January 19, 2018

by pheek

cover photo by Emma Simpson

It’s interesting that somehow, music making has become a competition. If you think about competition in music and take the time to really examine this viewpoint objectively, this trend seems quite ironic. Before I debunk this common musical syndrome I often see in people I work with, I’d like to explain where I think it comes from.

One of the most common pitfalls of music making is comparing yourself to others. This is one of the most self-destructive things that can happen to a musician, but it’s so common that I sometimes feel like I need to de-brainwash people when they sit down with me to work on music.

Why comparing yourself is pointless.

Artists you’re comparing yourself with aren’t in the same category as you are. I’m not even talking about talent here, or gear; I’m talking about goals and needs. Similarly, the people who are usually using as your references for comparison were once in your shoes, but have evolved from there and are probably now making a living from music. Turning your hobby to a job requires huge changes to your music making process because you’re then dipping your toes in the business side of music, where your decisions are now in part based upon how it can generate some sort of “gain” for your career; financial or otherwise.  In other words, if you were in a car race, it would be like comparing your Jetta to a Ferrari driven by a pro driver.

I often hear this:

“I see this guy/girl making a track I can easily do but still I can’t get bookings or signed to labels.”

The truth is, it doesn’t work that way. You’re not less good or less qualified than him – you just don’t have the network he/she has.

You are comparing yourself to others because you have specific goals and needs you want to achieve. This is what you need to know.   

Your goals.

Are you aware of what your goals are? Knowing what you’re chasing will be a very helpful in terms of what exactly you need to do to achieve them. Some examples of goals in music might be:

  • Recognition: You want to be seen as someone talented for what you do and you feel that if you prove that you have skills, this will come by itself.
  • Gigs, bookings, money: Some people believe if they don’t have gigs, it means their music isn’t good or there’s something not good going on.
  • Be part of a community: If your music is good enough, you’ll be accepted and seen as important.

Your needs can be satisfied in many others ways and falling victim to musical competition by believing you’re behind might actually be the wrong way to think about it. Are you really behind others? or are you just in a different position?

Since I’m not alien to that feeling myself, I’ve often battled my inner dialogue about the competitive aspects of being a musician. I came up with a very solid way to calm myself down by reminding myself of the following points:

  • Your tastes > technical skills. No matter where you stand in terms of what you know, your tastes will always be your primary sense to help you find good ideas. Great songs are amazing because of the content they have; they are rarely good for their technical bravado. Sometimes, I find that overly produced music sounds cold and soulless. If you have great ideas, you can find people or resources online to help you consolidate it into something polished.
  • Distractions are disruptive. If your eyes and ears are looking/listening some place other than your music and the music you love, you have lost your focus. Spending time on magazines and social media make you lose track of what you’re doing. I’d rather be in my bubble until a song/album is completed than be distracted by the noise and lose my flow. For example, seeing your friends be signed a label or playing an event while you aren’t doesn’t mean anything at all; the good side of something like this is that your free time can be used in creating more music.
  • Is your network solid? Do you have supportive friends for what you do? Many people end up to having to change their “listening circle” and decide who they share their music with. If you understand that each time you send your music to X, he always bring you down, it’s definitely not someone reliable. Pick people who want to listen to your music, who have the same tastes as you do and give them feedback too.
  • How many projects do you have on the go? Crucial point here. I always encourage people to try to make music everyday, start many, many new projects and then surf around them to find the ones that are working best to push forward. It’s more important to get things done than for them all to be perfect.

The ego that loves to let itself drift into competition, once pushed aside, has a lot of room for creativity. But you must learn to understand when the ego takes over.


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