Are Jealousy & Sour Grapes Killing Your Music Career?

The German word “Schadenfreude”: pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.

Ever felt that? Go on, admit it! Some unworthy media darlings who’ve been monopolizing the buzz finally get a bad review. (—Maniacal laugh!—). The big local band who told you NO every time you asked to open for them is back playing Tuesday night gigs at the ACME Dive. (—Maniacal laugh!—) There can be pleasure in other folks’ failures. But guard against it!

Jealousy can kill a career and (worse still) your creative spirit

Competitiveness is good– if it is fueled by a sense of inspiration. Like, that whole Pet Sounds/Revolver/Smile/Sgt. Pepper thing that the Beatles and the Beach Boys had going on in the 60’s: “Wow! Mind-blowing album! I can top that!”

But competitiveness can quickly turn to jealousy if you don’t feel like your music is receiving the attention and accolades it deserves. Jealousy is bad for the soul; it’s wasted energy that you could’ve used to create something new in this world.

Yes, of course we’re all geniuses, but here are a few things to keep in perspective:

1. Recognition is not an official certificate of quality

There’s no universally recognized endorsement, no stamp-of-approval from the heavens waiting to smash down upon your lucky forehead.

I used to court the favor of a certain regional band who seemed to have cornered the market on positive local press. I wanted to be in “the in crowd.” I seemed to have been accepted into various outer-circles of said tribe, but never allowed into the inner sanctum where surely mystical rites and rituals must have been held to guarantee their local standing.

This drove me nuts. I lost confidence. I got bitter. And then some wise sage very close to me said “Why do you want their approval? You don’t even like their music.” OMG, I thought to myself.  She’s totally right! I’d gotten so caught up in envy that I’d forgotten about the basics.

If you don’t respect the tastes of a certain critic, band, or booker, don’t lose any sleep over the feeling being mutual.

2. There’s no such thing as cool

I’m not sure if this tale is true or not (in the literal sense), but there’s a popular story where a journalist asks Barry Manilow if he ever feels sad about being seen as uncool. Manilow responds, “I’m crying all the way to the bank.”

It’s easy to get wrapped up in hype and hipster tangles. The “coolest” band in your town might not have much broader appeal. They might be “cool” because they’re friends with the right people. They might be truly unique and awesome, but have little long-term career potential because their sound is challenging. I mean, plenty of people disagree with me about one of my favorite songwriters who I think is brilliant. Not so, for them.

Tastes are tastes are tastes. Cool is all a matter of perspective, so don’t aim to be cool; aim to be yourself at your best (however you define that).

3. Fame can be fleeting

This is somewhat related to my first point, but just think of literature for a moment: plenty of best-selling authors have been utterly forgotten, whereas some of the most famous authors of all time never received a shred of recognition during their own lifetime.

How and how much you’re paid for your creative work while you’re alive is NOT a reflection of quality. The world is too fluid and complex to ascribe or discover value in such a way. So don’t fret about what other bands have achieved; achievement is not a finite resource. No one can monopolize or hoard magical success tokens. Give yourself more credit than that! If you think said band is less deserving, please review point #2 above.

Must you make music?

Rilke once advised a young poet to ask himself the question in the dark of the night: Must I write? Would I die without writing? If the answer was anything but YES, the young poet must stop immediately and try his hand at some other trade.

I won’t put it to you with such dire consequences, but what about this question: Would you be significantly less happy without making music? If you can be happy without it, sure… maybe apply your energies to something you’re more passionate about.

But if so, if you need music, then keep playing, keep writing, keep practicing, keep recording. As cheesy and cliche as it may sound (cliches, I’ve found, are widespread because they’re TRUE!), art is an act of self-discovery, a little way to tap into the source. If music brings you vitality, then it is its own reward.

The sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll may or may not follow.

I’d love to hear your stories about dealing with musical competitiveness, envy, or jealousy. Feel free to comment below.

-Chris R. at CD Baby

P.S. If sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll are your fantasy rewards, there’s a time machine in the CD Baby warehouse waiting to take you back to the 1980’s. It leaves on the hour.

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