9 Reasons to Collaborate Musically with Your Lover

Musical collaboration in action--Matt and Kim play a live show
Matt and Kim, living the dream! Image Credit: Drew de F Fawkes via Wikimedia Commons

By Shira Richman

Musical collaboration with your honey might be the missing ingredient in the most satiating iteration of your life. Musicians like Beyonce, Jay-Z, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, the couples in New Order, Arcade Fire and other earth-shatteringly good bands embody irresistible reasons to collaborate with your lover.

What about Ike and Tina, you may be asking. Or Sonny and Cher? Musical collaboration can be tricky. You may not think it’s worth risking your most central relationship for fame and fortune. Who will you eat dinner with when you and your lover disagree about how many times to repeat the chorus?

Sean Lennon describes the challenges of collaboration with a lover as “throwing yourself into the lion’s pit in a way because it’s exposing yourself to a lot of difficult emotional attachments and ego bruising and all that kind of stuff.” But that doesn’t scare him away. Ultimately, he finds profound satisfaction in collaborating musically with his lover and offers one of the most compelling reasons you should give it a go.

1. Spend quality time together

Early on, Sean Lennon found that making art was a way to spend quality time with his mother, Yoko. He finds that artistic collaboration offers the opportunity to connect intimately with someone. This was an impetus for forming The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger with his girlfriend Charlotte Kemp Muhl. When he started dating Muhl, who had a demanding modeling career, he discovered that writing and playing music together was not only exciting and rewarding, but also “a good way of guaranteeing that we would actually spend time together.”

2. Use the music project like therapy

We all know about some of the struggles that Beyonce and Jay-Z have survived. When infidelity came between them, each created an album in which the topic is covered. It makes sense that they would use an album as a medium to talk to each other, too. As Jay-Z put it, “we were using our art almost like a therapy session. And we started making music together.” While creating the album Everything Is Love, The Carters experienced some beautiful realizations. For instance, when Beyonce first listened to Jay-Z’s “713” lyrics about the first time they met, she hugged him and said, “Oh my God, you remember!”

3. Maximize complementarity

Often we are attracted to those who have qualities we lack. Combining the strengths of both members of a couple presents the potential to balance opposing aptitudes. Gloria Estefan identifies this is a bedrock of her decades-long musical collaboration with her husband, Emilio Estefan, through their band Miami Sound Machine. She marvels at Estefan’s energy while she is the one who can sit at the mixing board for hours, making adjustments so minute “that most people won’t hear but they’ll feel.”

4. Put honesty to good use

Many of us are more honest with our partners than with others, a trait that can be crucial in finetuning a creation. Alaina Moore of Tennis points out the importance of this dynamic in writing and producing music with her husband, Patrick Riley. “The fact of our being married and having a really close partnership allows us to be extremely forthright with our feedback. I can show Pat something, and he’ll just be like, no.” A deep respect for each other’s opinions prevents them from finding this frankness wounding, she explains. Instead, they are able to “shake it off and trust each other.”

5. Build on shared principles

Shared values are foundational to many a romantic relationship and can be a solid starting point for a purpose-driven music project. Odaymara Cuesta Rosseau and Olivia Prendes Riverón met and fell in love through their shared activism in Havana. They joined forces and formed the band, Krudas Cubensi, through which they use hip hop to promote queer power, body positivity, the beauty of blackness, and overall inclusivity. To put it in Prendes’ words, “the ideas of social justice, equality and resistance will always outpour on the chords and melodies of our songs.”

6. Sneak it in during odd times

Most bands need to have scheduled rehearsal times each week, but musical collaboration can be much more fluid for the romantically involved. For instance, Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, the couple at the center of Arcade Fire, find time like spare change in the corners of their parenting days. When their son was singing their song “You Don’t Deserve Love,” they asked where he learned it. He replied that he heard them playing it while he was falling asleep. They have also been known to record ambient sounds while out on a date, such as slot machines for the song “Put Your Money on Me.”

7. Inspire your children

When children are young, they might not notice all of the amazing things their parents do. This was the case with the two daughters of Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris of New Order. When one of their daughters required special physical care, Gilbert stayed at home with the girls. Ten years later, when she rejoined New Order, her daughters were keenly aware of how cool it was that their mother played guitar and keyboards in a band. It was at this point that the Gilbert-Morris daughters began writing songs, playing the piano, and forming their own bands.

8. Make time on the road homey

If every band member were to bring their dog on tour, it could be tricky. In Leroy’s case, though, it’s no problem. His parents are Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter of the music duo, Phantogram. When they’re on the road, so is he, and they all seem pretty pleased with the arrangement. “He keeps us happy; he keeps us less stressed,” Sarah says as Leroy lounges on her lap.

9. Maximize self-care

Of course, the lives of musicians can be grueling: sleeping away from home for months at a time, long drives between shows, bar food, lots of drinking, and late nights. Things are different when you have your lover on board. “The thing is when you’re on tour with your significant other, it’s not like you’re trying to go to the nightclub to get laid after your show,” says Kim of Matt and Kim. “The draw to go out to an after party if you’re not trying to do it is a lot less,” adds Matt. These two seem to have it down: save time and get sleep while still getting some.

Which of these reasons resonates most with you? What others would you suggest? Let us know by leaving a comment. To hear the results of our not-always-so-romantic musical collaboration, listen to some Divorce tunes available here.