As a long-term creative, I’ve collaborated with others a lot, and with my own muse, infinitely more, which generally has co-operated as well as can be expected of an angst-filled, temperamental she-cat.
Our molten/icy relationship will no doubt continue until I transform to vapor, so that topic shall be reserved for a separate, tormented post. Right now, however, I am compelled to share my thoughts on the collaborations we forge with others.
It is with a hefty amount of shame and guilt that I now confess one of my less glorious collaborative moments, and before you judge me too harshly, know that I have paid and repented through countless, horrendous collaborations since.
A former incarnation saw me as a songwriter and producer…yes, I’m an old duck. My specialty was top line, vocal arrangement, recording, and editing. Fun stuff, mostly.
It was a particularly frantic, stressful period. The challenges of being a business owner clung to my back like a sixty pound limpet. A young artist was booked in for a recording session; alas, I was in a terrible frame of mind to imbue the necessary positivity and nurturing…but hey, it was a job. Buh buuhhhh! Mistake #1.
Filled with all the lovely hope and malleability of youth, the young man arrived. He opened his heart in the vocal booth and sang. I directed and with horror, watched my words of impatience sling across the room and pierce his glowing bubble. Mistake #2.
Session over, he exited with the countenance of an under-cooked soufflé and I never heard from him again.
Almost twenty years on and I still cringe at the memory.
Don’t do the aforementioned. It’s unjustified, no matter the quality of the artist (or lack of in your opinion) and regardless of your current status, emotional or otherwise.
The pinnacle of collaboration is the birthing and shaping of an idea. Some will produce extraordinary magic, others will be excruciatingly painful, with each idea dragged laboriously through the streets. It’s all good. Not all collabs can produce as many talented, beautiful children as the Hemsworths, but if you arrive and depart with a philosophy and spirit of exploration and knowledge, it may not have been a waste. It’s all experience. Many seemingly dead-end sessions have honed my skills so I am better prepared for the more fruitful ones.
If granted this luxury, choose your collaborators with care. A healthy, constructive session can empower and energize while one that is toxic, can drag and leave you praying for collaborative euthanasia. If unsure, suggest a meeting over a coffee or beer (or whatever seems appropriate) to swap ideas, influences, inspiration or pasta recipes. If your shoes are growing mini, happy wings, take it a step further. If not, well, that’s up to you how you proceed from there. If, as is often the case with established writers, you are charged with producing the next world-stopping hit for the latest greenhorn, pop starlet who thinks celebrity status equates to expertise, and it’s subsequently miserable, finish the job by all means. Too many of these however, and your mojo may begin to resemble a regurgitated, calamari ring.
Be clear about your goals. Is it an organic, exploratory session where anything goes or are you writing for a specific pitch. Make sure everyone involved understands the finer points of the brief and agree on them. If you’re already locking horns at this stage, you may have just been granted a vision of what’s in store.
Note: It’s often helpful to start each session encouraging everyone to voice ideas, no matter how silly they may think they are. Unusable ideas often lead to great ones.
Trust the process.
Don’t automatically think your ideas are the only good ones. Just because your beloved mama thinks even your earliest illegible scrawlings are the work of Shakespeare, allow room for others to reflect their thoughts off your ideas. You may just see something more shiny from a different angle.
Don’t take feedback as criticism, but critique. Not all of it will be right, but if enough industry specialists are saying the same thing, take time to process and understand why they might be doing so.
Conversely, be honest but kind with your critique, (not criticism). Critique is detail-oriented and helps the process along by focussing on what’s working. Criticism is negative and has a shutting down effect on the process or others.
Unhelpful ‘Critique’ Menu
Only A Sith Deals In Absolutes
“I don’t like it.”
“It’s just not right.”
“That’s not me.” (my fave from the novice who was asked to have a go at something and flatly refused with this statement)
You Dare Stand In My Presence?
“If we have time at the end, we’ll take a look at your ideas.”
“God, you’re so sensitive!”
“Who asked you?!”
Below The Belt
“Hahahaha! That’s so corny!”
“What time do we finish?”
“You haven’t been doing this long, have you?”
Stab Me In The Back Why Don’tcha
“It’s fine, lovey, we can’t all be songwriters.”
“I’ve brought in my girlfriend who’s amazing at writing killer hooks.”
“You want me to be honest, don’t you?”
“I’ll take a double shot Macchiato and Ron the engineer usually has a venti Americano.”
We Shall Never Surrender
Few words needed here. In this video, actor, Lily Tomlin goes head to head with director, David O. Russell.
Hint: Scrub to 1:08 for the really good stuff.
Warning: This video contains explicit language!
Some collaborations which have borne tremendous fruit
Lennon and McCartney
Simon and Garfunkel
Jagger and Richards
Lieberman and Stoller
King and Goffin
Elton and Taupin
Strummer and Jones
Page and Plant
I shall leave you with this lighthearted look at the art (or artlessness) of collaboration and conflict resolution. This one had me chuckling for quite a bit.
Thanks for reading folks and until next time!