Avoiding Problems When Finding Creative Partners
Have you ever been involved in collaborative projects that have ground to an apathetic halt? It’s frustrating when people’s passion level changes mid-project or you find out the passion was never there to begin with. In this second part of this blog series about collaborating with other artists we’re going to identify some red flags to look out for and save you wasted time and effort.
If you haven’t yet, read part one of this series about improving your approach when asking others to collaborate and finding good places to link up with other artists.
Knowing What to Look For
There is no way of guaranteeing that an artistic collaboration will work. As cautious as you may be when approaching someone else there’s just no way to know how it will actually go. However, there are often warning signs. As an engineer at TribeSound Records, I’ve seen so many artists disappointed when they’ve been relying on someone else and it leads to a no-show or an unprepared session musician having to write frantically in the studio on the clock. When looking back on these situations the red flags seem so obvious but it can be hard to see them in the moment. Here is an inconclusive list of red flags that you should heed when finding artistic collaborators.
But first, we need to acknowledge that everyone is human and makes mistakes. Operate with grace but don’t let people take advantage of you. If you see these red flags during your initial conversations, consider not working with the person. If you see them come up after you’ve started working then you should have a conversation about it. These sorts of things don’t get better by themselves and are often a pattern; not just a one-time problem. You will be better off finding someone else to work with most of the time!
They Are Terrible at Communicating
The most important part of any working relationship, creative or not, is communication. Committing to making music together doesn’t just mean committing the time to rehearse, write and record the music, it also means committing to the communication time to set all of that up. You have to find people that will answer your calls, text you back and actually respond to emails. So much can be done by just a few people if there is a commitment to communication.
They Don’t Respect Session and Meeting Times
People who show up problematically late to sessions, rehearsals and meetings don’t respect your time. There are a lot of reliable, hard-working artists out there that will happily show up when you need them too. Don’t buy into the myth of artists and musicians always being late. Life happens but you need people that are going to be honest with you about when they will be there and alert you if they’ll be late. Respect your own time, commit to being a good communicator yourself and expect it from those you work with. It’s worth it!
They Waste a Lot of Time Drinking or Doing Drugs While Creating
I won’t argue for or against recreational drug use while making music. Many genres are full of amazing recordings that probably wouldn’t have been found without a few drinks or puffs but as an audio engineer I have witnessed so much wasted time amongst drunk and high people! Again, this is about respecting your own time. If the new guitarist you’ve started working with got super blazed before your session and has missed the transition to the chorus the last 6 times (I’ve witnessed this!) it might be a bad idea to keep working with them. You have to work with people who can control themselves and keep focused on the creative task at hand. This is different for everyone but it normally becomes quickly obvious.
They Diss a Bunch of Previous Artists They’ve Worked With
Guess what, you’re probably next on their list! Yes there are a lot of unmotivated, untalented artists out there but people who only have bad things to say about most artists they’ve worked with are often not willing to take responsibility for their part in mistakes. It was always someone else’s fault!
They Value Being Right over Finding Solutions
You know the type. Because we musicians have put so many hours of work into our crafts a lot of us can get pretty defensive when we are questioned. However, it’s important to work with people who can check their ego in the name of creating art. Sometimes this is baked into people’s personalities and you need to find ways of questioning them gently. But someone who can never be wrong will rarely be helpful in the studio.
Respect Your Time and Be Picky About Collaboration
If you meet an artist who reciprocates your interest in collaborating but you immediately see one of these red flags either have a conversation up front about it and address it head on or avoid working with them. It may be hard to pass up on a super talented bassist you met at a show who’s looking to play with other bands but after he shows up an hour late to the first rehearsal and gets drunk enough to be a problem it’s probably best to find a different option.
Also, you should take this list of red flags as a challenge for yourself as well. We’ll talk about this more in a future post but finding people to collaborate with means looking like a good person to collaborate with yourself. Respect your time and the time of those around you. Work hard to get back to people in a timely manner and be helpful with your communications. Be reliable to people and all of that good will come back around to you.