How to Collaborate on Music Remotely
Find out how to work on shared project files from anywhere in the world with as little hassle as possible.
JUNE 21ST, 2020
A brief note: this article is being published in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, which makes in-person collaboration highly inadvisable. However, there are plenty of other situations that necessitate remote collaboration besides massive global shifts and safety concerns:
- You’re working with a producer from another country
- It’s easier for each of you to work individually in long sessions without being disturbed
- You work better without the pressure of discovering how to produce a song with someone on the spot
Even during normal times, there’s a case to be made for working apart in specific instances--and you’ll want to be equipped with the tools and skills to handle those situations gracefully. We’re going to dive into some tools and tactics you can use to work effectively with other bedroom producers, songwriters and musicians from the comfort of your bedroom studio.
Without further ado, let’s answer the question “What Do I Need To Produce Music On My Laptop With Collaborators From Anywhere In The World?”
You’ll thank yourself later if you determine a communication platform before you even open up a DAW. Don’t switch between Google Hangouts, Discord, Facebook Messenger, Telegram and Slack--pick one! (And yes, this unique brand of chaos is more common than it should be)
Iron out your deadlines, deliverables and individual responsibilities so you can focus on making music without creating bottlenecks. Collaborating on songs is incredibly rewarding, and it’s much simpler if you get these matters out of the way in the beginning--more on this in the ‘So Who Does What?’ section.
The second order of business is nailing the technical setup. There are multiple tools that allow you to save DAW project files to the cloud and update to your collaborators’ changes with just a couple clicks, Splice being the most familiar to many producers. This allows you to click ‘Save’ and send your changes to all collaborators simultaneously, ensuring that everyone’s always working off of the same version. An important note: make sure you save all audio assets along with the project file, otherwise your partners will see missing file errors everywhere! There’s an easy way to do this with most DAWs. Also make sure that you render the audio for any tracks containing VSTs your collaborators don’t have (i.e. maybe only one of you owns Serum), because once again, they’ll get a ton of errors. Clear communication is key here.
Oh, and always update to the latest version before you start working, lest you need to revert all your work later--which is almost as bad as a DAW crash.
So Who Does What?
To save yourself a lot of time and headaches, assign roles and stick to them, at least at first. You can be more lax once you and your fellow collaborators figure out your ideal working rhythm, but try out a strict plan at the beginning. For instance, your partner handles the melody, songwriting, harmony and instrumentation, while you might handle the sound design, mixing and mastering.
Make an educated guess as to who exactly will enjoy and excel at most in each respective role; this makes it much harder to accidentally duplicate work and reduces the likelihood things will drag on. If you’re uncomfortable with this idea because you don’t want to limit yourself to one job, think about it this way: If you accelerate your writing and production speed, you could potentially write multiple songs in the same amount of time it would take you to write one, now that you no longer have two people attempting to work on the exact same part. Then you can swap jobs on the next song!
File conflicts are just as toxic to a project as personal ones.
There’s a very real possibility that when you’re finishing your best work ever, your partner is uploading changes that directly conflict with yours. When that happens, whose do you keep? How do you keep a hybrid of both? Does this issue come up over and over again?
The simplest solution for this is to ensure that your submissions never overlap, but this isn’t always possible. You might have a tight deadline. Also, who knows when your next creative urge will strike? For one reason or another, you probably will end up working simultaneously with your partners at least part of the time--and that’s why delegation of specific duties like melody and drum grooves is so important. Having multiple people work on the same thing, at the same time, is a recipe for frustration and heartbreak that only creatives can ever truly understand!
How to Start Producing Remotely
When you’ve sufficiently ironed out the ground rules and optimized your workflow for relatively seamless collaboration, it’s time to get to work! Let’s address the nuts and bolts of what exactly it takes to produce music at home with your new partners.
Say one collaborator creates a drum pattern with Beatmaker and it’s your job to write the bassline with Virtual Bassist. She saves the project and sends it off to you. You play around a bit, lay down the first version of the bass, and send it back to her for the melody. Your next job is to lay down the chords, for which you decide to use an electric guitar VST from Virtual Guitarist. This goes on for a couple more iterations, while you make tweaks as necessary. Once the first version is done, you send it off to your vocalist--he records himself at home and saves the project once more, remembering to include the new audio files he created.
This is a heavily simplified version of the actual process, and you probably won’t get it perfect the first time. Don’t be discouraged, because once you master the technical aspects of remote collaboration, it opens you up to a world of creative possibilities that were previously unavailable to you. Remember to be respectful and exercise care when communicating; context gets lost over text, and it’s inevitable that certain bits of information will get dropped along the way. Speak over video chat every now and then to ensure you’re still tracking with each other (pun intended).
This should be enough to get you started, and you’ll learn so much more from collaborating in real life. One of the secrets involved in how to become a successful musician is creating meaningful connections through the music you create, so don’t be afraid to reach out to someone you’d like to work with, even if you’ve never spoken before--partnering up on a track is one of the best ways to solidify a lifelong friendship!
UJAM is a German-American maker of music technology co-founded by Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams that develops Virtual Instrument and Effects Plug-ins. With the Plug-in series Virtual Pianist, Usynth, Groovemate, Symphonic Elements, Virtual Guitarist, Virtual Bassist, Virtual Drummer, Beatmaker and Finisher and a range of software solutions (desktop, mobile, web), UJAM helps people to make music.
We develop software solutions that enable people to create, consume and interact with music.