Collaborating on a musical project is often much more fulfilling than working on something alone. That said, it's not always easy to get together to work on a project at the same time and in the same place. Thanks to the internet, that's not the roadblock that it used to be.
As long as you've got access to a computer and the internet, you can work together no matter how many thousands of miles apart you may be. Following certain guidelines will make this less of a headache, which is why we've laid out a few tips here.
What Are You Looking To Do?
Before we move on, it's important to figure out what you want to do. The tips we've gathered here are for working on recordings for tracks or even whole albums, meaning you may not (and probably won't) be working on a song at the same time.
If you're looking to perform with friends, we're not covering that here, but don't worry. Just take a look at our tips for jamming with your band online. This can also be a great way to hammer out some rough ideas before you commit to recording them.
Ever thought about jamming with your friends online? Set up an online band practice with the help of these tools.
Before You Start
There are a few obvious things you'll want to know before you get started. For example, you'll need ways to communicate, whether it's over text messages, calls, emails, or a chat service like Slack or Google Chat.
You can make music using just a digital audio workstation (DAW), which we'll look at in the next section, but you may need a few other things. A MIDI controller or keyboard can be handy if you want to control virtual instruments, but you don't absolutely need one.
If you plan on actually recording instruments or vocals, you'll need a little more gear. To start, you'll need a microphone or two, but you'll also need an audio interface. Even if you're not recording instruments, these can help you accurately listen to the music you're making.
Agree On The Basics
To make working together smooth, you'll want to agree on a few things to start. This can include naming conventions and file or folder structure, but more specifically, we're talking about audio.
First things first, pick an audio bit depth and sample rate you'll use across the entire project. For smaller, easier to sync file sizes, the lowest you should go is CD quality, which is 16-bit/44.1kHz. Even that is hard to recommend, as the minimum bit depth we'd recommend is 24-bit.
Sample rate is less important. If you're aiming to use your music for a video, you can go for 48kHz or 96kHz. If you're recording with high-quality mics, you may want to push higher to 192kHz, but for many projects, this may be overkill.
The one thing you want to avoid is having to convert between bit depths and sample rates. This will degrade audio quality over time and can even result in track lengths no longer matching if you're not careful. It's better just to agree on a standard from the beginning.
Choose Your Digital Audio Workstation
Audio files are relatively simple, so as long as the DAW you use can export standard WAV files, it really doesn't matter which one you use. You can even all use different DAWs if you want or need to. That said, this can complicate things.
If you use the same DAW, you'll have an easier time sharing projects back and forth, especially if these use virtual instruments or MIDI heavily. There are several free or affordable options, like GarageBand if you're an Apple fan, or Reaper if you're using Windows, Linux, or macOS.
These are far from your only options. If you're on a budget, take a look at our roundup of free music production software.
Pick Your Plugins
While plugins are an essential tool for getting your final mix just how you want it, they can make collaboration even trickier. Because of this, you'll want to agree with your collaborators on what plugins you're going to use, and how you're going to use them before you start working on a new project.
If one person uses a copy of a plugin on a track that you don't own, that track will sound very different to you compared to how the other party is hearing it. If it's a virtual instrument, you won't hear the track at all. You can get around this by rendering or freezing tracks, but it can get difficult to keep track of.
If you and your collaborators are using the same DAW, the safe bet is to stick to stock plugins. For example, if you're using Logic Pro, you can count on the same virtual instruments and effects being there for everyone.
Of course, you can all make sure you have the same plugins installed, but these can get expensive. If you're looking for ways to spice up your mix on the cheap, take a look at our list of the best free VST plugins.
Decide On A Sync Solution
Sync is one of the most important factors to decide on when it comes to collaboration on a musical project. Making sure your files sync quickly with your collaborators is key.
Traditional cloud storage services will work well enough, so you can take your pick. Dropbox is one of the most popular options, but if you're particularly invested in the Google, Microsoft, or Apple ecosystems, those companies' cloud storage options will all work fine.
There are also a few cloud storage and syncing options aimed specifically at musicians. Pibox is meant for remote collaboration, so in addition to cloud storage and syncing, it also includes live chat and screen sharing features.
If you're a beat maker or producer, you're likely already familiar with Splice. While you may know the company more for its royalty-free samples and sounds, the company also offers music-oriented sync and backup features. Supported DAWs include Ableton Live, Logic Pro, Studio One, FL Studio, and even GarageBand.
Want To Keep It Easy? Use An All-In-One App
So far, we've focused on a more traditional type of setup, using standard DAW software and tools. If you prefer to live outside established norms, there are some new and interesting approaches to musical collaboration worth checking out.
Soundtrap is an online DAW aimed at letting users collaborate with each other. The major advantage here is that you're not sharing large files back and forth and hoping everything syncs properly. Soundtrap uses a freemium business model, so basic features are free. If you want everything though, you'll need to pay for a subscription, which starts at $7.99 per month.
Soundstorming uses a less traditional approach but aims to deliver the same results. If you're collaborating with people who aren't especially tech-savvy, this may be your best bet. It's a simple iOS app, so you don't even need to have a computer or DAW involved. Soundstorming even has built-in tools to help you copyright and promote your music.
Soundation is another option that works directly in your browser. This is a full-fledged DAW with not just support for remote collaboration, but built-in loops, audio effects, and virtual instruments. You can start using the software for free, but you won't be able to record live audio. For this, you'll need either a $1.99 per month solo subscription, or a $6.99 per month premium subscription.
Performing together live and recording the results has been tricky to date, but Aloha is trying to solve that problem. Built on top of the Elk Audio OS, Aloha promises low latency and ease of use. The software is still in its early stages and isn't open to the public at large yet, but it's worth keeping an eye on.
Don’t Forget To Keep Listening
All the recording gear and software in the world won't make a difference if you don't have any good ideas. That's why it's important to stay inspired. One of the easiest ways to keep yourself inspired is to listen to more music.
Even better, try listening to music with your collaborators. There are plenty of ways to listen to music with your friends, no matter where they're located.
Listening to music with friends is an awesome experience, but what happens if they live far away? These apps provide the answer.