Collaboration, who needs it?

Well that’s the way i felt for sure when Mark and I split as Spiritual South last summer right in the middle of the Sabrina Malheiros remix. After months of working together trying to get stuff done it just wasn’t happening and as the tension mounted I found myself in a situation that needed a solution – the exit seeming the only way. So how did it get to this point?

Remote Working
The first few Spiritual South productions and remixes were done at two separate locations, my place and Mark’s remotely via the web – with occasional visits from Mark to mine. We used MSN messenger to ferry files back and forth and remote access so one could see the other’s screen and vice versa. The first release, ‘Green Gold’ was a production I did myself at first for Mark to play at his club night ‘Good Friday’ after he gave me a bunch of loops and bits and pieces from old Latin tunes as inspiration. After deciding he’d like it to be the first Spiritual South single he came over and we collaborated together on tidying my nearly finished idea up. We then collaborated in person on a b-side mix using an old loop Mark had on a record and then I polished the whole idea up to the standard it needed to be (Mark was still learning production and engineering at this stage) This worked well, we didn’t get in each others way and things were fine.

The legendary ‘Jazz Room’ remix was easy, Mark created an idea – a sustained looping vocal ‘Aaaaah’ and a heavy Bossa loop sampled from a record. He also took the Acoustic Bass from the original and cut it up to create the distinctive Bass hit on the 1 and the 3. This idea was brought to mine and together we filled in the gaps to create the final masterpiece, I engineered the track and all was good. So a pattern was forming here, a pattern that worked. Either Mark or I would start the idea off and then we would finish the tracks together or remotely. With the exception of Max Sedgely’s Happy remix each track or remix was engineered by me on my desktop computer as I had the UAD card with its superior plugins for mixing.

1 Computer + 2 people = Stress
The pattern was soon to be changed as I moved closer geographically to where Mark lived and we began to collaborate in person regularly at the flat I was renting from a friend – a wicked warehouse style space that was perfect for recording. Approximately three times a week we’d meet to work on musical ideas as the pressure was on to create a follow up to the huge success of Green Gold. Today’s home studio environment is based around a focal point of the computer, the screen and a midi controller keyboard. Now the experience of working with Mark in that time has proven that this is not the ideal environment for two people to share, especially when they are BOTH not musically trained. It’s easy when you are non musical to come out with ideas but only if you have the time to get them sounding right, something that can take hours to do. I am not a keyboard player yet I play all the musical elements including basslines etc in. This does take me longer than a trained keyboard player because I use the computer to edit what I do and make it all gel together harmoniously. Now when you are fumbling around on the keyboard trying to get something out whilst the other is waiting, this can lead to frustration, for both people. This is a rather different situation to how we started out and in hindsight we should have seen this and gone back to the original way of working separately and then together where necessary. As time went on each of us had to rescue the situation by pretty much starting and finishing the track away from the other, me with both versions of the Bebel Gilberto remix and Mark with Slipstream and the Gerardo Frisina remix. I had to mix everything down of course being the more experienced of the two of us but things by this time had got heated and the rest is history. Well it’s over a year since the split now and fair play to Mark, in the time we’ve been apart he has improved his skills and has reached a standard where he can work on his own and is creating quality remixes and releases – good luck to him. I’m sure he’s feeling happier not having to try his ideas in front of me and having enough time on his hands to make sure everything sounds how he wants it to be.

Advice to you
The reason of my posting this blog entry is to share the experience and encourage those of you who may be collaborating in a similar way to realise that things can be difficult with two people in front of the same computer screen. If one of you is a trained keyboard player with no production skills and the other is a non musician with production and engineering skills you are looking at the perfect balance. This is the ideal situation and one that if I ever collaborate again will be the model I will be looking for myself.