Workflow for collaborative projects

Workflow for collaborative projects is different to workflow for solo projects. When you’ve got two or more people involved, you need to be more careful about how you balance the workload and manage the sequence of tasks. For example, a typical workflow for a collaborative project might look like this:

  1. Preproduction / demo
  2. Initial vocal recording
  3. Instrumentation
  4. Instrumentation
  5. Final vocal recording
  6. Edit+mix

You will need to know ahead of time whether you need your collaborator for the preproduction/demo session, and whether this can be combined with the initial vocal recording. You’ll also need to know whether the final vocal recording will take a whole session for the song. If it will only take half a session (or less), there might be an opportunity to save time by recording final vocals for two songs in a single session – if you can sequence your sessions correctly.

The same considerations apply if you’re using other musicians to assist you in the instrumentation sessions. It might make sense to record guitars or percussion for several songs in a single session. To make this work, however, you need a good estimate of how much work is required for each song. You’ll also need to sequence your sessions so that you have the songs available at the appropriate stage when your musician comes to the studio.

Working on each song in parallel

For particularly complex projects, it can make sense to work on every song in parallel, and progress them in lock-step. This mean, for example, that you’d do the preproduction and demo recording for all the songs before starting to recording initial vocals. Then you’d record initial vocals for all the songs before moving forward to record additional instruments.

This can be particularly effective if you are coordinating several people and they are only available to you for a limited period of time. There are, however, some drawbacks to this approach. Firstly, the rate of progress at each stage is limited by the least-productive team member. That means you (and any other faster workers) will be sitting on your hands while you wait for the slower member(s) to finish their bit. This can be particularly significant when musicians or artists need several weeks (or more!) to rehearse a song before recording it.

The other drawback is increased existential risk to the project. Quite simply, working in this way means there might be much less to salvage if a key team member leaves the project partway through. If production of an album stalls halfway through, would you rather have twelve half-finished songs or six finished songs?

Working on each song in series

The opposite approach is to work on each song one by one. This means that you’re not waiting on one song before you can progress another one. It also means your musicians and artists can have a comfortable period of time between recording sessions for rehearsing and preparing.

This approach works particularly well when you are working with people who need considerable preparation between sessions – either because the demands of the contribution are high (eg writing evocative lyrics or performing expressive lead vocals), or because your collaborators have other projects and life commitments that prevent them from devoting large blocks of intensely focussed time.

Where this approach falls short, however, is that your collaborators need to be committed to the project for the long haul. Your whole project relies on your artist or musicians showing up every week, having done their homework. Someone taking a surprise overseas trip for several months (yes, it happens!) can disrupt everything.

The other drawback is consistency. If you’re in constant practice, your skills and abilities are constantly improving. For a project that spans twelve months or more, you might have an album that sounds disjointed or fractured. Your vocalist’s abilities are improving. Your recording and mixing skills are improving. Your musical taste and creative direction are evolving.

So which one’s best?

In most cases, it makes sense to choose one approach in line with the broad project constraints and desired outcomes. Don’t forget, however, that either approach can often be strengthened by incorporating elements of the other.

-Kim.

 

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