Communication Tips For Remote Collaboration
The importance of communication can’t be overstated especially when it comes to working with musicians remotely. Here are some observations I’ve accumulated in my last eight years as an AirGigs artist that have helped me navigate the sometimes treacherous waters of online communication…
This is a guest post by vocalist, producer and top rated AirGigs Pro Aaron Cloutier
1) Don’t Assume Anything.
Everyone involved in the project is not a mind reader so it is important as the artist to educate the customer on what they need to provide for you in order for you to deliver a service that meets (and hopefully exceeds) their expectations. This can get challenging depending on what kind of client you’re working with so here are some solutions I’ve discovered.
2) Ask for the basics first
Let’s use the example of songwriter hiring a session vocalist to illustrate this topic. For example, let’s say a client wants to hire me to sing on a song of theirs but they are not a singer, nor the most musically inclined. Maybe they were self taught, don’t know a lot of music theory and can only describe what they want through “vibes” and “feelings.” They might say something along the lines of “Hi, I’ve got this rock song that I need a vocalist for, but I’m not sure how I want it to go.”. After asking to listen to an instrumental version of the song, I would start by asking some dead simple questions. Things like “What influences did you draw from to write the song?” “What type of vocal delivery are you after? Are you looking for something squeaky clean? Or do you want something gritty and aggressive?” “Who are your favorite singers?” “What key is the song in?” “Do you prefer someone with a high range or a low one?” “How soon will you need my vocals by?” “Do you have lyrics and a melody for the vocals in mind? Or would you like me to write those?” Things like that. The feedback you get from these simple questions will open the door to allow you to dive deeper in learning about the project, and help you quote a price accordingly.
3) Use simple language
As musicians, we all know there are an abundance of terms that the everyday person is probably not aware of so instead of asking “Hey, what are your favorite mixes?” Ask “Can you make a list of what you think the best sounding songs are?” Or instead of saying “I’m a baritone so would you be willing to transpose the song to fit my range?” Say “Hey I noticed your song is a bit high for my range. Would you be willing to change the key?” Try to keep your communication rooted in layman’s terms as much as possible to avoid potential confusion.
4) Ask the client to write out their thoughts and expectations about the project.
After you get from them all the basic information about their project, have them sit down with pen and paper and write out everything they are hoping to get out of this project no matter how “unrealistic” or difficult to convey it might be. Tell them to ask themself simple questions like “How do I want the vocals to sound in the song?” “what style do I want them to be in?” The simple act of putting pencil to paper and slowing down will help the client bring out more ideas than they realized from some simple questions to prompt them.
5) When in doubt, over communicate
When working with an AirGigs artist, it goes without saying that it’s vital for a client to be crystal clear in their expectations for the project and leave nothing to guesswork. (Although I DO have to say it or else it goes against this entire blog post. See what I did there!) That all said, no one client is the same and as a remote musician, you are more than likely to work with people who have a difficult time explaining how they want a session to go. Even if you feel silly asking what might seem like an overly obvious questions, do it. Even if you feel like you’re over explaining everything, do it. Over explaining is a good thing in the world of remote recording because there are simply too many things that can get easily misinterpreted when it comes to the written word because we don’t have the benefit of our body language or our tone of voice. Don Miguel Ruiz (author of “The Four Agreements”) once wrote about being “impeccable with your word.” Meaning that you want to be so absolutely crystal clear in your communication that not only do you leave nothing to be assumed by your client, but you also know exactly what results they are looking for. Being “impeccable with my word” is something I try my best to maintain in all of my relationships professional and otherwise. I don’t always nail it every time but I’ve found that following this guideline has served me well. Even if it hasn’t prevented me from getting out of verbal hot water, it has certainly helped me climb out of it. The moral of the story here is: ask questions. Even if the questions seem painfully obvious to you, ask anyway. I’ve been afraid of asking “dumb questions” in the past only to find myself doing damage control later on in the session. Take it from me, you’re better off getting the information straight from the client. I think I’ve made my point…How’s that for over-communication?
6) Walk the client through exactly what you’re going to do.
As an artist, I take as much time as needed to break down and explain exactly what I’m going to do from step A to step B to step C. It’s important not to skip steps here. I promise that this little extra bit of time you take to prepare on the front end will help you avoid so many headaches on the back end. Thus saving me (the AirGigs artist) time and you, (the client) money.
7) Patience is key.
You may be working with people from other countries whose native language is different than yours. Be sure to politely ask for clarification as many times as needed and explain your reasons for clarification. Most people will appreciate the extra time and attention you’re taking to be sure to get their project, right.
8) Jump on a phone or zoom call before the session starts.
After making contact with your client, I feel like it’s vital to get them on a phone call or a zoom call to discuss the details of the project. I personally prefer zoom calls because a) You get a better feel for who you’re working with b) most clients appreciate the extra initiative of ensuring you have all the information you need. It shows that you’re invested in the project and are committed to its success. And c) I always get a better idea of what the client’s expectations are when having a face to face conversation just by picking up on body language, facial cues, tone of voice etc. d) If the client is okay with it, you have the ability to record the video call to reference later so you’re not having to constantly go back and ask them questions you’ve previously covered together. On that note, recording the conversation also covers you in case the client tries to take advantage later.
9) Record video updates.
Once I’m off and running with the project, I like to screen record my session at the end of the day. This allows me not only to show the client where I’m at with the project but also to address any potential obstacles that I’ve discovered. For example, I was working on a song for a client and they decided to make changes after I started working on the original demo they provided. I noticed that the updated version of the song didn’t line up with the original demo so the timing was off. Rather than trying to explain the situation via email, I screen recorded my logic session to show my client the issue. In other situations where the session runs smoothly, I just find that sending a quick video update to my clients builds trust and goodwill. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from customers who appreciate the extra communication because it tells them that I care about their project and want it to be the best it can be.
So there are my thoughts on ways to avoid in-session headaches by fostering better communication. Even if you pick just one of these practices, I promise you’ll have less headaches down the road.