Collaborating: The do’s and don’ts of dual relationships

Musicians' Assistance Program

Volume 115, No. 2February, 2015

Siena Shundi, LCSW-R
Siena Shundi, LCSW-R

Siena Shundi, LCSW-R

Collaboration is the bread and butter of being a musician. It’s nearly impossible – and not advisable – to work alone, most of the time. Many collaborations become a significant source of creativity and growth. So who do you partner up with? Many times it’s who you know, meaning an acquaintance or a friend. You start a band with an old buddy and his buddy. You start writing with a co-worker. Or maybe you began a partnership for a project with a woman who showed interest in your work and has the business experience (and skills) to back up your ideas. Then you two become friends. Maybe it gets romantic. Then it doesn’t work out. What do you do? What if the friend you made is suddenly not tending to the work? Or what if you want to leave a band but your best friend is the leader? The reality is that collaborating in the music business is really about working on your relationships. Sometimes collaborating with someone you know or basing a collaboration on matched personalities can be a real resource. Today, I’ll discuss some key points to navigate these relationships so that you can strengthen your connections while preserving the music!

couple playing music guitar kitchen xavierarnau istock

Photo: XavierArnau via

Dual relationships

Relationships come in all shapes and sizes. We have good friends, work friends, acquaintances, bosses, neighbors, roommates, family, lovers, children…and so on. Whenever we have conflict in a relationship, we can look to the structure of that relationship for how to approach it. Imagine that you and your brother are in a fight. Let’s say you love your brother and believe in being close, so if there is a rift, you take the time to think about what he could be feeling and find a way to tell him that you’re frustrated because you care. But things can get messier if you’re also collaborating with your brother on a creative project and you hit rough waters. How do you focus on hammering out the details of a music deadline with your brother if you also need the time to confront him about his drinking?


The key to managing dual relationships is to first identify that you have more than one relationship with a collaborator. Sometimes it’s obvious, like when you are writing an album with your girlfriend. Other times you may not realize it, but your expectations with a collaborator have changed over the course of the work relationship as you’ve socialized more together. Let’s say you expect your friend to work more on the business side of your project – but he’s not! Be honest with yourself. Remind yourself, “This person is a friend and a business partner,” or “This person is my boss and my old friend.”

Create goals

Once you are clear about the boundaries, each of you can start looking at your expectations and where you might be mixing them up. Let’s say your boyfriend is also your music collaborator, and he’s making major decisions without telling you first. Here you are going to need to get clear about what could be going on in your personal relationship separately from what you need on the business side of the relationship. Otherwise you could be making business decisions based on emotions and not an actual business plan!

Communicate, communicate, communicate!

Collaborating is all about communicating. Dual relationships are no exception. Waiting too long to leave a band because you are friends with the lead singer, and then quitting without any kind of notice with the hopes that the friendship will outlast the band, doesn’t bode well for your friendship or your professional reputation. If your mentor invites you to write with him but expects you to drop everything you are doing (and you can’t), you should reconsider and bow out – but don’t forget to communicate! Tell him the meaning of your relationship with him and your limitations. Err on the side of over-communicating rather than under-communicating. It’s better that you make it clear if your collaborator isn’t living up to the commitment he made to begin with. Don’t wait until it falls apart – because then you might fall apart, too!

Bottom line: communication takes courage, but dual relationships don’t have to be complicated. They can actually be a real support in your life. It just takes extra special energy to reinforce each other in a dual relationship, but it’s worth it!

If you’d like to share any stories about how you collaborated musically with siblings, friends, bosses or any other life partners, e-mail

The office of the Musicians’ Assistance Program is your one-stop shop for musicians’ health. We offer counseling – both one-on-one and in groups – as well as information on all kinds of social services, including health insurance, food stamps and more. All services are free to Local 802 members. Contact us at or (212) 397-4802.