Artist collaborations open up a world of possibilities for your music and your audience.
Creative collaboration is more popular than ever, with bands and artists of all stripes pushing their sounds into new and exciting territory with assists from other musicians, and not always ones they have a lot in common with. While cross-pollination, collaboration, and plain old experimentation with new partners have been essential tools in hip-hop since forever—the side benefits of clout-by-association and rapid exposure to new fanbases caught on quickly—they've taken a minute longer to be absorbed by genres like rock and all its offshoots.
The Body, a band known for their bleak doom metal, began their collaborative streak with the idea of hanging out with their friends in Braveyoung, creating an atmospheric doom masterpiece in Nothing Passes. The duo eventually reached out further, to artists ranging from The Haxan Cloak to Uniform to Full Of Hell, and also created an LP with sludge titans Thou. Unsurprisingly, The Body have expanded their sound by leaps and bounds.
Los Angeles’ HEALTH sought out remixes for their their electronic-kissed noise-rock, eventually working with Soccer Mommy, Perturbator, Youth Code, The Haxan Cloak, and others who've taken their work into the realms of experimentalism, techno, and the outer reaches of rock. And while each band have their own goals and ideas about what collaboration means, the benefits of working with artists outside their comfort zone has been immeasurable, creatively speaking, and possibly commercially as well. So what are some of the advantages of collaboration? We posed that question to Thou vocalist Bryan Funck, HEALTH singer and guitarist Jake Duzsik, and The Body drummer Lee Buford.
Blowing up the echo chamber
When playing in the relatively limited confines of a band, no matter how creative each individual member may be, there's a more or less fixed number of personalities with their own biases and limitations. A band can be an echo chamber of similar ideas, but collaboration can help to break down those walls, challenging the group to rethink how they approach their work.
“I definitely feel like collaborating with others has pushed us to be a better band. It's very easy to get lost in the five of us,” says Bryan Funck. “Sometimes it sort of clears things up and shines a light on what we’re doing.” Jake Duzsik agrees, adding, “It's very easy to become myopic about your own writing habits, thereby repeating yourself endlessly.”
Inviting in new ideas can not only expand the project at hand, it can also help refresh an artist’s creative energy in their own work, yielding strong results later on. “Usually it’s just myself and Chip King doing everything,” says Lee Buford. “[Collaborating] makes things less stressful and makes me more apt to experiment. And I’ve taken some of those ideas with me to later projects.”
Trusting someone else's muse
Sharing creative control with someone new can be tough, since it requires a certain amount of faith in another musician's instincts. Duzsik says HEALTH’s first step toward collaboration started with remixes—letting another artist reimagine the band's songs wholesale. “We've always felt that reaching out to artists that we respected to reinterpret our music was an exciting way to combine our sound pallet with someone else's,” he says. “When you're working on something with new people, they invariably have a fresh perspective on your style, and you on theirs.“
Sometimes a band may have a pretty specific idea of how they want a collaborative effort to help them grow, even though they may not know exactly what the final sound will be. “Once we start to understand our limitations and look to someone to bring a certain sound to the table, that usually pushes us further," Funck says. "On our first collaboration, the idea was to get another musician that could do some stuff that the rest of us couldn't do. We were trying to push the songs in a certain direction, and so we got Emily McWilliams to sing and play the piano on a couple of tracks.”
Expanding your audience
Though the creative process benefits of collaboration are usually evident early on, there are also longer-term advantages in the audience cross-pollination that comes later. Marketing to new audiences via association with another band or artist—which can leverage their different network of PR agents and labels—can convert a whole sea of new fans. “Collaboration might mean I can [appear on] ten records this year and they're all different,” says Buford. “You end up putting them out on several labels too.”
There is always the possibility that a faction of your existing fanbase won't approve of your association with a different act, or won't like the music that comes out of it. “[Collaboration can be] sort of a double-edged sword," Funck notes. "I think if we do something that appeals to more people or to different people commercially, that can be good. But at the same time, there are a certain number of people that will be up in arms about that, and write your band off. We're not too worried about getting rid of some of those people.”
A well-executed collaboration can mean a strong marriage of teams and an expansion of your audience, but don’t lose sight of the actual goal: quality work. “In terms of mutually introducing each fanbase to each other's sound, that is certainly always a hope,” says Duzsik. “At the very least, I hope we've pulled together some sick songs that we never would have done on our own.”