British artist Sasha—now based in the US—has been one of the leading house and techno DJs for most of his 26 years as a professional DJ, and his mix compilations are some of the most lauded and forward-thinking releases in electronic music. The latest in that lineage is Late Night Tales presents Sasha: Scene Delete, an artist album and mix compilation comprised entirely of his own tracks and inspired by the music of Nils Frahm, Max Richter, and Steve Reich—it's a gorgeously produced album that is the product of a faultless career and a finely-tuned team.
Sasha is, of course, no stranger to collaborations. Having put teams together for each of his albums, he's an artist that understands the delicate balance it takes to work with an assortment of creative minds—and that's not to mention his long-time partnership with John Digweed, one of the most in demand and notorious B2Bs. It's on that subject that Sasha is bestowing his wisdom, five tips on collaboration and workflow.
“Most of the points below are things that have come from making mistakes or having sessions that didn’t go so well,” says Sasha. “It was either a collaboration that didn’t quite work or a breakdown in communication within my team that led to wasted time.”
Make Sure the Chemistry is Right
There’s a lot of trial and error, but a lot of it is chemistry. You have frustrating days in the studio. They’re not getting what you’re trying to say about a piece of music, or they’ve changed it in a way that you didn’t like. Or they’re getting frustrated with you because they’re not getting your idea out. It is a close relationship you have with someone in the studio, so the chemistry is a very important thing. When it’s right you end up having a long relationship, so you learn how to put up with each other’s foibles. Everyone on our team has certain idiosyncrasies— so they drive you nuts about certain things, but then really make you laugh. I could make music on my own but it would take a lot longer on the engineering and mixing side. I’d get frustrated and I’m not really trained in that sense. But it’s really just having people to bounce ideas off; it’s really fun, like being part of a band. When that clicks, you really feel like you’re all pulling in the same direction. Ultimately, it should be fun.
Choose Your Partners Carefully
I think it’s okay to tread carefully in the beginning of a studio relationship. I made a mistake once in the past where I booked myself four days in the studio with somebody that I’d never worked with before because I was very excited about working with them. After the first couple of hours, I realised it was not going to be a very easy day. By the end of the fourth day I just wanted to do myself in. We just weren’t connecting musically or technically, and the track we were working on sounded like shit. So it’s okay in the beginning when you’re starting to test out whether the relationship’s gonna work; it’s okay to tread carefully. Nowadays you can share ideas remotely; it’s easy to send over a Logic or Ableton session online. I’ve found passing stuff back and forth on computers is actually a good way to break the ice with someone new—getting a track happening before you commit to sitting in a room with somebody. If you spend some time in a room with someone when you’ve already half-written the track, you know you’re in great shape.
Make Sure You Use the Same Systems and Formats
It’s important when you’re working together to be working on the same formats and software. Some of the biggest struggles I’ve had collaborating over the past few years has been when I’ve been trying to work with somebody who works in a completely different way. Sometimes it’s worked and has been interesting— just to see how someone else uses their bit of software. The best way I’ve found, especially when you’re working in a team, is being on the same page when it comes to all the software you use and the way you use it to collaborate and share. The organisation side of things is really important.
Workflow is Really Important
There’s a couple of things that were so integral to this album coming together as fast as it did. We had three studios set up, one in LA, one in London and one in NYC. On certain days, we had LA, London and New York all working at the same time on the same piece of music. The only way you can coordinate a team of people that's spread across the planet like that is to be organized. There’s a piece of software called Trello we used. It kept everyone organized and up to date on where we were with certain tracks because when you’re working 20 or 30 pieces of music at the same time, it’s very easy to get lost and forget which track was which. We always give tracks stupid names at the beginning and then have to change them and then forget the original name. Trello was something that changed our life when it came to working in the studio. It’s like an instant messaging system for teams of people, but it keeps a record of everything, so you create a card for each track so you can click on the card and you can see all the messages from the team going back six months or even a year. If you’ve not looked at a piece of music for year, you can go back and find it. Also, having our work folders synchronized on Dropbox allowed us to be working on different parts of the same track at the same time in different parts of the world. If the bassline needed editing on "Pontiac," the guys in London would do it, and a message would flash up on my desktop, and I’d open it up and it would be fixed.
Develop a Thick Skin
You have to have thick skin. You have to be open to ideas and you have to let people express themselves. There are certain times when I’ve stayed up really late and worked on some melody for a track. I’m really happy with it but when I wake up the next morning the guys in London are like, “That’s really cheesy, Sasha” [laughs]. You have to develop a thick skin and not be afraid to voice an opinion that might not be popular. Sometimes you have to admit you’ve spent two hours, half a day, or even a whole day on something and it’s just not working. You can’t afford to be precious about things. You have to be open to accepting the team’s opinion and it might not always be where your head's at.