Discussing Boundaries: Tips for Communication for the Gigging Musician

Boundary setting in relationships is a valuable skill for everyone, but it can be especially beneficial to artists and musicians who spend a lot of time around other people on tour, practicing, and who often work at home and have unusual schedules. Most people’s jobs are a distinct space from the rest of their lives. They spend all day at work, in the office, with their co-workers, go home to their families at night when the work is done, and hang out with their friends on weekends. But for artists, these lines are often blurred. We don’t work nine to five. We work as many hours as we need to to get the work done, in close quarters with collaborators who are also our friends and companions, and often at home or in other unconventional spaces like tour buses or studios. The stresses of such unorthodox lifestyles can be taxing on relationships, so being able to set effective boundaries is a key skill to sustaining the artistic lifestyle.

Here are some tips for setting effective and caring boundaries with family, friends, and collaborators:

Avoid universals and absolutes.

The best boundaries are flexible and specific. Try to avoid words like, “always,” and “never.” Make space for exceptions to your boundaries and request, specifically, how you would like exceptions to be addressed. Replace, “Never come into my workspace while I’m working,” with, “Please avoid coming into my workspace while I’m working. If you need me, please listen at the door to make sure I’m not in the middle of something important, knock, and ask if this is a good time.”

Be self aware.

Figure out what you need! If you find yourself feeling frustrated, snapping at someone in your life, or complaining about them to your other friends, look inside and figure out what is bothering you. Then come up with a boundary that will make you feel better. If your bandmate keeps pressuring you to go out drinking before a show but you hate playing hung over, decide what your limits are and communicate them. You could say, “I’m totally down to party with you but only when we don’t have a show the next day. I really don’t like playing hung over.” If your partner keeps coming into your practice space to ask you questions they could Google the answers to, come up with a request. Try, “I love you and I’m always here to help you, but when I’m practicing, please respect my need to focus. Please don’t come ask me anything unless it’s urgent and you really can’t figure it out yourself.”

Don’t give ultimatums.

The difference between a boundary and an ultimatum is that, with an ultimatum, you are trying to manipulate the outcome. Ultimatums are unhealthy and can sound like this, “If you don’t call me every day while I’m on tour, I’ll break up with you.” If something is so important to you that the consequences of not getting it will be very severe or put the relationship at risk, there are still healthy ways to communicate this. You can say, “Talking every day while I’m on tour is extremely important to me. I’m hoping we can work together to make sure we have a chance to connect each day, otherwise I think we may need to reevaluate our relationship. I want to be with you, and I also want to make sure you know how important this is to me.” Be clear about your needs, but also be compassionate. Gently communicate that if your needs aren’t met, it’s ok, but you’ll need to take a fresh look at the situation, and are prepared to make changes if necessary.

Use, “Yes, and.”

When communicating with friends, family, co-workers etc, about your needs, try to avoid using the word, “but.” It’s much nicer to hear, “I really enjoy working with you and I’d like to work out better communication around rehearsal times,” than, “I like working with you but…”

Be specific.

Be as specific as you can with your requests.

Communicate compassionately.

When setting a boundary comes as a consequence of someone doing something that isn’t working for you, it can feel like criticism. The important thing to remember is that everyone’s boundaries are different and that the other person’s behavior likely wasn’t bad in and of itself, it just wasn’t in line with your needs. That’s why you’re communicating with them now! Instead of criticizing the other person or making them feel wrong, let them know you value them, and gently communicate your request.

Take care of yourself.

A huge part of being able to set boundaries is our own sense of self worth. We need to know we’re worth it, and put ourselves first. Only then can we bring the best versions of ourselves to the table of our relationships. So take care of your health, both physical and mental, get enough rest, take that bath, treat yourself to the things you love most in life, and cultivate the understanding that you’re worth fighting for.

Release control.

After all your careful and intentional communicating, it’s probable that some people in your life are going to react negatively to being asked to respect boundaries. This is the point at which you simply release attachment to other peoples’ feelings and the outcomes of your requests. Part of boundary setting is deciding for yourself what you’ll do if your needs aren’t met. This usually means walking away or limiting the nature of your relationship. If someone gets upset, don’t feed into their grab for attention. You can set the boundary for yourself that you’re not going to waste time arguing for your own respect. Release control over other people’s reactions, since you don’t have any, and decide how you’ll respond in a way that makes you feel good and doesn’t drain you.


Guest Post by Allie Mazon