When it comes to sustaining a serious music career, nothing matches the power of an artist focusing on making the best work they can day in, day out, year after year. But there are times when we miss opportunities for our work by ignoring the non-musical aspects of our careers. This can vary from DIY show booking or pitching music to blogs, playlists, and radio stations. One important asset that musicians should be paying more attention to is collaborations with non-musical artists.
Bringing your music to life
As musicians, we specialize in a narrow set of skills that allow us to create, record, produce, and/or perform music. Most of us are understandably obsessed with constantly improving these musical skills. Yet, we must understand that the many roles music plays in our world often transcend the medium of music itself. Teaming up with non-musical artists can breathe life into our music and place it in new contexts.
Filmmakers, dancers, poets, painters, illustrators, sculptors, actors, writers––these are artists that can add something valuable and unique to your music. And while what we do as musicians seems to be a world apart from interpretive dancing or staging a scene for a film, we’re all on the same page when it comes to creative exploration.
How to team up with a non-musical creative
Just like in music, every non-musical collaboration is different. Teaming up with an artist could be as simple as having a conversation with one of your creative friends. Or, it might require a good amount of communication and research work on your end. But no matter how you approach collaboration, it’s important to remember that, like music, what an artist brings to the table is valuable, so don’t ask or expect anything for free.
Not every potential collaboration is bound to be a good fit. This applies to not only your music but also the artists you’re considering working with. To gauge how well a collaboration would potentially work, talk about both of your goals, visions, and expectations. You might find that your needs and wants don’t line up, or that it’s a great match.
All this said, there are some tricky parts to collaborating with non-musical artists. As musicians, it’s natural for us to want to be picky when it comes to the way our music sounds. Many of us go to great lengths to get our music to sound exactly how we want it to. But the second we entrust our music with a collaborator, it’s out of our hands. We have every right to shape our work exactly how we want to when we work alone. However, that all changes when we enlist a non-musical creator to work with our music. Whether it’s an artist helping to shape your live show or a videographer using your song for a project, you have to embrace boundaries and patience in your work together. This is another reason to talk about goals and expectations when you first consider working with someone.
If an artist has asked for your feedback, feel free to give it. But if they haven’t, it’s healthy to respect boundaries and give them space. Depending on how your collaboration works, such as if you’re hiring someone outright, an artist might give you chances to share your thoughts and ask for specific ideas to help shape the project. If this is the case, aim to be as respectful and realistic as possible about your needs and ideas.
How non-musical creatives are helping musicians
Creatives that don’t play music can help us carve out visual identities for our projects, transform our live shows into unforgettable experiences, and set our music to new surreal and powerful contexts. What are your short-term goals as a musician? Whether it’s bringing more people to your shows or creating compelling digital assets featuring your work, someone out there can help. If you’re not sure where to begin or how non-musical creativity can play into your project, check out how creatives are helping some of the artists you admire for inspiration.
Music should be our main focus as musicians. However, we’ll increase our chances of connecting with audiences if we open our music up to be used in ways we don’t have access to through our limited skillsets.
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.