Whether it’s a marriage or business partnership, relationships run the risk of becoming stale or even suffocating over time. Musical relationships like bands or songwriting partnerships are no exception. The excitement of making music with someone new is sure to fade over time, but that doesn’t mean every creative partnership is doomed to expire after a certain length of time––some of the world’s most influential bands and songwriting collaborators consist of relationships that span decades, after all.
All relationships require work and sacrifice to function, and the sort of attention needed to keep musical relationships civil is different from the work needed to keep things creatively fulfilling and challenging.
Identify unproductive habits and break them
Every musical partnership eventually moves into a network of repeating processes and habits. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless nothing about the way you work changes year after year. If you’ve become bored with the way you collaborate with other musicians, the first step toward change is to identify the habits you’ve formed over time, from the first things you do to write music down to the finishing touches you put on a completed song. This could be everything from one writer dominating an entire group of musicians to the instruments and tools you choose to initially write with. Instead of upending your process completely, try looking at what works best in your partnership and try transforming aspects of your work that are redundant and fruitless.
If breaking a habit feels odd and uncomfortable, that’s actually a good sign. Remember, if your collaborations have turned stale, a great deal of change is the only thing that can fix it. Let the possibility of failure be a part of your process because meaningful work can’t happen without it.
Change the context surrounding your process
Something like a set place or meeting time can shape the ways your musical collaborations function that are bigger than you might think. After you’ve made an effort to break bad habits, try moving the time and location where you write and rehearse. Nothing noticeable might happen, or there’s a possibility that the changes will bring out new ideas and energy in your work. Also, take a good look at your goals and the specific motivations behind your process. When you meet with collaborators, is it to specifically write songs for an album? If so, try focusing on removing expectations from the process and work towards simply feeling comfortable with each other. An environment fueled by pressure won’t yield nearly as good of results than a fun, honest, and low-key one will.
These tips will help your musical partnerships, but the biggest thing to remember is that every collaboration is unique and thrives under different conditions. Honesty, respect, forgiveness, modesty, openness––these attributes aren’t musical, but putting them at the forefront of your process will lay the groundwork for meaningful musical experiences to happen. Learning how you function in your unique partnerships will help show you how to creatively thrive.
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.