3 key production tips for collaborating online
Square Halo’s Minnesota-based producer Treyvonce Ambers-Moore shares some advice for lockdown music-makers after working with co-writers in London and Tokyo
Our long-distance beginning can be summed in one word: strange! Going back five years, at the start of my junior college production year, I received an email from singer-songwriter Demetrios Loukas in the UK saying he really liked an instrumental I created on YouTube, which later developed into our song Elated 80s [watch the lyric video below]. Although I’m very used to getting emails from far-flung parts of the world as an online beatmaker, I knew this would be very different when he mentioned how his life was saved through music while fighting the deadly effects of Lyme Disease.
My initial thought was, “Okay, this man has had a very difficult life-threatening experience. Music saved him… Maybe I can be a part of that positive event through producing a song.” After agreeing to collaborate, I was then introduced to his good friend and composer Omar who is based in Tokyo. From there on, we all continually experimented song after song. Omar supplying harmonic chords and structure from Japan, Demetrios singing and songwriting all the while overseeing the production from London, and I myself producing the instrumentation in Minnesota. Next thing we knew, we were formulating an album all while being across the world from each other. Being spread throughout the world, anyone can imagine how challenging music creating can be – luckily, Skype and video chat is a thing!
From my experience of being the producer within this trio creating The Lyme Years project, I’ve learned many production techniques to combat the difficulties of long-distance music-making. Here are three tips a music producer/engineer can take when collaborating long-distance!
Patience is required even with local production and music-making but when dealing with collaborative members who aren’t physically seeable…It’s even more important. Patience is the key to experimentation and creativity. As a producer working online, the process of accurately portraying the artist and arrangers’ ideas can be far more tedious (especially when Skype disconnects!) That’s where patience with experimentation is required.
Be patient with changing plugins, editing audio placements and changing the sound kits because they don’t have the luxury of really hearing the ideas till it’s on their computers as an audio file. On the album, there’s a song called I Come Alive [watch the lyric video below]. This song’s production was recreated with a total of four different versions. Though we became very drained creating the fourth version, it was apparent that the last version was an aggregation of all of the previous versions’ ideas. Patience can create something great.
You’re not the sole producer and you’re not the be-all creator. Listen to what your collaborators have to say. Even if you don’t agree with their request, just try it. This is challenging because your team isn’t there to quickly say, “Maybe try adding this…” But if you listen to what they think about adding a sound or changing an audio effect, rather than just doing it yourself, you avoid having to delete everything you independently created when they don’t like it. Put your pride aside, go to your video chat app and listen.
I learned this with the very first song we created as a team called Never Give Up. The first version I created was not at all Demetrios’ musical vision and I had ignored Omar’s chords. This led to us redoing everything. Keep cool and open your ears, unless your collaborators give you the freedom to fully create alone.
Be tech savvy
I learned about so many more tech solutions with Demetrios and Omar. When Skype doesn’t work, we use Facebook video chat; when a plugin is missing, we have the audio files already bounced out. Music producers have to be very reliable to organize and store the many files being received. When graduating from college in 2017, we came to the situation of having to move all production from my school’s studio to my home studio. This was the pinnacle of being organized because I had to mobilize plug-ins, make sure to properly store Omar’s midi arrangements and then store Demetrios many vocals tracks.
So, when working online as a producer be ready for the unexpected. There are so many possible crashes that can happen and just about every setback had happened during our collaboration on The Lyme Years – a laptop battery shortage, plug-in re-instalments, Pro Tools failure to recover tracks – we’ve always found a solution with our tech knowledge. To ensure you never lose a file always use an online drive, two portable hard drives and bounce audio files containing committed plug-in effects.
Omar being the brains of harmonic arrangements, Demetrios being the driven singer-songwriter and executive producer; I have and am continuing to learn many jewels of music creating.