Sex, Drugs, & Nights Alone: Inside The Dating Lives Of Touring Musicians

Alissa Musto, a 23-year-old folk singer from Boston, doesn’t use Tinder when she’s touring. She doesn’t need to. “If you’re a performer on stage, people are going to flock to you,” Musto told Refinery29. “Online dating is the highlight reel. But when people see you performing, that’s your best self right here — you look good, you’re funny, you’re in your element. That’s the best advertising you can do.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Musto has met most of her boyfriends while performing.
For the past few years, Musto has been locked into the rigorous, nomadic lifestyle of a full-time musician. She’s toured Alaska, she’s shuttled between small New England towns, she’s signed months-long cruise contracts. When the rest of us are ending our 9 to 5 (or, more realistically, 7) jobs, Musto’s job is just beginning. The combination of a draining schedule and a competitive, demanding career means one thing: Musto — along with many other working musicians — have unusual dating lives that come with specific challenges and quirks.
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In A Star is Born, out October 5, we saw some of those specific quirks play out to the swelling sounds of a song the two musicians in love (Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga) created. Did A Star is Born get it right? We spoke to seven musicians in various stages of their careers on the joys and challenges of finding love on the road – and the “reality TV moments,” as Musto calls them, that happen along the way. “The stereotypes of the music industry are true. If that’s what you want to do — hooking up, getting high — that’s totally a plausible option,” Musto said.
Our conversation includes Lzzy Hale, the lead-singer and co-founder of the hard rock band Halestorm; Cecily, a pop-soul singer based in Washington, D.C.; Olivia Brownlee, a guitarist who left her wild L.A. days behind for Spokane; Madelyn Victoria, a country singer based in Texas; Heidi Vanderlee, a cellist in a female-fronted pop punk band Early Riser; Brianne Berkson and Miguel Gluckstern, an engaged couple who formed the duo BriGuel after meeting in 2016; and Alissa Musto.

On flings:

Olivia Brownlee: “I had a lot of sex and rock and roll in L.A. — in a healthy way. But I would swipe left on guys who put guitars on their picture. Guitar was my whole day and most of my life. I was interested in talking to them about plastic or aerodynamics. Let’s talk about anything but music.”
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Lzzy Hale: “If I meet someone that I click with and am attracted to, it’s always fun to take that a little further, considering I’m never going to meet them again. We have a song on our new record called ‘Do Not Disturb.’ I start the song out with my icebreaker, which is just being honest with somebody and saying, ‘I think we should make out.’ Or I’ll say something like, ‘I gotta get up and get on a plane to another country. If this is going to happen, it’s happening right now.’ I have a pretty good success rate. And that’s not me bragging.”
Alissa Musto: “There are a lot of flings. The flings have an unspoken expiration date. It's not realistic right now to have some serious commitment. Though it really does suck when you connect with someone, and you realise you’re about to look at contracts that send you out of the country for 20 months.”
On the perils of dating other musicians:
Cecily: “I had this unofficial thing with a touring musician for two years. Every time he’d come to town we’d meet up. I always wanted it to be more, but I felt like I couldn’t ask that of him. I felt unappreciated. It was impossible not to be jealous. I was always wondering if he had girls in lots of cities. I’d find myself all on his Instagram wondering who’s tagging him in pictures, to the point where I was like — you gotta stop this.”
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Olivia Brownlee: ”It’s so hard, dude — to see your partner go to such heights while you're still in the muck. You're living a house where you have every opportunity to compare yourself. It’s a frying pan. I really envied his business acumen. He envied my talent. It got messy, at times. It got ugly. To make it work, two musicians have to be equally yoked in skill, communication, and motivation.”
Lzzy Hale: I used to date a lot of band people. They would get jealous not only of the fact that there were a lot of people flirting with me, but also that my band was successful and theirs wasn’t.”

On the joys of dating other musicians:

Lzzy Hale: Being with a musician helps – it’s like, you totally get what's going on right now. We stay up till 4 am and geek out over a record. It’s amazing. I don’t know if I was ever destined to date a lawyer.”
Miguel Gluckstern: “[Brianne and I] love to work. Most of the time, that’s what we do. From 8 am to 1 am everyday. We’re together all the time. It’s like playing and learning. We’re very lucky.”
Heidi Vanderlee: “He understands that if I just drove six hours and we ate dinner at WaWa at 2 a.m., I don't want to talk on the cell phone. Though things that that would qualify as competition have happened in my relationship. My band didn't get into a festival that we really wanted to play, and then he got in as a solo artist. I was a little sad. It was an ego hit. Then he asked, ‘Why don't you just play with me?’ The festival is in October and I’m going to play with him. I’m stoked.”
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On dating fans:

Olivia Brownlee: “The show is the worst place to meet people, especially if you have an onstage personality. Everybody who comes up to you is suspect to worshipping you. The fans will never have a chance with me.”
Lzzy Hale: “Being out on stage every night has given me the confidence to walk up to a complete stranger and say, ‘Hey, I think you're cool.’ The icebreaker is done for me because you are out on stage and you're inviting yourself to a lot of people all at once. Most people already get that idea before I even meet them. I definitely have a leg up in that situation.”
Alicia Musto: “Most of my long term boyfriends I’ve met while I was performing. Usually every time it happens, someone catches my eye, and I approach them. I’ll do something cheesy, maybe sing a song in their direction. In the beginning, my career is cool and they want to be a part of it. Then, at some point it clicks: ‘I met her while she was performing. Is she meeting other guys while she’s performing?’ I think they have a freakout moment. They become clingy, protective, overbearing. Not really understanding the whole culture of being a professional performer. When I’m on stage, I belong the audience. Jealousy has been the decline of so many relationships.”

On unwanted attention:

Brianne Berkson: “We had a show a couple months ago with 50 people. It was intimate and cool. After the show, even though it was clear we’re a duo – we’re engaged, I wear a ring – there were still some guys that approached me. It’s always uncomfortable, at least for me.”
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Miguel Gluckstern: “Once someone has a microphone, people get attracted. It’s always flattering, but we’re doing this together. I don’t pay too much attention to it. At this point, it’s not part of the story anymore.”
Madelyn Victoria: “I get good amount of guys who come over to the merch booth and hang around. To an extent, I’ll do the flirting back. It’s part of the job, a bit. After the flirtation, I’ll get a message on FB. Sometimes, it’ll get a little creepy.”
How a demanding schedule impacts dating:
Brianne Berkson: “In all of my past relationships, it was one or the other. Whenever I chose what I love, then the relationship faltered. In the other case, I would choose the relationship and I would be miserable. Thankfully, we’re both on the same path.”
Olivia Brownlee: “I didn't have the bandwidth to fit a committed relationship in L.A. into my schedule. It’s like having a dog.”
Cecily: “Before I met my husband, I dated another guy shortly. We really clicked. Then, he started being kind of distant. He FaceTimed me and said, ‘You're an artist. You're going to be really big. You're going to be touring, you're going to be busy. I'm ready to settle down, get married, buy a house.’ I thought he was lying to me and using this an excuse. But now, he’s married, has a kid, has a house. He knew what he wanted and I knew what I wanted. He was right — it didn’t fit. I’m really about my career.”
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Madelyn Victoria: ”I really have not been in any real relationship for seven years. Usually, I start talking to a guy and then, they see what my schedule is like. Weekends I'm busy, during the week I'm busy. At the end of the day, they don't want that. The majority of people want something set, something they are familiar with. If it’s something they're not familiar, they slowly back up.”

On settling down, motherhood:

Olivia Brownlee: “Until recently, I’ve been a career musician. But I didn’t find the circumstances in L.A. conducive to a stable relationship, which is something I’ve begun to want in the second half of my 30’s. It’s influenced how I conduct my business, my goals, and where I’ve decided to land while I transition. I’ve been known to resent my ovaries having such an irrefutable power over my decisions. I don't even want to go into a clinic, I'm depressed about what they might tell me.”
Brianne Berkson: “I had given up. I said I would focus on my career and be single. All of my friends would have kids, but that’s not going to happen for me. Then, two to three months later, I met Miguel.”
Cecily: “If you’re a frontwoman, taking maternity leave is hard. I know a lot of musicians who were growing and growing, and then they either had a kid and lost momentum. Being an artist is an inherently selfish lifestyle — so much of what you do is focused on yourself. You are your own business. Once I have a kid, my perspective has to shift. I’m not ready for that.”
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Alissa Musto: “At this point in my life, I’m 23. I have so much that I want to do. The boyfriend will be the one to go before the career. But I know that day will come. Either that person will come or that time will come around. For now, I’m having a good time and enjoying the fact that don't have anyone who’s holding me back.”

On what makes the ideal musicians’ mate:

Lzzy Hale: “I have a fantastic situation, personally. I’ve been with the same person for over a decade. He’s also extremely supportive of my attraction to both men and women. It’s been fantastic to have someone to share stories with. There is no jealousy between me and my partner because our history far outweighs any sexual tryst we may have.”
Cecily: “As a female musician, you really have to be with someone who's not jealous and who trusts you completely. It’s not just about the touring and being away from home. [My husband] has to stand there and watch me hug people, smile with people, have convos with fans for maybe even an hour. There’s gonna be people that try to flirt with me. That’s how people are. You really have to be with someone who understands that and doesn't feel threatened.”

On getting song inspiration from your partner:

Brianne Berkson: “My songs before were all so sad.”
Cecily: “I write songs about my husband all the time. They aren’t for him. They’re about him. There is one song on the new album that's about this musician that I dated, but he wouldn’t have known it was about him.”
Heidi Vanderlee: “[My boyfriend] had one song where with lyrics that made it sound like the song was about me: ‘My baby doesn't like when I come home late at night.’ It was actually about his cat.”
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