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Sunday, 19 September 2010

Collaborating with Established Artists

A friend wrote to me recently asking for advice about collaborating with a large Canadian band who had heard his mashups of their work. Collaborating with artists can be a tricky business, particularly if they are already established and the way you approach it can be fraught with difficulties on the business side if you are not.

One thing is true, you need to go into the collaboration with the right mindset to be able to produce good music, and to leave the experience without a bad taste in your mouth.

Collaborating is much different from remixing, but some of the same unwritten codes of conduct apply. Much of how you conduct yourself should be appropriate to any relationship – and whilst creatives can be notoriously awkward creatures to work with, you have to manage your own behaviour whilst not feeling put upon. Most people seem to forget that, like with all endeavours, collaborating can have an effect upon your future career – do a good job and this can lead to future work, endulge in divaish behaviour and it's likely that you will gain a bad reputation.

If the artists who approaches you is in the A-list, that is, signed to a major record label, instantly it's best to get a manager who can take care of the business side of things to free you up to simply concentrate on the music. Through all of your negotiations it makes sense to keep an eye firmly on the music.

If the artist is an independent then the chances are you will have too deal with them or their label directly. This requires a certain amount of skill to be paid a fair share for your contribution to whatever work is released. It can be tempting in the excitement and the buzz of being asked to collaborate that you forget to stand up for yourself. Don't allow yourself to get carried away, firmly but fairly make sure that you get you fair share.

Like in all business there should be an unwritten code of conduct:

1. Respect the Artist – frequently when collaborating you can lose sight of the common goal – to produce good music that both you and the artist likes. Don't let them walk over you, but be prepared to be open minded and receptive to their ideas. Remember that they are the prime “draw” that most people will want to hear.

2. Remember that they have approached you because they like your work – so that entitles you to some respect. Don't tolerate unwarranted divaish or intimidating behaviour – but try to be political in defusing any situations that arise. Most artists don't feel the need to engage in this behaviour and it's more likely that your creative relationship will be fun and fulfilling but if the artist you work with has a history of upsetting collaborators, be prepared to modify your behaviour and most importantly:

3. Don't ever lose your temper. Never. Unless you're working with someone who is a long term friend and with whom is almost like a family member. Try and defuse situations before they arise.

Most times when you collaborate with people you will enjoy the process, don't be intimidated, relax and have fun with it. Making music is meant to be fun!

So what exactly is your fair share?

A lot depends on the arrangement, in some cases (as with some big artists) they may elect to pay you a “work for hire” fee, sometimes this may include a reduced % points – in the case of a producer for example.

If you are writing with the artist (as opposed to producing or remixing) then it's likely you will need a % of any publishing royalties. If it's going to be released then you'll need to sign up with a royalty collecting agency such as MCPS and you will need a publishing deal. This is where a manager is handy – but there's no reason why you can't negotiate a publishing deal with the artists publishers. It may be worth your while clarifying the situation with the artist beforehand – ask who their publisher is and how they intend to split royalties.

More importantly than that, it's worth keeping a record, whether by dictaphone or by your computer sessions – try and keep an accurate account of what you contributed to the song.

If you perform on the record you will be entitled to Mechanical royalties – unless you have opted to take a “work for hire” fee.

The time to negotiate these generally depends on your position. It can be a call depending on what you want / are likely to get from the collaboration. It can be better to negotiate these before working on the project so that you can all go into it with a clear idea of what you're trying to achieve. Although this can then place an artificial stress on the relationship – particularly if someone contributes more to the project. Sometimes, and particularly in the case of new artists, it can be better to simply do the project first and then worry about the business side when you know whether what's been made is any good. It's also worth bearing in mind that, in the modern age, unless you're A-list it's unlikely that any much income will be made from the single release alone. The greater income will come from performance royalties and licensing.

At the back of your mind it's worth bearing in mind your bargaining position - in some cases it can be worth trading off a certain amount of income in the short term for future revenue and publicity. If you're writing and performing it can be worth getting a credit – Artist X feat. You.

Whatever the outcome the most important thing of all is producing good music. Music that you can be proud to be associated with.

By Jez with 2 comments


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