Long-distance relationships. As anyone with experience of these in a romantic sense can attest, they pose many emotional and logistic challenges. Making them work is a very difficult proposition.
That also applies to long-distance creative collaborations. Several prominent SOCAN members (and a few of their international comrades) are currently in such writing and recording relationships, so how do they keep the flame burning? Comparatively new technologies like file-sharing and Skype have been eagerly adopted by some songwriters as valuable tools of their trade, while others still insist on the direct, in-person approach.
Given his rural Ontario base, you might expect acclaimed singer-songwriter and in-demand producer Hawksley Workman to staunchly advocate for online creative collaboration. Not so. Now making a real impact in indie rock “supergroup” Mounties alongside Vancouverites Steve Bays (Hot Hot Heat) and Ryan Dahle (Limblifter, Age of Electric), Workman stresses that in-person communication is crucial.
“I think songs can definitely be written over the internet, but the music we were all inspired by was a collective human experience.” — Hawksley Workman of Mounties
“We’re very much a ‘performance’ band,” he says. “As the drummer, my part of the creation process is to inject live excitement, something that doesn’t translate to file sharing. I think songs can definitely be written over the internet, but the music we were all inspired by was a collective human experience. It’s about people in the same room smelling each other’s sweat.”
Workman rarely uses online communication in his production work (prominent clients have included Serena Ryder, Tegan and Sara, and Great Big Sea). “I e-mail mixes whenever my ridiculous rural internet will allow,” he explains, “but I’ll likely never be an ‘online’ guy.”
Rising country singer-songwriter Tim Hicks is more open to online collaboration. A recent SOCAN No. 1 Song Award winner for his first hit, “Get By,” a song he co-wrote with Casey Marshall, Neil Sanderson (Three Days Grace), and Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley (both of Florida Georgia Line), Hicks regularly co-writes remotely with Sanderson and Marshall. “I’m on the road all the time,” he says, “or I have the kids during the day as my wife works. If we can get a quick remote session in to keep those creative juices flowing, that makes all the difference.”
One attempt to all meet for a session in the Sound Lounge writing room at SOCAN’s Toronto office ran into a roadblock, Hicks recalls. “Neil was going to drive from north of Toronto, and I was coming from St. Catharine’s, but there was a terrible snowstorm that day,” he recalls. “We couldn’t drive in, but poor Casey didn’t get the memo in time and he went to SOCAN. I went onto Skype with Neil, who then ‘FaceTimed’ Casey on his iPhone or iPad. We were stretching technology to the max to get this session done, but we did get a song finished!”
Hicks explains that, “I write via Skype or FaceTime with other guys in Vancouver and Nashville all the time. It can be difficult sometimes ‘cause there is that delay, but that’ll get better in time.” He has also enjoyed more conventional in-person writing room sessions in Nashville. “They’re soaked in tradition there, and that approach has worked for so many years,” he says.
Fearing & White is definitely a long-distance collaboration, from Canada to Australia. Halifax-based roots-music veteran Stephen Fearing now balances a prolific solo recording career with membership in Blackie and the Rodeo Kings and, since 2008, his duo with fellow singer-songwriter Andy White. The Irish-born White now calls Australia home, creating obvious challenges. But the duo has overcome these to release two albums, their self-titled 2011 debut and 2014’s Tea and Confidences. Two joint compositions have also surfaced on BARK albums.