Collaborating with other artists and producers can be a fantastic way to kickstart your career, gain new fans, and learn invaluable lessons about producing music. But it can also be a task that is easier said than done.
Because when two creatives get in a room to accomplish a single task, many more variables are introduced into the equation. And while the result is almost always greater than the sum of its parts, it’s a process that can take some getting used to.
Nobody knows this better than Biesmans, who was recently invited to curate Watergate’s 28th mix series; a prestigious invitation in its own right made even more so when Biesmans compiled a mix of entirely his productions and collaborations. It’s no wonder that he learned volumes throughout the process, and now that the mix is finally here, we can’t wait to unpack the lessons he learned about collaborating on music while producing this album.
Stream Watergate 28 – Biesmans Below
“Even though this is (sort of) another album, the concept is different. I’ve approached this project as a DJ mix. I like to take the listener on a journey when I record a podcast or mixtape. Starting off beatless and moving slowly into the party/dancing mood. I also felt that I had to step away from the album sound of last year. I don’t want to keep on repeating myself, but I still have a love for synth sounds so it was important to explore new territory with these elements. The collaboration part made it also a super interesting project in which you already get inspired by whoever you work with. I also think that speed played a big role in this project, the whole thing was done in less than 3 months.” – Biesmans
Biesmans’ ‘Watergate 28’ compilation is out now; get it here
Think Of The Bigger Picture
I learned this lesson while producing “Quantum Computing” with Mathew Jonson. I’d say it’s hard not to learn something from a master like Mathew!
I think I’ve learned many things in this collaboration, but if I zoom out a bit and look at the ‘bigger picture’ I must say that adapting to someone else’s workflow and the studio is the main thing here.
Mathew has a vast collection of gear and a particular way to work with his setup, so figuring out how his studio is wired was the main thing to understand. Another important lesson was that you sometimes have to leave your initial idea to overcome a block. We’ve had very little time together, and at some point, we felt we were hitting a wall. The only way out was to discard some of the main ideas (bass and percussion) to bring new life to our song, and it worked!
Don’t Be Afraid To Change Direction
I learned this one while producing “Vanishing Flowers” with Joy Adegoke.
Working with Joy was super cool! She’s a professional, but when we were working on ‘Vanishing Flowers,’ we ran into a significant problem, which means you can learn a major lesson. When I received Joy’s vocals, I immediately connected with the lyrics and her beautiful voice! I was convinced we had something special, and when I made the first version, the label turned it down for being too cheesy.
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I must admit that I felt the same deep down, but I also felt there was something to go after in it, so I kept the original harmony but decided to go from a dance floor track to a listening track. The mood changed from happy/poppy to dark/trippy, and we couldn’t be happier!
The label thought the same, so the big lesson here was to use the feedback and work harder if you believe you have something good.
This one I learned while making “Me Gusta Acid” with Kid Simius. José is a very talented musician and an overall fantastic guy!
We hit it off in the studio, but we are also excellent friends in real life! When we were working on ‘Me Gusta Acid,’ I think we both got a lesson in speed and effectiveness. José has two children, so his schedule is way tighter than mine. For example, on the day of our session, he needed to pick up his children from school, so we had minimal time! The cool thing was that he was recording ideas straight from his laptop onto my computer, so he didn’t need to adapt to my workflow, and I didn’t have to adjust to his.
We both worked in our little bubbles, which somehow merged perfectly!
Always Watch For New Opportunities
I learned this next while working on “Holiday” with Kasper Bjørke and Jacob Bellens.
This was another collaboration that went super smoothly and yet was full of lessons! Kasper has such a fine ear and is a master at adding layers without making the whole thing feel too busy or too full (that might be lesson one)!
When I sent him a first sketch of what would be ‘Holiday,’ I was surprised that he discarded the original bass (which I believed was an essential part). This opened up a new window of opportunities (a lesson I took with me to ‘Quantum Computing’), and I was amazed by where it led us! What I also learned from Kasper was a different approach to arranging a song. If you zoom in on the arrangement, you don’t realize how unusual it is because it feels so natural!
Stay Mindful Of Your Collaborator
Working With Mala Ika on “Crème Brulée” taught me this one
Malaika is a true indie dance queen, and I was thrilled when she sent me some demos to get my feedback. Initially, this was not intended for collaboration but merely to get my idea on the stuff she was working on.
With one particular song, I felt I could lift it to a place where both worlds merged, and she was 100% up for it. When you receive someone else’s project, it’s always essential to put their original work at the core and to get inspired from their initial idea. With this in mind, I started to add layers and change sounds until we got to the point we both were delighted with it.
Working on other people’s music can be very fragile; sometimes you are convinced of something, and the other artist isn’t. The lesson was to find that sweet spot, that thin line that we could both embrace as our own!