For those of you who are relatively new to creative collaborations, it can be difficult to know what to expect when you get together with another person to combine your efforts. As a veteran of over a thousand songwriting collaborations, I thought I’d put down a few of the indicators you should be noticing if – and when – your collaboration is working well. Another way to put this is that if you aren’t experiencing these things, it might be time to look for other collaborators.
1. You feel comfortable/secure expressing yourself
The foundation of all successful collaborations is trust. If you can’t trust your fellow collaborator with your suggestions and ideas, then it’s pretty much game over from the start. You need to feel safe suggesting potentially ridiculous things while brainstorming so that you can ultimately get to the good stuff. Conversely, you, too, will need to be patient and trust that while all of your collaborator’s suggestions won’t be great, you’re going to get there together. There’s no room for negativity or nonconstructive criticism in a healthy collaboration.
2. You’ve got complementary skill sets
One of the best scenarios possible arises when you and your collaborator are strong where the other is weak and vice versa. If visual ideas come easily to you but your copyrighting skills are lackluster, you’d be best served working with someone who has a gift for writing but might struggle with visuals. It’s been my experience that the talent of your collaborator in their given speciality will also help you up your game in yours. In other words, your writing will work even better when paired with your partner’s brilliant images. The key here is that you easily fall into your respective roles and, together, create something that is better than either one of you could have done on your own.
3. Things move along quickly and easily
Another hallmark of a successful collaboration is that the creative process is a smooth one. Instead of agonizing over what comes next, you find yourselves steadily moving through the entire process and watching it come together naturally and efficiently. This isn’t to say that there won’t be difficult days no matter how good your collaboration may be but, typically, when a collaboration is good, things tend to move along at a nice, steady pace.
4. You’re having fun
Don’t underestimate the value of enjoying yourself during a collaboration. As a collaborator of mine once said, “We should be having fun here. After all this isn’t air-conditioner repair school.” The reality is that if you’re enjoying yourselves, that’s a great indication that you’re working at your peak creativity and capacity.
Bonus Indicator: You’re both proud of the work
When you’re fortunate enough to be in a great collaboration, you’ll both end up feeling strongly about the quality of the work which is not only great for morale but also makes the less romantic prospect of communicating your work to others more appealing.
Let me be clear. Not every collaboration is a great one. The reason, in fact, that I feel qualified to write this article at all is that I’ve spent enough time in crummy collaborations over the years to know unequivocally how the good ones look and feel. However, just because you’ve experienced a bad collaboration is no reason to give up on the concept all together. Stay at it and if you keep the above indicators in mind, you’ll be sure to know when you’re on to something great.
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