WORKING REMOTELY: A guide for clear and successful online music collaboration

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My name is Joel Schwartz. I’m a session guitarist and producer living in Toronto. I’ve worked with singer/songwriters and composers for many years, and for the last several years, more and more of that work has been conducted remotely.

In this article, I’m going to outline my workflow, share some experience, and offer some tips to anyone wishing to collaborate online.

Remote Recording Advantages

Working this way has opened up creative opportunities and ways of working that are more satisfying and valuable than I could have ever imagined.

  • Resource efficient – work through your long to-do list while I’m working on parts for your track
  • Allow me to control the sound and give me the time to make the kind of recordings that work for me
  • Creativity in the process that I believe just makes better albums, and recordings, and scores
  • Less expensive – the studio, engineer, and multi-instrumentalist are covered in one fee

My goal for remote recording is to make really great art that connects. I want it to connect with you the artist/composer and ultimately with the story and the audience.

To achieve that, I have a streamlined process that is easy and very high value for my clients. The way I see it, the less energy spent on figuring out details and workflow means more time for creativity and execution.

I’m going to break down my workflow for remote recording. Here’s an overview:
  • Pre-recording: all the stuff you need to talk about before starting
  • Recording: some technical details here and see what this process looks like on my end
  • Delivery: file management, revisions, and how I’m sending the files.

PRE-RECORDING

This section covers all the things you need to speak about before getting started with the recording.

Rapport

We are using computers to connect, but that doesn’t mean we need to treat each other like computers! Remote collab often starts on email, but it’s really worthwhile to have a ten minute phone, or better yet, video chat with the human on the other end. Establish a rapport to understand each other a bit as people. Email alone can be hard to convey all the human aspects of what we do, and a short call is something I highly recommend.

Creative Vision

Have a discussion about what the vision is. Talk about the context for music. What instruments/sounds are you looking for? The session musician can help you with this part, but some playing examples or influences are useful. The goal is to establish a trusting musical friendship.

Musical

Are you sending notated charts, a lead sheet, or just a recording? If the parts you’re looking for are very specific, send a notated chart. If there is room for interpretation, a lead sheet or even just a recording for me to lift, will work.

Technical/Logistical Details

Agree on the sample format – for almost all projects, this will be a .wav files at 48khz/24bit, but be explicit if it’s your first time collaborating together. Agree on a schedule for delivery, and leave time for revisions. There are a lot of great scheduling tools such as calendly, doodle poll, and Google Calendar invites. These apps are particularly helpful if you have multiple times zones because no one has to do the math

Payment

The following questions about payment need to be clear before you start the recording process:

  1. What is the amount being paid?
  2. Who is paying? (artist, production company, label)
  3. When are they paying?
  4. How are they paying? (e-transfer, paypal etc)

A glitch on any one of these can spoil the whole process. It’s worth being super clear from the outset.

PRODUCTION

Here are some technical things to consider when working remotely. You don’t have to be working in the same DAW, but follow these steps to ensure easy online collaboration between DAWs.

  • Send stems or individual files so that parts can be muted
  • Send a rough mix of your song as you are hearing it. I find this to be a handy reference
  • Send your files in the sample rate and format you wish to receive back (aka .wav files
  • 48khz/24bit)
  • Export all your files from zero – meaning the beginning of your recording will line up with the beginning of your session musician’s recording. (Tip: leave at least two bars pre-roll before your music begins)

Note: there are tools for near real-time remote recording. https://audiomovers.com/ is a plugin that is worth looking at as well as Source Connect https://now.source-elements.com. However, I believe real time collaboration negates some of the advantages of remote recording. That being said, they are useful for working parts out in real time.

 

Video below is of a recording session from a clinic I did for the Screen Composers Guild. Use it as a live example of how a recording session looks like from my end.

DELIVERY

For most projects, my delivery workflow happens in three parts:

  1. Mix delivery
  2. Revisions
  3. Final Delivery

Mix Delivery

Before we go into the actual delivery, let’s briefly talk about file management. This is mostly the responsibility of the session musician, but being organized with files makes everything so much faster and easier.

I save every new project as “song name” 1.0. As I work through the piece adding and adjusting my parts, I save the project with progressive numbers. 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 etc. If there is a major change or revision, I go to 2.0 and so forth. Using this system, or a similar system, will make communication clear and easy

In terms of file names, everything should be labeled clearly. For example, in my DAW a track may be labeled E. GTR, but what happens if that file gets lost or misfiled? The file would have to be opened and listened to in order to know what it is. If it’s labeled clearly, it’s obvious at a glance.

I label my parts as such: trackname_songname_myname. So an acoustic guitar part for the song

“Total Eclipse of the Heart” would be Ac. GTR_Total Eclipse_Joel Schwartz

Revisions

Prior to sending the individual files out, I send a rough mix of my parts using FilePass. FilePass allows for time stamped comments which makes any revisions really clear and saves a lot of emailing. https://filepass.com

Payment

Once any revisions have been addressed, payment happens at this stage (unless there was some other arrangement), and I send out the individual files via google drive.

SUMMARY

In summary, my remote recording workflow looks like this:

1. PRE-RECORDING: Establish a good rapport, be clear on vision, musical details, logistics, and payment

2. PRODUCTION: Be clear on the technical details

3. DELIVERY: Be organized and maintain clear file management, and leave time and have a system for revisions.

Please reach out below if you have a musical project you need help with.
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