The Collaboration Nation panelists enjoy a little group bonding after their panel. It's pretty apparent how strong TAXI's community is in this photo. (Left to Right) C.K. Barlow, Russell Landwehr, Matt Vander Boegh, Steven Guiles, Seth Littlefield, Scott Free, and TAXI's Michael Laskow.
Panelists: Russell Landwehr, Matt Vander Boegh, Seth Littlefield, Steven Guiles, Carla (C.K.) Barlow, and Scott Free
Moderator: Michael Laskow
Note: The first two questions are repeated from last month's segment to give some context to this final installment of the interview.
Let's talk about the business side of things. How do you guys do the co-writing splits? Is everything 50/50? Ok, I'm getting affirmative nods for 50/50 split from the panelists. What if you're 70% of the way through something and you realize that you can't deliver the last 30%. Let's say Guiles reaches out to Vander Boegh, it's still a 50/50?
Steven: Oh, you mean if you add another collaborator into it?
"There will be another opportunity coming up, maybe even in a week. If you just miss one deadline, no big deal."
-Matt Vander Boegh
Yeah, you're 70% done and you realize, you know, I'd really like Matt to do the strings on this, or whatever the situation would be. And he composes the parts—not just executes them, but composes them and then says, “By the way, I think if we did it a little hip-hoppy...” So he brings something to the party—to a thing that's already at 70%—is it still a 50/50 split?
Matt: That actually happened to me one time recently on one for a Latin listing, and me and my collaborator were getting it. We were going with the 50/50 agreement upfront. But then I realized, and I talked to him about it, and I said, “Hey, we need something else. We need another instrument or something in here. I know a guy who is really good at trumpet. I want to bring him in. We'll bring him in, it'll be equal cut between all three of us, OK?” And he says, “OK, we'll do that.” Because I told him that he was gonna get either 50% of nothing or 33% of something. And so bringing another person in, once again it's an equal cut, but it's split three ways.
Let's say that you're trying to nail a deadline for a listing, and you're working with a collaborator who just isn't holding up his or her end of the bargain and getting their contributions back to you on time. What do you do? If you're certain that you've got a winner for a TAXI listing and the deadline is next Tuesday, and this person is normally responsible, but maybe they get sick, or, for whatever reason, they're overloaded at work and they can't meet the deadline and they're going to kill your opportunity on something that you feel is a high-probability winner. What do you do in that situation?
Steven: Are they involved already with the project?
Yeah, you've already agreed to work together and you've talked about the part; they've invested some time in it; and for whatever reason, they can't live up to their end and you're gonna miss this deadline. Are the relationships cozy enough that you can say, “Dude, I love you, but I've really got to make this submission, so you gotta be honest with me. Are you gonna blow it, or are you gonna make it?”
CK: If that was the point of the project, then by all means, right? I mean, otherwise that's why you were bothering to work together was for this particular listing. But certainly, reach out first and say, “Hey, are you OK? What's going on? I hope you understand; I really want to get in this listing.” And that has not happened to me, but I would reach out and talk, and then say, “OK, what do we need to do to move this forward? Do we need to take a pass on this and I'll try to find somebody else?”
I think it's cool that you guys have these relationships. At best, you know each other face-to-face through the Road Rally, probably no other way. And then second best, you know each other in an online sense, mostly through the TAXI Forum, to some extent Facebook, or phone calls or Skypes or whatever. I think it's really cool that you guys are able to have these honest conversations. And I'm really glad these folks in the audience are learning this stuff, because it could take them a year or two to learn this etiquette that you're sending them home with.
Scott: Well, it is learned, because nobody is as immature as Matt and myself. [laughter] But you have to be a practitioner of what works.
Matt: Can I add something to that? I think in that situation, it kind of depends what the goal of the song was. If you had the perfect opportunity and it was coming up then, then yeah, I would have that conversation with somebody and say, “Can I get someone else?” But if you really wanted to work with that one person and you're OK with missing the deadline, there is never just one opportunity ever for a song. There will be another opportunity coming up, maybe even in a week. If you just miss one deadline, no big deal. It'll come back around again, if you just want to work with that one person.
"The biggest thing that's most difficult to handle and kind of gets to me a little bit is people who don't know how to use their software."
Steven: If the relationship is the most important thing, I think that trumps everything. Because all these: I was in a band, I remember we used to tour and we would get all this label interest. There was a point back in the '90s where we did that a lot, and we finally learned that there's a lot of great stuff and it doesn't always work out. I've had lots of TAXI forwards…lots and lots of forwards, and no call-backs. And maybe I'll be getting those call backs in the next two years; I might be getting like a couple hundred calls… I might not, you know. And with someone else, with a person, if it's a good relationship and you have a good level of trust, I think you should be able to say something like, “Hey, I need to finish this,” or “Oh, don't worry about it, we're going to find another way to do this.” But I think relationship is always the most important.
I'm really blown away by the depth of these relationships — more than just professional relationships… it's a friendship. I'm really quite impressed.
CK: I think I see Terry Blackwell back there. I feel like I could talk to him about anything at all. I mean, we talk about family stuff. It's just the best.
Last year, here at the Rally, I was riding on an elevator with a guy and he said to me, “I just come to the Road Rally for the networking, you know?” The guy went on to brag that he hadn't been to a single class or panel. And then he told me, “I just hang out in the bar and I buy people drinks.” This is almost word-for-word what the guy told me. I wrote it down the day after the Rally because I was a little astounded by it. “I hang out with people who are successful, I buy them a drink and I get cozy, and then I seal the deal and I collaborate with them. And BAM-0, I get in libraries without even going through your listings—or the screeners—and I get placements.” Does it bother you guys when somebody only comes here to piggyback on your contacts?
Russell: Michael, that's an interesting thing, because it goes back to one of the first things we were talking about—how we developed relationships with people and we know them before we go. Me, personally, that guy's probably never collaborated with me, because I don't trust anybody when I first meet them. Sorry guys. I'll get to know you and be polite, but as far as trusting someone to say, “Oh yeah, sure. Let's collaborate right now,” I gotta know you first. I've got to have heard your stuff; I have got to have seen what you've done before, because just some yahoo that nobody knows who they are because they're not involved in anything, it's not going to happen, as far as I'm concerned. I hate to be harsh about it that way, but, honestly—maybe it's because I'm a very shy guy or something—but it takes me a while to warm up to somebody and get to know them. If something like that would happen, my guess is this dude's probably collaborated with a lot of people once. That would be my guess.
Steven: Yeah, if you feel like you're being used you're not going to continue doing that.
Are there any negatives that people should know who are new to collaboration that they should watch out for? Any danger signs? Matt looks like he's thinking hard over there. You know, the folks in the audience are probably thinking, “Wow, this sounds all great, and they've given me a lot of actionable advice.” Is there anything that can take the whole thing and put it in the dumper?
Matt: I think it depends on your goals. Like for me this year, I was really working hard at trying to increase my catalog of just instrumental stuff. And I actually had some people approach me about collaborating of whom I have all intentions to do later. But I'd tell them that I'm super-swamped, and so I could've just overwhelmed myself with collaborations, maybe had one too many, then kind of slipped on my own goal a little bit. So probably it's more of a personal thing on that. And then just the trust issue too comes up; you might have a dud. But again, you're going to probably realize that right away. You know, like that guy who was just here to piggyback on the relationships others had built, you probably would've recognized immediately what his intentions are. So that might be the danger. I know some people also fear the copyright issue, or sharing the value of a song. They might feel that they brought to the table a little bit more. I've always just felt that it's 50/50, so maybe if you're a little hesitant on that, that might be a downside if you feel like maybe it was more of your work. But I've never felt that way in any collaboration.
"We should all have agreements—even an email agreement. Because sooner or later libraries or publishers ask, ‘Do have work-for-hire or something?' and assumptions turn into foggy memories."
Russell: The biggest down thing that I've ever run across is people who don't know how to use their software. Sometimes you'll run across some people who don't know how to use their software, don't know how to import and export stuff, don't know how to make the stems so that you can trade and share files. And if you're really interested in working with that person, sometimes you've got to bring them along in that way, which is what collaboration is part of too—helping people to become better at something, just as I've become better at some things by collaborating with people. But the biggest thing that's most difficult to handle and kind of gets to me a little bit is people who don't know how to use their software.
CK: I can tag on to that. I actually this morning stuck a brief blog post up at ComposingKitchen.WordPress.com that gives you just super-succinct instructions on how to export your Stems from Logic Pro, Ableton Live, Reason and GarageBand, because I thought that that might be useful, and sure enough it came up.
Is there enough cross-platform compatibility that you guys are able to work together…
Steven: Do you guys [asked of his fellow panelists] ever exchange like full Pro Tools files? Or are they always audio files? I'm always sending audio files.
Seth: I trade ProTools sessions. When you know who you're working with and they have almost the exact same setup it's [pretty easy].
Steven: You never gave any of that to me.
Seth: You also establish who's gonna mix it early on [in the project]. And then it's obviously gonna be in their hands to mix, so then the other person can just send audio files. As long as you're sending the right format—which you want to have that conversation about—and also the right length that you're starting from the beginning so that they can just bring in tracks and just insert them. And there they are, there are no timing issues, right? So there could be an issue with technology.
Well, this has been unbelievably informative. There's an art to collaboration itself, apparently, and I thank you guys…
Scott: Can I say one more thing? The only thing that I think is very important that everybody should know is that we all do make assumptions, but we should all have agreements—just a basic, even an email agreement. Because sooner or later libraries or publishers ask, “Do have work-for-hire or something?” and assumptions turn into foggy memories.
Have you had those jump up and bite you in the butt?
Scott: With my bass player in my band. Because he was just a great player, and a library wanted one of our '50s-'60s Jan & Dean songs. But he wanted me to basically hold his hand and get him into ASCAP, so I was stubborn and I said, “Forget it.” So…it's not worth it. It's the dumb little things that bite you in the butt. So just make everything as clear as possible. If it's uncomfortable, write it down. I think it's very important, because you could have a great opportunity and you can't locate somebody, and then you get sued—or they would get sued so they wouldn't hire you.
And nobody would ever work for any library again—certainly not that one.
Scott: And I'm leaving the country and movin' to Canada. [laughter]
There you go. I hear they have really nice people there. With that, let's have a round of applause for Russell Landwehr, Matt Vander Boegh, Seth Littlefield, Steven Guiles, CK Barlow, and Scott Free. [applause]