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Keep the music alive

Tyler Madsen and his bandmates in Branches have found ways to thrive creatively while living hundreds of miles apart.

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Tyler Madsen and Natalie record new music in a studio

By Tyler Madsen, Branches singer and songwriter 

There’s a stereotype that creative personalities are disorganized and only focused on their art. The reality is that we creative folks can be well-organized and disciplined enough to handle the 'business' of the music business, while staying focused on making things we believe in. It simply takes the right tools and a willingness to get creative. 

I sing and write songs with Branches, a harmony-driven indie-rock band I formed with my college friends Natalie, Tyler, and Jacob 13 years ago.

Early on, we had conversations about how to keep making music after graduation, as our priorities, lives, and locations changed. Rather than put everything on hold for the band, we decided to go where our lives took us, and give as much as we could to the band for the long haul. That decision has shaped how we make music together ever since.

Our band is split between LA and San Francisco. The 400-mile distance has influenced our music and process, but hasn't slowed us down. We’ve produced three albums, 13 singles and LPs, licensed our music for TV and trailers, and played shows in every corner of the country. The distance can actually serve as a source of inspiration. Sometimes it takes missing something (or in our case, each other) to get in our feelings a bit and write from that place of love and longing—like we did with our latest single It'll Be OK (Mr. Rogers). We wrote, produced, and recorded it during the early days of the pandemic when we all needed a comforting message.

Branches collaborating on a song using a laptop
Tyler, Jacob, Natalie, Tyler, members of the band Branches

Less chaos, more collaboration

A lot of bands have the mindset that all bandmates have to live in the same place to thrive. But bands like The Postal Service showed a new generation of indie musicians that a long-distance relationship is possible. They found their workaround in 2003 by sending tapes through the mail (hence their name). Now, almost 20 years later, we have a multitude of tools to easily bridge distance or conflicting schedules.

We adopted Dropbox very early on as the place to store large files from our music sessions. To collaborate, we would email files and send voice memos to each other. But this became too scattered, and it was hard to keep track of everything. Over time, Dropbox moved beyond storage and became our primary way to share and collaborate on files in different stages of the songwriting process. 

We tried lots of different approaches over the years and have learned that there is no one way to make music.

I typically write the initial skeleton of a song and record a rough demo of myself playing and singing through the initial idea. I’ll then share those ideas and song files with the band via Dropbox, and the collaboration begins.

Other band members take that skeleton and begin to add layers and fill it out so it takes on a life of its own. Dropbox is a shared storage unit we can all access and share progress on. One of us can download something, work on it, and upload it again with our changes. 

Dropbox also has its own audio player, so I can listen to MP4 or WAV files without downloading them. It’s a place where I can interact with, comment on, and chat about files without wasting time texting or emailing back and forth. If any of us want to take a quick peek or make major changes, Dropbox gives us the flexibility to work with the files as we need to. 

two people with keyboard and laptop recording music
man plays guitar with baby

Records require more than music

When people picture being in a band, it’s often a glorified scene of spontaneous magic in a smokey garage. But creative work is still work, and that’s one of the things that make it so meaningful.

"For more creative types that don't feel as administratively minded, a platform like Dropbox can help you do the things that you do best."

There's administrative work that goes into producing music and releasing albums. It’s not particularly sexy, but having logistics, planning, and technical conversations are necessary for the real creative moments to happen. The faster you can tap into a system, the more freedom you have for creativity and productivity.

Dropbox has improved our band’s organization in a way that also equips us to collaborate professionally with others outside of the band. We work with designers for our album art, and publishing companies to help our music reach new audiences. We keep track of project updates, conversations, contracts, and assets in one dedicated shared folder so we’re organized and on top of the process. For us, it keeps us from the headache of searching through endless emails, texts, screenshots, and voice memos.

Easy production in a comfortable digital environment

The pandemic has kept us off the road, but we’ve still been able to write, record, and release music from our homes. This is because we already had a long-distance, virtual collaboration infrastructure in place. Some of our files can be huge, but we never worry about storage space or if our files will be available. Dropbox helps our band curate a bespoke environment where we know everything is in the right place.

When the admin work goes smoothly, we are able to spend less time in the weeds, and more time in the music. We’ve released a few singles this past season and have another handful of songs in the works. All of this while our band went through a ton of changes at home as well: three of the four of our core band members had babies this year!

Find tools that help you capture the spark in the moment, before it’s gone.

Some of our files can be huge, but we never worry about storage space or if our files will be available. Dropbox helps our band curate a bespoke environment where we know everything is in the right place. When the admin work goes smoothly, we are able to spend less time in the weeds, and more time in the music.

Dropbox saves us time and energy because it has evolved into a virtual P.O. box—it’s a central place for the band to upload and download our files. 

home recording studio and songwriting files
two men, one playing guitar, one singing into a mic
band rehearses in studio

We’ve got more songs in the works, and a lot of hugs to catch up on

There’s nothing like live music—the sounds, the smells, the emotions—Dropbox has helped us to keep the creative fire alive while we're apart. The fact that we’re able to create harmonic alchemy long-distance via the internet is amazing. (And it makes those in-person sessions that much sweeter.) We’ve learned to appreciate the moments together we do have, whether virtual or in-person. Until we can experience the magic of making music together again under the same roof, we’ll be keeping the music alive from our screens and speakers to yours.

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