A Learning Spirit: 5 Tips for Good Collaborations

Pro tools picAfter a lengthy hiatus, I am back! Touring and much-needed time off has kept me quite busy but now I’m ready to fire the blog posts back up. So, let’s dive in . . .

I would like to start with a story about a research lesson I learned over the course of probably a good 8-10 years. Growing up, I would bug my mother to death about new words I learned and their meaning. Her response was always the same, “Go look it up in the dictionary!” As a kid, this really irritated me because she wouldn’t just tell me the definition. However, as I got older, I began to realize what she was doing. She was conditioning me to dig for answers and cultivate a learning spirit. If you want to know something, then go research it, learn it, and then you’ll know it. I have carried this into my adult life and it has served me very well in all areas, especially music. So, how does this apply? Well, as most of you know, collaborations happen all the time and sometimes they can be at a distance (i.e. send me your track, and I’ll cut my track(s) for you). While this has revolutionized our ability to create music, sometimes a lack of knowledge of our own gear and standard collaborative practices can hinder that process. Here are 5 tips to help you succeed:

  1. Know the capabilities of your gear

When you buy a new piece of gear that you are unfamiliar with, do your best to research its uses, capabilities, and limitations. Most gear comes with some sort of instruction manual. Read the documentation and read the reviews. If a piece of gear has a weakness (heavy bass response, shrill high-end, overly compressed midrange, strange noises) and you must use it, do you know how to compensate for it? If not, and replacing it isn’t an option at the moment, learn about what you can do to improve your output. Cheaper gear can go a long way if you know how to use it correctly.

  1. Have a basic understanding of common audio file types

As you might already know, there are many audio file types available to use. Typically, you will only want to use uncompressed types (i.e. .WAV, .AIFF) for recording situations. For starters, the biggest reason is for quality. Formats such as .MP3 are compressed and the result is a loss in quality. This is very attractive for space concerns as a compressed audio file is often significantly smaller than an uncompressed one. However, since quality should be the main concern when recording/producing a song, it is best to stick to an uncompressed format so as to preserve the data quality. An additional reason is that a compressed file can potentially cause issues upon import into your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). In order to use a compressed file within your DAW, you will often have to convert it depending on your project settings. This may involve sampling rate and bit depth conversion (i.e. converting to 44.1 kHz, 24-bit), which can lead to issues with your tracks lining up with your collaborator’s tracks. While the issues can vary, there is a very real possibility of this happening when using a compressed file. In reality, any file can become corrupted via myriad of ways. Sticking to uncompressed files when recording and kicking files between collaborators will help mitigate these issues. For more info on the audio file quality, check out this article from Sound on Sound regarding the aural difference between .WAV and .MP3: https://www.soundonsound.com/sos/apr12/articles/lost-in-translation.htm

  1. Having expensive gear doesn’t absolve anyone of technical problems

Do not automatically assume that because you have expensive gear, that it’s the other guy’s fault when there is a technical issue. The issues can range from formatting issues to missed crackles and pops in the recording. Quickly placing blame is a knee jerk reaction that can really get you into trouble in the music industry. Employing tact and diplomacy is key to working out these issues. Examining your own processes first is generally advisable in a problematic situation. We are all human and prone to mistakes. It’s like a fart, it happens. Once you’ve checked your own processes, have a discussion with your collaborator(s) about getting to the bottom of the problem, not assigning blame. In short, check yourself, before you wreck yourself.

  1. Use Google when you don’t know or understand something

This goes back to my introductory story. We don’t have much excuse when it comes to researching just about anything these days. You can sit on your lunch break and research quantum physics on your phone. That information is available to you and everyone else. If you don’t know or understand a process, a particular issue, your gear (#1), or anything for that matter, research it. While the Internet isn’t necessarily sure-fire by any state of the imagination, it can get you pointed in the right direction fairly quickly.

  1. Continue learning

Understand that in the ever-changing tech environment, there is always more to learn. It seems that there is a new process, plug-in, or piece of gear every day that is supposed to make our recording processes better. On top of that, you can usually learn from the people who you work with. Everyone has things that they have figured out, stumbled upon, created, or researched on their own. As soon as you think you have learned it all, it is the beginning of the end. Maintaining a teachable, knowledge-hungry spirit will always serve you well in your endeavors.

As with all posts here on Music Business Etiquette, the focus is on playing nice with each other. Hopefully this post assists you in your collaborative efforts. Remember, we are all in this together!

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