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13 Tips To Collaborate Like A Rockstar

Teamwork makes the dream work. As told by Kate Boy.

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This is Kate Boy, a Swedish electro-pop trio known for precision-crafted pop songs presented with panache.

Kate Boy

Bandmates Kate Akhurst, Markus Dextegen, and Hampus Nordgren Hemlin met for drinks in Stockholm one night in 2012 after being introduced by a mutual friend. They hit it off instantly and recorded their first song together that same night, still buzzing from the bar room banter.

Any band is a long-term relationship between its members, but Kate Boy is unusually egalitarian. Akhurst, Dextegen, and Hemlin write and produce every song as a team, even alternating who plays what instrument.

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"Our goal with everything we do is to try and make something that we wouldn’t have expected ourselves to be able to pull off," says Dextegen.

We asked the band for secrets to harmonious and fruitful collaboration that could apply to any kind of creative or professional partnership. Here are 13 battle-tested strategies to help you play better — and more effectively — with others.

1. Given the chance to choose your partner(s), go for humility over similarity.

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The ideal partner understands the spirit of collaboration and isn't too prideful about their own ideas. If that key criterion is met, it's not so important that you have a ton of things in common. In fact, differences can be an advantage. In the case of Kate Boy, Akurst comes from a singer-songwriter background, Dextegen is a house music and techno aficionado, and Hemlin grew up on '70s rock.

"The more different, the better, I think," says Dextegen. Akhurst agrees. "They can be extremely different from you — and that's a good thing because then you're going to make something you would never have made on your own," she says.

2. When you've found the right person(s), you'll know it.

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M.D.: Always trust your gut. When you find people who are the right people to work with, you know it. There's not gonna be any doubt about it.

K.A.: It shouldn't be that much of a struggle, either. In the long run, if it's too hard, maybe it's not worth it. It should always be more good times than bad, and if that ever flips around, then I'd suggest drop it. Find someone that's going be awesome 99% of the time, and then everything else will work out.

M.D.: Find someone who you'd work with whether or not you got any fame, money, or success out of it at all.

3. Get friendly.

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"When we first started working together, we would hang out the night before we were going to work," says Hemlin. "That way we got to talk so much about inspiration and all this stuff that maybe wouldn't have come up if we just met in the studio right away."

4. Check your ego at the door.

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M.D.: It's never about individual profit, the focus should always be the end result for the whole group. Everyone has to start from a place of "No egos attached."

H.N.H.: Be open-minded that other people will bring something amazing to what you are creating that you couldn't do yourself. It's an opportunity, not a restriction.

5. Don't overplan.

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It's good to have a general idea of what you want to achieve, but make sure to leave room for creative inspiration and improvisation.

"Sometimes the best stuff comes from not planning things," says Akhurst. "If you have a pre-conceived objective before you start, you always have this feeling of something out there you need to reach, instead of just letting something be what it is. I think sometimes it's better to have nothing in mind, and then the sky's the limit."

6. Specialize.

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In order to do your best work and get the best work out of others, divide up tasks based on individual skillsets. If someone is a great visual artist, for instance, let them drive design work. "Find out what you're good at, what you can help with, and focus on doing that really well," says Dextegen. "Try and leave everything else up to the other person. If they're talented at something and are supposed to contribute something, it's a good idea to really leave that completely open for them and not be too judgmental."

7. Be honest.

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Let people know where you stand. Not only will it improve your relationship with your partner(s), you'll end up with a better result. "It's really important to be honest with each other and express yourself," says Akhurst. "If you're all just too nice and go, 'Oh yeah, maybe!' then you won't get anywhere or everything will end up compromised."

8. And prove you can trust and be trusted.

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K.A.: You have to establish that you can be trusted by being sincere. If you're always on the fence about something, or always lukewarm, or always negative, or always really positive, it's very hard to judge your truth. It's like, "You always say that."

M.D.: And if someone has an opinion you don't like or that's different from yours, if you trust that person you will still value their perspective.

9. Leave the safety of your comfort zone.

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Listen to other voices and don't be overly concerned about getting your way. "If you just do everything that comes natural to you and you don't take on anybody else's ideas, then there's no point in collaborating in the first place," says Akhurst. "You have to embrace it."

10. Respect strong opinions.

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If someone you're working with is very passionate about an idea or has strong instincts in a particular direction, embrace it.

"If one of us has a really strong opinion, the other two will go, 'All right, cool! Let's pursue it!" says Dextegen. "If it ends up not working out, then the person will say, 'OK, let's try something else.' But we're always open to trying different ideas because that's how you discover something cool. I personally love when Kate or Hampus says, 'Hmm, I've been thinking about this chorus, I was thinking we'd do this,' because then I'm going to hear something that's totally new to me. That's one of the best feelings as a creative person. The only difficulty comes when no one has any strong opinions."

11. And never take rejection or criticism personally.

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If you make a suggestion that doesn't prevail or isn't rapturously received, don't let it get you down. Keep things moving and remember it's not about you.

H.N.H.: If you have an idea and everyone else is against it, it's so important to just go "All right, cool," and let it be. You can't dwell on it.

K.A.: If I suggest something and the other two go "Nooo," I usually go, "Right! What was I thinking?" [laughs] I don't take it personally or get offended. It's almost better for me to hear critique coming from someone else that I trust.

M.D.: You have to have put your ego aside enough to handle critique and understand that people are not trying to put down your ideas, but are just trying to make something better for the greater cause. Know that it's not coming from an individual point of view, but that it's always out of wanting what's best for the group.

12. If you hit a rough patch, try a change of scenery.

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Whether creating a mood, establishing neutrality, or just making everyone feel at ease, where you work matters. "A change of scenery can do dramatic things," says Hemlin. "A room is not just space, there's something in a room after a while. When you go to that same place all the time, you can get stuck in a pattern. Going to a different place can make a huge difference."

13. Make having fun a priority.

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"If you hit a rut creatively, things can get tense and disheartening," says Akurst. "But if you're having fun with your friends, it's totally different. Keep the mood light. It's good to have people around you who are funny and don't take themselves too seriously. When you're in a tough moment, take it easy on yourself. Have a bit of fun, step outside, go for a walk. Work on being friends again and then you can get back to collaborating."

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