For my most recent musical project, I had my first opportunity to work with another producer other than myself. As the perfectionist and control freak that I am when it comes to my own projects, this was a risky move for me. For the most part, I create all my songs by myself: writing, recording, producing, and mixing. This is mostly due to an ego I’m still tending to, as I rarely ask for help and often try to prove to myself I can do it all. The result is usually the same: exhaustion and disappointment. I can barely sort out all the nuanced tasks needing my brain power, and ultimately the outcome is rarely up to the standards of the song I put together in my mind. The idea of a partnership scared me because I knew that I would be surrendering some amount of creative direction to another brain, body, and soul. Part of me thought, if I couldn’t convert this vision in my mind into the tangible universe, how could anyone else? Although I was cautious at first, I’m happy to say that after completing my first collaboration, I couldn’t be more elated by the results. Taking the leap out of musical isolation paid off, and now I want to share with you my experiences of collaborating with someone I had not worked with before.
For this song, I worked with a friend from my hometown, Austin Atlas (Andrew DeFerrari). We connected over the summer and realized we had similar, complementing music and production styles and wanted to work on a song together. I had already written a song called “In My Dreams” which I knew had a more electronic-pop feel to it that would be great for both of us to work on. I had a sense too that I didn’t have the skills to translate the ideas I had in my head for this song into a finished product, and I knew that he did. To kickstart this project, I sent Andrew a simple voice memo of me playing guitar and singing the song. Along with the voice memo, I included a message to him describing the dynamics, rhythm, and energetic levels of the song. This song is high energy from the start to the second chorus, then significantly calms down in the bridge to the outro. In the voice memo, I convey this with the power in my voice, and I am using the guitar to map out the rhythm of the hook as best as I can. Below is a clip of the voice memo.
A simple step I took to ensure that Andrew and I were on the same page was making a “reference” playlist. This is just a collection of songs from artists we are both inspired by and songs with production and sound design elements we like to incorporate or use as an influence for our project. To do this I made a public playlist in Spotify and selected the option to make it a collaborative playlist, then I invited Andrew as a collaborator in the app. The playlist reflects some of the artists we admire in discussions over messaging, such as Sylvan Esso, Flume, and Radiohead to name a few. This is a quick and achievable step to take so that both partners are included in the artistic vision, and if Andrew and I work together in the future, we can use this playlist as references again.
The next step of this process was recording clean vocals for Andrew to produce and mix with, as well as making some basic synth guide tracks to give him some ideas of what’s going on in my brain. In my home studio, I set up an AT-4050 condenser microphone and recorded into a UAD Apollo Twin Duo audio interface into Ableton. I normally record vocals in ProTools, but this was an easy adjustment to make so that Andrew could continue working on the track in the same DAW. To make the guide tracks, I just used some preset synths in the Ableton library and focused primarily on the rhythmic and harmonic aspects of the song that he could follow. I mainly used a kick drum and a basic sine wave pad to map out the points of impact in the song and the chord progression. I have a lot of practice recording, editing, and tuning my vocals, and I have a strong sense of how I want them to layer and harmonize, so this was my main contribution to the actual production of the song. It was a huge relief to have someone else designing the instrumental parts around the vocals since this isn’t my best skill. Below is the clip of the vocals and guide tracks.
After I sent my session off to Andrew, it was time to put the trust in his hands. I knew that the extra steps I took would help Andrew support this song and steer us clear from any miscommunication. From that point forward, Andrew sent me demos of his work, and I sent feedback. It was easy and natural to communicate my needs using my own knowledge of electronic music production and sound design. On top of that, I really enjoyed overseeing the project instead of worrying about the smaller details, like properly filtering the arpeggiator for instance. Each time I received a demo, I listened for a balance between Andrew and myself, knowing that it wouldn’t sound like anything I’ve ever made on my own before. I’m happy to say that we both shine through in the final product, and we collaborated really efficiently together. This whole process has made me eager to find more producers to partner with in the future and has strengthened my trust muscle. In a sense, I am more proud of my ability to share a creative vision with someone else than I was when I was trying to make it come to life on my own. Below is a clip of the final product, which releases on Friday, September 22nd!