How Not to Collaborate (in Music and Life)

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Who is the greatest duo in music history? The Everly Brothers? Simon & Garfunkel? The White Stripes? John & Yoko? Daryl Hall & John Oates? I don't think so. I think you'll find it was Clark Seashell - aka me and Jimmy-Reese Van Longhair (which may or may not be his real name).

Back in 2014, a friend and I decided to join forces and become the next great musical duo. Clark Seashell was born.

We had every intention of producing some great material. We were both at least moderately capable musicians and music producers, and we shared a lot of common ground and musical perspective. We had a good collection of gear, and we met up, cracked open a cold one, and sat down in front of the metaphorical fire to write something awesome.

What happened?

This happened.

I'm sad to say, this fiasco was mostly down to me. On some of our other collaborations (which, fortunately for you, didn't end up online), I was smart enough to let my copilot do the driving, while I made sure the drinks didn't go to waste. Yup, I was a typical rockstar. On this one though, I actually contributed.

Some people just appear to make a really great team player and vibe off each other. Frustratingly, I never felt I was one of them. My problem was that I lacked confidence; I didn't contribute in a fear of suggesting something ridiculous or taking things in the wrong direction. When I wrote my own music, it was a very organic, iterative process whereby a track could start as a heavy industrial techno banger, and end up being a pop-folk-ballad with Bollywood influences. I was fine with this, but I was worried this would come across as a lack of creative skill or direction.

On one hand, we did design some really unique sounds, and explored and discovered techniques that are genuinely unique and potentially useful. We would regularly experiment with crazy modulations, synths and samples (we once made a synth that screams "GEORGE!" if you use the aftertouch control).

On the other hand, nothing we made should ever be heard by human ears other than in sonic weaponry experiments.

So how did you fix it?

To this day, songwriting projects are not my strongest, but I left Clark Seashell in the past. It's important to recognise that the team around you truly is your greatest asset, so being able to collaborate is an important skill to have.

I set a few rules for myself, and I found these worked just as well in life, in business, and in music:

  1. Only work with the "right" people. There are a bunch of theories explaining why certain teams work and some don't, but the best thing to do is think about your own behaviours and approaches. I get frustrated when there's a lack of progress, or when people consider my ideas and suggestions to be outlandish and odd. As a mastering engineer, I also require certain practices and systems to be followed in order to achieve consistency. Therefore, I value open-mindedness, willingness to learn and reliability over raw skill. I'll write more about building a great team in a future post - subscribe to us to stay in the loop.

  2. Set your expectations early on. You may not be the leader in the group, but that's no reason you shouldn't specify what you want to gain from the experience. If you're working towards something specific, make it known, and ensure that's compatible with what everyone else is hoping to gain.