I was playing music in the Caribbean when the Covid situation took a turn for the worse in the USA. I had planned on heading back to Chicago in late March to begin a new music project with a friend of mine. My plans were de-railed when just two days before my scheduled flight back to the states, the borders in the Dominican Republic, where I was staying at the time, were abruptly closed, with no flights allowed in or out, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
After a few weeks of uncertainty and several cancelled flights back to the states, I realized this wasn’t a situation that was going to quickly resolve itself. I was essentially trapped in the Caribbean for the time being and would likely be stuck for several months. So, instead of flying to Chicago to begin working on our project together, my friend MJ and I did the next best thing, we started collaborating remotely.
The last few months have been, ironically, some of the most productive months for me musically in years. In part due to being stuck indoors for much of the last few months due to the pandemic, and also in part due to the fact that in many ways the pandemic was a huge wake up call and reminder, that you never know just how quickly life can change and throw you a giant curveball. For me, the pandemic and lockdown has been a reminder to pursue the things important to me while I still have time. Things like music.
In this post I thought I’d break down my process for collaborating remotely over the last few months. Even in “normal” times, there are situations where you’re simply not able to be in the same space, at the same time, with people you’re collaborating with. I’ve collaborated remotely for years with my producer Gary Gray, as well as a variety of different vocalists, and we’ve had a lot of success finishing songs this way.
This time the collaboration was different, in that I was collaborating with a musician friend of mine, during the beginning stages of writing and arranging, all the way through to the final production. After a month or so of collaborating this way, we refined our system of collaboration down to a pretty tightly run machine and we’re now averaging creating a new song every week to ten days.
Our goal has been to get songs up to professional level demos which we can release on Youtube to grow my Youtube Channel, which I’ve recently monetized, and also potentially go on to create full blown, licensing ready mixes of the songs that get the best feedback and that we feel have the most licensing potential.
Here’s my remote collaboration routine:
Since the music is primarily for my own Youtube channel, the only gatekeeper I have is myself. However, for songs that my producer Gary and I feel have strong licensing potential, I’ll be sending Gary the stems to finish up and do a final mix. This adds an additional week or so to the above process.
For me, one of the biggest take-aways from the last few months, is that there are simply no excuses. If you want to make music, regardless of where you are in the world, you can find a way to make it happen. When the lockdown and airport closings happened, my friend MJ was really bummed because collaborating remotely isn’t the same as collaborating in person. He kept saying it would be so much cooler if I was there. Of course, collaborating remotely isn’t the same as being in the same room, but it’s still a completely viable way to collaborate. The last few months have been as productive as any period we’ve had collaborating before, in person. In fact, in many ways the last few months has been more productive. I’ve definitely been more prolific than usual.
With the technology and tools we have at our disposal in 2020, you can be almost anywhere in the world and be collaborating with musicians almost anywhere in the world. Just because you don’t live in a major music city, doesn’t mean you don’t have access to the same pool of talent. Use the tools you have at your disposal and make the most of whatever your situation is.
Here’s the most recent track I collaborated on with my friend MJ, as well as a few musicians I met during my time in the Caribbean. This one is called “Lost In A Dream”. I also did the video editing for the video. We’ll be sending this one to producer Gary Gray for the final mixing and mastering, as we feel this one has strong licensing potential.
Check it out and let me know what you think! Subscribe to my Youtube Channel here.
It took me a long time to develop a workflow and work routine that was consistent and that I could commit to on an ongoing basis. It takes a massive amount of momentum to see any sort of real, sustainable success in the music industry. For this reason, developing a workflow that fits into your overall life and that you can commit to on an ongoing basis, is one of the most important parts of realizing success in music licensing and the music business.
I used to have a sort of two steps forward, one step back approach to making music. I would work really hard for a few months and make a little bit of progress and then inevitably start feeling burnt out and take a step back to rest and regroup. The first few years of my music licensing career I had very sporadic success as a result. I’d license several songs and then there were often long stretches where not much was happening. I’d then frantically go back to the drawing board, so to speak, and throw myself into the process of music making again, see some renewed success, slow down and take a break again and repeat the entire cycle over. This went on for several years as I was also juggling the duties of several internet businesses and different projects.
These days I have a much different and much more consistent approach to making music. It’s very simple and my workflow and creative process has become much more efficient and dialed in. I write and record one song a week and release one music video weekly. It’s still a lot of work, don’t get me wrong. I can easily spend 30 to 40 hours a week or more, mixing, rehearsing, writing and video editing. But it’s a schedule that I can commit to regularly without getting burnt out doing. I still have plenty of time to manage my other duties and I really enjoy the time I spend making music. And if takes me ten days to finish a track instead of seven, it’s not the end of the world. I simply aim for averaging a song a week.
A lot of people ask me how many songs they should be aiming to record weekly and monthly, and like a lot of things related to music licensing, there are many variables. It depends on what kind of music you’re making, how efficient you are at writing and recording, what your goals are, etc. But really, the most important variable, is you. By that I mean, it comes down to what you can commit to, how skilled and motivated you are and so forth. I like the song a week model because, after a lot of trial and error, this is the schedule that feels right to me. My goal is to consistently make music and put it out into the world, without getting burnt out or stressed about it. There are enough stressful things in the world right now that the least thing I want music to be is a source of stress or frustration.
Aim to setup your schedule and life in a way that you’re excited about and brings you more joy than stress. If making a living from music if your goal, you’re going to be doing it a long time, so make sure you’re creating a workflow that’s sustainable and enjoyable. If you’re pushing yourself to the point of burn out you’re not going to be able to sustain that.
What is your workflow like? Do you have a set amount of songs you record each week or month? Have you given this issue much thought? One of the keys to success is consistency. Just keep showing up and putting in the work. There’s a lot that’s out of our control in the music business, but the one thing you we do control entirely, is our output. And like I’ve said before, more songs will generally lead to more licensing opportunities and more money. In my own experience, I've seen my licensing income go up significantly over the last several years as I've simply been writing and recording a lot more music. It's sort of a no brainer. More songs = more licensing opportunities.
I’ve also been ramping up my efforts on Youtube ever since the pandemic started and have been releasing new music videos each week. Here’s my latest effort, a video for my song “Everything Is Going To Be Alright”, shot in the Caribbean during lockdown with my quarantine project, Bandits Of The Apocalypse. Check it out and be sure to subscribe to my Youtube Channel here.
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.