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Keeping the Flame Alive: Tips and Tools for Long-Distance Songwriting Collaboration

The Postal Service (featuring Ben Gibbard and Jimmy Tamborello) famously created their gold-certified debut via mail. (Photo by Joshua Mellin)

My friend (and frequent collaborator) Janet Simpson sent me a record she recently finished. The project, Timber, is collaboration between her and a Nashville-based songwriter named Will Stewart. Their forthcoming EP (which, by the way, is lovely) came together via email. They would take turns sending songs to each other, giving notes along the way, until they amassed enough material to hit the studio.

When Simpson and Stewart met in Birmingham to make the record, they hadn't really worked out the arrangements – in fact, they had barely ever hung out in person. Instead, they would discuss ideas over coffee and then head back to the studio and start working, playing most everything themselves – guided only by instinct, time constraints, and trust in each other and the songs they wrote.

What I love about Timber's story is how they took what still feels like a futuristic route to collaboration only to create the final product in the most organic of ways. Of course, sending files via email is hardly futuristic – it's practically old school in 2015. In the last few years, collaborating online isn't only easier than ever, but it can be also be incredibly ornate thanks to a variety of apps, websites, and online communities. Still, at the end of the day, no technology can replace the human element so essential to great art. So here are some ways to intersect the two.

The Long Haul: A Basic Guide to Keeping Your Band Alive and Well

The ultimate independent band, Fugazi made music and conducted its business on its own terms. Their legacy speaks for itself. (Photo by Ed Templeton)

The old adage goes something like this: all bands are like dysfunctional families. Of course you can't choose your family – at least the one you're born into. And even though you choose who you play music with, realizing that you have chemistry with other musicians can elicit feelings so strong that it would seem inconceivable to play with anybody else. And maybe you can't.

Recording, Honing Your Craft

Jun 9, 2015 08:00 AM

James P. Fahy

10 Things You Should Know Before Going Into a Recording Studio for the First Time

Using the studio as a compositional tool: David Byrne and Brian Eno during the recording of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts in 1980. (Photo by Lynn Goldsmith via CORBIS)

I love being in a recording studio. Whether it's for my own music, contributing to a friend's record, or just being there to provide creative and/or moral support, I get off on the energy being the studio generates. I love to watch other people work, be it the artist or the engineer, it's great to observe (and, thereby, learn from) someone else's creative process in action.

For some people, though, the studio is a drag. It can feel clinical or repetitive – and it can be. There are going to be plenty of times when you're going to have to hear a small snippet of music over and over and over again in order to solve a problem, or decide if it's the right decision, or if it's not good enough – which means someone will have to redo the part, which could take minutes… or hours. And if it's not your place, then chances are that every mistake is costing somebody – probably you – money.

Demystifying the Dark Art of Mastering: A Conversation With Paul Logus

Image via

So there's this audio nerd meme starring a promising young ingénue named Scarlett Johansson that perfectly illustrates the three main stages of producing music: before mix, after mix, and after mastering. In each picture, Johansson looks progressively glamorized – an evolution that begins before makeup and ends in a stylized portrait. That is, until the fourth picture – MP3 – that finds the "mastered" photo vulgarly pixilated. So it goes.

Mastering is the final step in getting your album ready for manufacturing. It's a service that’s both practical and mysterious: the former because you'll have to be settled on your mix, the track titles, the running order, the space between songs – the things that make the audio journey complete. The latter because this is where the last bit of sonic polish is applied to your music. Like that stylized portrait, this is where every last detail is put perfectly in place. It's the icing on your aural cake.

The 3 Biggest Reasons Why You Might Still Want to Sign With a Record Label

Over the course of the last 25 years, Superchunk's Laura Balance and Mac McCaughan (seated in front) transformed their label, Merge Records, from a bedroom operation to one of the most influential indie tastemakers in the world. (Image courtesy of Merge Records)

Depending on who you talk to, the internet has either helped or hindered the music business. Some people (myself included) think it's done both. Sure, sales are down and the economic paradigm continues to shift, but access to music has never been greater, vinyl sales continue to grow, and with such a low barrier to entry, it seems as if there are more new bands than ever.