Collaboration is at the core of The Process. If Hannah didn’t join me in this endeavor, I would’ve bailed long ago. Having someone else with proverbial skin in the game—who sees the value in it—is motivation. But even more important is having someone who also sees it as a platform for experimenting, learning, and refining their craft. She continues to make it better and we continue to learn how to be better collaborators.
Collaboration doesn’t always come easy. It requires open and honest communication, expectation management, alignment of goals, and defined roles. I wrote a guide to creative collaboration for The Creative Independent a while back that provides some tactical advice for collaborating on creative projects.
That said, of course, I’m lightyears from perfect. I have some control issues and can be a bit of a stubborn purest, making it hard to let go sometimes. It also takes me a while to realize when one of my ideas is bad. But I’m learning to listen to people’s questions and to take more of a critic’s eye to my own ideas, constructively, thanks to my collaborations.
It’s always helpful to hear how others have approached collaboration and the ways it has and hasn’t worked for them. Here are some highlights from old episodes on the subject.
DIY → Doing it together
Several of our guests have shared their experience with collaborating as well. Phil Pirrone, the founder of Desert Daze Music Festival, Space Agency Booking, and the founding member of the band, JJUUJJUU shared his philosophy of ‘doing it together’ rather than the old paradigm of ‘do it yourself.’ Of course, running a music festival takes a village, but he applies this concept to his entire life, including raising his child. His wife is also a touring musician and they’ve found support in their community. Listen to the full episode.
“When you do something DIY, you can only take it so far for so long until the job gets so big your two hands can’t hold it. Whether you’re bringing on an employee, partner, or parent company, that’s you accepting the fact that you’ve built this to the point that DIY isn’t enough anymore. You just have to make sure you find the right one and be blindsided by overwhelm.”
Trust → Delegate → Grow
Michelle Cable of Panache Booking keeps her team small on purpose, she prefers to run a lean, indie business with close relationships with their clients. She had to learn how to let go and delegate to her team members, and doing so has been her saving grace in many ways. Booking can be a 24/7 business. She recognized that she’s useless to those relying on her if she’s burnt out. So she’s learned to trust her team and give them full control of their own clients, remaining available to them as support. Listen to the full episode.
“If you’re doing everything yourself, you’re not going to get as much done as you will if you have people helping you. You have to find people who believe in what you’re doing and feel responsible for the tasks they do, and then you have to learn to trust.”
Isolation → Immersion
Alicia Toldi and Carolina Porras run Piney Wood Atlas together. They go on road trips to visit small, emerging and unconventional residencies in a given region and create beautifully illustrated catalogs for others to enjoy. This means living in close quarters for weeks at a time but also learning to work remotely, separately to finish each book.
They’ve learned new project management and administration skills that have become their new art practice. They’ve also learned to mimic each other’s illustration style to maintain consistency throughout the catalogs while being able to evenly distribute admin and creative duties. They stay organized using Google sheets and docs.
Not only do they collaborate with one another, their project and respective practices also incorporate the communities they spend time in. They’ve learned to collaborate with their given environment on their art and it has totally changed their art practice. Listen to the full episode.
“It became less desirable to go into my studio and create these imaginary universes. I became more interested in having conversations and learning about place and history of towns. There were so many interesting stories we heard on these trips. Sharing those stories felt more important than anything I could do alone in the studio.”
Comfortable → Experimental
For the band, A Place to Bury Strangers, Oliver, Dion, and Lea are huge believers to experimentation and keeping the creative process fresh. They even improvise a song on stage every set. Their collaboration process has evolved with time. They’ve tried several different approaches throughout the years. Listen to the full episode.
“It’s easy to take a process as far as you can. If you’re not growing, you get stuck in a rut and make boring shit. You have to keep moving around and trying new things. It’s important to do everything in a whole different way.”
Some quick tips for collaborating
I recently read Jeff Tweedy’s memoir, Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back), and he said that Wilco has a rule that if someone has an idea, they play it out no matter how bad it may seem to someone. They don’t see it as a waste of time, but rather as a way to spark a new idea or learn from something they didn’t expect. To keep democracy and curiosity alive.
I feel that as collaborators, we have a responsibility first and foremost to respect our collaborators and give them the space they deserve to speak their ideas, thoughts, and feedback. The one giving feedback also has a responsibility to deliver it in a way that’s thoughtful and constructive. Asking each other open-ended questions about their line of thinking and vision can help in this process.
Aside from that, collaboration is often about divvying up responsibilities and relying on tools like spreadsheets and project management software to stay organized and keep each other accountable. And of course, frequent check-ins help. I suggest having two types of check-ins, one where you just discuss personal/friend stuff and another that’s all business.
You can listen to all of our episodes that discuss collaboration here or in this Spotify playlist.