In this creative strategies article, Logic expert and Dutty Artz label owner Matt Shadetek suggests collaboration with others as one of the keys to growth as an artist.
Team Sports Have Gone Solo
A lot has changed in the way we make music. In the past, music was usually created as a group activity. People would sing together as they worked, relax at night performing for each other, and come together to celebrate community occasions with music. In fact, ethnomusicologists believe that music is one of the most important factors that helped early human communities stay together and maintain group harmony (no pun intended).
With the advent of recording technology and more recently computers, we now have the opportunity to turn every stage of the musical process into a solo activity. People can sit alone with their headphones and compose, record, arrange, mix, master, and distribute music all from the same computer and chair in their house. In many ways this is a huge gain. We live in an era of unprecedented creative freedom where we no longer need to seek approval from gatekeepers for our work to reach an audience.
On the other hand, it has turned music making into a very different kind of process which has perhaps lost some of its enjoyment.
As someone who has produced a great deal alone as well as in groups, I notice that I really have a lot more fun when working with other people. I feel you can often hear this in the product. There is clearly still a time for working alone, but sometimes sitting in your room and not interfacing with other people can sometimes get you into a creative rut.
Collaboration on The Empire Never Ended LP
I recently finished recording my latest album, The Empire Never Ended. On this release I collaborated with a number of different vocalists including Riff Raff, Troy Ave, Chan Dizzy, and my good friend and long-time collaborator Jahdan Blakkamoore. I also collaborated with my label partner DJ /Rupture on one of the beats. While this type of collaboration was something I’ve done many times before, this was the first record that I didn’t completely engineer myself.
To mix the record I enlisted my friend Evan Sutton a.k.a. Astrolith. I chose to do this because I had reached a point with where I just didn’t feel I could bring fresh ears to the tracks. I had heard the songs so many times that I was worried I might get complacent and settle for something less than what I really wanted to achieve.
Bringing in a collaborator with fresh energy at this stage of the process was an incredible experience. To Evan all the material was brand-new so he had plenty of ideas about how to polish and improve it. We went through each track instrument by instrument, discussed what was working, and made careful decisions about each sound. I sat in the sessions and gave input but also gave him freedom to make tweaks and improvements where he heard opportunities to do so. I’m incredibly proud of the result and am very happy to have discovered a new phase of collaboration 14 years into my career of making music.
Collaboration Can Expand Your Own Capabilities
Whether or not you have an established process of working on your own, I encourage you to explore involving other people in your music making. There are many upsides to collaborating. First of all, if you enjoy their company it’s a lot more fun to sit in a room together than being alone all the time. Another of the major benefits I find in collaboration is speed. Having someone who’s opinion you respect to say “stop fooling with that, it’s good” is very valuable to help avoid all the second-guessing we often get into on our own. Having two minds contributing and checking each other’s work is a great way to avoid artistic dead ends where we get stuck, frustrated and run out of steam.
Collaboration is also a wonderful opportunity to learn and expand your skills. Although I’ve been working with the same software (Logic Pro) for more than ten years, almost every time I work with someone else who uses it I pick up little ideas from watching them do their thing. Sometimes it’s something very simple like a keyboard shortcut I’ve overlooked, and sometimes it’s a major technique. It’s easy to keep returning to the same techniques and slow down in your development when you work alone. Watching someone else work can be a great source of input into your process and an opportunity to pick up new ideas.
The most profound addition to your creative process is another mind and set of ears. I find that if I work on music with someone, regardless of their level of skill or approach, the end product is always very different than if I am working alone–including working with non-technical people who never touch a piece of equipment or play a single note. One of my great personal goals is to continuously develop my skills and process as a musician. Once you get to a certain level of knowledge, it can be difficult to find opportunities to learn and develop further. Collaborating with other talented people is one of the best methods that I’ve found.
About Matt Shadetek
Matt Shadetek is one of New York City’s most exciting producers. His live sets encompass contemporary Dancehall, UK Funky, and Dubstep, all delivered with Shadetek’s unique production voice which bridges the underground-mainstream divide. He’s one of the rare DJs who can rock a crowd with sets composed solely of his own dancefloor bangers and remixes.
Matt’s early love for Hip Hop and Dancehall along with edgy electronic sounds led to his Warp Records debut album Burnerism as part of the duo Team Shadetek. While Matt was living in Berlin and touring Europe, the followup LP Pale Fire was released, featuring the underground hit “Brooklyn Anthem”. The hit song kick-started a dance craze in the Brooklyn reggae scene (leading to over 100 fan videos of kids dancing to it).
Returning to NYC, Matt founded the Dutty Artz label/production crew with DJ /Rupture. Shadetek produced Jahdan Blakkamoore’s debut album, Buzzrock Warrior (!K7), pioneering its signature Reggae-Dubstep-Rap sound. In 2009 he also teamed up with Rupture to release the mix album Solar Life Raft (The Agriculture). His latest release, on Dutty Artz, is Flowers, an effervescent solo instrumental effort that references dubstep, UK Funky and Garage. He has toured internationally both solo and accompanied by Jahdan as vocalist.
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