You make music because you're passionate about it. You wouldn't be reading this otherwise. But for many, making music can be a lonely road. And it takes a mountain of passion to carry the heavy load of learning music theory, composition, production, arrangement, lyric writing, instrument performance, mixing, mastering, and the myriad of other aspects that need to be handled in order to make great music that finds an audience.
This is where collaborators come in. It may be unrealistic to try to conquer all of those domains on your own. The goal here is to share them with a teammate, so you can offload some domains in order to better focus on others. Or maybe you already do just about everything, but you just need another person's input to carry your ideas forward when you run out of inspiration, and to give you early drafts to improve on so you're not always staring at a blank session in your DAW, wondering where to begin.
Unfortunately, good musical partners can be hard to find. And if you struggle with this, then today's topic is written specifically for you.
Traits to Look for in a Partner
- If you are going to partner as a duo or start a band with another person, you need to have common musical interests. If you're all about future bass and he only has ears for metal, it's just not going to work out.
- You need to have complementary skill-sets. If you're great at production but are a poor singer and lyricist, then aim for a partner that's strong as a singer and lyricist. You're more likely to find a great partner if you can admit to yourself and others the areas you lack. Also, you'll work better together if you're not butting heads, each angling for dominance over the same domain.
- You need to find someone with dreams as big as yours. If you want to be touring in three years and she doesn't think she'll ever want to leave her job, it's better to keep looking.
- Make sure your partner is someone you actually like. You need to be able to agree while collaborating. But more than that, you really don't want to enter an arrangement like this with someone you could never be friends with. After all, if this goes well, you'll be spending a lot of time together.
- You want a partner that can compromise. If it's his way or the highway, you'll feel stifled and wish you were doing something else.
- You also want a partner that challenges you. You need more than a bandmate that tells you everything you do is golden and can't be improved in any way. A good partner can identify the areas you need to improve and can let you know in a way that doesn't feel like a personal attack.
- Make sure your partner has enough time to work on music with you. It doesn't matter how much she loves the project if she can never make time to work.
- Unless you're equally technically-minded and both have lots of gear, you probably won't be able to make this work long-distance. And if one of you is driving to the other to make music, it really helps when it's a short drive. Look close to home.
- You may not be able to find someone significantly more talented and experienced than you are that's willing to work with you. But also make sure that you don't partner up with someone that's just not at your level yet. You need to be able to work, not exercise endless patience teaching and coaching.
- It's always convenient when you and your partner use the same tools. It can be tricky if one of you uses PC and the other Mac. And it can be even harder if you use different DAWs, different plugins, and different instruments. You and your partner may not perfectly match in tools, but if you can compromise on which tools both of you will use together, working together becomes a lot easier.
Places to Find a Partner
- Consider meeting up with local groups focused on exactly what you do. If you produce music, MeetUp.com probably has a group or two of music producers in your area. If there aren't any groups near you, consider creating one. Every group needs someone to start it.
- There may be other groups in your area. Maybe your city has a group for giving songwriting critiques to each other, or a hobbyist club for synthesizer lovers, and these may not be represented on MeetUp. Google is your friend.
- If you're taking music or production lessons, you can always ask your teacher if he or she knows anyone. There may be a relationship there waiting to happen.
- Don't be afraid to ask your friends, neighbors, and co-workers. They know a lot of people you don't. Some might not know that you're looking. Some might not even know that you're a musician.
- BandMix.com may have archaic options for genres and instruments, but it's powerful because so many people use it. If you're not familiar with it, it's basically a dating website for musicians: you can find profiles like "guitarist seeking band" and "band seeking vocalist," etc. You have to be a paid subscriber in order to message other people, but some paid members might message you if you have a free account. That said, finding a good musical collaborator is worth paying for.
- Although BandMix is probably the most widely used in your area, a Google search may reveal other websites designed for matching musicians with each other. Even if a site is sparsely used, it doesn't hurt to make a profile for future people to find. You never know when the perfect partner will start looking.
- Craigslist has its uses. Be wary of anything that seems fishy, but there may be great opportunities for you there also.
- There may be a Subreddit for musicians in your area. Or you may find people in your area within larger Subreddits for music production, songwriting, or even for your DAW.
- Consider hanging out at open mics near where you live, even if your music isn't the type that can be performed at an open mic. Every person you see perform is sufficiently skilled and committed to play in front of an audience, but is not so successful to be making a career out of music yet. (If she was, she wouldn't be performing at an open mic.) This can be the perfect way to meet someone working but not yet succeeding, which can be a level playing field. If the culture of one open mic doesn't work for you, try another. OpenMikes.org has info on open mics all across the United States. If you live in the US, it may have information about an open mic near you. Other sites may track this in your area too.
- If you're still in school, take advantage of your close proximity to so many other people. Find out if there are clubs related to music, or see if you can take music-related classes to meet people. Or just ask the music teachers if they know anyone that wants to be in a band.
- Consider any other places musicians might congregate. Small music festivals. Open houses at recording studios. Concerts. Battle of the Bands. Even places like Guitar Center. Anywhere you suspect musicians might be found, go there and be found yourself. And don't be shy about meeting people and being the first to make a connection.
These options may seem like a lot of work. They are. It takes a great profile on BandMix to attract the kind of attention you're looking for. And you may have to give your phone number to a lot of new musicians you meet before even one contacts you. But don't give up. It's a numbers game, and each rejection just means you're one person closer to finding your ideal collaborator.
Working on Yourself
Be willing to be flexible. Maybe the perfect partner requires each of you to bend a little bit on genre. Maybe that mismatch of genres is exactly what's needed to help you make unique music that people want to hear. Don't say no to potential collaborators for reasons that aren't actually a deal-breaker for you.
If you're hoping to find a great partner, you need to become the great partner somebody else needs. It's just like dating in this regard. Of course, you want to smell nice, act nice, show up when you say you will, and not have significant problems with drugs or other dependency issues. But more than that, you need to be skilled. Work at your craft, staying sharp and always improving. You need to make yourself talented enough that someone wants to collaborate with you. You need to be quality enough that a musician would be excited to find you.
Also, you can't wait to make music until after you find someone. If you're not making music now and don't have anything that can show what you can do, nobody is likely to believe you're as talented or passionate as you say you are. And the vast majority of people saying "I'm going to work really hard and learn really fast!" just aren't going to follow through. You wouldn't wait to exercise and get a haircut until after you're in a dating relationship, would you? Of course not. You probably need to look good to find people interested in dating you to begin with. It's the same with music. Invest in yourself so working with you looks like an attractive proposition to others.
However, when you find one potential partner, you don't need to stop looking, and you don't need to tell other interested musicians, "Sorry, I'm taken." You don't have to be a musical monogamist, especially since you can never know which musicians will choose to show up, much less be the teammate that perfectly gels with your musical tastes, your personality, and your style of collaboration.
And a lot of musicians won't show up, even when they tell you they really want to meet you and really want to work. Something about being creative correlates with being a flake. I wish it wasn't so, but it is. Just choose not to get discouraged and to not give up.
Also, it's a great idea to make music now without a partner, because you don't know how long it will be until you find that perfect partner. Maybe she'll show up in a couple of days, or maybe it will be a couple of years. It would be a shame to wait several years while making no progress, especially if your skills decay during that time, or you haven't yet made the music that will interest a potential collaborator. Put yourself out there, and never stop working at meeting someone. But also, continue working as if you don't expect to ever find a collaborator and don't need one. It's this combination of learned skill, work ethic, and confidence that will help you find someone as soon as you begin to feel like you're not looking.
Do You Really Need a Partner?
Consider if you really need someone. Partners can be amazing at filling roles you aren't good at filling, and they can occasionally be a great motivator, pushing you to quickly reach a deadline. But collaboration is hard. It can be slow. It can be frustrating when you don't agree. And it can be uncomfortable when neither of you has ideas. Even the most reliable people won't always be able to show up, and they won't always be at the top of their game when they do.
It's easy to fixate on finding a partner to be your bridge to success. It's easy to decide that this one out-of-reach component is the only thing needed to make your musical dreams come true. But if you look deep and have the courage to admit it, you already know that this isn't true. Nobody is going to bring success to you. You have to make success happen for yourself. A successful partnership is when both of you work to make success happen. It never works as a free-ride to either of you. You need to decide to earn success and commit yourself to the process whether or not you find a partner.
A partner can't teach you how to be a better producer if you're the producer, or a better songwriter if you're the songwriter. A partner can't map out your career for you. A partner can't teach you how to be productive, or how to manage your time. A partner can't do the work you need to do to become better at your craft. Those are all up to you, whether or not you have a partner. And if you're handling all those things on your own, do you really need a partner?
My Experience and Perspective
I sometimes feel lost in this too. For years, I couldn't find anyone to make music with, and I didn't realize I had to make music on my own in order to find someone. My skills were decaying and I was unhappy.
I awoke my passion for music and production, and I realized that if I was ever going to find someone, I needed to work hard at getting better first in order to find someone, not work hard once I've met him or her. I did this knowing in the back of my mind that I might never find a partner to collaborate with or form a band with. But even if that was true, I decided I loved music enough to go it alone.
Fortunately, I didn't need to. When I got creative with finding people using the above methods, I found loads of people. But many were flaky, or rude, or unmotivated. I found some that were reliable and friendly, but just not skilled enough to partner with, with dreams the same size as mine. I had to politely decline to work with them. That was a new concept for me. And I had to market myself really well to find quality people that were interested in working with me. A lot of promising partnerships didn't work out for reasons I'll never know. That's okay. I keep making music, and I don't let discouragement stop me from working.
As I write this, I'm casually courting four potential duos. I don't know which of them, if any, will produce great music, find an audience, and lead to a sustainable income as an artist. If I'm willing to show up for all of them, and if I have time for all of them, how much success we find will depend on luck and the other person. I can live with that.
And I'm not slowing down on my personal music. In fact, I'm more driven than ever in making music as a solo artist. And maybe it will be my solo music that makes me successful. Or working with a collaborator I haven't even met yet. I can't force the unknown to become known. But I can give all promising opportunities my best effort, continually working and growing as an artist along the way, comfortable that my best project could end up being my solo work.
And that's exactly what I recommend for you: give all promising opportunities your best effort, and continuously work at growing as an artist. That's the only way you'll have a shot at making it.
And warm up to the idea of working alone. It has advantages that collaborating doesn't. It takes a certain strength, but you can find that strength within you if you look for it. And whether or not you end up working alone, that strength will serve you.
Be willing to look for others. Be willing to make the first move, shake the first hand, write the first email, start the first group. But meanwhile, train and work as if you'll be a solo artist forever, overcoming your weaknesses and creating content despite working alone. If you stay at it long enough and if you work hard enough, you'll find success whether or not you find the perfect collaborator.