this shouldn't be awkward but I'm think I'm overthinking it
November 10, 2020 8:39 AM   Subscribe

I need to tell a longtime collaborator and very dear friend that we need to pick up the pace on a project we're working on. Complication: this is because I am starting a new project with a different collaborator, and I feel awkward about it for reasons that probably don't make sense rationally. Help me with verbiage?

All this year I have been working on an album-length musical collaboration recording re-arranged covers of our favorite songs with a close friend who I have collaborated with tons of times in the past. We started by doing it long-distance due to COVID lockdown, and then as things have opened up gradually in our state, we have been working together in his studio.

We were doing really well in the spring and summer because I had been laid off due to COVID and could dedicate multiple days a week to this project. September became complicated because Friend's brother went through a major mental health crisis and his father's cancer, previously in full remission, came back, and Friend has been commuting between his home in NYC to his folks' home upstate to help his mother with both issues.

In October, I landed a FT job locally, which meant we only had weekends to work on this project. Then, we lost two weekends - one because Friend had fallen behind on chores and other projects he was working on due to shuttling back and forth constantly to deal with his family's health situations and was at risk of getting in trouble with his band and missing deadlines for bill paying, and then this past weekend when he got knocked out with the stomach flu. We are nearly done with this project, but we still have one song that we need to finish recording, another song that needs to be mixed, and three more songs that need to be recorded. I was hoping we'd be done with all of this by this month, but Friend's family's health situation has thrown a wrench into the works because he can't do his producing/engineering/mixing thing when he's helping his mom. I'm not mad about this - shit happens, and his family is going through a tough time, his mother has a bad habit of burying her head in the sand when things get hard, and so Friend's life really kind of sucks right now as a result since much of the burden of everyone's care is falling on him.

We started this project in March and with all of the delays my hopes of getting this done by the end of 2020 are looking unlikely unless we start blitzing, which is are more than capable of doing, but his father's health in particular has a lot of moving pieces so I don't want to make any assumptions. He's also not a great scheduler - he puts things in his calendar but then doesn't look, he forgets what days we've scheduled, he sets alarms and ignores them, he loses his phone in his studio all the time, and he is prone to 11th hour cancellations because he forgets he's double-booked things. These are things that aggravated me in the past (we used to work together at the same music school), but I have come to expect and accept that this is the reality of working with him, and the positives outweigh the negatives. That said, if we don't start blitzing this is going to get harder and harder to manage, as in addition to my FT job I am a regular contributing writer to a regional arts publication with frequent deadlines, I have two podcasts coming up with the same pub, and, you know, the holidays (whatever they're gonna like like in the time of COVID).

The connundrum: ever since late last year, I have been in talks with another music producer to record and produce an album of original material - something that I have been dreaming of for years. We finally pulled the trigger on that late this summer, and have been working together on writing the material and preparing to record. Because I assumed my other project would be done by now, I wasn't worried, but now that Friend's family situation has been messing up our scheduling, this now looks like I am going to have to overlap both projects - which I REALLY was hoping to avoid, but is now basically inevitable.

The real conundrum (this is starting to feel like a Law & Order episode with all of the problems, minus the criminal element) is that I haven't told Friend about the record deal. (Calling it a record deal feels weird as the New Producer isn't with a label but is an independent producer, but it's technically a record deal.) I have no fucking clue why, but I keep putting off telling Friend about it. It really shouldn't be a big deal - Friend joined a band in the spring and has been recording with them too, and I'm super happy for him, and I have no reason to believe he wouldn't feel the same for me. Friend is a brilliant musician who has been gigging for over a decade, since he was 13 years old - he has been a great resource for me as I never really followed my dream of being a musician until my 30s and my musicianship has improved so much by partnering up with him.

But... I'm an awkward person, and there's some irrational part of my brain that feels like I am betraying Friend by working with another producer on an original record. Friend and I have been collaborating musically for nearly five years and this project is sort of the cumulation of many years of developing a rapport and a comfort with each other, and I worry that he'll feel bad that he's not a part of my first record of original music. In the back of my mind I keep wondering if perhaps I could ask New Producer if Friend can play on the record, but I'm still developing a working relationship with New Producer and don't want to overstep right off the bat so that's a future conversation that I'll need a script for.

BUT FOR NOW... how do I explain this to my friend? I basically need to convey to him that I am pursuing this opportunity with New Producer, I am still 100% committed to finishing our project, but now because of the overlap between the two projects I need for us to get really strict on scheduling and sticking to a schedule, perhaps changing the way we approach recording somehow to speed things up or something. But I keep putting off this conversation because I'm so worried that he will be betrayed and hurt by my defecting to New Producer to record my first original record. Also, should I do this via email, Zoom, a phone call, or in person (we are scheduled for a session this weekend)?

This is a large amount of text for a relatively small problem. I understand that. But I've been through a lot of shit in the last two years, mostly due to recovery from mental health issues, and I've lost a lot of friends in the process (due to a combo of people being shitty about me having to be in a mental health treatment center and the isolating nature of COVID in general), and Friend is one of the ones I've managed to hold on to, who has been totally supportive of me and my recovery and has gone above and beyond to show his support and make me feel safe, especially as I re-entered the world after 8 weeks of treatment. If I lost Friend (and by extension his girlfriend and his housemate, both of which are good friends of mine as well and also super supportive and kind) due to me doing this inelegantly or fucking it up somehow I would be heartbroken. I have anxiety, and while I've improved SO MUCH in the past year, I still struggle with my anxiety around losing friends due to my fear of being inept at verbal communication in non-work contexts.

Thanks and sorry for the length.
posted by nayantara to Human Relations (6 answers total)
Best answer: I think there are a few parts to tease apart here

- telling Friend about your new opportunity, which is linked to
- getting on a serious fast track schedule with Friend, which is linked to
- a lot of stuff going on in Friend's life, which is linked to
- fast approaching holidays, all other things in the world right now

And I think I would ask you two serious questions:

1. given what is up with Friend right now, do you think they would actually be able to blitz on this? It sounds to me like maybe not.
2. might it be possible (though obviously not optimal) to just sideline Friend project and work on your own thing. Like is there any reason it needs to be done by the end of 2020? (as an anxiety sufferer, this deadline sound like it could maybe be an anxiety thing, but maybe not)

Because given where we are in the world right now and given the things your Friend has going on, it might actually be a kindness to them to give them a few months "off" from trying to schedule and manage the things they have going on and then you can happily be working on your own project without bird dogging Friend through your album project.

If it were me I think I would talk about the new opportunity when you see Friend in person. I would explain how you see your priorities regarding this vs. the album you and Friend are working on. Give them an opportunity for input. See how you feel about it moving forward. I think Friend will be a Friend about it, and I think it's unlikely they will take this badly.
posted by jessamyn at 8:55 AM on November 10, 2020 [11 favorites]

Best answer: "Great news -- I'm getting the chance to realize my long-term goal of recording a new album of original material with Producer! I'm so excited about this, but I want to be sure you and I are both happy with how we wrap up Old Project.

I need to either a) blitz Old Project and get it wrapped up soon, so I can be sure to give the new material plenty of attention, or b) put Old Project on the back burner for the moment, with the intention of coming back to it [next year] (or whenever).

I'm totally happy to go either way, but give your situation with your dad, maybe b would be better for you? I want to be sure that project doesn't get lost long-term, because I really love it, and I love working with you!"

Something like that? Basically, the important pieces are 1) expressing your excitement w/ the new project, 2) expressing your excitement w/ the old project and Friend, and 3) letting your friend know you're flexible, and here are the ways you can work on the old project.

Agree w/ jessamyn -- I think your friend will be happy for you, and may very well be happy to take the opportunity to be off the hook for the moment. Congrats!
posted by nosila at 9:14 AM on November 10, 2020 [16 favorites]

Response by poster: So I already have a new development, which is New Producer thinks we can record the whole original album in 3 long one day sessions, which perhaps I can strategically time with Friend to coincide with weeks when he will have to do heavy lifting at home. (New Producer is using session musicians for my album whereas Friend and I have been recording all elements of all songs ourselves between my singing, the two of us tag teaming on bass and percussion (me) and guitar/piano (him), and then him doing all of the mixing, which is why each song we produce takes a bit of time.)

So then the question is how do I get over my anxiety/fear that Friend will feel hurt that I'm not recording my original with him, or is that a dumb fear?

Jessamyn you make a good point as well - he might be grateful to pump the breaks for 3 weeks while I do this other project so he can have this off his plate for a while.
posted by nayantara at 9:35 AM on November 10, 2020

Is there some reason you couldn’t go back to doing things asynchronously? Like, couldn’t you lay down your tracks and send them them to him so that he could record his and do the mixing? That way you’re not abandoning the project, but you’re also not letting it take up too much of your time.
posted by kevinbelt at 10:26 AM on November 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: That's also a good suggestion kevinbelt but unfortunately in the last few months my also COVID-laid off boyfriend has taken on a bunch of home improvement tasks, one of which has resulted in the temporary dismantling of my office, which is the only soundproofed room in the house. He took it on once I was able to safely go to Friend's studio to record and we thought the recording project would be done well before my boyfriend finishes fixing the room up and re-installing my soundproofing panels. Bad timing all around, alas.
posted by nayantara at 10:35 AM on November 10, 2020

I feel like you are ascribing a lot of sentimental value to your first album and having your friend on your first. Does friend have released albums?

I'm not musical so I don't know of it's normal to feel this way about a first album! :)

If it wasn't your first I think you might feel less awkward.
posted by freethefeet at 1:06 PM on November 10, 2020

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