We do a ton of music equipment research here at Serious G.A.S.
And we LOVE IT! Not only because of YOU, our super song-forgin’ friends, but also because we genuinely dig music and the gear that makes it.
Throughout all this research, we often find ourselves watching live, or virtually online, some uber-skilled, insanely-impressive musical artists. Stars. Legends.
After being sonically washed in the flood of their musical excellence, it sometimes makes us feel…
Today we’d like to float up a much-needed reminder: stop comparing yourself to others!
Why? Oh… that’s easy. ‘Cause…
… you’re awesome. 😉
Worth vs. Skill
There’s a distinct difference between skill and worth.
Many of us have worked for decades to hone our skill at various instruments, and yet, if we’re honest, we would say we’ve still got a long way to go to say that we’ve mastered the instrument.
But none of that speaks to the worth of our person. Or the worth of pursuing those instruments and the passion for music.
Parents seem to know this intrinsically. Those of us with kids have all experienced babies playing instruments… badly.
Yet, we laughed and hugged and encouraged them, because it was the broadening of their inner horizons that mattered.
As we get older in life, more is expected of us. Unfortunately, that often means that as we try something new we are not supported as much as we were in our youth. Or we’re afraid to try anything new, lest we be seen as “being lame at something”.
If you’re new to an instrument, yet really feel the call to share your music with others… do it! Don’t let anyone else tell you “you’re not ready”, or “you’re not good enough.”
Sure, maybe your sixteenth notes are little uneven. Maybe your barre chords have the wrong fingering occasionally. Maybe you don’t always sing the note perfectly in pitch.
That doesn’t matter right now. What does matter is: do you feel called to do this?
Is this something you think about all the time and can’t get your mind off??
Do you feel most alive when you’re playing music??!
If so, play on, comrade!! Haters gonna hate. Let ’em. They have to live with the stress of their own disparaging spirit, not you.
Now, when your technique needs some work, definitely put in the effort to improve. It’ll show that you’re serious about the craft. And you’ll feel the satisfaction of a hurdle that’s overcome.
And don’t be afraid to study the greats. EXPECT that you’re gonna feel inept compared to the legends of music. That’s okay. Just learn from them, little by little, and know that you don’t HAVE to do what they do. Just learn what works for YOU from them, and keep moving.
This month, for example, I’ve taken in performances and lessons from:
- Steve Vai performing a piece at N.A.M.M. last month.
- Allan Holdsworth and Vinnie Colaiuta playing on Allan’s album “Secrets“.
- Tori Amos playing her compositions with piano parts that only she could think up.
- Jaco Pastorius playing bass for Joni Mitchell in film footage to celebrate her 75th birthday recently.
- Eddie Van Halen‘s guitar parts for “Take Me Back”
With all of these I was again floored by their technique and creativity.
But at the same time, I didn’t let the fact that I still have things I can learn keep me from spending all week recording a new tune I wrote recently.
Express your inner music. Work hard to bring it to life. Practice, practice, practice, knowing that it’s FUN.
And remember… it’s totally WORTH it.
An Audience For All
Here’s another reason why comparing yourself to others doesn’t make any sense: everybody likes different things.
An audience listening to one artist might hate another. Yet that other artist might be a better musician than the first!
Where’s the logic in that?? Well there IS no logic in that. It’s not about logic. It’s about preference, penchants and predilections – in other words, we all just like… what we like.
Thus, it’s important to recognize no matter how good your music is, there will be an audience that will hate it.
But the flip side of that is also true: no matter how bad your music is, there will be an audience who loves it.
Therefore, what’s the most important thing for us to do?
Get our music out there!!!
You can play it safe and never release anything, and never play live. Do that, and you will be safe; that’s true. You’ll never hear a word of disdain from anyone.
But neither will your songs earn you any words of praise, or understanding, or empathy or any whisper of applause. You’ll never have the chance to read a critic’s review of your album that says it’s the most moving he or she has heard in years.
And most importantly, you’ll never develop important, lasting relationships with really loyal fans if you never take the chance to put your sonic creations out there for the world to see, and hear.
Could your recording be better?? Probably! Billy Joel has stated that he always thought his recordings could be better. Every single one!
But there comes a time when they’re good enough, and that’s when we must let them go, like children sent into the world, and see what kind of bonds they can create with others.
So let the words of those who believe in you guide your path.
And the voices of those who don’t like what you do??
Put studio headphones on and let your newest song drown out their sophomoric scoffing.
The eventual applause from your fans will teach ’em!!
Learn, Diverge. Learn, Diverge…
Becoming a master craftsman, or even just becoming “good enough” in audio engineering, music writing and production, means studying the craft.
We can’t do that without listening to the techniques, tips and tricks of the best audio gurus out there and applying them to our own content creations.
That means that there actually is a time when we SHOULD compare. But not OURSELVES! Making it personal is the big mistake. It’s not about YOU. It’s about skills and choices.
So go ahead – go wild at comparing:
- Volume levels
- Lyrical content
- Rhythm section instrumentation
- Compression levels
- Instrument choices
- Melody shapes
- Vocal interpretations
- Soloing chops
- Song Form
- Reverb selections
- Effects usage
We definitely need to set our decisions in these areas next to the choices of the greats, and see how we sound. This is how we learn what the goal is – sonic excellence.
This is also why, as I go over in THIS REFERENCE TRACKS POST, we listen often to the best albums ever made, to set up a well-defined target to shoot for, every time we track, mix or master anything.
BUT… (and this is, as Shrek’s friend Donkey would say, a BIG BUT) after comparing what you have done with the best that’s out there, recognize that YOU could be the one to come up with a NEW way of playing, producing or recording that one day everyone will want to copy. So don’t forget…
… BE DIFFERENT! Don’t feel like you have to do everything in the ways that you’ve learned from the masters. Instead, diverge. Veer away from “standard protocol”. If you have an idea that you think will work., try it.
If it doesn’t work, no harm, no foul. You still learned how to use your equipment in new ways, and that is really worth something.
Work with the gear you have, incessantly, and learn how to use it in ways that work for YOU. That will be different than how anyone else does it.
What was it Picasso said? ” “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”
Truer words not often spoken!
Du Bist Du
Each of us has a special spark of life, and a temple of understanding, a manner, and a style, that no one else on the planet has.
In fact, not one on this Earth has EVER had exactly what goes into making you the singular creation that you are.
And because of that, everything you do will come out in a unique way. You won’t have to TRY. It just will. And that is a reflection of the distinct identity that only you possess.
Ever notice that the same song can be performed by countless people, and yet every time it’ll sound different??
That’s the distinctiveness of each human mind, body and soul coming through.
Is one better than the others?? You could argue that one performance is more technically sound, or proficient, than another.
But is their worth better??
I believe the universe has plenty of room for ALL of our personal expressions. And even more, it WANTS to hear them. See them. Feel them. Unlike the opinions of other humans at times, creation smiles, not derides or questions, when you try anything.
That what being alive is for! And, like all things, we get better as we go.
I can really put this in no better way than German artist Jürgen Werth did in his song called, “Du Bist Du“.
This song was sung to me, as a gift, by my good friends in Germany, Irene and Manuela, decades ago.
I recorded it then on cassette tape, and I’ve had it ever since. The quality is what you’d expect from simply pushing the record button on a boombox.
But you know what? I take this recording over most of my CDs any day. If you’ve ever been gifted with a song then you know what I mean.
Here are the original lyrics, in German, as Jurgen wrote them:
“Vergiss es nie: Dass du lebst, war keine eigene Idee,
und daß du atmest, kein Entschluss von dir.
Vergiss es nie: Dass du lebst, war eines anderen Idee,
und daß du atmest, sein Geschenk an dich.
Vergiss es nie: Niemand denkt und fühlt und handelt so wie du,
und niemand lächelt, so wie du’s grad tust.
Vergiss es nie: Niemand sieht den Himmel ganz genau wie du,
und niemand hat je, was du weißt, gewusst.
Vergiss es nie: Dein Gesicht hat niemand sonst auf dieser Welt,
und solche Augen hast alleine Du.
Vergiss es nie: Du bist reich, egal ob mit, ob ohne Geld;
denn du kannst leben! Niemand lebt wie du.
Du bist gewollt, kein Kind des Zufalls, keine Laune der Natur,
ganz egal, ob du dein Lebenslied in Moll singst oder Dur.
Du bist ein Gedanke Gottes, ein genialer noch dazu!
Du bist du, das ist der Clou,
Ja, der Clou. Ja, du bist du!“
Now, my own English translation of his lyrics:
“Never forget: the fact that you’re living wasn’t your own idea,
and that you’re breathing isn’t a decision you’re making.
Never forget: the fact that you’re living is the idea of another,
and that you’re breathing, its present to you.
Never forget: Nobody thinks, and feels, and acts just like you,
and nobody smiles in that exact, special way you do.
“Never forget: No one observes the sky quite exactly like you,
and no one has ever known… what you know.
Never forget: no one else in the world has your face,
and those eyes? Those are yours alone.
Never forget: You are rich, identical whether, whether without money;
because you can live! Nobody lives like you!
You are wanted. You’re no child of chance, or mood of nature,
It doesn’t matter whether you sing your life-song
in a minor key or a major one.
You are a thought of God. And a genius one at that!
You are you. That’s the whole point,
Yep, the whole point:
Yes, you… are YOU.”
Can you believe that? Can you really take in the statement that you are a genius thought in this universe??
If not, copy these lyrics, print them out, and hang them where they can be seen every day.
Whether we’re talking art, relationships, education, career, life skills… whatever the pursuit, the truth remains: your existence is a gift to the world. Your song is a needed harmony.
You are you. That’s the whole point. 🙂
Here’s yet another reason to not compare yourself with others: their sound, or their products, are not the reason you put forth the effort you do.
Nobody spends weeks, or even months, on a song hoping to be told that they sound like somebody else. We want our own thing! We’re seeking to find our own voice. Our own way. To stand OUT in the crowd, not blend in.
Some music sounds more derivative than others. But you know what? If the song you wrote sounds a little like another artist, IT’S OKAY!!
As long as you haven’t directly copied or plagiarized another artist, there’s nothing wrong with letting your song have a little tip of the hat towards your favorite artist.
I mean, did ANY of you hear the song “Uptown Funk” and not think of James Brown??!! It’s a fantastic homage to Brown’s classic sound. But so what?!! It’s awesome!!
At the same time, it also sounded like Bruno Mars, “cause (Duh!) he sang the tune.
Should we disparage Bruno, and call him “unoriginal”, “inventive” and a “copycat” cuz we’ve “heard that funk before”??
Bolony!! Not at all. He’s a fine artist, a masterful singer and a songwriter who’s not afraid to use hooks of the past to dress up the present.
If you’re going to compare anything, compare yourself to yourself. Start an inner revolution that takes no prisoners, but is totally committed to working hard to bring the dream to life. As I heard someone say recently, “Originality is the best form of rebellion!“
Ask these questions of yourself:
Am I striving to be a better writer? Am I striving to be a better performer?
Do I play my instruments better now than I did?
Am I improving my vocals through ongoing study and practice?
Does my music sound like it’s on the journey of discovery, we’re stuck in a slough of sameness??
To put all that in a nutshell, I’ll share with you the most important sign in my studio. It hangs just to the right of my console table, in easy line of sight as I’m working. It underscores everything I do:
Can you say that about your own pursuits? Are you striving to be “the best”? If so, you’ve got at least a thousand people in front of you, who are all probably better than you.
Good luck. :-/
Perhaps a better tactic is to follow my sign’s advice, compare your work to yesterday’s efforts, and see if you’ve improved.
If you do this every day, committing to your own advancement and enhancement, your progress will so SKYROCKET that it will awe the world.
And probably you too. 😉
This website is all about music gear. It’s interesting, isn’t it, how we can have the same machinery in our studios, even the same instruments, and yet the products we churn out sound totally different from each other?
Too many recording musicians get caught up in the mantra of “I don’t have cool equipment like so-and-so”, or ” I need more expensive gadgets to sound good.” It’s like a musician from the year 2112 whining because their robot instrumentalist doesn’t have the latest “Beatles” upgrade.
I totally believe that’ll be a thing. 😉
That’s only true to a very small margin. Especially these days, when pretty good digital effects and recording are available to everyone… FOR FREE!
Again, compare yourself to yourself. As you keep working with specific instruments, and specific pro audio components, and even the A.I. systems that are coming into the market now, how you integrate with them will be unique.
The combination of effects, Dynamics processing, and EQ decisions that you make, for example, will make your music singular and unmistakably you.
And the more you work with your outboard gear, and software plugins, the more you will start to merge with that technology to the point of developing your own sound.
That’s why we here at serious gas say to work with your audio equipment as much as you possibly can. Play with it. Try things with it. Do recordings for no other reason than to learn. Have friends over and record silly songs for fun.
All these are ways we uncover new ways to express ourselves. And as our choices coalesce with the possibilities inherent in today’s technology, a new A.I.-human partnership is formed that will ongoingly be honed into a feel, a style, even a genre all your own.
One day this will really be taken to the pinnacle when our brains are hooked up synaptically to our computers. I have no doubt that’s coming… and sooner than we might think.
But for right now, we’ll just keep using our mouse, and let our hardware, our software and our brains wetware take us onward…
… to all our destiny is capable of!
Be A Never-Relent-er!!
There’s something to be said for pursuing work that you never grow tired of, because you’re so into the products, services or results that at the end of the day… you can’t wait to do it again!
Whatever you’re pursuing, pursue it with discipline, courage, consistency and relentless focus.
And though it’s harder to do than ever, with all those ubiquitous social media posts, commit to comparing yourself and your work to what you’ve done and been in the past, not to others who have completely different skill sets, goals, habits, and even DNA than you!
Now, go… make… sounds!!