Unleash the Power of Collaboration

Roundhead Studios
Jenny Mitchell at Roundhead Studios, enjoying collaboration.
A crash course in collaboration for artists.

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Sometimes, art is a solitary pursuit. Sometimes, collaborating with someone else can help you develop something that’s far better than the art you could have developed on your own.

That’s what APRA’s Songhubs are all about - bringing musicians together so they can collaborate. This year, Songhubs brought three successful country music songwriters over from Nashville for a week to collaborate with country music singers and songwriters in New Zealand.

Of course, the New Zealand participants also collaborated with each other. I caught up with Jenny Mitchell, one of the participants, to find out what her experience was like and her views on the power of collaboration.

Originally from Gore and now based in Dunedin, Jenny is carving out a career as a country music singer and songwriter. She placed third in New Zealand’s Got Talent in 2014, and has been steadily releasing songs and performing ever since.

Why collaborate?

Jenny used to be really proud of the fact that she was a solo songwriter. “All my songs were just mine,” she said. But Songhubs taught her a whole new way of making music. “When you’re writing by yourself, you might have an idea that doesn’t work, so you just move on. When you’re collaborating, someone else might have a different perspective, so you don’t have to abandon things if you hit a dead end.”

This has given her the ability to create songs that she would never have been able to create on her own. One example of this was when she worked with a songwriter who was a bit older than her (she’s 19). He brought a lot more life experience to the table than she did, and the result was a song that could speak to more people than a song that either of them produced on their own.

Of course, it’s like writing solo in that not every day is a slam dunk. “Some days, you don’t spark, but some days you do.” The trick is putting in enough time to get more spark days, and the great art they can produce.

“You’ve got to let the mask down”

Producing any kind of art is an intensely personal exercise. You need to draw on your experiences, feelings and insights, and this can be a process that leaves you feeling rather vulnerable.

Jenny was a bit concerned about this when she arrived, because she’d never collaborated before. But it wasn’t long before she realised that writing with other people is not as difficult as she’d imagined. “There’s no ego in the room,” she said, “so it really was okay.”

Keeping it going

During the SongHubs, she heard about the music industry in Nashville, where collaboration is much more common. “We don’t collaborate enough in New Zealand, and what they have in  Nashville sounds so special.”

Now that SongHubs is over, Jenny’s challenge is to keep the collaboration going. She’s made some great connections, and really caught the collaboration bug, so now she needs to make it happen. This might be a bit challenging, as she lives in Dunedin and the people she met live around the country (mostly in Auckland). But she reckons it’s worth making the trip.

So keep an eye out for some collaborative songs from Jenny and other artists in the future.

What do you think of collaboration as an artist? Let us know in the comments!

Written by

Sam Grover

31 May 2018

Sam loves telling quirky stories about The Big Idea’s community of artists and interviewing successful arts practitioners to gather insights about funding and commercialising their art. 

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