Music Tutorials

On Working Together

We all win, far more than any downside from compromise, when we really work together on building something.

If you don’t like to read and want to skip to the cheery positive bit and don’t mind missing all the reasoning (and potential pitfalls), then scroll to “We’ve Only Just Begun”. See ya down there.

Yesterday Once More

Carpenters Gold

(It is my intent to make all sub-headings from my Best of the Carpenters. They worked together and it made them who they were.)

I hit the music making scene in the mid to late 80’s. Back then if you were making music you had to have hardware: guitars, synths, a cassette 4-track, effect units.

If you wanted to have people hear your work you had to finish it, leave the house, and make friends down the venues, record stores, and even clothes shops. People who did things talked to each other. A few talked more than they did but you soon learned to ignore them – gunners.

It was inevitable that you found yourself working with people. Even I who was never great with people. No one expected to be able to deliver their work without involving others. Whether that was another bloke to prod the keys on his synth because you only owned one, to the mysteries of drummers…

You dealt with people because the music was about people. People making it, people buying it, people selling it, people drinking beer & dancing to it. You needed people at every stage.

Then came the Internet and even more the combination of Social Media and the ease of making music using computers – your synths & fx units became effectively infinite. Soundcloud, Bandcamp etc all let you put your music there for free. You can put a noise online and talk to people so incredibly easily.

This Masquerade

You’d be forgiven for thinking the Social Media thing would have improved the ability for people to connect with each other in their projects. Now I know you can point to an act or two who met online. Pacific Deep come to mind, but they are surprisingly few and far between compared to the number of productive interactions back in the bad old days of tape hiss.

Matter of fact I have noticed that particularly in the last few years that while, people on Forums all want to be getting Plays, they seem very unwilling to work together “Collaborate” or “Collab” in the parlance. Let alone finish albums to make them seem like a real classic record.

  • I offered to help someone with full Production of a track, he bailed as soon as he had to make any changes.
  • I offered to help someone with mixing but because he only wanted me to deliver some musical lines he bailed rather snottily.
  • I gave promo to a few Metal bands but when my Metal record came out, they bailed (but still ask me to Like their pages).
  • A fellow I vaguely know sent me a Private Message asking me to make videos for him for “free”. When I politely asked him if he could perhaps offer some value in return as this is a skill and takes a lot of time he got snippy. Next time I commented on one of his tracks he called me a troll and got my comment removed even tho I was complimentary (what were the Mods drinking?).
  • I offered assistance to someone with a vague post about wanting to connect with composers. He replied curtly asking me who I was and what could I do for him. I suggested he do some research seeing I have a huge website & discography at the click of a mouse. He looked at one track (not even on my site) and asked another vague question. I answered with a link to an article that answers how I get my sound. I doubt I’ll ever hear from him because I doubt he’ll spend more than 1 minute on that page or any of the videos.
  • I just asked someone why he is only showing phone videos of his screen & speakers? Why not offer a render of the audio so people can hear the (unfinished) music properly? I asked if the video thing was a fashion because I see a bit of it? His response was condescending. I poked him back a tiny bit and he went straight to calling me a Jerk, Racist and all-round negative person. He finished by calling for me to be banned.

Now before you think this article is “oh poor me” it is not. I show these interactions because if this is how people are with each other, how can they ever work together? If people rebuff, or plain nuke people who offer help, how will they ever work together? Clearly, they don’t want to – well only if the other person is doing their exact bidding for little to no outlay on their part.

Solitaire

People are choosing to be solo. Not in a cool Han Solo way (remember he had Chewie and other pals – not all of whom wanted to laser him) but in a solitary way. Siloed is the right word.

Indie artists are increasingly choosing to retreat into Silos and shoot all passer-by. Whether friend or foe. This can’t work out as nothing can ever be built.

The moment we want to build anything bigger than what one man can manage, we need to get more men on the job. Even Chuck Norris couldn’t build a skyscraper in his lifetime. He would need a team of others if he hoped to die in his new apartment with all the shiny chrome.

Superstar

The great thing is that no one person on that team actually needs to be the mythical Chuck Norris. A team of pretty ordinary fellows who know how to dig holes, pour concrete, and use those huge spanners can build a skyscraper in a pretty short period of time. Collectively a bunch of reasonably skilled blokes can reliably deliver the undeliverable.

There is no sense in being solo. Sure you can say a Sting record is solo in that it isn’t a Police record but that is all that term meant, so we knew it was just Sting’s songs, not a band record (The Police). It never meant that Sting and only Sting was on that record.

We never expected a solo record to mean that only Sting could be on the record; that Sting had to do everything: songwriting, singing, playing, cover art, videos, distribution, sales…. for that record. Even Dylan fans aren’t that insane.

I Won’t Last A Day Without You

But modern Indie acts are. Particularly the sole operators. If you are that siloed then how can fans ever fit in?

The strength of humans as a species was never in our ability to single-handedly fell lions with one wave of a club – this is why they are legends. Humanity’s strength as a species lay in that we could work together to fell a mammoth.

Any single human alone tended not to last too long. Even smaller tribes could go extinct pretty easily. Even tho too many people in one place can lead to plague, we are still more successful together than apart. Especially seeing that with lots of people thinking on it, we got plague pretty well licked.

Touch Me When We’re Dancing

“Dark Side of The Moon” was written by a band with a record company with people for A&R, Marketing, Accounting, Sales, Altered Images to make the cover, trucks to transport records to shops and hang posters. Oh and that band was five guys along with a Record Producer and no doubt engineers and tape ops in the room. They even got a singer from another band to manage a section none of them could sing right at the time (even tho Roger says he coulda done it – easy in hindsight).

If you read liner notes for Sting’s “Dream Of The Blue Turtles” album you’ll see how he makes it very clear to the listener that while his name is on the record, the record exists solely because of the other people involved. Sting also makes it clear that he didn’t just have minions who did his bidding lest he abuses them, his players added their unique skills to his project. Sting admits that he did some things on “Dream” because of ideas that came from the other people in the room.

Two classic records that could only exist because there were a lot of people building them. Using their unique skills to make something not doable alone.

If you try to point to some clever cock like Prince who played all the parts on some of his records. Sure. But even then he had a band. He had a record company. He had tons of people to do the things he couldn’t do. He didn’t selfie himself for his covers, let alone for his movie.

We’ve Only Just Begun

Here’s a more personal example:

YouTube videos for my music have always been a frustration for me. I struggle to make them. Nevertheless, I set myself the target of having a video for every (main) track on my next record “Triumph & Tragedy” before I put the actual album out.

Jane was aware of this target and my frustrations in getting results. Talking does wonders as she made several actions that helped:

  1. Jane didn’t just stop at saying let’s go up the mountain to where the creek is pretty but put me in the car and made me get out there. She got out there with me and we both filmed & took photos for an hour or so. That made me make a pile of vids because not only did I have material to work with but I felt beholden to the effort made on my behalf.
  2. Jane has been drawing cartoon versions of herself for her Blog “Jane’s Little Corner” for years. She offered to make a few drawings for one of my pieces. We settled on “Death of Hyacinthus” out of the few tracks left as it had the simplest story and she set to draw. We discussed the drawings and story elements and while I had to be patient and wait, once her part was done, I did mine and the video is great.

But wait there’s more:

In working with Jane’s ideas we both had side benefits:

  • I got to complete my aims when almost every other time I have failed to make all the videos
  • I made videos that got some nice comments
  • and a request to do it for someone else – even if it was a somewhat insulting request – it proved I was developing a valuable skill – and I would have happily worked with him if he wasn’t rude
  • After making this final animation I suddenly realized I could do something similar (hopefully better) for my next record which is even more story based.
  • Jane got unique nature pics to use on her blog posts
  • Jane got a video with her cartoons to post on her Social Media
  • By working on someone else’s pre-defined characters, Jane improved her ability to develop her drawing in several different ways
  • she could well get requests from others now to do more cartoons using her unique “naive” style. I do hope so.

All of these things which wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t work together for a few hours over a few days. Humans can do amazing things together.

We all win, far more than any downside from compromise, when we really work together on building something.

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