Making music in a tiny space with another musician around
September 14, 2020 7:31 PM   Subscribe

I can’t write with my boyfriend around. We live in a small condo. We’re around each other most of the time. How can I make space for my own music?

I’m like this, exactly. I’ve only been able to write when living alone (or late at night when people have gone to bed. Can’t do that anymore because every minute of sleep is precious.)

My boyfriend’s a musician as well. Also a vinyl and audio gear freak who uses music to curate his mood (ie it’s on most of the time and he likes it best through a system he worked very hard to perfect). I don’t mind music being on, it’s not usually loud, but I can’t hear other people’s music and come up with stuff at the same time.

I need a good amount of quiet and privacy to feel free to fiddle around. I also don’t like doing stuff on the computer, I like to mess around on the guitar or piano. (I don’t care if he hears me singing, I just need space and time to feel things out if I’m actually trying to write a song without feeling observed or worrying about comments.) I can’t anticipate when I’m going to feel like being creative, either, it just comes on.

He said he’d be fine with turning music off if I said “I’m feeling creative” or whatever, but it doesn’t work like that for me, I need the quiet first. And I’m ok with music he puts on in the background, I don’t usually feel a need to complain. I just notice that it’s been ages since I’ve done anything. There might be other reasons for that, but I do know this is part of it.

What’s a fair way of working this out? I can ask him to wear headphones sometimes, it’s just I don’t even know when I’d want that.
posted by cotton dress sock to Human Relations (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Can you see if you can schedule some quiet time, when he uses headphones and you have a chance to work?
posted by sagc at 7:43 PM on September 14, 2020 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Ok, it’s actually my condo, and I can’t afford to rent a studio (not that I’d be doing that during a pandemic?).
posted by cotton dress sock at 7:53 PM on September 14, 2020

An electric or acoustic-electric guitar, a pocket guitar effects processor, and over-the-ear headphones.
posted by artdrectr at 8:02 PM on September 14, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is something a lot of creative people go through when they become parents and their time isn't their own and they're never alone. (It's been striking to me how much the pandemic lockdown is like having a new baby!) I think the best answer -- maybe the only answer -- is going to be one you don't want to hear: You have to create a practice for yourself. After my kids are in bed, I have a couple hours to myself, and my husband knows not to bother me (he either goes to bed early or reads a book); that's when I'm writing. At first that sucked; I was used to writing when it hit me. But I sat down and tried to write at the same time every evening, wrote some really bad bullshit, and eventually really began looking forward to the part of my day when the house got quiet and I had my alone time and over the course of a year, with three small noisy children, I cranked out a 700-page novel.

I would ask your boyfriend to either take a long outdoor walk for an hour a day (if that's feasible) so that you can be completely alone for an hour. Or I would choose an hour or two when he will wear headphones and you'll noodle around. Experiment with different times of the day. And yeah, at first you're going to be sitting there at the piano going "... I have no inspiration." So play some scales. Sing some ditties you like. And after a while, having that space and time to work at the same time every day (or every couple days) will start to feel more natural and it will get easier to create in that time.

My acting teacher (I'm taking acting classes, just because) is a huge advocate of using warm-ups and rituals to "open" that creative space for yourself, since you might have had a crap day or have other things on your mind, and creating a little warm-up ritual will help you get into the right mindset, if you do it consistently.

I was a "work when inspiration strikes" person for years, even when I worked creative jobs where I was on deadline, and it was totally fine -- until I had kids. And then I had to become disciplined and create a practice, which I was convinced was not for me and wouldn't work. And holy crap, I wish I'd created a practice 20 years ago. It took some time to get into it, but it has been the most fertile and reliably creative I have EVER been in my whole life, and the work is GOOD.

I'm just saying I totally understand if this seems counterintuitive or stifling, because it did to me, and I didn't do it until I was absolutely forced to because there was no other way to have time for myself and my work with children in the house. But I urge you to give it a try! I honestly wish I'd done it years and years before my children made it mandatory!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:03 PM on September 14, 2020 [30 favorites]

Best answer: Hmmm. Ok, idea: could you both have, say, three hours a day (let's say yours is in the morning until a coffee break, his is in the afternoon until a walk) that you could each have dedicated You-mode-time be the default in the space? And make a little ritual about it?

So, for your time it sounds like the main factors would be:
* BF either uses headphones or doesn't play music
* You have free reign of possible instruments
* BF agrees to not make comments (sounds harsh but like, ask for what you need!!)

And his might be:
* Plays exactly the records he needs to to curate his mood
* Anything else at all!!

I think what could make this work well is having it feel like a little ritual - a specific time of day, and maybe taking a break together to mark the end of that time (coffee or walk). I think this structure (or a variant) is nice because it gives you both license to ask for exactly what you want, no shortcuts -- like, it sounds like he *really* needs to be on board with your "no potential for random comments" thing for you to feel comfortable being creative.

And then there can be other compromise time, but this becomes an anchor to each of your days to do your version of Deep Work.

Just an idea!
posted by elephantsvanish at 8:03 PM on September 14, 2020 [8 favorites]

Best answer:
He said he’d be fine with turning music off if I said “I’m feeling creative” or whatever,

right, I'm sure he would, but he doesn't have automatic ownership of all the aural space except for when he's being generous to you, in your own home. you and he are both acting as though he does, and so any normal behavior from you is set up to require a concession or a gift from him. but it shouldn't.

the way to fix it would be to restart with an understanding that you each have equal time to control the sound. whether you alternate day by day or morning/afternoon depends on your work habits. if you want silence for four hours, you don't have to produce some kind of creative noise within that space to justify your ownership of the soundscape or whatever. it's just time when you can, not when you have to. and if now and then what you feel like doing with your sound-time is to tell him he can play some music if he feels like it because you're busy, that's fine.

but it doesn't matter how accommodating and kind he is; control over what goes in your ears half the time is yours because it's your right, not because you ask for it and are then obligated to do something worthwhile with it.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:45 AM on September 15, 2020 [10 favorites]

Best answer: In addition to the good advice about sharing the soundscape, ask him to invest in some headphones so he can keep his music, but give you some quiet to occupy creatively!

My wife and I both like listening to/making music, and to support this, we both have our own audio setups. We can create our own private space when needed by playing audio or white noise on individual headphones, or play things we both like through speakers. As a bonus, either of us can give the other privacy to talk on the phone/etc by listening to music on phones in the other room.

There is a lot of room to nerd out about high-quality headphones and headphones amps, if you’re into that sort of thing. Bluetooth headphones are also getting better. They have audio quality and latency compromises, but they’re very convenient. We both have Sennheiser cans for listening/monitoring, and Sony Bluetooth headsets for teleconferencing.
posted by Alterscape at 7:15 AM on September 15, 2020 [2 favorites]

10pm - 2am, said the old dude with a day job who raised kids.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:48 AM on September 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

I was once in a relationship with a partner who didn't like to hear music (yeah, I know). I couldn't afford what I would typically think of as a music rehearsal studio, but I stumbled across something else that worked: an after hours office.

If you know (or know someone who knows someone) who rents a small office space, those spaces are typically unused at night and may be available to you. Think sole-proprietors like acupuncturists or realtors. Obviously not great for a band, but for an acoustic guitar or a keyboard, they are perfectly adequate, quiet, and 100% distraction-free. Barter (cleaning?) or offer $10 or $20 for a couple hours on specific nights at their convenience.

Obviously there is a level of trust involved in the arrangement, but it's something to consider. I got a ton of songs out of it.

Similarly, I've worked day gigs in offices where no one works after hours--keeping an instrument under your desk and staying late is another road to free writing space if this wouldn't cause issues in your situation.
posted by quarterframer at 4:01 PM on September 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

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