Musical collaboration is about much more than cross-promoting
… but any extra attention is a nice benefit.
For me though, there’s a difference between teaming up with another artist primarily because it will open up a new demographic, and doing it because it’s an adventure, a means of expression, a way of exercising your creative range or challenging yourself.
I think most people can tell the difference too, and obviously what makes for effective cross-promotion begins in that more creative and expressive realm.
So what are some ways to collaborate with other musicians?
1. A “compound artist” recording project
A compound artist name is one where two or more separate artists get equal billing as creators. Think more along the lines of “Robert Plant & Allison Krauss” and less “Simon & Garfunkel” (since Simon & Garfunkel worked under that name continually as a band/duo).
With a compound artist release, the album, EP, or single shows up in BOTH artists’ discographies on platforms like Spotify, bringing some extra attention to everyone involved.
CD Baby artist Lance Allen, who I interviewed a while back about how his monthly streaming revenue is covering the cost of his mortgage, has been exploring this kind of collaboration with artists like Avery Bright, Map of the Clouds, and Denis Turbide.
2. Featured artists on a track
The low-pressure version of the kind of collaboration mentioned above is to invite another artist to work with you on a single song — and their name will appear as a featured guest on your track wherever it appears on digital music services. The “featuring” thing has been done for decades in the hip hop world, but has picked up steam over the past ten years in other genres too.
Often times the “featured” artist is doing YOU the favor, so don’t expect them to do the heavy lifting in terms of promotion, but it does give you an angle to approach new listeners (and also get some great verses, hooks, or solos onto your song).
3. A YouTube Collab
I hate the term “collab,” by hey that’s what some people call them: you and one, or five, or seventy other creators team up on a full-production project that has both audio and video elements.
Since YouTube has a more playful and informal feel as a platform, you can really get wild with these kinds of collaborations. Then get each channel owner to promote the video to their subscribers.
Channel takeovers. Blog takeovers. Playlist takeovers. With these, you invite another artist to control the content on your platform profile of choice for some duration.
I’ve invited songwriters I admire to curate my Lyrics in the Limelight playlist for a month at a time.
Songwriter Dawn Beyer has gone onto other artists’ Facebook pages and done Facebook Live performances.
It’s fun, and these can be great reciprocal arrangements too.
5. An old-fashioned concert collaboration
I’ve invited a number of different musicians to perform with me during live shows: rappers, a flute quartet, guest singers, and so on.
Portland Cello Project has made a whole career out of collaborating with a rotating list of guests.
Not only is it a blast to re-interpret your own songs to fit with whatever elements the collaborator can contribute, but it’s another opportunity to bring two crowds together.
6. A live video
This combines the “live” aspect of the above method with the “featured artist” element mentioned earlier,… and it doesn’t have to be live at an actual venue. Your living room couch is a great place to sing a three-minute duet, film it on your iPhone, and post it to YouTube.
It’s simple: work together, anywhere, anytime
If you want to get really creative, the live video collaboration idea doesn’t even need to be performed in the same room at the same time.
For instance, the fantastic folk songwriter Anaïs Mitchel teamed up with our friends at Spire Studio on the spur-of-the-moment during 2018’s Folk Alliance International to make a video that hits many of these points at once:
- it serves as an advertisement for Spire’s recording device
- it’s a cross-promo opportunity for the artists involved
- it showcases one hell of a song, written by the songwriter years before, but which found new resonance in these strange days
- it was shot and recorded quickly, highlighting the power of different voices being raised together to resist the forces (so many forces!) that make us feel isolated and fearful of them — however we define that
Check out Anaïs’ video collaboration with Alec Spiegelman, Kristin Andreassen, Wallis Bird, and Ellie Buckland, Isa Burke, & Mali Obomsawin (of Lula Wiles)— all recorded using Spire’s small, easy-to-use, multitrack recording device:
Spire says of the making of this project:
Folk is known to foster community, with traditional songs being shared and passed along with lyrics and melodies varying to fit the time, location, and emotional spirit of the musician. This recording was created in that spirit with these musicians being spontaneously creative (truly joining the initiative with 5 minutes notice in some cases) – in this instance, with the layering made possible and captured by Spire.
It also goes without saying that beautiful music can be created anywhere – certainly outside the confines of a studio – in this case, literally in hotel bathrooms, hallways, outdoor paths, roofs, etc. It’s reflected in the spirit of where and how folk has historically been performed, as well as how Spire Studio allows for this kind of capture, anywhere the creator finds themselves.
And just to throw in a few more cents, I have a Spire Studio device and it’s great for much more than this kind of live video collaboration. I’m in the process of demoing songs on the device at home in Maine and then (with a few presses of a button) sending the session files with WAVs of the individual tracks to my bandmates in Oregon. But that’s a collaborative story for another day…
Collaboration as a creative AND commercial effort is nothing new: Jazz artists were all about it 75 years ago. Nilsson Sings Newman, though not a big seller at the time, has become a classic.
Today, Bon Iver has collaborated with The Chieftains, Peter Gabriel, and… his high school jazz band. Kendrick Lamar’s soundtrack alum for Black Panther has 20 featured artists!
Sure, these team efforts are a way to broaden an artist’s appeal. But that’s not gonna happen unless the music works first.