In a recent blog posting on his site, David Byrne (you know who he is, and if you don’t, please hit Apple-W or Ctrl-W right now) discusses some of his methods for collaborating with some of the most popular musicians of our time. St. Vincent? Check. Fatboy Slim? Check. Brian Eno? Check. TV on the Radio? Check. Seriously, it’s like a cool-kids listing of their iPod.
I am, personally, a big fan of collaborative efforts. As a filmmaker and a writer, I always prefer to work with other people. I find it easier to get things done when I’m responsible to another person. I also find that the process of just sitting and talking something out really helps me think of it in a new way. It’s like, by talking, I get to run it through a different part of my brain that processes the ideas differently than I can just by sitting and thinking or by outlining or making notes or whatever. In fact, that IS what is actually happening on a biomechanical level, but please let me maintain my self-delusion that my insides are a ball of glowing white light and not blood and guts and bone.
I also like that by working with someone else, you have to sort of bend to their desires and impulses and learn to fight only the battles that are important to you. Does Mikey W think the scene in the bar needs x, y, or z element? Do I disagree? Say I do, is it a battle worth fighting or should I save my efforts for something that is more important to me later? I do this all the time in the edit. You have a client or director who wants one thing and I want another. Sometimes I’ll go with their changes, but sometimes I’ll fight for what I think is a stronger cut. And I think this is an important part of that process and, typically, ends up with a better cut that either one of us would have come up with own our own.
It is interesting then to read when David Byrne, an artist who I respect a lot, echos these sentiments.
Why collaborate at all? One could conceivably make more money not sharing the profits — if there are any — so why collaborate if one doesn’t have to? If one can write alone, why reach out? (Some of the most financially successful songs I’ve ever written were not collaborations, for example.) And besides, isn’t it risky? Suppose you don’t get along? Suppose the other person decides to take the thing in some ugly direction?
Well, as I said earlier, one big reason is to restrict one’s own freedom in the writing process. There’s a joy and relief in being limited, restrained. For starters, to let someone else make half the decisions, or some big part of them, absolves one of the need to explore endless musical possibilities. The result is fewer agonizing decisions in the writing process, and sometimes, faster results.
Another reason to risk it is that others often have ideas outside and beyond what one would come up with oneself. To have one’s work responded to by another mind, or to have to stretch one’s own creative muscles to accommodate someone else’s muse, is a satisfying exercise. It gets us outside of our self-created boxes. When it works, the surprising result produces some kind of endorphin equivalent that is a kind of creative high. Collaborators sometimes rein in one’s more obnoxious tendencies too, which is yet another plus.
Neat, right? You can read the rest of the article here:
And, because it’s great, here’s one of my favorite Talking Heads songs from what might be the best concert film ever made. Take that, The Last Waltz!