Folks often ask how one creates music with collaborators who live far and wide. I usually say “we email files back and forth,” but that’s obviously not the whole picture. When I’m the songwriter/song originator, here’s how things generally work:
First, I create a song on my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation — software that helps you record and mix music). I have mostly used GarageBand (I’m learning Logic Pro!), but my collaborators use different DAWs. I usually have basic drums, keyboard and vocals. Sometimes I record and mix more of the song; other times it’s just the bones.
I have the DAW export the music as a WAV file (sometimes a few separate files, one for the drums, one for the vocals etc). I transfer this file to the first collaborator I’m working with — usually using a file transfer program because the files are large. I also tell them the bpm (beats per minute) and the key the song is in. This lets them set up their own DAW so everything matches, and they can make sure to record accurately.
The collaborator then imports the file as a track in their own DAW and records their part while listening to mine. Then they send their part back to me, as a WAV. I import it into my DAW and mix it into the song. Lather, rinse, repeat until I have everyone’s parts and can mix the song as a whole.
Because we’re not in the same room exploring the piece together, I have to try to convey to my collaborators what I’m looking for. Sometimes I have a specific idea or even have written a part that I want them to reproduce. Other times, they come up with an arrangement on their own. We might have a little back and forth as they try things out, to see if they work for my intent.
It’s slower than jamming together in a studio, but it allows me to collaborate with talented friends — thus far including Scotland, England, Canada, Ukraine, and all over the U.S.! 🎵