Things to Consider When Collaborating Online

Surely one of the coolest things in production is collaborating. Ideally you'd both/all be in the same studio together at once but in real life, that tends not to be the case. Luckily, the internet can allow for alternatives. This is not without issues however, there are many things which make online collaborations logistically difficult and so I have collated some considerations you must make first, before you hit a dead end.




1. AGREE ON THE PROCESS FIRST

There is nothing worse than giving up on a half finished song with potential. Don't let a disagreement over production ruin what you have spent hours creating. Agree on who get's what task, and what choices need to be made. By setting out a plan and a rough template of what is needed and the processes to complete it, you will have a lot less to disagree on and be more efficient at working.



It could be as simple as agreeing on the style of music, something which may require compromise for you both. Really though, as long as you are both willing to work with each other, you should both be open to compromise. 

2. DAW 

If you don't have the same DAW, you will have some issues. While it's in no way impossible to work with two different DAWs, it will be a hindrance to the process. Ideally, you will have the same, and you can simply send the project files back and forward to each other. That way you can have the exact same workstation to look at and will not have to make certain compromises.

If you are using a DAW with customisable screensets and workflow, such as REAPER, it is probably best to talk each other through your process of working and screen layouts. Most of the time it won't be necessary but if you do something unfamiliar to them, they may not see the brilliance of what you did and delete it.

While similar at first glance, it's always best to 
familiarise yourself with your partner's DAW

If you are working in different DAWs, you may need to render your stems as you go and just send them. Alternatively, you could send the MIDI data, but it will be without any of the instruments or effects. This could pose issues if you are carving your sounds through complex routing, using effects such as sidechaining and vocoding.

This brings us onto the next consideration of:

3. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE SAME PLUGINS


This is a simple one, assuming you do have the same DAW and you are sending the project files, you will need to make sure that the same plugins are available to both people. If not, you will just end up with MIDI data on a blank track. 

Same goes for effects, if you want to keep the complex sound which you spent hours carving with effects, you don't want it wasted when the other person doesn't have the same plugins. 

Provided you both have the essentials, issues will be 
minimal

You have several options: send them all the plugins you have and make sure not to use any that are exclusive to one of you; send the rendered stems and just revoke your partner's ability to edit your sounds; agree to do different parts so you never have to work on the same tracks. 

If you are happy using free VSTs, you can guarantee that you both have access to the same plugins (assuming you have the same OS or your plugins aren't PC/Mac exclusive). Considering how free plugins tend to do the job very well, this is a compromise you can afford to make. If there are a couple of tracks which absolutely must have a plugin that your partner doesn't, just do a good job of it and render that track before sending it.

4. FIGURE OUT A SYSTEM OF LABELLING

The easiest way to do this, if you are sending your project files back and forth, is to initial and date/time each folder. That way you know the most recent work and you won't accidentally regress by opening the work you did a week prior. 

It is worth noting that if you both have the project open at once and make different changes, sending the project file will only keep one person's changes. This is why it is good to work separately and with correctly labelled projects, you can have two versions open at once and be able to copy your work from one to the other.



In every folder you send, leave a small text file describing your changes and the orders of tracks. It may also be worth using a few notepad plugins on tracks in the project, describing what has been done and your intentions with that sound. This article covers using a notepad plugin in your tracks, and this one is a tutorial on inserting text items into tracks to help guide your partner round the project.




5. RENDER SAMPLES INTO THE PROJECT

Samples are often "called" into the project from their file directory. If you are changing computers, they, of course, won't be in the same location. A quick and easy way to solve this is to have your samples saved and rendered in the project on muted tracks. 

In my Reaper projects I always have a folder of miscellaneous tracks, alternate MIDI data, and samples. That way I can have them minimised in the project but if I need them, they are right there. 



I know that in many other DAWs, the tracks are not as flexible so make sure to find your own way of keeping the samples and misc data available. 

As long as you are happy having a small amount of clutter at the bottom of your project it is a very easy way to keep everything together.