How to build a healthy collaboration: 12 practices that nurture a mutually positive experience

Illustration: Michael Haddad

Collaboration can be a beautiful experience on a creative and personal level.

Above all, it brings us together with other human beings. Of course, collaboration can invite the difficulties of navigating any relationship. Making art together can be a vulnerable and intimate exchange, so it’s only natural for the dynamics to be delicate. It’s worth considering what makes for a good collaboration and allows for the most fruitful flow of ideas.

1. Non-attachment to the outcome

Before you even sit down to work for the first time, surrender the idea of making your vision of the project the end result. Instead, lend your vision to the collective and strive to hone in on a shared, unified concept — something you couldn’t have imagined on your own. The most rewarding collaborations often bring out work you didn’t think you were capable of making, and wouldn’t have explored by yourself.

2. Make your collaborators comfortable

Create an ambience and nurture the vibe in the room, literally and energetically. Do your best to come in good spirits and contribute positivity to the creative exchange.

3. Nurture momentum

Be sensitive to the pace of ease of the creative flow in a collaborative session. If you sense your collaborator is getting bored or frustrated with you after you’ve been tweaking a snare drum for ten minutes, maybe it’s time to move on.

4. Transparency is key

Invite others into your workflow. Let them see and understand what you’re doing. Sometimes, quickly working away on one’s own can leave others feeling isolated from the process. This can also be a missed opportunity to exchange knowledge or get insightful feedback.

5. Make space for other’s ideas

Making space in a session can mean leaving room in a track (melody, drums, etc.) for your collaborator(s) to contribute to. Making space is also a matter of how we carry ourselves. Spend at least as much time listening as you do talking and don’t be domineering. You might ruin an important collaboration, or even worse, a friendship.

6. Take turns adding parts

Don’t dominate a session by staying in the control seat for too long. Give others the opportunity to lead. It’s more fun and often much more interesting when a collaboration truly feels like the sum of numerous visions. For instance, when building a drum beat, experiment with the process of programming a kick pattern, then letting your collaborator add the high hats, and so on.

7. Give and take

Let your preference not make the cut every now and again. In turn, your collaborator will be more willing to surrender their first choice next time you butt heads. Stubborn egos can be the death of a collaboration so take the high road, lead by example, and let others have their way sometimes.

8. Seek feedback often

Invite critique and get insight into how your collaborator feels about a direction you might be taking.

9. Encourage others to express themselves

A good collaborator is one who elevates those around them. People will love working with you if you encourage them to express themselves freely, with comfort and ease.

10. Be a friendly facilitator

Help others reach their potential however you can. If your collaborator is having a hard time with a technical process that would help them better express themselves, teach it to them. If they’re having a hard time achieving the sound they’re looking for, help them find it.

11. Capture others’ best ideas for them

Let others select and edit your output, filtering through what speaks to them. Not only will the result represent the shared perspective of the collective, it can also be a revealing opportunity to learn what aspects of your work speak most to others.

12. When possible, try being democratic

When working in groups of odd numbers, democratic decision-making can make things feel less personal, more pragmatic, and most importantly, keep things moving.

Do you have any practices that you observe when approaching a collaboration? Let us know in the comments below.

November 14, 2019

Erin Rioux Erin Rioux is a record producer and co-founder of the New York label Human Pitch. As a member of the Splice team, Erin creates sounds and content.