If we’re being honest, we’ve all felt them. The gut wrenching, tear educing emotions that come with comparison. We open up Instagram, and instead of being excited for our friends, and taking in the beauty to be found in our uniqueness, we immediately start to ask ourselves how we stack up. And when you’re working towards a career in an industry literally built on “brand,” the comparison seems impossible to escape. In the music industry, you seemingly must have a perfect resume that barely fits on one page and know the right people, while also being a “good hang.” And social media’s highlight reel only shows the best of peers and competitors which often leaves us feeling like we are the only ones struggling to figure out who and where we are. So how can we build a healthy system that keeps us out of the dangers of comparison? I’ve been searching desperately for an answer to this question for the past year.
In a pretty vulnerable reflection of my senior year of college, I have realized that I’ve spent a ridiculous and unnecessary amount of energy running through endless questions that compare myself to everyone else. Do I look as good as she does? Did my work stand out like his? Why did she get offered that position? I thought I deserved it… but maybe I didn’t. On multiple occasions, I have found myself standing in rooms that I know many people would love to have the opportunity to stand in but instead of thinking “wow, how amazing; I get to be here”, I waste precious time looking at the other people in the room, wondering if they’re doing more than I am. Is their outfit more in style? Do they know more of the people here? How can I be more like them?
For artists and songwriters, brand is everything. Having a marketable concept surrounding your persona is how to build a following and ultimately sign a record or publishing deal. But what I wish I knew before entering into this crazy industry, is that every individual, from the marketing and promotions departments, to business affairs and legal counsel, are constantly building their “brand” and network. Every event, show, and party is really a networking event in which everyone is striving to make an impression that might get them to the next level. And when we see the best of everyone in these situations, we must remember a few crucial things.
Firstly, others are likely thinking the same thing about you. If you’re also showing off your best self, the person you’re envying may just be comparing themselves to you. Secondly, confidence makes you appear more attractive. Loving yourself guides people to a place where they will love you as well. And finally, every single person is on a completely unique path. You’re not running towards the same things, and your story will look entirely different. You may be just as qualified but it may not be your time. Support others in their victories. Instead of questioning your own abilities when someone else achieves greatness, feel excited for them and allow their success to motivate you towards yours. Remember that someone else’s accomplishment doesn’t diminish your own.
You may not get recognition right now. But believe me, people are watching. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve incorrectly assumed that I’ve been overlooked or that someone doesn’t like me only to find out that they silently admired my work. The piece of advice that I really took most to heart is “be available.” The “coolest” and most fun music related jobs that I’ve been given have come from waiting patiently and watching others “get to do cool things” before me. Being consistent with your work ethic, while sometimes tiring and discouraging is seen and noted and will lead to bigger and better things. Lexi Miller, who now works at ASCAP, notes that she “thought no one ever noticed her or the work” she did while at Belmont but after graduating, “tons of people” told her how impressive they thought she was and listed things they’d seen her do while in school.
Overall, I’ve learned that being genuine is always better than being “the best.” Being comfortable with yourself is the first step to gaining success.
I’ve learned that making a physical list of personal things that I’m grateful for is immensely helpful. This list could include character traits that you like about yourself, accomplishments that you’re proud of, or even the physical aspects of your person that you admire. This isn’t a resume or list that you need to share. It’s a way for you to re-center and re-focus on all the wonderful reasons that you are the way that you are. Listing them out on paper can make it easier to recognize your unique qualities and brush off the negative thoughts that others might be just a little better than you. I’ve also learned that something as simple as taking a step away from the industry and doing something you love can help you to refocus and gain the right perspective. This can look like running, painting, journaling, practicing yoga, or even going for a drive with your favorite songs blasting through the radio.
I often quote Dan Keen, former VP at ASCAP, and a professor at Belmont University and I think that his words are incredibly relevant here. He says that “success in the music business is like a plateau, not a mountain.” He suggests that success levels off, meaning that the “top” is a group of people, not one individual who has stepped on everyone else to gain and maintain his/her power. If you progress through life with a “mountain” mindset, you’ll eventually run out of people to step on, and there will be nowhere left to go. Your fall is then likely. We should bring others up with us, working as a team. We are created to have unique and individual dreams and paths. We aren’t meant to all look and act the same and in fact, life would be wildly boring if we were. When we combine our gifting and talents, the end result is more wonderful than we could have imagined. This mindset doesn’t allow for dangerous comparisons!
And don’t just take it from me:
I decided to ask around and see what my peers had to say about comparisons in the music business. I asked a few people if they had any coping mechanism in place to help themselves get away from unhealthy comparisons. Here’s what they had to say:
“I remind myself that success in this industry isn’t just based on who you know or your experience but how well you do your job. Being lucky doesn’t equate to longevity. Everyone has to pay their dues and work hard to get where they want to be, regardless of how many opportunities they’ve had. I also recognize that success doesn’t bring happiness, more so the other way around. As long as I’m inherently happy and love what I’m doing, I call that a success. Measuring successes against each other is futile as success at its core is subjective.” – Brenna Joslin, Belmont University graduate (BBA in Music Business)
“I take pictures of my art and look at it from afar. Take a break and come back to it later.” – Molly Yans, Massachusetts based Artist and Wheaten College graduate (Business and Management, and Visual Art)
“It usually comes through social media so I’ll step away from it for a while and focus on something else.” – Jonathan Sommer, Nashville based music photographer for Do615, The AMG, pursuing a degree in Music Business
“On the one hand, comparison is the thief of joy, but if you take the comparison and use it as a motivator to do better for yourself and serve the industry you say you love then it’s no longer competition of comparison but a conversation of small victories.” – Emiley Straw, Belmont University graduate (BBA in Music Business), Pitch Manager at Streaming Promotions
“I count my blessings. When I first started college, I found myself so jealous of people I knew who didn’t go to college and just started on their art journey… I was jealous of their ability to do whatever art they wanted, whenever they wanted. But now I count my blessings and remember… that my degree will open doors for me after graduation (I’m getting a marketing degree so that I don’t have to work for someone else, I can sell and market my own art). I’m also blessed with a husband who is providing for us while I finish my degree. I remind myself that not everyone has the opportunity to further their education. Lastly, I work on my art. Sometimes you need to turn off all the distractions, and get out of your head and do the thing you’re passionate about. Remind yourself why you are putting yourself through all this. Comparison be damned.” – Hannah Cole, Texas based Mixed Media Artist, pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Marketing