How to Meet Other Musicians Artistic collaborators are out there

The Rusty Cleavers, photo by Aaron Shay - Pyragraph

The Rusty Cleavers and accordionist Bellow Wing at a house show in Tacoma, Washington. Photo by Aaron J. Shay.

A few weeks ago, a young woman approached me at a gig. It was Make Music Day, and I was helping run a performance location in Seattle. She said that she was a singer, and she wanted to find people with whom to make music, but as an outsider to the music community she didn’t know where to begin. She found the task of trying to meet other musicians to be intimidating.

Let’s be fair: Who among us HASN’T felt that way at some point in their music experience? Even those among us within the community can feel like outsiders to another niche. When you’re a lone artist out on the lookout for collaborators, it can either feel like you have too many options and don’t know which direction to go in, or it can feel like the world is dead-set against you finding anyone who matches your criteria.

It’s about open mic nights. It’s about poetry readings. It’s about gallery showings, and also, yes, concerts.

I suppose that’s similar to how some people feel about dating, too. Well, looking for artistic collaborators is a completely different process.

As a person who’s fairly experienced, having been in a few long-term, committed bands, I think I have some knowledge to impart.

1a. Attend events in line with your interests.

C’mon, you knew I was gonna tell you to get out there and go to shows, but that’s not all that it’s about. Shows are just one avenue.

It’s about open mic nights. It’s about poetry readings. It’s about gallery showings, and also, yes, concerts. It’s about going out into the world, wherever other artists and musicians may be, and meeting them where they are looking to meet others. It’s about knowing yourself and exploring your interests, letting those interests become diverse, and letting those interests guide you to potential collaborators.

I mean, I guess that’s something in common with dating. But besides that, they’re completely different. Not even on the same page, besides requiring some of the same tools.

Here’s a helpful thing. When you introduce yourself to people, and they ask you about yourself, it helps to say, “I’m an artist.” You might not feel like an artist, especially at first, especially if you haven’t attained the level of achievement you have set for yourself. But still I encourage you: If you create art, for any reason, no matter what level of formal training you have, if you really want to create art, and if you are working on it consistently and rigorously, then you may call yourself an artist.

If it’s permission you are looking for, then consider it granted: You can call yourself an artist. If anyone takes issue with it, send ’em to me.

If you consider yourself an artist and identify yourself that way, it can lead to connections that might not have been formed otherwise.

Imagine, it’ll go just like this:

“Hi, my name is Person 1, I’m a highly influential business executive.”

“Hi, Person 1! My name is Person 2. I’m a musical artist.”

“Oh really? I was just talking to another musical artist named Person 3. They’re in the other room. Do you know each other?”

“Not yet, but I can tell that we’re gonna get a Grammy together. Would you be so kind as to introduce us?”

“Of course!”

End scene. Begin magic.

1b. Visit online communities in line with your interests.

Although this bears many similarities to the previous point, it needs to be said.

Perhaps you are a more antisocial person. Or perhaps you are interested in connecting with people around the world to see what’s going on beyond your bubble (hint: you should be very interested). In either case, find those places on the Internet that share your interests. Meet other minds online and exchange ideas. Long-distance collaboration can be difficult, but with the right parameters, it can also create some beautiful work.

Granted, people are more likely to be assholes online than in person, but anyone who’s Read The Comments already knows that. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you precious angel, I envy your innocence.

2. Be clear and honest about your needs and interests.

Okay, that sounds a lot like dating advice again. I guess I’m going to keep going with it? I mean, it still works, right? Rest assured, this is STILL not a dating advice essay. This is still just about finding collaborators and that’s IT.

You’re gonna meet a lot of folks out there. Some may be reliable, some may not. Some may respect you, some may not. Some artists you meet will be interested in serious, long-term commitments, and some will be more interested in casual play. Some will be interested in keeping their art a hobby, while others will dead-set on making it their sole focus in life.

The best way to find collaborators matching your interests is to know, first and foremost, what your interests are, and how you prioritize them. If there is an exceptional drummer you want to work with, but they won’t be able to commit fully to your project because of other projects and work, would that be okay? If this great cellist really wants to find a project that makes good money, is that in line with your desires?

It can be difficult to have these sorts of direct conversations about things that sit in the spaces between the intimate, the intricate, and the interpersonal. But these conversations must be had, if the collaborations are to be healthy and productive.

The process of making art is different for different people. Some prefer to make art alone, some prefer to work with a partner, and some prefer working in groups. Some prefer to profit from it, and some prefer to keep it purely personal. Some prefer to do it in complete privacy, and some relish the opportunity to do it in public. Making art is a beautiful, intimate, and wildly diverse experience.

Yes, I’m still talking about art, okay? This is still not a dating blog. I’m still specifically talking about art and finding other artists to collaborate with. Stick to the point.

3. It’s probably not a good idea to move in together as a band until you’ve spent a significant amount of time in each others’ company, you know each others’ habits well, and there is shared financial incentive to do so (although there are certainly people who have gotten along just fine, it’s just best to be on the safe side).

Okay, fine.

Finding artistic collaborators really can feel like trying to find romantic partners: it’s profoundly difficult and frustrating, right up until the point when isn’t.

Aaron J. Shay

About Aaron J. Shay

Aaron J. Shay  is a writer, performer, and musician from the Pacific Northwest. An active and independent recording artist, Shay has self- and co-produced 8 EPs since 2010, some for his own projects and some for his friends and collaborators. More recently, he has been active in theater, writing/producing two one-man singer-songwriter shows, and also serving as musical director for fringe productions. Shay currently lives in Seattle, WA, where he doesn’t mind the weather.

3 Comments

  1. […] with some friends. I decided to attend as many local shows as possible, to get to know people, get to know other bands, get to know the venues and the people that work in them. Those nights out were very valuable for […]

  2. Howlin' Hobbit on September 22, 2016 at 9:22 am

    great job, Aaron!

    • Aaron J. Shay on September 22, 2016 at 10:32 am

      Thank you, Hobbit! Glad to be of service.

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