People are often surprised to learn that my bass player for my band, Kill Matilda, is also my husband. I’ve seen and heard horror stories about bands breaking up and imploding because balancing your personal relationship dynamics with your band dynamics is next to impossible – personal issues become professional issues, personal time becomes work time, and so on and so forth. Through years of scrapping it out and relentless commitment both to our relationship and to our band, I’m pretty proud of what Mykel and I have, so I thought I’d throw out a few tips n’ tricks for all you love-bird musicians out there!
1. Realize that your personal relationship dynamics might not be the same as your band dynamics
Usually in most bands, each person has control over a certain aspect of making the band work. This could be divided up in various ways; one member might handle everything related to booking while another is in charge of songwriting, etc. In our band, Mykel is the brain when it comes to in-room jam space politics (he’s sort of our “music director”) as well as managing us in terms of “big picture” stuff. Me, I handle the day to day operations as well as things related to admin and booking. But since I’m the frontperson of the band and in our relationship I tend to take charge of details, it was hard at the beginning to ‘give up the reigns’ and not feel like I should be taking charge of the band just ’cause. This led to a lot of arguments and fighting between Mykel and I. He felt like his good ideas weren’t being heard and honored just because I had a need to make all the decisions. For my part, as a female rock musician I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about stepping back and letting my husband make all the more big picture decisions. It got to a point where I wanted to direct a music video for us, which had historically been something he’d taken the lead on. It ended up being a huge mess and we finally realized and agreed that a more clear separation of duties was needed, but also that both parties had to defer to the judgement of the other and back each other up. The problem was, when we were undermining each other it often spilled over into self-esteem issues in our relationship. When I wanted to suggest a course of action and Mykel didn’t feel it was best, I took it personally, like my husband thought I was stupid or something. If I was messing around in the jamspace or hadn’t practiced my parts and he gave me heck, it would often turn into a fight. It took a while to realize that who did what and what the expectations of each person were differed from our private relationship to our band one. I had to accept that Mykel was going to hold me accountable to come prepared to band practices even though he’s normally much more forgiving and accepting of my disorganized, absentminded nature. He had to let go a bit and trust that I would get all our booking done right despite how he knew me privately (as a fairly scatterbrained person) and learn NOT to interfere. Now, I make all decisions regarding bookings and administrative needs, and Mykel trusts me. I trust his judgement on strategy and promotion/marketing and we back each other up with trust and respect, rather than undermining one another.
2. Have a clear definition between “band time” and “personal time”
I feel like the key to what makes us so successful as a band is that Mykel and I just obsessively work on and talk about band stuff almost all the time. We are always brewing new ideas, scheming and planning over our breakfast, over beers, and on walks. But, sometimes it can get a little intense. When one person is really enthused about an idea and the other person disagrees, and you’re supposed to be having a nice day together, it can quickly turn into an argument. You can’t help but feel a little resentful that on your day off you’re now embroiled in a stupid argument and you can’t help but take it personally. This is why it’s so important to sometimes make an effort NOT to talk about the band. Remind each other that you’re having personal time and don’t forget to keep your relationship fresh by having interests OTHER than your band!
On the flip side, the ability to always be working together on band projects can help your band get ahead more quickly and be able to do more. If you play in a band with your significant other, yet you never communicate about band stuff in your private time, you SHOULD be! Toss ideas around over a meal or on a walk or drive. Two people in a relationship are more on the same brainwave than two people who only meet up once a week to jam. Take advantage of the ability to put your heads together and discuss big-picture ideas, strategy and keep each other accountable on tasks such as getting new merch printed, updating your website, etc.
3. Don’t be jealous
Everyone likes a dude (or lady) who plays awesome music. Playing in bars means a lot of drunken hitting-on happens. Let’s face it; a person who plays in a band is sexy. If you don’t like attention and you don’t like playing the role of someone who has a bit of mystique and a bit of a “character”. Our onstage personas are either extensions and exaggerations of ourselves or even sometimes full-on characters. Part of enjoying a show isn’t just the musical aspect – if all you have going for your is your sound, and your live show doesn’t add anything extra, why should anyone come to your show rather than just rock your CD? You come to a show for the live entertainment, and part of that is the role that each band member plays. This obviously can lead to some affectionate attention, and frankly it’s something I think people should encourage. Rock and roll is sexy and fun, capitalize on that! If your parnter plays in your band, it’s necessary to understand that being a sex symbol or possibly being a little flirty now and then is your JOB. There needs to be ground rules about what’s allowed or how you and your partner represent each other to the public – you may choose to keep your relationship secret or you may choose to be open about it. You may choose to be REALLY open about, haha! Make sure both parties are on the same page regarding what’s OK and what’s not OK when receiving attention. Remember that it’s normal for people to be hitting on your significant other – wouldn’t you?
Most importantly, make sure to respect the frontperson/supporting band member dynamic. Since I’m the lead of my band, and a lady, I tend to get a lot of attention at shows. Mykel, being a fellow and more in the background, doesn’t always get as many accolades. It’s important for me to make sure that he knows he’s my rock star just as much as I’m everybody else’s and that he’s not being left hauling all the gear while I hog all the fame and glory. Although this dynamic might not always apply to regular bands, if your partner is in your band that means that their girlfriend/boyfriend isn’t the one in the front row jumping and screaming and singing their songs. That’s something that other people in bands DO get, and it’s important to honor that person and make them feel as sexy and important to you! Likewise, if you’re playing the supporting role, you have to remember that your partner and frontperson is doing their job by soaking up all the attention and being the social butterfly that they so often are after your set. Remember that you’re just as important and that you’re a team!
4. Make private time for just the two of you
You’re always surrounded by fans, friends, or your bandmates, especially on tour. It can be easy to forget that apart from being bandmates you’re also a couple. Make sure your bandmates understand that you two need some alone time occasionally. Ditch out of a party early and chill together, or go for a drive in a new city you’re on tour in. Just don’t neglect the relationship while you’re on tour. Every person needs a different amount of “down time”, or “personal time” with their partner. Introverted people may need a lot more quiet, one-on-one time, while extroverts might need more time to socialize with others. Recognizing these differences in what the other person needs is an important key to avoiding stress and fighting on the road.
That’s all I can really think of right now! Playing with your significant other can be a blessing or a total nightmare. If you can stick through it and be committed to working out the kinks it’s definitely amazing to be able to tour and play shows without having to be separated from your partner all the time. We love it! ❤