You know the phrase, “greater than the sum of its parts?” Well it’s bandied about for a reason.
There’s merit to it.
So often through life, as we grow as individuals and in the case of this article, artists – we make the sometimes grave, but always necessary “mistake” of thinking we have it all figured out. Actually, we need to possess that attitude – a somewhat egocentric disposition – to even get up on stage or release a song with our name or image attached. But in healthy doses.
Believing your one, singular vision to be the only appropriate avenue can in fact wind up limiting the potential of an artistic endeavour. In actuality, the possibility of collaboration holds the opportunity for pushing the project beyond its initial limits and unfurling destinations neither you, nor your collaborator could have previously conceived. That’s the beauty of connecting with a fellow artistic mind; creating something beyond what you would have exclusively and individually envisaged.
That’s where the magic lies. The “mistake” of trying to do it all yourself is a necessary one because it allows us, in retrospect, to compare and contrast. Early on in our musical careers, it’s a common path to travel. We tend to create art with a solitary aim, a quest to have our lone design come to life. But in doing so, with lack of experience in the art of collaboration, blind spots are born where missed opportunities are in abundance – working with those around us, whether it be a fellow musician, engineer or producer could have proved crucial to taking that project to the next level, that wound up sounding stale or uninspired.
That’s the thing about doing it all yourself. You need to earn it. There are many artists who are known to have been and continue to be solo trailblazers. Neil Young, Beck, Michael Jackson to name a few. But when you look a little deeper, you’ll find that all of these mavericks either started out in bands (Neil Young with The Mynah Birds and Buffalo Springfield, Michael Jackson with The Jackson 5) or have made collaboration a major part of their artistic trajectory (Beck serving as producer on the incredible Charlotte Gainsbourg album IRM as well as his Grammy Award winning work with producer Nigel Godrich). All of these artists understand the value of collaboration and in this, the day and age of hyper connectivity, there’s no better time to leverage your resources and expand your horizons as a content creator.
Perception is everything. How we choose to see the world around us directly correlates to how wide our breadth of opportunity is in our given field. Across Instagram, TikTok and pretty much any other platform you can think of, artists are connecting on deeply creative and innovative levels to hold one another up and bring value to each other’s brand.
Take for example the notion of connecting with a talented graphic artist who has a substantial following and who’s aesthetic matches the sonic qualities of your work. Offer to lend your music to their visuals in a few cross-posts or consider reaching out to other like-minded musicians for a virtual writing session on Instagram live. Get creative with how a work in progress could benefit from a fellow musical mind and if you feel inclined, turn that into something the viewing audience can witness and participate in for a double whammy. There’s something inherent in our make-up that draws us to stories. What’s yours?
It’s no secret a great producer can turn an embryonic idea or skeleton of a song into something that soars beyond expectation, and often from an unlikely place. From The Beatles benefitting from George Martin’s classical background to Rick Rubin – a producer with roots in hip-hop (among many other genres) – giving wings to Johnny Cash’s gorgeous latter output, collaborators from seemingly mismatched ethos’ can birth truly unique and extraordinary results. When Nashville based roots and blues enthusiast Jack White compiled the members of his backing band, he tapped for example, a hip-hop drummer from Brooklyn (Daru Jones), a country and western multi-instrumentalist (Fats Kaplin) and a progressive rock/jazz influenced keyboardist (the late, great Ikey Owens). On paper, it might not immediately make sense. But it’s Jack’s sense of adventure and open-mindedness that allowed them to put on some of the most explosive and interesting shows in the rock genre of the past decade.
Take the road less traveled. Whether it’s hiring a producer with a sensibility based in seemingly opposing values as yours or writing/playing with a musician who isn’t versed in your style, at the very least you’ll both learn something and at the most, you’ll create something truly outside the box and isn’t that what we’re after? To trail-blaze, innovate and live outside expectations and artistic norms.
In a visceral piece of video, Pharrell Williams sits in on a listening presentation from aspiring pop writers at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. In his Masterclass, he illustrates the importance of taking two things that are awesome on their own and fusing them together to create something new, via the metaphor of my personal favourite chocolate treat, the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.
Do your research. Look into who sparks your interest, which team might be right for you. And if you’re working with a budget and are looking for your work to benefit from high quality treatment, surrendering a small percentage or fee to a producer and/or engineer could prove paramount to building your portfolio down the stretch.
Open your mind. Make it pop. Invent your peanut butter cup.
Get to work. You got this.