Collab bro? The art of strategic partnership for mutual growth

Collab

Collaborations.

There’s something about that word that’s so intrinsic and unique to electronic music and the culture.

You don’t often see rock musicians or heavy metal bands teaming up on tracks.

But in electronic music? It happens all the time.

Whether it’s Porter Robinson & Madeon working out of a professional studio or two regular bedroom producers working thousands of miles away via WeTransfer, everybody’s done it at some point in time.

If you’re a producer you’ve probably gotten hit up by someone else about collaborating in the past. And whether you ended up going through with it or politely passing it seems like everybody’s doing it it.

So what about it is so appealing anyway? Well let us tell you.

In this article we’ll explore the pros and cons, how to get the most out of collabs and give you some insight into the logistics behind it.

Mutual Interest

Why do people collaborate?

The answer is simple. And it’s the same reasoning behind why some artists sign a lot of singles to different record labels.

Collaborating is a great way of tapping into a fanbase outside of your own. 

Seeing as it’s a joint project, it stands to reason that a collaboration would bring your fan-base and your collaborator’s fan-bases together.

There’s almost always some existing overlap between both fan-bases, but either way both artists almost always end up more popular through a collaboration.

There’s also a great opportunity for you to springboard off a successful collaboration to the next level of partnership provided that all goes well – even beyond the music.

Let’s take “Shelter” for example, one of the biggest dance music stories of 2016.

Off of the back of that single, Porter Robinson and Madeon were able to pull off one of the most unique and successful tours of the last year, selling out a huge amount of dates and pulling in close to a cool 50 million Spotify streams in the process.

Could they have sold out the rooms that they played in if they announced the tour without the single?

Maybe.

But the combined single set the storyline for the tour, establishing what the duo was trying to accomplish musically and gave fans something memorable and unique to look forward to.

The social content generated from a strong collaboration is always a huge bonus, too.

Say you’re collaborating with Skrillex on a record, the amount of social media buzz that you can create before and after the release can translate into huge growths in active social media following, provided that you can pull it off properly.

Public tweets back and forth.

Mysterious Instagram teases.

These all add to the story you write with your release, and when there’s another artist on the other end pushing social media content too, the story just gets that much more interesting.

Working with bigger artists than yourself also brings a certain level of respect from others in the music industry.

Other DJs and producers might not know who you are, but if you were to make a track with Skrillex we can guarantee that they’d be looking you up in no time.

It’s one of the quickest and most tangible ways to build “industry cred”, which can go a long way in an industry built upon handshakes and close relationships.

Logistics

In order for a collaboration to start and take off, there has to be a certain level of mutual interest between all parties involved.

Important note: this isn’t something that you can’t just force on one end or the other.

If you’ve hit somebody up over SoundCloud DMs for that casual ‘collab bro’ and followed up once or twice with due time in between there’s nothing more that you can do but to shrug and move on to your next project.

Pro checklist: Collaboration Best Practices ⚡️

Push on with more follow-ups and risk you being that producer. And nobody likes that producer.

If you want to collaborate with another producer make sure there’s some sort of rapport between the two of you before you try and reach out – especially if you’re going to do so publicly.

We recommend DMs on Twitter or SoundCloud as the best way to do so. On Twitter you’re more likely to strike gold as DMs typically require both artists to be following each other – which is already an indication that the other party is familiar with you and your work.

On SoundCloud, DMs are open to almost everybody for the most part, so to stand out to another producer you’ll want to make sure you don’t come across as too spammy and keep things sweet and simple.

A simple, “hey x producer, I’ve been a big fan of you for some time now, loved your last release Y! Would you be interested in collaborating? You can check out some of my WIPs here and my releases on my profile. Thanks!”

Be friendly, establish rapport and try not to come across as over-eager. You’ll need there to be mutual respect in order for this to work.

This usually only works on smaller producers as larger producers will most likely have their inboxes filled with messages from fans, bots and thousands of repost requests.

Of course, if the producer you’re already hitting up is familiar with you and your work, they’ll be much more likely to read your message and respond.

Once you manage to establish mutual interest you move onto the production.

We’re fairly sure you already know how to do that, so we’ll jump ahead into the nitty-gritty of release details.

The legal and financials of a joint release is by far the most important part of figuring out a smooth collaborative release.

As soon as you feel comfortable with the final master and you’re ready to pitch to labels you’ll want to step back and figure out the proper splits on the master and the song.

This will save you and any potential label an incredible amount of time and frustration so you’ll want to get this over and done with while you’re still only negotiating with one other party.

By default, the master and composition are usually 50/50 unless one party made significantly more contributions to the record than the other.

If that’s the case you’ll want to push for a higher percentage on the splits. After all, it’s only fair that both parties are reasonably compensated for their efforts.

You’ll also want to discuss potential labels and upload permissions for SoundCloud during or after the release. It’s okay if you don’t have all the details worked out before the song’s completion, but you should always come to a consensus on the above if you’re shooting for a commercial release that will be pushed to stores.

Before you put anything out however, it’s important to establish some ground rules between all parties. We recommend using an agreement to make sure everybody’s on the same page.

It doesn’t have to be an official signed document that has to be vetted by lawyers, but just a simple one-page sheet that outlines everybody’s roles both pre and post-release.

For pre-release this could include social media efforts. Making sure everybody is comfortable with tagging everybody else, establishing a joint roll-out plan for both you and them. Maybe you’ll want to invest in a graphic designer to whip up a teaser video.

As for the SoundCloud upload, there’s a few ways to approach it.

If you’re not going with a label either you or the other party could host it.

You’ll want to push for the upload to go on your page as best as possible as it’ll give you the plays and the stats on your profile. If you have a larger SoundCloud profile this isn’t such an unreasonable ask – especially if you’re much larger than the other producer in question.

If you’re putting it out with a label maybe it’s best if the label has the upload to spare you guys the effort.

That’s what we did with WRLD’s last release, a collaborative single with SMLE hosting it on the Heroic SoundCloud as opposed to either or.

You can also make a joint SoundCloud account if you really can’t decide who should have it. This is what Illenium and Gryffin did for their joint single “Feel Good.”


Regardless of how you do it, you’ll want to make sure you’re both comfortable with it before you proceed or you run the risk of having to pull the release completely.

As for post-release, marketing is where you’ll also want to properly split the efforts up. Who will procure reposts? Who will pitch bloggers and key YouTubers?

You’ll both want to play to your strengths here but this is fairly straightforward.

From a titling perspective, “Artist x Artist” is the trendiest at the moment.

Usually, the more established artist will be the first one named, which is another thing to consider if you’re thinking at doing a lot of collaborations. Just like “featuring”, the second artist will always be looked as supplementary to the first.

With that in mind, you might want to be careful about not doing too many collaborations as the smaller artist just as some vocalists are careful about not doing too many features for fear that their artist project might suffer too much in the process.

When distributing music to stores like Spotify or Apple Music, it’s important that both artists are tagged as “main artists”. On Spotify at least, both artists names should be separated by a comma so that it shows up on the ‘new release’ section of both artists’ profiles and both artists receive the stats from the collaboration within their updated Spotify numbers on the back end.

Too much collaboration

If you’ve gotten this far you’re probably wondering to yourself why more producers aren’t taking advantage of this and in doing so you’ve stumbled across the core problem we find with collaborations.

Just like remixes it’s gotten way too oversaturated thanks to a few key developments in the music/tech space and the unique marketing angles it offers.

Collaborating is easier now more than ever.

There’s an ever increasing number of readily available tools to help producers work remotely and on the road – especially with each other.

Splice and WeTransfer for example, made it easier to bounce stems across computers or even work on music while on the move. Google Drive too.

Social media also made it way easier to get ahold of other producers, as did the rise of SoundCloud (and the messaging function). Before you might have had to jump through a few email hoops before you could get an answer.

Now if you’re following each other on Twitter you can reasonably expect a yes/no answer to ‘collab bro’ within a day.

And so, as it gets easier to collaborate, people start to take advantage of it more. More so to the fact that the “cred” gained from a collaboration doesn’t hold as much weight as it did even a year or two ago.

And most importantly of all. More often than not one artist clearly benefits more than the other on a collaboration.

Lately, a lot of dance music veterans have started to ‘collaborate’ with smaller, emerging artists as a way for them to continue to put out trendier records outside of their usual musical comfort zone.

Pro checklist: Collaboration Best Practices ⚡️

Take Tiesto for example. In 2016 he collaborated with Jauz, Mike Williams, DallasK, Ummet Ozcan, Bobby Puma and Oliver Heldens. In fact the only single he released without another producer was his collaboration with John Legend.

In that sense, Tiesto has done an excellent job staying on the radar by working with the right artists who are trendier (at the moment) than he is, which helps to key his name in the limelight where some of his contemporaries might have since faded away from superstardom.

You may wonder though, whether Tiesto is actually writing 50% of the song.

Who knows.

Either way, there’s a clear ‘win-win’ for both producers there. While Tiesto gets to release another song to his name as the lead producer and remain in the spotlight, his collaborator gets the honor, exposure, and marketing from being on a Tiesto record.

Unfortunately, it’s not always the case for collaborators to work out such a solid collab plan similar to Tiesto’s because simply put there just aren’t many producers as big as Tiesto.

Some producers seek to constantly push others for collaborations in order to gain greater success.

While these producers may bbuild up their own profiles and get to upload the songs on their SoundCloud accounts by virtue of being the bigger artist, often times while they continue to develop a following, their collaborators certainly don’t.

Think for a moment of some producers you know of who avidly collab with smaller artists. Do you remember that secondary artist or is the name that sticks in your memory usually the one of the first producer listed? The ‘main artist’ so to speak?

Management also has a role to play here outside of what the artist might want for himself creatively.

Let’s say an established artist has reached out to you about working together on a collaboration, you guys worked on a track that you both liked but for whatever reason it can’t be put out.

There’s a few reasons for this.

And it’s usually not the fault of the other artist.

Managers and labels may prevent any tracks here from coming to fruition – even if the other artist’s interest in collaboration was genuine.

That sucks, but that’s also life.

For smaller producers who might not have the manager or lawyer to negotiate on their behalf it can be a challenge to push for you to get equal footing on collaborative work ‘fairly’ – let alone have it come out at all – even if you did the majority of the work.

There are even artists that specialize in collaborations. They start off by writing half finished ideas in bulk and shopping them to tens of other producers who then expand on the original producer’s ideas and wrap up the track.

Shopping around these types of half finished tracks will allow you to consistently release a high frequency of tracks, but more often than not, your catalog will suffer from a lack of consistent style or a signature sound that will set it apart as something YOU released.

Artists that collaborate too much can also lose their identities in the process and stunt the growth of their projects.

Pro checklist: Collaboration Best Practices ⚡️

As mentioned before, being second in titling consistently doesn’t contribute much to your profile, and neither does being part of lots of records might have your name but without a consistently developed style or sound.

This is also why some vocalists choose to take their names off of other people’s features. The publishing and royalties are certainly nice, but as a featured vocalist and not the artist, a song isn’t really “yours.”

Most would rather be seen as an “artist” rather than “featured vocalist” in the long-run.

Be wary of putting all your eggs into the ‘one big collaboration’ basket and try and save your best WIPs for yourself and not for anybody else.

All of our management artists consistently have 1-3 high priority tracks with harder deadlines that will require their complete focus. They usually will also have a much larger batch of WIPs which are developed enough for other artists to work on while they continue to focus on their own high priority works.

This way, while our artists’ collaborator is taking their time on their joint track, our artists can continue to keep their focus on the records that demand more of their time and attention.

When sending demos you might also want to be careful of what you choose to send over. It’s best to use WIPs where you feel like you’re stuck or where you have a solid idea that can be expanded.

Again, it’s often best to keep your strongest demos to yourself to release solely under your name.

Conclusion

As we’ve stressed in the past, it’s always important to keep things in balance. Whether that’s remixes or collaborations, moderation is the key. Collaborations are admittedly ‘better’ than remixes for the most part because you’re still writing original music that will be released under your own name.

It’s always good to pursue collaborations with artist that you admire and respect, and in the Skrillex example, it can even be a career development goal. At the end of the day, however, to truly ‘break’ as an artist and become that inspiration for other artist’s you’ll need to consistently put out strong original records.

Be thoughtful of how you want to pursue collaborations – particularly if the artist is a more influential figure than you are. Figure out the logistics in working together and be wary of the politics surrounding the release. The last thing you want to do is consistently put out music for and not with other people. That won’t have much effect on your career whatsoever.

That’s it for our collaboration article! Do you guys have any comments on how collaborations have worked for yourself in the past? What about artists that you would like to see collaborate or that you yourself would love to collaborate with? Let us know in the comments below!

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