First Thoughts on Online Collaboration

If you are a musician in 2020, chances are you want to collaborate remotely with others. With this post, I am trying to set up a workflow that makes 100% remote collaboration a bit more fruitful.

There are two approaches to write and record music collaboratively online. Synchronously or asynchronously. Combine both to make your remote collaboration work. Prepare ideas and snippets asynchronously and have regular direct chats of how to put them together.


Get a shared file hoster like Dropbox or Google Drive to share your ideas. This could be riffs, beats, melodies, lyric fragments, or just simple sounds that might work for the project. Share them with everyone involved, but the asynchronous phase is meant for independent preparation. To make things smooth, make sure you can still change your ideas later. Keep MIDIs, plugin settings, and render stems with effects and dry.

There are services that are marketed towards musicians and producers. I have not tried any of them, but I think it makes sense to namedrop them if simple file sharing does not work:

Many of these services have tools that are catered to music collaboration. On the other hand, their business model often relies on subscription fees and the tools might not be compatible with your favourite DAW.


Assuming you have a folder filled with ideas, you need to put them together at some point. Try to schedule regular chats to discuss the ideas, put them together and leave your snippet folder in a clean state. The idea is to make a habit out of both activities.

Due to latency, you probably won’t be able to really play together live through the internet (if your music isn’t loop-based). But discussing ideas is still very immediate. My band and I are using discord to share our screen and discuss the ideas.

In our setup, one person is writing the tabs of a new song and the others jump in with all their instruments at hand to convey their ideas. With a folder full of additional inspiration you just need to play Lego with what’s there. Interestingly, the communication of ideas felt even more immediate than discussing ideas in the rehearsal room. Everyone has drums, guitars and a mic at hand to show what a part should sound like, instead of putting it into inadequate words.

For this setup, we need to hook in the ASIO output of our DAWs into the discord video stream. Many interface drivers have a feature, where a stereo mixdown is made available to the windows side of things. In that case, you just have to choose the mixdown as the input of discord. If your driver has no such features, there is the workaround of going through a second soundcard. The drawback here is that you have to physically connect the output of your interface to either a second interface or, for example, the line-in of your onboard soundcard. In both cases you need to arm a mic-track in your DAW for recording – otherwise, there is no way to talk back to the others since only the ASIO output is available to discord.

There are many other video and screen sharing provides you could use instead of discord, of course. The fact that discord streams seem to be always mono might be a reason to look for something else. You can also use tools like VSTconnect or Audiomovers to directly stream your instruments to the main session managed by one of the collaborators. But I haven’t looked at any of these alternatives myself, so this is just another pointer.

Independently prepare ideas and chat regularly about how to put them together.
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