Adapting to New Norms as Songwriters – Writing and Recording Remotely with Virtual Sessions

Photo by Omar Prestwich on Unsplash

So, it’s the 23,000th day of April 2020. On another note…

In the midst of the coronavirus disaster, I’ve been keeping weekly Zoom virtual meetings with my clients.

On that note – I wanted to take a very important moment to talk about adapting. And this post is going to be broken into 4 sections – all centered around virtual recording and collaboration.

(And by the way, if anyone reading this has any amazing solutions to virtual recording and collaborations – feel free to hit me up. Seems there is a lot of developer / app / software and hardware progress that needs to be made here ASAP).

Murder, She Wrote

Murder, She Wrote: A Virtual Murder

Part: 1 Adapting and The Future

Songwriters are great at adapting – and those who’ve been in it for decades (and artists too), know how to adapt. If it’s Madonna or Max Martin or Pharrell or Tiesto, etc. – they’ve been doing this gig for 30+ years – and stay at the top of their game.

listening to music on laptop with headphones

Spinnin’ Records

So, if it was 1977 and you were the very best disco producer – and then the 80s arrived and you kept doing your disco music – guess what? You were S.O.L. in having a career in a few years and the royalties dried up (unless you were Moroder or Barry Gibb).

Bee Gees Stayin' Alive

Bee Gees “Stayin’ Alive”

Part of this adaptation is happening – right now. And this new adaptation is this: remote and virtual songwriting.

Some of you reading this – have taken the leap and jumped right on it, which is exciting. On the other hand, I’ve gotten some vibes back like “nah thanks – that’s just not my style.” Or – “nah, I’m really not into writing to tracks” – or whatever.

Aww hell naw

On the other extreme, a few writers/producers in my circle already have high def audio / tie lines into their studio, which is great, no latency etc.

I hate to tell you – but in my opinion, it’s exactly the story from 1977 (or the hair metal guitar player in 1988 aka me, wishing 90s grunge would go away, etc). It’s the story of the songwriter/producer who didn’t see the writing on the wall and just kept “willing” disco music to happen. In hindsight – it might be easy to have seen – but the truth is, it’s an environment that had already – closed the door.

Nirvana - Smells Like Teen Spirit - Oh well whatever nevermind

Nirvana “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

And yeah – we might be out of the woods in 2 months. And maybe kinda back to normal. Maybe not.

But make no doubt – things will have changed. And this is an opportunity, imop, and what we’re doing as a company, to jump ahead and skip some spaces forward in the line to the top … in multiple ways I’ll mention below.

Look at this as a TEST RUN but happening in real time.

Forrest Gump running

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I say test run because at the MINIMUM it’s what I see coming on the future horizon as far as not just “our” business – but world business is conducted. And fortunately, that last sentence is not intended to reference extended pandemics.

No – it’s time to get used to the future right now … adapting for short term benefits today and in the future reaping the long term benefits. So let’s time travel to 2022 where the idea of a pandemic is a thing of the past and you just came back from an epic Coachella.

You see, in the future you will show up for your London session as your hologram or enter your session virtually as your avatar. This is real and it’s coming. Or simpler, you’ll just do the session over Pro Tools with an Audiomovers or custom Zoom plug in (please tell me this is in development).

Yes, the idea of even going – say to NYC for a round of meetings to take a 15 hour flight to Korea for an in-person meeting to get those K-pop placements, is going to be “optional.”

NYC to Korea - globe

In other words – in the future – it won’t be a requirement to show up, as Peter Diamandis calls it, your “meat” body. (And who is Peter Diamandis? Besides Ray Kurzweil, he’s the biggest “futurist” on the planet, Elon’s partner in Space X and leads the Abundance 360 program, where I’ve been fortunate to be a member).

Or here’s another scenario:

The idea of coordinating 3 people to physically get together in the same room – for an ASAP “2 hour label” request rewrite – will be ridiculous.

The idea of coordinating 3 people to physically get together in the same room for a 2 hour label request rewrite will be ridiculous

Instead, in the future – that will all happen on some virtual platform, and some audio interface manufacturer / software developer will release the right hardware and software – to make Zoom and Pro Tools live look like ADATs (remember those?).

Alesis ADAT

So, look at this as your opportunity to seize this time to get out of your comfort zone and start scheduling your remote sessions. Because it’s coming – regardless.

Nothing great ever came from comfort zones” – said somebody.

Part 2: What You Can Be Doing Now?

Ok we’re back to our present day shit storm.

I don’t want you to be left behind – 1) not in this new environment and 2) not in your “song inventory” getting depleted nor 3) left behind with the future technology coming – whether you like it or not.

Friends - no one left behind

And, by the way – some of you are 100% writers – Great!

I think this is also a great time to also “refill the well” of ideas, song starts, ideas, song titles, even if you’re not a 100% writer. So, that’s another idea over the next 60 days.

Make no doubt – what we’re going through now will change everything and make remote meetings, remote songwriting sessions etc. more of the norm.

As a publishing business – we’re doing this right now. We’ve had a paid Zoom (which I love) business account for over a month now, with 2 daily internal virtual meetings.

We’re also scheduling our first international virtual meetings / pitching sessions with other executives this week.

Like I mentioned, at the very least, use this time to get used to the new technology that will make it optional for you to be somewhere in person.

Another analogy could be – you want to be a social media influencer – but you’re only starting your Instagram account in 2020. Hmm.

woman taking selfie

Omer Studios

As it applies to songwriting – throwing this out there … some ideas you could look at for the short term future – and maybe even come out better and more strongly positioned on the other side:

  • Schedule a minimum of 1 remote session per week for the next few months. It’s going to be weird. It’s going to be awkward. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
  • Here’s a scenario … is there someone across the globe you love writing with and it was never logistically possible? Great! Now’s the time! Do some London or Stockholm co-writes. (9am our time in Los Angeles is around 5pm their time).
  • Is there someone you always wanted to write with or maybe “almost” wrote with and now it’s pending a reschedule? Great! Now’s the time to take the lead and reach out to them. They’re schedule is uhh, probably free (and they’re trying to figure this out too).
  • Already have a great crew but still need the social distancing? Virtual sessions will make this already perfectly easier, because you already have a rapport – maybe start there. our rapport could make this a great “safe space” and your “laboratory.”
  • Are you a producer / beat maker? Get your publisher / manager (or tackle this yourself) to send out your best beats to top liners. They’re looking for inspiration.
  • Are you a top liner? Now’s a time to look at those unrecorded “hits” sitting on your shelf that were so hot in 2018 but now sound dated AF. Bounce the a capellas and a) send to other producers or b) get a hold of some of those tracks and see if your top line a cappella fits as an “instant mash up” on one of the tracks!
  • My favorite idea. Lucky #7. It’s this. The biggest paycheck you may have written for yourself – is already written – by you – and sitting on your hard drive. Yes! Meaning that song you wrote a few (or more) years ago that’s a smash – but you never got the demo right, or there was that issue with the verse, or the vocals sucked, or that weird thing in the lyric that just didn’t seal the deal with people? Get off your ass now and attack that rewrite / redemo! It’s time to kick those songs off the couch and get them a fucking job and put some steak on the table for you! And I know – we’re always more excited about the song we just wrote – but please pay attention to the 7 figure checks you’ve already written for yourself. Seriously.

songwriter looking at "the song you wrote today" instead of "$1MM song that needs a rewrite"

Part 3: Remote Session Tools

remote session tools - sountrap,

Now – speaking of steak, we’re now just really getting to the meat of this post. And I’m introducing Arielle here who works with me – who did a ton of research and assembled some more great ideas, as far as remote session tools and writing. Take it away, Arielle.

“OK thanks, BG” (she didn’t say that for real but that’s the best here I can do for a segway).

There are a couple of tools that can make collaboration from afar a little easier. It seems like across the board, they all run smoother with a blazing internet connection. That being said, check out this list of tools to help your session.

Remote Tracking

  • Are you a Pro Tools person? Try out Pro Tools Cloud Collaboration. Introduced in version 12.5, users can convert sessions into cloud based projects. Sort of similar to Google Docs, this option has a chat window and saves version history so that you can easily see what changes have been made. As a Berklee songwriting student I hated writing in ProTools because it literally looks like the Sahara desert. If you feel a little uninspired by it too, try setting up some templates.
  • Do you use Cubase? VST Connect Pro is a remote recording solution for Cubase users. It can be downloaded free for current users and allows remote tracking, midi support, and video chat.
  • Soundtrap is a web based collaboration program in which users can send messages, video chat, and work within one session window. You can use your computer’s built-in mic or connect an interface to record vocals or instruments.
  • Suggested by artist/writer/producer, Bleu McAuley, Audiomovers allows users to stream in real time (and it’s cheap at $10/month). It has relatively low latency and high quality, so it can be used to record ideas. Bleu explained that “it wouldn’t work for doing any actual recording (because of the audio quality), but it would 100% work to get down ideas from their DAW to yours.” This could be a great option for 2 producers. Or if it’s a topliner x producer session you could have the producer stream the HQ audio to the lyric/melody writer and collab real time using Zoom, Facetime, Google Hangouts, etc. When it’s time to cut the vocal (and hopefully the vocalist has skills to record the vocal in their DAW via a 2 track bounce), the vocalist can stream the HQ output to the producer so she/he can listen and give comments back in real time.


  • As mentioned – it might be obvious but a lot of people are gravitating towards Zoom or the tried and true standards like: Google Hangouts, Facetime or a different video call service to see each other and share screens. It seems like they all have a bit of lag. FYI- Zoom automatically boosts the volume of the person speaking. You can turn this off in settings to make sure everyone is heard organically.


  • Use Google Docs, a shared note, or Dropbox Paper to share lyrics and work out of one document.

Saving Files

  • If you download Google Drive File Stream, you can save DAW sessions there and they will automatically update as save. This could be a great tool for storing sessions with multiple producers. Only issue is having different plug-ins.
  • Dropbox – can do pretty much the same thing as above.

Update: Zoom Audio

We just found an awesome feature for Zoom – which you might want to use for your online sessions and / or meetings.

So instead of sharing music from your computer mic, you can actually get the output of your computer and broadcast this over Zoom – so the person on the other end is more or less getting the output of your computer. It sounds actually pretty good (kinda like you’re listening to a 128 kbps Mp3 but wayyyy better). I did notice that for some reason the tempo might change here and there due to buffering (i.e. might sound faster and then slower) but still way better than just Facetime or Skype and sharing your mic vs the computer output.

Here’s how to do it.

In Zoom – click in the lower tray “Share Screen” (great place for this feature to be right?!) > Advanced > Share > Music or Computer Screen Only.

It’s not perfect but way better than what we’ve been experiencing just playing music from your computer and your computer mic picking up.

It’s Benjamin now back to wrap up the post. And by the way, just so y’all know, DAW = Digital Audio Workstation.

Lastly, speaking to some of my writers – the feeling seems to be that “one on one” collaborations with songwriters, who can play an instrument – is a lot more realistic that 2 top liners writing to a producer “beat maker”… just from logistical stand points i.e. if there are changes to a track, then the producer needs to make a new bounce, email it to everyone in the online session etc. Just sayin.’

Part 4: Last Words: Don’t Be A Rick Dees “Disco Duck”

We’re all in the same boat here. I get it. Long distance, virtual songwriting and collaboration will be awkward and uncomfortable for everyone. But it’s a lot better to be awkward and figure things out – than being left behind.

Oh that's right, I'm alone

Especially if you’re a newer songwriter, this is actually probably a GREAT time to “level up” your collaboration circles and look to “get in a virtual room” with that new collaborator or artist a few notches above yourself. Especially if you can bring a great “start” into the room. (For a strategy on that idea, please reference a previous post “Getting Your Foot in the Room with Inaccessible Artists”).

Ultimately, it’s a requirement, virtual collaborating or not, to keep your supply and inventory of songs on the shelf “well stocked.”

Obama sunglasses deal with it

As a company and as a publishing executive, myself and our crew are still getting songs placed and cuts are still happening! We (and you) have an inventory – but that won’t be forever.

In closing, it’s been my experience that surprisingly, a good percentage of people – are super resistant to change. And it’s maybe those same people who, as an analogy, forever love disco and want to dearly believe the year will always be 1977.

It isn’t.

2020 is the new 1977. (Of course – all that goes out the window if anyone can write a song as good as Barry Gibb).

Lastly as mentioned previously in the post, if you’re reading this and you personally have virtual collaborating / recording solutions and experiences worth sharing – that’s worked for you – feel free to hit me up!

You know where to find me. I’m not going anywhere for a second.

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About the Author

The Author of “How Do I Get A Record Deal? Sign Yourself!”

My career in music publishing extends over 25 years, including BMG Music (bought by Universal) and EMI Music Publishing (bought by Sony), as well as the 1st U.S. employee of Kobalt Music Publishing, where he helped build the roster over 10 years as Executive VP of Creative.

Benjamin is currently heading up his own publishing company, Brill Building, as well as label and music filter, We Are: The Guard. Benjamin’s signings range from Ryan Tedder, Kelly Clarkson, The Lumineers, Grimes, Savan Kotecha, OneRepublic, SOPHIE, Ariel Rechtshaid, Greg Kurstin, Tiesto, Kid Cudi, TOKiMONSTA, TR/ST, Cut Copy, Big Freedia, Lindy Robbins, Peaches and yes, even Steel Panther. His specialty in the music business is early artist, writer and writer/producer development.

post author Benjamin Groff
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