“Collab bro?”


How to play well with others

Batman works alone for good reason. He has a vision for his city, and only he can execute it. If anyone else wants to help, good. But they shouldn’t expect to have a say in how he should execute his vision.

For the longest time, I operated like Batman when collaborating on my music projects. If anyone wanted to work with me, I would dominate the project and render them a slave to my… “creative genius”.

While this approach has its merits, it unsurprisingly won me very little friends, and I never ended up completing any of my collaborations. Time and time again, my collaborators would grow tired of my behavior and eventually give up on working with me.

Today, we will be exploring how a charity operates, and how we can learn from it to better our collaborations.

Learning from the Salvation Army

In my Leadership and development course, my teacher recommended I read Leadership Secrets of the Salvation Army, by Robert Watson and Ben Brown. 

I found the book online on Google Books, but I will be buying the ebook version off Chapters once I finish reading the two chapter preview online.

While this recommendation is mostly founded in my work as a volunteer at an adult drop-in centre, I found much of the wisdom in the book can also be applied to beat-making, so I will be sharing what I learn from the book here!

I hope to learn more about their practices, and how to apply them to prevent burnout in my own works, as I know burnout is often a key problem both in music production and in volunteer work, so I expect that the book will go into this in greater detail later. I’ll be posting on burnout later in the month, so you can stay tuned for that!

The “big idea”

The Salvation Army operates with a central “big idea” that they wrap everything they do under. For the Salvation Army, their big idea is to “Engage the Spirit”  (referring to the biblical holy ghost). 

In so many words, what they are doing is creating a purpose for their work, and then letting everything they do be defined by that.

Your big idea must be something that excites and motivates you (and your collaborator) to work on your project, and then letting that central idea dictate how everything else falls into place.

For an example, when collaborating on a film project, we started by establishing the rules for our project. With guidelines established, it not only made us work more efficiently, it also helped us to create a more cohesive final result, where everything blended together perfectly.


The seven principals

In Leadership Secrets of the Salvation Army, the authors note that there are seven bottom line principals that connect to their “big idea”.

While your “big idea” may be different (I don’t expect many of my readers produce music for Christian charities), these seven principals are still relevant regardless of your intent with your idea. 

1. Put people in your purpose

Finding a way to serve people with your project can be a great way to ensure that you are motivated to complete the task, and can help to keep you and your collaborators motivated while working on the project.

This can be as simple as deciding that the project will, “make people feel happy” or something like that.

By finding ways that your work will help others, it can make the work more gratifying to complete and will help to prevent fatigue for you and your collaborators.

2. Embody the brand

Go public with your vision! By letting people know what you are doing with your project, you form a certain level of accountability for your work and can inspire others to follow your lead.

By being clear about your vision statement, it can be an easy way to gain followers who resonate with your vision.

3. Lead by listening

With followers comes critics. When feedback comes, dont shy away from giving it its due-diligence. When your critics or collaborators give their input, be sure to give it consideration and use it to better refine your work to serve your goals.

Ignorance is a surefire way to ensure your work won’t have longevity.

4. Spread the responsibility, share the profits

When everyone in the collaboration has equal responsibility, it can help everyone to stay motivated and emotionally invested in the work at hand. When everyone has an emotional connection to their work, they will be more motivated to put their very best into whatever they are doing in the project.

Kanye West is a prime example of an artist who is willing to let other people step in and share their expertise where he is lacking, allowing the larger project to shine all the more.

5. Organise to improvise

Be prepared to change your work. When collaborating in mixed media environments such as film, it is an unavoidable fact that you will eventually need to scrap ideas and sometimes even start over from the ground up, in order to ensure your ideas fit into the grand narrative of the project.

Don’t be discouraged when this happens. Be prepared for it, and pay attention to the ways it forces adaptation and rewards innovation! Its important to be willing to adapt your work to better suit the narrative.

6. Act with audacity

Take risks! Creativity comes out of a relaxed mind, so don’t be afraid to mess up and learn from your mistakes. If you only do what you know, you will never bring something innovative to the table, and you won’t learn from the collaboration. Find ways to experiment with your work, and take calculated risks!

Try new tools, new effects, new instruments! There are many opportunities for experimentation when working with others! Noah ’40’ Shebib and Drake created their now-iconic sound by acting with audacity and giving themselves the freedom to experiment.

7. Make joy count

One of the best ways to prevent burnout and to stay engaged in a project is to take pleasure in your work, to celebrate little things and to share these celebrations with others! Create an environment where your collaborators feel that they are giving valuable contributions, and they will often return the favor with you.

Even when they provide an idea that you may not agree with, use constructive language to speak with them, saying things like, “That is a really cool idea, but I don’t think it fits into what we are doing right now.” instead of simply rejecting the idea altogether.

This way, your collaborators will not be discouraged from trying new things, and the project will be better for it.


Putting it all in perspective

While it is natural to want to take control over a project and to want to have full control over its outcome, this approach does not often yield positive relationships and can often end up hurting a project in the long run.

By defining a big idea, and then ensuring that everything you do serves that big idea, the larger project will have a clear focus and all parties present will be more motivated to complete the project.

What do you think? Do you agree with these methods? Have you had similar experiences collaborating?

Let me know!

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