How to Collaborate Long Distance on a Song

By D I Hughes, Spire Contributor | September 17, 2018

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While long distance song collaboration was once seen as a sluggish, unproductive and convoluted. In the digital age it happens all the time.

At present, a colossal five billion people have a mobile phone connection worldwide. No longer does your physical location cause creative boundaries, and with the right mindset, self-motivation and good mobile tools, you can create incredible music with someone (a group of people) that literally live miles away, or even in another country.

To help you on your path to long distance collaborative success, here are some handy hints and tips that will kick your remote Lennon and McCartney, Jagger and Richards or Hall and Oates-style partnership into gear.

Long distance song collaboration: the golden rules

Before we dive into tools, tips, and collaborative methods, it’s important to understand that your long distance musical collaboration is only ever as successful as the mindset you adopt when approaching a new song or project. That said, these golden rules will form solid foundations for your various long distance collaborative efforts.

Plan and align: Before you begin any new song or project, even if it will be largely based on improvisation, it’s important that you have an open discussion with your songwriting partner, or partners, via telephone or video call, and set out clear guidelines on what you want to achieve on a fundamental level, as well as a collectively agreed set of dos and don’ts for the arrangement in question. Even if this is a loose guideline, it will help you shape the project from the start and ensure everyone is pulling in the right direction.

Develop ideas cohesively: When you’re collaborating on a particular song or musical project, you will both want to throw a host of ideas at the wall and see what sticks. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But, to avoid your song getting to clogged up with unnecessary parts or sounding disjointed, you should review the project together regularly and try these co-writing activities to help spark your creativity in the positive way possible.

Embrace your differences: When you work with someone else on a song, chances are that your creative ideas will clash from time to time. Rather than shutting down your musical teammate, embrace their ideas. After all, if you want complete control, you’d may as well work alone. By embracing and understanding these creative differences, you will both (or all) create something beyond your individual creative capabilities and probably end up with a piece of music that will make you all as proud as punch.

Take a break: If you’re ever getting stuck on a particular song part or idea, or you’re feeling mentally exhausted from the process, take a break from the project and forget about it for a few days, or weeks. Refrain from contact with your partner in crime (it’s easier to do this when you’re working long distance), do something different for a short while and you’ll return to your project refreshed, renewed and full of productive new ideas.

How to collaborate long distance

Now that you’re in the right creative co-writing mindset, here are two practical pointers that will help make your long distance song collaboration a success.

Work in real-time

Just because you're not in a room together, it doesn't mean that you can't work in real time.

In the digital age, it’s possible to work with your songwriter partner, or partners, both verbally, musically, and lyrically, with tools including:

Skype: With Skype or similar video conference-based tools, you can sit face to face and talk through your ideas at any stage of the process–pen and pad, guitar, bass, keyboard, kazoo, or any other music-making device in hand, Spire Studio at the ready–and progress your project, one lick, chord or melody at a time. There may be some latency at times, but providing you're in the creative zone, you'll be able to focus and creative with ease.

Google Docs: Project management tools like Google Docs’ word processor offer another easy to use real-time collaborative outlet. If you’re working on lyrics or you’re noting down arrangements, chord progressions, etc. you can both enter the document at the same time, making edits or leaving notes and annotations right before each others eyes, allowing you to refine your ideas as if you were in the room together.

Spire Studio: If you both, or all, have a Spire Studio and the Spire mobile app, you will be able to document and develop your ideas from a long distance while you’re working in real-time. And we’re going to talk about this in more detail right now.

Build your song one layer at a time

If you’re in the early ideation stage of a new song, the best way to develop well-rounded parts and test them out is to create a draft recording project and build it up one layer at a time.

Once you’ve discussed your project’s aims and goals and worked out the basic arrangement or parts in real-time, you will be able to experiment, edit and create by making a long distance recording.

To kick things off, one of you should create a new, appropriately labelled project and lay down the core rhythmic track, before sending the project over to your songwriting partner in crime. Then, having reviewed the track, either yourself or your co-writer can spend time adding the next layer, before sending it back. And, of course, this creative yo-yo process can continue indefinitely until you’re both, or all, 100% happy with the final result–then, all that will be left to do is work on the final mix and celebrate.

With Spire Studio, it’s possible to share your project with your musical collaborator in a number of quick, easy and convenient ways; here are three of the main methods:

  • You can send your project to your partner in crime instantly via text or email by converting it into M4A format (similar to MP3).

  • To share your working creation in the highest possible quality, you can quickly convert it to a .WAV file and send it via Dropbox or iCloud Drive with ease.

  • You can share your Spire project files direct with your long distance collaborator, or collaborators, meaning they can open the project in progress with all settings in place and continue to build the track.

With Spire Studio, sharing your music and recording in a long distance scenario is simple, effective, and fun.

The great thing about this approach is not only is it entirely productive, but by having to wait a while to hear the next part, you will be able to reflect on your ideas, giving yourself the time and space to come up with something that gives the song the best possible impact.

Conclusion

When you’re collaborating long distance especially, to create something noteworthy, not only do you have to use the right tools, but you must also adopt the right attitude from start to finish. By being honest, open, consistent, respectful, remaining motivated at all times, and knowing when to take a break, long distance song collaboration success will be yours for the taking.

Suffering from writer’s block? Overcome it with these nine practical tips.