How to start a collaboration

I’ve written before about some of the benefits of collaborating with other musicians. In order to start a collaboration, however, you need someone to collaborate with.

Your first choice should be your friends. You already know each other and, more importantly, you already trust and understand each other. Trust and understanding is essential to any successful collaboration. If you have good friends, you’re already halfway there. Even if you don’t share the same taste in music, there are ways to make it work. You might need to be creative!

If you don’t already know any musicians (or they’re not available to work with you), you’ll need to look elsewhere. Go to where the musicians are in your community. Small-scale gigs are often ripe with musicians looking for opportunities. It could be open mic on a sunday afternoon at a local cafe. It could be an indie album launch. Put yourself out there. Soak up the music, make a genuine effort to understand and connect with the music. Think about how a musician’s skills might compliment your own. If you think there might be an opportunity with some musicians, approach them after the show!

Don’t be afraid of rejection. Don’t be surprised if you get knocked back. Not everyone has the time. Not everyone has the inclination to start something new. Not everyone likes your style. It’s not personal. Humans come in many different varieties and flavours. It’ll take a few approaches before you find someone who might be interested. It’ll take a few collaboration before you find someone who really clicks with you. Not every seed grows, but we plant so many because we don’t know ahead of time which seeds will grow. Don’t let it get you down – just keep planting seeds.

When you start working someone, it’s pretty easy to get ahead of yourself. You’re both excited, you’re both keen to create something amazing. Great! Keep that feeling! But don’t be ambitious – start small. Just commit to working on a single song together. Maybe even a small contribution to an existing song. You need to establish a workflow. You need to settle on a common language. You need time to explore each other’s personal taste. So take it slow. Take it easy. Don’t put too much pressure on yourselves to write and record an EP or an album just yet – just have fun and get to know each other.

So fast-forward a few months. You’re still going strong, you’ve got a few songs behind you, and you’re both itching to take on something bigger. Before you embark on a larger project together, you’ll need to sit down together and agree on a few things. It doesn’t have to be a legal contract, or even a formal written agreement. It does, however, have to start with a conversation and a shared understanding of what you’re about to do. At the very least, you should consider these questions:

  • What will be the creative direction for the project? What will it sound like?
  • What will be the creative contribution of each person? What will be the non-creative contribution (equipment, studio space, time, other skills, etc)?
  • How much music are you going to make? Will it be an EP? An album? A drip feed of singles?
  • What timeframe are you working towards? How long will it take? When do you expect to complete it?
  • What’s going to happen when it’s finished? Will you perform it live? Will you sell it online?
  • If there are any costs, who’s going to pay for them? If there’s any income, what will happen to it?
It’s usually a good idea to write down what you’ve agreed. It doesn’t have to be anything formal – even just a plain text file is fine. Even better if you email it to each other so you’ve both got a copy to refer to. The agreement is not set in stone – you can always change it later on if you want (so long as everyone agrees to the changes!). Having it written and distributed, however, will avoid misunderstandings and faulty memories.

Now, get to work!



    • Nyhde
    • September 27th, 2011

    Thank you for this article! I’m about to start a collaborative project with a friend of mine and there were some ideas here that are good to remember even if I do have the basic things down pretty well. This’ll serve as a good check list in the least.

  1. @Nyhde
    Good luck with your collaboration! Most of this stuff is common sense, but there’s a lot to remember and it’s good to have a checklist or guide. Otherwise it’s easy to forget something – even if you’ve been doing it for a while!


  1. October 1st, 2011
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