Collaboration – Method 1: Chain letter composition

In this post I’ve decided to give you all a creative task you can do, with a little help from your friends. Collaboration is a big topic, and, frankly, something I find difficult to do myself. I prefer to write in an empty house, where the only distraction from the living is the memories I carry around of them in my fevered mind. However collaboration can be done in ways, other than sharing oxygen in a stuffy room with another sweaty person with personality problems that mirror or contrast your own.

CAUTION: Socioeconomic rant ahead

To be an artist is to choose to do something that, mostly, runs counter to the activities that are widely legitimised by this economically rationalised world. Art is great, but it has no real utility, other than making people feel, which we as artists think is pretty cool, but which society at large only accepts if it’s used as a tool to generate consumption or presented as an entertainment.

While the economists have no artistic creativity index that we can point to and say, hey we are making a contribution and being productive, we know that what we do has meaning and utility. It may just keep us sane, but damn it’s also great to have the ability to make songs, and sing about our inner worlds. And many people who don’t write music would agree. They may not pay us, but they agree.

Still until we live in a society that values expression as a thing in itself, or as a valid economic activity, the failings of our personal convictions will, at times, make us doubt that we are truly productive member of this society. For this reason we need to build our own inner strength (more on this below), but when that fails, having a community of artists to help us keep going is invaluable. Collaboration is the key to finding this community, and now that the world is connected, through the flimsy ties of social media, and the inter-web it’s possible to find that community, regardless if one lives in the solitude of the country, or the isolation of the city.

Method 1: Chain letter composition

I’ll delve deeper into other methods of collaboration at some later time, but here’s one way to push an idea forward with the cooperation of another person. Take a song you’ve started, and perhaps are having difficulty making progress with, and send it to another writer. Of course, that writer needs to know first, so set that up before hand, otherwise you may feel a little silly when nothing is returned except the chirp of crickets. Whether it’s lyrics, a chord progression, a melody, or even a full song that just isn’t doing it for you, send them a chord chart, a rough recorded performance and any words you’ve written so far. Give them full license to modify and add to the piece. So if you’ve written a verse, see if they have an idea for a chorus or a bridge or perhaps some progression to play an interesting solo over. Maybe they’ll change the rhythm, or write some new lyrics to a melody you’ve already worked out. Whatever it is, they’re bound to have ideas that you’ve overlooked, or have not yet mastered on your own. Get them to send their ideas back to you, or even to send it on to someone else for another pair of ears to add to, and then, once it returns, see what you can add or modify. Keep doing this until you’re happy with what you’ve co-created.

Collaboration: the benefits

A second pair of ears that we can trust is a valuable resource to have. It also helps us to cultivate the resilience that allows us to hear and accept criticism of our creative work. We all have that inner critic that at times inflates and at other times diminishes our confidence in our abilities. This part of us may at times seem like our worst enemy, but it’s also the stubborn part of our personality that gives us the strength to continue creating, even though we may feel we don’t have permission to do so from anyone else.

Being able to let go of an idea and to have someone else tinker with it is essential to harnessing this strength, and directing it productively outside of our own little creative world. If we can’t learn to do that, it may very well become a monster that keeps us trapped in our own self-doubt, and continue to undermine our confidence in the validity of our creative expression.

So give this method a try, if you know someone who’s aligned with your own creative thought and up for it. We’ll call this chain letter composition. It’s a productive tool you can add, not only, to your song writing arsenal, but also a great way to expand your network of musical friends.

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