Whatever moment in the space time continuum that you find yourself reading this, whatever corner of the world you find yourself in. Someone, somewhere, is sending a message saying ‘wanna collab?’
It’s the law of music. And it can lead to some frankly amazing creations that wouln’t exist if it wasn’t for the unique meeting of minds and fusion of forces behind it. Except for the times when it doesn’t.
But for every successful collab there are plenty of WIPs and potentially awesome ideas lost to falls-outs, egos, communication breakdowns, schedule clashes and many other complications. Just ask Sola.
As a trio – two are based in Manchester, the other member is in Brisbane – their whole creative existence is based on collaborating. And with a prolific output like theirs, they’ve clearly fine-tuned the dark art of collaborating to a precise science. So much so, in fact, they even released a link-up-loaded EP called Solaborations earlier this year.
Featuring the likes of Shayper, Corrupted Mind, Vektral and Sammie Hall (to name a few) Solaborations is one of many big dispatches from the Grand Theft Audio bosses this year but the biggest is, without question, their debut album Stars Align.
Due September 30, it’s a full-flavoured statement that brings their many styles and flavours together in a powerful 14 track attack of the senses that ranges from their biggest dancefloor weapons yet (Amazonia) to their most far-out and experimental (Pico De Gallo) and so many shades in between.
“It’s our favourite body of work we have made so far,” the act collaboratively tell us. “It was also the most fun we have had working together on any project. The feedback already has blown us away. We hope people appreciate it for what it is. We especially enjoyed working on other genres on this album and those tracks turned out to be some of our favourites.”
The end result is a body of work that stretches their sound further than it’s ever been yet maintains a consistency and signature that’s identifiably Sola. This, of course, is no accident.
“The album had a working name of Coherence to remind us all that whatever we made had to flow together as a cohesive piece of work,” they explain. “The challenge to make something that would tie together like that while still retaining each track’s personality and uniqueness was the most fun and rewarding of our careers to date.”
Communication is obviously the most important part of any relationship, whether it’s personal, professional or artistic. In the case of some of these collabs it will be all three. Speak with kindness, empathy and professionalism to those you work with and don’t tolerate others not doing the same. When you send stems, make sure they all start from bar 1 and are labeled logically to be respectful of each other’s time.
Rule 2 – Be Patient When You’ve Sent Stems
Sometimes stems get looked at the day they’re received, other times they go into a big pile of tracks that need to be worked on for that artist. The latter can often be better tracks in the end, busy artists are normally busy for a reason. Send polite follow up messages every few weeks (or whatever seems appropriate) asking for an update or an ETA so the collab doesn’t slip through the net but absolutely make sure not to nag or berate, even if you’re feeling impatient. You never know what is happening in someone’s personal life, that might be delaying their progress on the project.
Rule 3 – Speak About How You’d All Like The Tune To Sound When It’s Done
It’s never too early to start giving examples to each other of tracks you like the vibe of, so you are both heading in the same direction. Obviously you don’t wanna rip off tunes that already exist, but pointing to elements like the tension before the drop on a track, the atmospheric intensity of a breakdown, or the chaos of a series of drum edits is a great communication tool. Collabs between people who primarily make different subgenres are fantastic to see but deciding beforehand what elements of whose sound will be used for the crossover can be handy.
Rule 4 – Chat Early About The Plan For The Finished Track
If one person thinks the track you’re making together is going on the EP of theirs they just need one more track for, but the other person thinks it’s going on their demo playlist they’re building for Hospital, it’s gonna be a bitter conversation at the end. It’s worth chatting about this early in the process even if most of the time the conclusion is “Wherever, I’m easy” or “The best label that would be interested in signing it, we’ll shop it about”.
Rule 5 – Send Regular Updates
We send a new update after every time we’ve had a session on the project, just to keep the collaborator in the loop about where we’re up to and reassure them that it’s not in the collab graveyard where stems go to die. You don’t necessarily have to send the updates this often, but if you plan to do a lot of work to the track and make a lot of changes, then doing this across a few updates is going to be better received to the ears of your collaborator than sending them back a hugely different track to what they sent you all in one go. They get a chance to weigh in with their own ideas to influence what you’re doing with each update too then so it feels more like teamwork.
Rule 6 – Compromise
Disagreements will happen. There is a trade off way to deal with disagreements. “I let you keep the snare the way you wanted so let me have the sub pattern the way I want it”. This is ok I guess if it works for you, but the very best way to deal with standoffs is to make a new snare or a new sub pattern that you BOTH love more than the other options that you were each backing in the disagreement. It takes more time and effort, sure, but compromises that improve on what you could do solo are the reason for doing these collabs in the first place, right?
(If you really can’t agree then be gracious. It’s fine to say you think it’s become a tune you don’t want to come out under your name as it’s too different from what you want it to be. One solution is you can ask to have your name removed so then it just comes out as a track by the other artist only. Or if there is an obvious and clear divide about who’s done what, you can split the track into two tracks and each take back your own stems you made. Make sure this process is 100% amicable and respectful in the very rare cases where these things happen.)
Rule 7 – Mixdowns
Decide who will do the mixdown. If one of you is stronger at mixing down, or enjoys it more, then it’s probably best they have a pass at it on their own and the other artist can suggest tweaks if needed. Remember, when you have different opinions at times, that you’re all on the same team and that you all just want what’s best for the end result. A/ B the mixdown against similar tunes to make sure all the elements are where they should be in the mix and everything is sitting right. “I think the kick should be louder because in these similar tracks the kick is quite up front” is more persuasive than “turn the kick up”.
Rule 8 – Continue To Communicate Throughout Demoing, Signing & Release
The communication doesn’t stop when you agree the final master is sounding as good as possible. You may have to send the track to several different labels, some of which have a better relationship with one of you than the other. So decide what you’re going to do and in what order, how long you’re going to wait for a rejection etc… maybe BCC each other in on demo emails. If one of you is self releasing or dropping as a free download on your Soundcloud, make sure you are communicating about how best to market the track on socials and both pull your weight to get it out to as many ears as possible.