Collaboration Tool

My name is Davidson Jaconello. Before we start a little information about me. The theater has been apart of my life since I was very young. I started my training as a dancer at 8 years old and continued to have a decade long dance career dancing with Alberta Ballet, National Theater Mannheim, and Korzo Theater among others. While dancing full time in Alberta Ballet, I also began my second career as a music creator for theater. I wrote my first full-length music creation in 2012 for Alberta Ballet. Since then I have created 36 theater works, ranging from full-length story ballets, to abstract concept ballets, to stage plays. My work has been performed in theaters around the world and by many companies world wide such as Netherlands Dance Theater 2, Basel Ballet, West Australian Ballet, and the National Ballet of Uzbekistan.

The Why: Music Collaboration

“It takes two flints to make a fire.”– Louisa May Alcott

When I first began making music for theater, I often wondered to myself if there was any way I could actually succeed in the age of the internet. An age where there is almost unlimited music available at the click of a button. At that young age I always had the recurring thought that maybe it was too late, music was everywhere already, and that it would be like selling water to a fish. But, after over 10 years of collaborations with different artists and personalities, these worries have dissapeared. There will always be a time and a place for collaboration between artists. And the reason for this is that, even though our technology has changed, our humanity has not. Just like an electric motor needs two poles to generate power, so do individuals need other people to bring powerful ideas to life. If you have spent any time at all working as an artist you have experienced this already. When you speak with other people about your ideas, about your art, inevitably this communication eventually brings about new clarity, new solutions to problems, and new ideas. This 2-way communication is where the real magic of collaboration remains.

But, like most things, collaboration is far from perfect and has some clear downsides. Simply put: It is just more complicated. It is more chaotic. Dealing with multiple ideas and files, dealing with many different versions, keeping track of changes made, discussing and giving feedback etc. These things can cause a lot of frustration and confusion during a working process and this is what I am trying to address with the tools and ideas presented on this page. The goal is to simplify the collaboration process. To take out some of the chaos and create an orderly environment where ideas can be shared, discussed, and experimented with.  

If after reading this page you have any additional ideas or tricks to aid in this goal I would love to hear  them at 

The How: Online Collaboration Tools

The Main Tool: Milanote

After trying many tools out, Milanote ( is the one I have found most effective for online collaborations. Milanote uses visual boards that you can quickly and easily drag your ideas into. It allows us to combine text, audio, video, links, pdfs, images , etc. on one board and has servers all over the world, which means quick loading times, wherever you and your collaborators are.
When you first open a new Milanote board this is what you will see (click to enlarge): 

To contrast here are two examples of Milanote boards after finished creative processes (click to enlarge):

This main board acts as the “front page” of the collaboration and the is is the first thing my collaborator sees when I send it to them. I simply call it the “Home Board”.

The Home Board - An Overview of the Work

The home board’s purpose is to show a visual overview of the entire piece. I put all the general information about the whole work on this page. Scene names and numbers, lengths, set changes, librettos, to-do lists, deadlines, and links to other important places and folders. The flexibility of Milanote allows almost any relevant information about the work to be added here.
The actual work itself, in this case my music, is found nested inside these home page boards which each represent a section (or character, or research period etc.) of the dance evening. This “boards inside of boards” approach helps keep all information and artistic work visually clear and separated. All boards can be customized with unique icons and colors to further increase the visual clarity. Below is a video to show how the boards work and how the navigation into and out of boards happens.

As the working process progresses and musical ideas are being created, I add each new idea to the “next level down” of boards where the actual ideas are kept. This next level down is the “work board”.

The Work Boards

When you click on one of these icons on the home board you are taken to the next level down, to what I call a “work board”. Inside these work boards is the artistic work istelf, in my case musical ideas. Below on the left is an example of the system that I have used so far to organize and present my musical ideas. as well as a brief description of everything on the right. 
 The title of scene
The description of the scene. What happens? Which characters enter and leave? What do they do?
The Date is put before each new version of the music to keep it clear what happened when. 
A video for the choreographer to see the combination of the music with the rough dance choreography
that has already been made. A video is not always appropriate of course, but the ability to use audio or video when needed is very useful.
Every video or audio section in Milanote has an attached “description” area where you can add text. This is where I give my collaborator any relevant information I want to communicate. Context about why I made the choices I did, time stamps of when I made musical changes, what changes I have made etc.
Another date of a previous version
An earlier file, only music this time with no video. A red banner always represents an old file. Whenever possible I make a list of all the big changes made so that my collaborator can see what has been done, and what hasn’t. This also helps if you want to go back to a previous version if a new version is not working, it is easier to know which version has the changes you want to go back to.
The first musical ideas I sent for this scene as well as a description of my approach to the scene and any additional information I want to communicate to my collaborator. Also with a red banner to show it is old.
Sidenote: Reflection
 In my experience, the action of writing down your intentions and the reasons behind your ideas doesn’t just benefit your collaborator, but it also benefits you. It is never a waste of time. I feel like I know why I chose to make the music the way that I did, until I have to write it down for someone else. I almost always struggle to communicate in words the reasons why I wrote the music in this particular way. But the act of trying to write the reasons down for someone else has a clarifying effect on me. It helps me to move forward from that point with an even clearer understanding of what I am trying to achieve, after I have tried to describe it to someone else.
Sidenote: Talking Versus Typing
As mentioned in my opening argument above, the primary thing that I believe makes collaboration so important is the communication and flow between artists. 2-way VERBAL communication as a way to find creative solutions and brainstorm new ideas is very important. Whether it be online or in person, these verbal conversations are essential to finding solutions together. I never let these tools become a replacement for this essential verbal communication. These tools are for organizing and clarifying, not creating and solving.     

Work Boards - Additional Details.

There is another important use of the description section of audio/video ideas to mention here.

First off an obvious fact: Writing music takes A LOT of time. 

The worst nightmare of a composer is spending days/weeks/months writing a piece of music, only to send it to the collaborator and get the feedback that this is the wrong direction. And with ever shrinking budgets and timelines I have been sending more and more “rough” ideas to my collaborators rather than waiting until they are polished to perfection before sending them. This normally avoids too much time lost to false starts and wrong directions. It also gives my collaborators more early control over the direction of the work and leaves enough time to pivot the direction if it is needed. Therefore,  when I have gotten a piece to a point where I believe the basic and fundamental ideas of the music are there, the heart and soul of it, I usually send it for feedback WITH 2 additional sections in the audio description.

1. What IS there and 2. What is NOT there.

This gives me a chance to also share my VISION  for where I would like to take the work and what I would like to develop if we move forward in this direction. Before using this approach I would just send rough music but I would always worry that my collaborator would not see the potential of where the music COULD go. What it COULD be. With this “What IS there / What is NOT there”  approach I feel I can share this potential vision, at least in words, so that the collaborator has a fuller picture of what I intend to do, but I don’t have to spend days to really do it! At least not until the general idea and direction is approved.
Below is an example: In this case I didn’t want to spend valuable budget on REAL musicians until the mockup was approved, but I still wanted to let my collaborator know what my vision for the next steps were.
Side note: Fill the Vaccum
I have often fallen into the trap of waiting until I have ACTUAL ideas to show before  sending any communication to my collaborator. This can take weeks / months of creation before anything is ready to show and can cause a lot of stress and mystery for my collaborator while they are waiting, wondering if anything is happening or being created. Fill the vacuum. Keep your collaborator informed! EVEN if you just made some good progress on a piece or the progress is going well, let them know things are moving forward. A small message can make all the difference in my experience.

Sharing Groups of Experiments

Every process is different. Sometimes small budgets and short deadlines can mean there is not much time for “playing” and experimenting. But when time and money allows it, a process can start with a longer experimental phase where new ideas are explored that are not connected to one particular scene or part of an evening. After this experimentation period is finished it is not unusual for me to have 20-50 audio files of short sound experiments to send to a collaborator. In order to keep this process as easy as possible for my collaborators I create a board in Milanote with 4 columns. All the music in the first  column, and three columns for “right” “not sure” and “wrong”. If my collaborator has signed into Milanote (I always ask them to do this simple task) and they are invited as editors, they are able to make changes to any of the boards I create. They can drag and drop the files into a column as well as make additional comments on any files they want to. This simplifies the process of sorting through and commenting on large numbers of experiments or ideas.      

Preparing Audio and Video for Upload

Uploading Video - Compression

If you’re not familiar with it, video can be complicated. Formats, resolutions, compression, file sizes etc. can be a real time-waster. I will add here what I do to videos before uploading them to Milanote. It seems to be a good compromise between file size and quality that keeps your video files small in size while also good enough quality for your collaborator to see what you intended. You need a tool called Handbrake ( .
You can download the Handbrake video preset I use from google drive. After downloading it, in Handbrake click 
Preset —-> Import From File —–> Select the file from where you saved it on your hard drive. It can then be found in your “custom presets” panel on the right of Handbrakes program window. To encode a video, drag it into the Handbrake window, choose the custom preset (the name is Music Collaboration Sharing) and then hit “start encode”.  

Uploading Audio - Compression

I know most people who would read this would know how to compress an audio file, but just in case here is a link to the software I use to compress audio into high quality .mp3 before uploading it to Milanote 
To add it to Milanote, simply drag the audio file into Milanote.

Naming Files - More important than it seems

Naming files properly has many benefits that may not be immediately apparent. I will share here how I name files and why.
Here is my template for naming audio files:
| PIECE ACRONYM  | Scene number  WITH a, b ,c ,d ,e  to show the version we are on  |  name of file   |   date   |   my Ableton Live set number
Example:  CM Scene 4b Dark Beast low 160122 no CM12     (CM is my acronym for “Carmen”)
If you follow the naming scheme CONSISTENTLY the goal is that if your collaborator chooses not to play the files directly in Milanote and downloads them to their hard drive instead, that the files will be grouped together by scene in any computer and the newest version will always be clear (if their files are sorted by name of course and not date or something else).
The Ableton Live set number is a number I add to every saved project name that I create in my music workstation (Ableton Live) so that I can always match an audio file to its original project where I created that music. No matter how many years later. It has been a life saver more than once! 
(This can obviously also be applied to any digital audio workstation or program, not just Ableton Live)

This completes my very simple guide to using Milanote as a collaboration tool for your work. I hope this information could be of some help to you and to your future collaborations with other artists. We have wonderful tools available to us now that can use to facilitate the organization of our work so that we can focus on what really matters: creating world-changing ideas and inspiring and uplifting art.    

Davidson Jaconello is a dancer and sound designer for dance and theater. Since 2007 he has been a professional ballet and contemporary dancer in countries around the world as well as composing and designing sound and music for dance and theater productions His focus is on collaboration with his fellow creators as well as the pursuit of simplicity. He has created sound for companies around the world including Netherlands Dance Theater 2, Korzo Theater, Alberta Ballet, National Theater Mannheim, West Australian Ballet, Delattre Dance Company and Prague Chamber Ballet. Some of his collaborators include Jiří Pokorný, Ihsan Rustem, Stephen Delattre, Ivan Alboresi, Roberto Scafati, Raimondo Rebeck, and Yukichi Hattori. Davidson is a self-taught sound designer and composer. In 2018 he did a mentorship with world-renowned dance and film composer Dirk Haubrich (Jiří Kylián). He continues to focus on new creation methods to enhance visual experiences with sound.

This research was kindly funded by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media in the program
NEUSTART KULTUR, aid program DIS-TANZEN of the Dachverband Tanz Deutschland.