Remote Working in the Music Industry

It goes without saying that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way in which our world operates and many would argue that this change is likely to be at least somewhat permanent. Spotify recently announced “a workplace that isn’t built on the premise that employees need to gather in an office with traditional desk setups” and that its employees will be able to elect whether they’d prefer to work mostly at home or in the office.  While many large businesses, including record labels, have had to adapt to a remote working model, artists in the music industry have effectively been remote working for the better part of the last ten years.

As far back as 2001, the band The Postal Service was tracking music remotely and utilised the US postal service to send CD-Rs to the members of the band, all of whom were touring separately so that they could produce their 2003 album called “Give Up”. As technology progressed, bands were using email and file exchange platforms such as Dropbox and WeTransfer. Other bands began recording, mixing, and releasing albums right from their mobile phones. In 2011, One Like Son challenged themselves by recording their entire album on their iPhone using apps like  FourTrackMultiTrack DAWAmpKit, ThumbJam, and GuitarJack and then sent their recordings to a central location using a file exchange platform for mixing. In 2016, Avid, the company behind the digital audio workstation ProTools, announced that with its 12.5 version update users would be about to collaborate in the “cloud” allowing people all over the world to record into the same recording session in near real-time.

"Remote communication can distort the normal pace of our conversations."

Remote working in the music industry is more than recording. Communication with your artist team – however small or large it may be – is crucial to the success of your career. The Data Services company Exploration says that in 2013 when they started their business for the music industry, “the costs associated with a brick-and-mortar location did not necessarily make sense”.  To more effectively work with their team, they share that they took advantage of tools such as Google Drive and Mailchimp but, probably more importantly, they encourage you to “make communication part of everything you do”. But, as anyone who has ever had to communicate digitally can agree, doing so is not always easy. In a 2017 empirical study, researchers found that “decreased social interaction, communication, and emotional expression” were the main problems people faced – all of which are very important in a creative industry. So how is this addressed in the modern era?

In an article posted to the Harvard Business Review, the authors comment that “as more and more of our interactions happen digitally, we will continue to experience new forms of miscommunication and misunderstandings”. Their tips include not bombarding your team with messages, being ultra-clear and free from the assumption that the other person will understand your cues and shorthand, and creating space for socializing and celebrations. Another study found that people who worked from home experienced low productivity and struggled with self-regulation and/or procrastination. All three issues – bad communication, low productivity, and procrastination – can really put a damper on your mood.

"Remote communication happens on purpose. You have to put effort into it so your team knows what’s going on."

By far the best resource I’ve found on the methods and tools in achieving this comes from the blog of the company Hubstaff (note: I am in no way connected to the platform, the company, or anyone employed by it nor do I endorse the company).  The author, Hubstaff’s co-founder Dave Nevogt, states that “remote communication isn’t necessarily harder. It’s just different, so it takes different skills” and provides a lot of tools and resources for becoming a master at remote communication. He breaks it down by method of communication – email, chat, video conference – and explains best practices in using these tools effectively.

Working remotely in the music industry can be a struggle in that you miss out on the ‘magic’ that occurs when working together in person. However, with the advancement in technology, faster internet, better cameras, and an increasing amount of tools, it could be that the issue of being able to effectively collaborate remotely is a thing of the past. Instead, the problem could be finding the tools that will work for you and your team and then using them in a way that achieves the results you’re wanting to achieve. The key, I think, is simply to take some time to “play” with the various tools available to you and then learning how to best use them.

Just go play.

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