There’s no getting around the fact that being confined to an apartment or dorm room is a major challenge for a serious musician. Maintaining positive relationships with other musicians is tough enough, but throwing non-musicians into the mix like roommates and neighbors is something that makes writing music and practicing even more complicated. But look around for musicians who’ve thrived in similar challenging conditions, and you’ll find that lots of people manage to make great music while living in less-than-ideal spaces like apartments, basements, and dorm rooms. Here are three tips to help if you’re a musician working in a challenging living situation:
Rely on digital instrumentation and headphones
It’s unfair for musicians who play loud instruments like drums or saxophone, but the ability to plug in and hear digital instrumentation through headphones has helped countless musicians create a thriving musical practice from their homes, whether they’re night owls who like to work at 3AM or college students writing a couple of feet away from a roommate. An incredible amount of music writing, production, and practicing today can be achieved silently through headphones plugged into computers and keyboards. If you happen to play a loud instrument, this means you’ll probably have to make some major compromises and sacrifices at this point in your music career––for as long as you live in a small, crowded space, at least.
Reserve the loud stuff for business hours
If you can, try being loud only during business hours. The idea here is to give you space and freedom to write, practice, or record without interruption by being the most active when the non-musical people around you are at work or in class. You’re not going to please everyone, but sticking to singing and playing loud instruments Monday through Friday 9-5 will give you the best chance at avoiding aggravating your neighbors. It’s not ideal, but making music in tight, shared spaces requires some strategizing and finesse.
Negotiate with neighbors and roommates
Just about everyone on the planet loves music, but that doesn’t mean the people physically closest to you want to hear you making it all of the time. If you’re particularly concerned with keeping the peace with your neighbors, it’s probably worth contacting them directly to see if there are recurring times during the week when you can play and sing to your heart’s content without worrying about bugging anyone. This entails having open and honest discussions with roommates, family, or neighbors who live above, below, or beside you. If you make it clear that you want to respect their boundaries and needs, they’ll most likely be happy to accommodate you, but be prepared to make sacrifices and compromises.
If you’re set on being a serious musician, don’t let a challenging living situation stop you. Great music-making requires creativity and innovation, and those traits will go a long way in helping you be productive and active no matter where you live. Work with what you have now, and make moves to get the space and resources you need to be your best musical self later.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.