I love collaboration. I celebrate the miracle and mystery of how we create things together that none of us could envision alone. It’s true in music, parenting, architecture, relationships of every kind—anything, really. With so many means of modern connection, collaboration can even happen between people who have never met and never will.
I’m only a student of the wisdom within collaboration. In exploring its wonders, though, I discover reoccurring keys to unlocking shared magic.
Humility is one key. I’ve learned to be in service to every shared creation, regardless of my personal part in it. Whether it’s a song or a relationship, it has its own life, above and beyond the lives of its creators. It has its own needs and unpredictable ways, just as any living being.
Every creation has its own language as well. Listening to what it has to say is more central to the creative process than saying what I want to say. Music constantly teaches listening that way, but I find listening as essential in every other creative context as well. In silence is our most open, receptive state.
I also treasure giving my collaborators encouragement to contribute to their fullest. True collaboration involves everyone giving one hundred percent of their best, not just a hundred percent total. There seems to be no upper limit.
Keeping a balance between bringing specific ideas and letting go of them is also key. As a lyricist, for instance, I present complete pieces to those trusted ones with whom I work—and then encourage them to change anything they wish. I love the surprises that result.
The thought of collaborative magic’s mystery occurs to me as a song I recently co-wrote makes its way into the world—a song I didn’t even know was being written, in stages of its creation.
A few years ago, I gave my lyrical collection Living Unguarded to Halie Loren—an extraordinary vocalist with a global audience, and a close friend. We’ve talked about collaborating for years. But time passed as other aspects of our lives called us.
Then, when I didn’t even know it, she began to create a song called “Roots,” based on lyrics of mine from that collection—a song about how we often accidentally settle down, be it in the right place or the wrong one. She didn’t even mention the song’s emerging existence when we had lunch the week before she left for England to record the rough tracks for her new album. She finally sent me a demo version just before crossing the ocean. Would I be okay with it, she asked, if she recorded the song for the record?
I laughed. Yes, of course! Even in rough demo form, I was inspired by the layered vocal textures, the melodies, the way she had added to and subtracted from the original words in such a clarifying, enlightening way. And when producer Troy Miller approached it in the studio in London, he drew in accomplished players with roots in Africa and England: the great guitarist Femi Temowo, and stellar bassist Michael Olatuja. Around twenty vocal parts later (all recorded by Halie Loren), a beautiful song emerged none of us could’ve initially imagined. The finished version of “Roots” now leads off Halie Loren’s tenth album From the Wild Sky, beginning the album’s eclectic textures of beauty and depth. It was recently released worldwide, with major label distribution in Asia and North America.
Thus “Roots” begins a global life of its own, as unpredictable and wild as the collaborative process itself. As a song recorded on two continents, with contributions from people with roots in Oregon, England, Nigeria, Alaska and beyond, where will the song find its own roots and settle down? I’m curious, honored, humbled, amazed at what grows from the small seed of a lyric.
Every time I listen to a song—any shared song—I don’t just hear a song anymore. I hear magic, I hear the miracle of collaboration, in all of its infinite forms. I hear the remembrance that beauty may be unexpectedly about to emerge in our lives. I hear how much more creative we are together, than we ever could be alone.
More information on Halie Loren’s From the Wild Sky at halieloren.com. Photo of Halie Loren by Bob Williams, http://bobwilliamsphotographer.com.