Creative collaboration and confidence

Here I would like to share a few grains of wisdom learned in the process of preparing and recording our first album. My main thrust may seem very obvious to you, but, believe me, this lesson took a while to learn…

It has been a few months since we finished the recording part of the process (before the mixing/mastering), and Georges and I recently found ourselves answering the questions of a young musician about to embark on the thrilling and scary journey of recording his first album. 

“What are some of the important lessons you learned?” this talented singer asked me. “What would you have done differently now?” And as I recounted some of the (thankfully few!) things which went wrong in the recording process, Georges interrupted me, saying that those were really not the major issues. And he was right. The major lesson that life has had to hammer into our heads at every turn is the same one: “Ultimately, you have to trust yourself the most.” Oh, but this takes a while to sink in.

This fact certainly does not imply you shouldn’t trust the people you work with to do their jobs right, especially if they are the consummate professionals we’ve been extremely lucky to find on our journey. However, from shooting of our first videos with Joshua Guerci to recording our first album with Sean McLaughlin and Benny Grotto, whenever we disregarded and trampled upon our intuitions, thinking that professionals surely know better, we missed a chance to improve something. 

For instance, we pretty much loved the videos Josh made for NMD in February 2013, but as soon as I saw them I knew I should’ve asked him to do some wide shots, so the band members would not always appear individually but as a band! It was not even hindsight: this point occurred to me as he and his assistant were shooting, but (do you know the little imp in your head?), I told myself, “These guys know what they are doing! Just let them do their job!”

Sometimes, when you say this to yourself, you are plain wrong. 

When we interviewed potential producers last December and January, we were looking for a person so experienced and well-respected that we would implicitly trust his judgement. This ideal producer’s knowledge and understanding of the current music world would certainly give our album the best chance of success. Perhaps, this might have worked if we were doing a more mainstream genre, or if we were younger and less stubbornly set in our ways … or not even then. 

In actuality, due to the differences in cultural and aesthetic background, we probably disagreed with the producers more frequently than between ourselves. From the initial choice of songs for the album, to the feeling or expression of a song, we found ourselves having to rely more on our judgment.
That being sad, multiple aspects of the songs were shaped by the advice of our producers and their creative insight. Many of their ideas were things we had never thought of before, and we ended up quite happy with how they made us sound. However, receiving suggestions we disagreed with forced us to question what we really cared about.

After allowing ourselves to relax and not participate directly in the mixing process (which is not unusual), we realized that had we gotten more involved after the first version of the mixes was finished, we probably could have fixed the few remaining issues much more easily. If a single instrument in the song doesn’t sound the way you want it, the song – to you – could be ruined.

Many creative products these days are the results of collaborative (even collectivist) artistic endeavors. While there may be people much more experienced and skillful in some parts of the process, only you, the author, have the holistic vision, only you instinctively know how you would like it to sound, read, appear, taste or smell. You’ll have to master your hesitation and your lack of confidence without shutting down your collaborators. Like it or not, you are the expert: surround yourself with people whose work you admire, respect and encourage everyone’s input, but never ignore your inner voice.

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