Collaboration in Isolation: Otik, Tom VR, Paula Tape and more talk remote producing


It’s safe to say that 2020 has thrown up its fair share of challenges. In March of this year, with countries beginning to enter a full lockdown, the nightlife industry came to a standstill with many DJs, artists, promoters and other event workers being left with no work and little income.

For the artists in question however, it provided plenty of time to get stuck into production, which gave us a bright idea…

We reached out to some friends of the site with a challenge: to collaborate with another producer, musician or vocalist remotely in just a couple of weeks. The results of which we’d then publish as a compilation, with increased royalties and shorter accounting periods for all those involved.

In April Pen Pals was released, featuring 15 tracks from 32 artists, including collaborations from Manfredas and Fantastic Twins, Borusiade and Moderna and a new project from Autarkic and Ivan Smagghe with Mutado Pintado on the vocals.

We knew we wanted to extend the invitation to even more artists so we decided to embark on Volume 2, which clocked in at 19 tracks long and brought about more pairings, this time from Curses and Mondowski, Earth Trax & Zaa Zaa and JD Twitch with a return from Fantastic Twins.

The quality of the music on both releases was incredible, but what about the process itself? How easy was it for artists to communicate and collaborate remotely? What difficulties and opportunities did it throw up and is it a model that they’d continue to use? 

We asked some of the artists involved from each release about their experiences; Otik and Tom VR and Thomass Jackson and Local Suicide from Pen Pals 1. and from Volume 2., Paula Tape and Inigo Vontier and Lemna and Floating Spectrum…

How was the experience of collaborating in isolation?

Otik: I found it refreshing working in that format. Being in the same room is a lot more fun and there’s definitely more chances of accidental miracles in the studio from catching a vibe, however there’s so much more freedom with remote collabs; you can take your time and put your own spin on the stems in privacy without any pressure.

Tom VR: Making music with Ash has been really worthwhile for me. We started collabing around mid March 
and then pretty much throughout the duration of lockdown. I’ve personally benefited a lot from being able to 
regularly create with someone who shares a similar vision. Those initial isolation months were pretty challenging mentally, so being able to escape into these projects and seeing our ideas gel so well and so quickly gave me a real boost.

What were the main advantages and challenges of collaborating remotely?

Otik: One of the main advantages was time and frequency. When you collab in person, it’s usually a day or so in the week spent together in the studio. Whereas when it’s remote you can work on it at any time and send it over for the collaborator to crack into whenever they feel like it. It’s a lot simpler than organising a time and place to meet in order to work on stuff. A challenge for me was maybe not having Tom there to catch a vibe from. I like bouncing off of the other person during collabs and it can be quite a hinderance  having to keep sending shoddy voice notes over WhatsApp to find out if the other person is into the direction haha.

Tom VR: The main advantage for me was time. From previous experience, face to face collaboration can sometimes make me force ideas or settle for elements in a track that may have been better or more unique if I’d had more time at my disposal. Collaborating remotely removed some of this pressure and allowed me to listen properly and digest ash’s ideas before working at my own pace to incorporate things that would fit with his style. The obvious disadvantage, as Ash mentioned, is that you can’t run ideas past each other and try things out as a duo in real time while you have a project open. Also, its difficult to hype each other up and bounce off each other in the same way over WhatsApp (although you can get pretty close with emojis).

What were the biggest takeaways from the experience?

Otik: It’s made me realise how much easier it can be to collab remotely, and it’s inspired me to want to reach out to further parts of the world to make music with people. I also realised how well myself and Tom gel in the studio, I think our styles really compliment one another, and this experience helped us to realise that.

Tom VR: One thing I learned when working remotely with Ashley is that it’s a good idea to constantly keep the ball rolling with the project and send it back and forth regularly. Ash works pretty late into the night and would send me stems in the early hours in some cases while I’m asleep, I’ll then wake up super early, work on it and send the stems back over in the afternoon. This quick fire rhythm means that the song doesn’t sit with either one of us for too long and therefore we end up contributing a similar amount overall.

Do you think it’s a model that could continue to be beneficial in a post-lockdown world?

Otik: I definitely think so. It’s a lot more efficient in my opinion. Although I do feel there’s an energy from collaborating in person that can’t be replicated in remote collabs.

Tom VR: Yes definitely. I actually think this is my preferred method of collaborating. Of course you’re never gonna get the same buzz that you feel when you are sitting next to each other and come up with something special. There is no substitute for that. However, I think this approach is way more productive for me!

What was the experience of collaborating in isolation like?

Paula Tape: It was an interesting experience. Even if I personally prefer a face to face, the fact of starting an open musical dialogue with a friend and colleague as Inigo was very positive and helped me to keep my head focused on collaboration, rather than depressing too much about the seriousness of the whole situation we were experiencing.

Inigo Vontier: it was very nice, I’m very used to do collabs remotely with Simple Symmetry, Theus Mago, Von Party; it is a fun thing to do and is always a good way to connect with friends. 

What were the main advantages and challenges of collaborating remotely?

Paula Tape: For me one of the advantages was the fact that we speak the same language (Spanish). For me it is easier to express some concepts because it comes naturally to me and obviously that is a plus, communicating what your soul really wants to say to make things happen in a more organic and natural way. The biggest challenge was to achieve a result that we both liked and nonetheless the time difference of 7 hours between my location and his, played against us.

Inigo Vontier: I personally prefer to work remotely, cause this way I can perceive better the music we are creating, then come with some ideas and don’t need the rush of doing something in an specific period of time while you are both in an studio. Of course the music flows differently but the end results are good, the only difference I find is that when you work together in the studio is some kind of magic can occur from those sessions and remotely it is missed. 

What were the most important conclusions of the experience?

Paula Tape: It is beautiful to try to understand and enter the mind of another artist and connect psychically even though we have an immense ocean of distance, that communication is fundamental. I am very happy with the result and the fact that I have been able to work with Inigo.

Inigo Vontier: I think is always a matter of learning from the artist you are working with, you need to learn to listen and sometimes just let go. It was very nice to work with Paula, we were friends before and after this we are more connected for sure. 

Do you think it is a model that could still be beneficial in a post-covid world? 

Paula Tape: Yes of course, it is healthy for the mind and under a conceptual point of view it’s like travelling in space and time while challenging yourself to speak with the other person from a distance through sounds rather than in words. 

Inigo Vontier: For sure, I have been doing it before the pandemic and will keep doing it after, we live in a globalised world. I have friends in every corner of it and the I think way we can collab is remotely. 

How was the experience of collaborating in isolation?

Floating Spectrum: This collaboration surely brought light to my otherwise rather uneventful new life in isolation. I really enjoy exchanging thoughts and geeking out about tools with Maiko. Collaborating with her was a very refreshing experience, because we naturally combined our different musical strengths to create a piece that is different from our past releases. Also, this experience took me mentally to a new place: for our song Maiko recorded a beautiful “frog choir” outside of her house, which stimulated my imagination, helped me envision the mood of the song and reminded me of summer night sounds I heard as a child growing up surrounded by rice fields.

Lemna: That’s true. It was a very fun and fresh experience for me as well. Through some conversation with Mei-Fang, somehow I feel like we are kind of compatible not only in terms of musical approaches but also in terms of the attitude to work or the way of thinking. I can be a little too earnest to music, so her diligence and conscientiousness were comfortable for me, and I could make this project go so smoothly thanks to her kind attentiveness.
Haha, yeah “frog choir”! Now “bell cricket choir” are singing around my house 🙂 Maybe we can use it next time!

What were the main advantages and challenges of collaborating remotely?

Floating Spectrum: We live in different time zones so we can work on the same project easily at different times of the day. When I was done with my day I would send the result to Maiko with some information over email and she would respond while I slept. Also I could take my time to try out ideas since no one was around. On the other hand, swapping files could be tedious and error-prone, and sometimes it would’ve been much easier to discuss sounds if we were sitting together in the same room.

Lemna: Right. As she says, the time difference can be an advantage when we want to proceed with the work efficiently. As for me, I live in a very remote area (in addition, I am a very indoor type of person), so the main advantage of remote collaboration for me is that I don’t need to spend much time and money going to a studio in a distant city many times, like a band-recording session. About the challenge, I think it is the difficulty of accurately conveying the subtle nuances of the sound image by not being able to talk in real time while listening to the sounds together in the same room, and even more so when we speak in a foreign language.

What were the biggest takeaways from the experience?

Floating Spectrum: It encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and learn from my collaborator. Everyone is unique and I believe that I can learn something from whoever I work with. I‘m looking forward to more collaborations in the future. I am also really happy to have gotten to know Maiko. Not only does she have a great sense of music, but she is also a very thoughtful and intelligent human being.

Lemna: Thank you so much for saying that! I feel exactly the same way towards you. As for this collaboration, the biggest takeaway to me is this opportunity itself. I was really inspired by her amazing talent and sincere attitude toward music. I was a bit tired of the music business thing at that time for some reasons, but the production and the conversation with her has given me the energy and has motivated me again. I am really grateful for it. I can’t wait to start working with her again!

Do you think it’s a model that could continue to be beneficial in a post-lockdown world?

Floating Spectrum: Yes, remote collaboration could be a good way to connect to people you admire even if they live somewhere far away. It encourages the artists to try new approaches due to the physical constraint. The collaborator’s style, cultural background, and even the physical location can be sources of inspiration. It’s also a rather unique experience to connect with someone through working on music together, without having met physically before. Though I do hope to meet Maiko in the real world someday in the future :).

Lemna: I think in the first place that most of the time when it comes to electronic music, artists are collaborating remotely, regardless of whether it was in a pre or post lockdown, but I think it is always beneficial to collaborate with someone, in whatever form it is. It gives us the great opportunities for growth that we can learn and take in a variety of musicality, skills and tips, or perspectives and philosophies of someone other than ourselves. Yes, I do hope so too! I really hope to meet and talk in person with Mei-Fang somewhere in the world when things return to normal someday. I am looking forward to that day!

How was the experience of collaborating in isolation?

Local Suicide: Honestly the workflow on this collaboration wasn’t much different than usual as we had started the track together in our studio last year in Berlin, while Thomass Jackson was staying at ours during his Europe tour. We did the rest remotely like we often do. Of course it’s more fun and probably more effective to meet in person and work together, but collaborating remotely can also be nice. Especially when it comes to collaborating with such an amazing artist and easy going and fun dude like Thomass.

Thomass Jackson: It was actually good and for us it was easy because we’ve worked together in the past so we knew what to expect, but like the guys said we would rather do it in person next time.

What were the main advantages and challenges of collaborating remotely?

Local Suicide: The advantage is that everyone can work at their own time and pace at home with their own software and hardware without having to leave the comfort of their seat and this obviously also saves lots of time. The challenges are that it’s harder to focus and finish tracks remotely and the timezone differences don’t make communication easy. Also describing little tweaks and improvements sometimes proves to be trickier than when in person.

Thomass Jackson: Advantages I will say that it’s easy to make decisions without other people in the room which makes the workflow faster but in the negative side you might go in a direction that the other people involved might not particularly like, so you will have to start over again. And yes, the time differences are not helpful, especially if you have a deadline.

What were the biggest takeaways from the experience?

Local Suicide: After that, we decided to give the remote collaboration thingy a chance. And ever since we have collaborated with You Man and Time to Sleep and some others remotely without any previous common studio sessions.

Thomass Jackson: That sometimes its very easy to do music in the modern world thanks to technology and that good music can be produced in many forms. 

Do you think it’s a model that could continue to be beneficial in a post-lockdown world?

Local Suicide: With the coronavirus new norm, travelling or meeting people indoors is much more complicated than it used to be. Staying connected with friends and artists via the internet and being able to collaborate remotely is defo a great model for everyone who loves collaborating and exchanging ideas like ourselves, but – if we got to choose – we would still prefer the real deal.

Thomass Jackson: I think it won’t change that much. We were doing this before the lockdown so it really didn’t feel any different than other collaborations I did with people who don’t live near me… and even with them sometimes you work from a distance.

Buy Pen Pals Vol 1 and Vol 2.