How Cross-Medium Collaboration Breeds Success in Digital Era


As the digital era changes our world literally in front of our eyes, artists have born the brunt of the negative effects as technology makes the illegal dispersion of music, books, movies, and photographs ubiquitous.  Hard to make money when people can get your creative efforts for free almost immediately after it’s created.

I’ve seen the music industry from being right inside the birth of an emerging band signed to a major label, putting out a full-length album that got released in stores across the country, and toured with top-name rock acts.  And while it lasted for a little while, the major label model of building and supporting musical acts doesn’t work for most — for every Kings of Leon there are countless bands that don’t make it.

This has always been the case.

Now, as those guys I knew in that band push forward without a major label behind them, they find themselves doing new things.  They’re writing music and songs for other artists.  They’re playing shows with other bands.  They’re connecting music producers with new talent.

Most artists are in similar situations and are finding that if they work together, they’ll all have a better chance at some success.  The days of selling millions of records and making fortunes overnight are over.  Sure, there will always be those outliers who buck that trend, but back before Napster and the MP3 changed everything, lots of bands still made small fortunes just getting signed to an Interscope or a Geffen, never mind actually having any hits.

Nowadays, it’s different. Instead of just collaborating with each other, they’re also collaborating with artists in other mediums. If you’re a musician, hook up with filmmakers to work on projects together.  If you’re a fine artist, put together a live show with a band.  If you’re a novelist, collaborate on an album with Ben Folds.  That’s what British writer Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy, Fever Pitch) did.

It might seem odd at first if you’re not familiar with Hornby’s material, but it’s not: music is an integral character in all of his books.  He’s also in a band and writes essays on music frequently, making this collaboration not just some random pairing of an odd couple.

Admittedly, neither of these artists necessarily needed to combine efforts to get a project off the ground.  They’re both established with a long history of commercial success.  So, it comes down to two things:

  1. Collaborating for Collective Success
  2. Collaborating for Personal Growth

You can join forces so that even though you’ll be splitting the profits, you’re better off having some success together than none alone.  But also, jumping into a new medium encourages you to adapt your creative skills, to grow, to learn.  You keep your mind sharp by giving yourself new challenges to jump over. Maybe even new, fresh ideas spring forth from this all.

And it’s not just for artists, either.  While technology hasn’t specifically singled out other professions quite in the same way, the playing field has leveled in many other aspects, which has had interesting effects.

For example: right now at work, most of the Realtors I work with haven’t blogged before.  They didn’t have Twitter accounts.  Nor did they video themselves and put them up on YouTube.  But they’re learning how to do all of that and more because they realize that technology has put marketing tools in the palms of their hands (literally) and that working together to write blog posts for the same site will increase their market share and thus: more success, more money.

Realtors become writers and micro-video stars.  Novelists write rock tunes.  Guitarists compose movie scores.  Artists paint on stage at live events.

I think Ben Folds sums it up just right:

There’s no one concept or story line unifying the songs on the album; the collaboration itself is what unifies it.

Which brings up: what happens next?  Gone are the days where people are specialists, focusing in on one trade only and being a master at that.  To compete in the new world, people must be bona fide jack-of-all-trades.  But not in the “decent at a few, great at none” modes — instead, people will need to be extreme adept at multiple crafts.

Realtors won’t be able to just be great at contracts and negotiating; they’ll also have to be video editors, creative writers, and WordPress-competent.  Guitarists won’t be able to just shred wicked solos; they’ll also need to be able to compose music for many instruments, mix their own tracks on ProTools, and of course: shoot and edit video, blog, and Tweet.

And for you? What mediums will you be combining?

Image courtesy of Parksy1964’s Flickr Photostream.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Anne S. and Ryan Mason, Ryan Mason. Ryan Mason said: How Cross-Medium Collaboration Breeds Success in Digital Era: http://ow.ly/3ljSF […]

  2. This is a great explanation of the reasons that collaboration is essential for increased success, especially for brands that are trying to establish themselves now. It’s a mindset really. It’s not even enough to get it intellectually — it must be “got” bone-deep.

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