope this helps! If you are interested in hearing any of my 5FM Mashlabs that we are currently doing (one a month for the next 12 months), you can follow the blog happening at www.jonsavage.co.za/mashlab , you can listen to The Rob Vember Show on 5FM during any week day or you can hear the collabs on the iTunes Store by following these links…
Feel free to leave comments or questions below! Also new episode of the podcast coming this month!