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9 Tips for Collaborating Better (for the D.I.Y. Rock Star)

This post loosely accompanies

Gab & Jam Ep 163, “6 Tips for Collaborating Better”

Hey, Valentine’s Day recently passed and we thought we’d spend a little time talking about togetherness. No, we’re not trying to hook up all our single D.I.Y. Rock Stars! —This is NOT a dating service. —Instead, we wanted to share some tips that we’ve learned over the years for collaborating better, whether remotely or in-person.

Gab & Jam Ep 163, “6 Tips for Collaborating Better”

9 Tips for Collaborating Better

(for the D.I.Y. Rock Star):

1. We’re all human.

We suggest that you go into any partnership and/or collaboration understanding that we’re all human. From the Pope to the President, the minute more than two people work together, diplomacy should be exercised with the quantity and quality of the interactions. Because, believe it or not, ALL humans have hang-ups and ALL humans are subject to emotions. So, the WAY you communicate is going to make a difference in the way your ideas are received. —We’re not saying to hold back from expressing how you honestly feel about something; we’re just saying that you need to be prepared to live with whatever consequences—good and bad—that may arise from the way—the mode and the tone—you chose to convey your ideas. (For instance, just like you would not send a text message to break off a serious romantic relationship, you might want to consider the sensitivity of what you want to say when you get ready to reach out to someone. Choose your mode—or what method you use—to contact them carefully. Along with taking into consideration if they have given you any hints as to what works better for them. EVERYONE has pet peeves and if you want to get the MOST out of your partnership, you will need to remember that their “human-ness” must be taken into account.)

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2. Money changes everything.

Here’s the equation for another potential problem; the more money involved in the alliance, the more problems may arise. It’s just like Cyndi Lauper said, “Money Changes Everything.” When it was just you and your buddy jamming on the couch, no one cared if there was a contract between you, but now that you’re signed to a recording contract, he wants to know what ever happened to the songs you both started together and what’s his cut of the money you will make off that song that you gave him a lyrical idea for—but didn’t actually help write. Before you started to make any money, you both were satisfied just jamming, but you may see an attitude shift when he thinks big bucks are involved. Take that in consideration early on, when you see partnerships emerging. This takes us to our next point.

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3. Give credit automatically.

If folks contribute, you PROBABLY want just give a co-write to squash any future disagreements. —Remember you and your buddy that were jamming? If he contributes in ANY way to what you end up creating, you PROBABLY should list him on the copyright form and when you publish your song. —I think I am going to call this the “Don’t Be Prince” rule. 🙄 –That way, if—and when—you get a sweet deal from some fancy synch licensing house, he will be set up to get what he is owed WITHOUT him having to come ask for it. By automatically giving credit (where credit is due), you send the signal that you are fair and that ideas won’t get taken and used without acknowledgement and that any potential monetary or notoriety is already in the pipeline for his/her efforts. That gets the partnership started on the right foot and allows people to more willingly share ideas with you.

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4. Keep an open mind.

Having said that, we don’t recommend that you take a song that you ALREADY have a pretty solid plan for to a jam session. —As we have said before, some songs are already written inside your head and you are just taking dictation; whereas other songs are just rough sketches with no particular early direction. Take the ones with no definite shape; unless you DO want input from others. Remember, that your song might make it take shape into a direction that you didn’t see coming. In fact, it’s GREAT to take a song in when you are stuck, so that a co-writer can help. (For example, Paul McCartney used to look to John Lennon to help him find the bridge in songs that McCartney had started.) In this way, collaborating can open up new possibilities for your song that you would not think of on your own.

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5. Find a good fit.

Choose someone who has a complementary skill set to yours. For instance, if they are great at cowbell—and you are not—then get them to shake that thing on your track! 🥁 By getting someone to do something that you KNOW you cannot do without them will make you more excited for—and potentially more satisfied with—the collaboration. Alternatively, if it’s someone that you genuinely revere what they do, then it’s likely that you’ll appreciate the “touch” they give your project. Either way, it’s great when you find someone who’s skills are ALREADY suited to what you like. It raises the chances that this will be a successful collaboration.

6. Write down terms together.

When you are sitting down to jam, the MINUTE you realize that you are beginning to produce something together—a song, etc.—decide on the scope, the capacity, and the future plans for this association. Write down—and agree on—whatever terms or objectives you are planning toward. (For instance, if a “friend” is taking your music to someone he thinks might want to manage you, you might want to jot that down.) Further, along with writing it down, you should both sign this document. This will be the indication to anyone looking into the terms—should something go wrong—that there was agreement on what was SUPPOSED to happen. —Again, these things seem nitpicky, but it prevents drama from ensuing in case there is some miscommunication. If you get used to doing this kind of thing automatically, it won’t be strange when you whip out your notepad and pen and start repeating back some of the expectations related to the work you all will do together. 📝 Folks will get used to the idea that this is just the way you ALWAYS conduct business.

7. Have SOME sort of contract.

If you know you are going to work with others—producers, session musicians, singers, co-writers—come up a contract for future collaboration. You can even start by downloading (or drafting) a stock contract—that states your terms (for instance, you are planning to work with them on a retainer or at an hourly rate). This will squash any confusion about what percentage of a song this person who helped you—in almost ANY way—is due. Having boundaries for the scope of the work ahead of time helps ward off the soap opera-type drama that can happen if you leave many of these things to chance. 🎭

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8. Treat others the way you want to be treated.

This piggybacks on point number one, but be careful with how you talk to folks. Try to exercise empathy as you prove your point and don’t blow up the relationship in order to win. Remember, YOU “win” when you both are producing a wonderful result TOGETHER and without any drama. You WANT to continue your good will with people, so that, even if you decide to NEVER work with them again—for WHATEVER reason—at least you haven’t produced an enemy in the meantime. That takes us to our next point.

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9. Be open to compromise.

Don’t get us wrong, we are not talking about caving in and agreeing JUST to avoid conflict. In fact, you SHOULD stand up for your ideas, especially if you feel very strongly about something. However, as we mentioned in point four, the REASON you would bring a song to a jam session is to allow someone else to bring some of their vibe to it. —Remember, it doesn’t mean that you HAVE to keep what you come up with, but at least know that, yes, your song will change, but that this could, potentially, make it even better. We suggest that you, not only, allow for that very possibility, but also go as far as to EXPECT it. For instance, if your collaborator is a killer guitarist and you’re not, it makes sense that him/her adding their wicked guitar solo in the vamp of your song could take it to the next level. That’s what you wanted when you called them in to work on your song, right?

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Of course, we are JUST scratching the surface, so what’s YOUR tip for collaborating better that we missed?

We’d love to know what works for you,

so that maybe we can try it too.

Leave it in the comments below.

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