Tuesday, January 30, 2024

True Collaboration

The definition of collaboration is simple enough. ‘Collaboration is the action of working with someone to produce or create something.’ Sounds simple enough and therein lies the gaping black hole of potential failure. What isn’t mentioned is the willingness of both parties to forgo personal ego and goals for a shared vision and outcome. Give and take must be part of that equation if any partnership or collaboration is going to work.

My experience up until now in the creation of music hasn’t been that successful. Over the years, I’ve enlisted the support of different musicians in creating a music for various writing ventures of mine. One of the first was a music video for one of my first novels and another for incorporating music into several of my plays.

Unfortunately, the outcome wasn’t very satisfying. I had envisioned working with the musician to write the music, melody and lyrics and then cooperate in the creation of different musical layers to fill in the bones of the song.

The artists I was dealing with saw our relationship first, as a solicitor of music (that would be me) and secondly, as a purveyor of music (that would be them.) And never the twain shall meet or at least it never did in my case.

Almost immediately, it became apparent that these musicians weren’t open to suggestions about the pace, mood, form or function of the emotion I was trying to capture for my work at the time. They saw themselves as creating the product and I paid them for it and they kept all rights to their work. No thanks to that.

Click here to buy AJ's album 'Town Boy'
Click here to stream 'Town Boy' on Apple Music

Fortunately, this pattern of one-sided venture-taking came to a halt with my introduction to a very talented singer/songwriter who ‘got it’ in terms of cooperation. The back story is simple enough.

My first job after college and a brief hiatus in Europe was with the Minnesota Department of Public Health as a staff writer. My first ‘real’ job came in the form of freelancing (for free) at the local public television station, KTCA-TV. I was working on the crew at least five nights a week.

In retrospect, I understand now that it signaled the ending of my ‘Lost Years’ and the beginning of a new life with a newfound partner in life and love. Working at the station, first on crew and then as a producer/director was fun, exciting and opened up a lifetime career in television and video production work. It also introduced me to a host of colorful characters who inhabited the studio chambers and work cubicles. Little did I know that it would become a veritable cornucopia of storylines just waiting to be told.

Eventually it became the basis for one of my plays entitled: ‘PTV.’ After completing my manuscript, I knew something was missing. The music. Music was a part of my life back then and still is. It also played a huge part on the lives of my associates at the station. I wanted to capture the mood of that period but with new songs instead of capturing the old ones we remembered. Thus began the quest to find a musician or two that I could work with to create these new/old songs of that period.

AJ Scheiber

True collaboration is really about finding someone who shares your vision for a project. Then working together to create that project to your mutual satisfaction.  In my case, it turned out to be with a very talented singer/songwriter by the name of AJ Scheiber. AJ does both solo work and plays in a band by the name of Wilkinson James. I would describe his work as akin to John Prine and Tom Paxton.

After a couple of meetings and AJ reading the script for PTV, it became apparent that he shared my vision for the play and the prominence of the songs therein. He introduced me to many different styles of music such as Texas Swing, Delta Blues, Chicago Blues, folk, Americana, Bluegrass, gospel, Appalachian, and a host of other similar styles of songwriting.

We followed a very simple route of writing the songs. I wrote the lyrics. AJ adapted, rewrote and tweaked the lyrics to fit into the rhythmic pattern (melody) that he had created for that particular song. I then reviewed his adaptation of my lyrics and if I felt they don’t fit the message I was trying to convey, we discussed those particular words and came to some kind of compromise. AJ got the words to fit his musical pattern and I was satisfied with the words chosen.

AJ wrote out lead sheets for each particular song. Lead sheets are tools used by songwriters to convey the basic structure of a song to musical directors and arrangers. The fun part (in my mind) begins in the studio when each song is layered with additional tracks of musical instruments. In my mind, the arrangement is everything.

Since I have a vested interest in the mood each song must convey to my audience, I see layering as critical to each song’s success in conveying that mood. In PTV, each song was written as another emotional cue to help the audience better understand my characters and their actions. It was imperative that each song emit that emotional reaction from the audience.

The marketing of PTV has begun. Once we’ve received inquiries, AJ can begin to upgrade our demonstrations of each song and share it with interested theatrical venues through a file-sharing system. My job is to keep fishing and hope to land a theatrical venue that can host the show.

I have no doubt that it will be a long and arduous process to find the right venue for this play and then to produce it in the right manner. If we can pull it off and the show resonates with the audience then the sweat, labor and tears it took to get there will have been all worthwhile.

Not for the faint of heart but then anything of value seldom comes easy.

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