We all love comparisons – top ten best and worst lists are consistently reliable clickbait.

We also love to categorize and compare singers – including ourselves. But the comparison game often leads to frustration loss of motivation.

In this episode, John discusses why comparing ourselves to others is often a losing proposition and why you need to compete with only one person – yourself.

Episode Transcript

Episode 138 – Stop Comparing!

Hey there, this is John Henny. Welcome back to another episode of The Intelligent Vocalist. I do so appreciate you spending your precious listening time with me. And if you were listening closely, you could hear I was banging on my knee for emphasis. I really do. I know there’s so much that can capture our attention and distract us and the fact that you’re willing to spend these 15- 20 minutes or so with me listening to me talk about singing, it means a lot to me. I really do appreciate it. And if you are a new listener, welcome. I’ve had a really big spike in listeners to my podcast over the past week. I think part of it is I appeared on James Schramko’s SuperFastBusiness podcast. James Schramko is a wonderful business mentor, and mentor of mine, invited me on his podcast to discuss the growth of my online business.

He has a leading business podcast. He’s brilliant and I really enjoyed talking to James. And also my YouTube channel, I decided to finally do reaction videos and those have started to take off rather quickly. So if you’re coming from the YouTube channel, welcome. And today’s topic, came from doing a reaction video for a young singer, Dimash Kudaibergen. I think I said that close to correct. But Dimash is a singer from I believe Kazakhstan and he’s just absolutely incredible and a lot of people jumped on my previous reaction videos and said, you have to do a reaction video of Dimash. And I think he has a very coordinated fan base. It’s getting the word out there and they love to see people reacting and rightly so, because his voice is absolutely remarkable. He’s able to access all these different colors.

He can sound like a counter-tenor, which is a male basically singing in the female operatic soprano range. He can sing E’s. I think he did an E or F above soprano high C, F-sharp, and it’s just stunning. And he does it with ease. And then he belts and he’s just technically incredible. And then of course starts the arguments that he’s the best singer and they start comparing him to other singers and you know, singing kind of becomes a bit of a blood sport. And it is fun for the listener. We absolutely love that. We love award shows. We love to have the academy crown, the best picture, the best actor and it’s really not the place I like to see musicians go and singers go. I think you can do it as an audience member. I think it’s fun, but I also think it’s just a response to the way our brains function.

Our brains like to compartmentalize things. Our brains like to make things a bit more black and white. Our brains like to simplify things and lump things together. It’s what we have to do in order to get through the day today. I mean, if you think about the barrage of information that comes at your brain from the auditory to the visual to sensation. There is so much information that we have to filter it out and we have to put things in little baskets to make sense of it. And we just put things as good or bad, pleasant, unpleasant, like it, don’t like it. And we like to do that with singers. That’s why lists are such clickbait. We like to know the 10 greatest pop songs of all time. The 10 greatest pizzas in the U.S . It’s fun, but it’s not where you should go as a singer because what it does is it causes you to compare yourself with others.

And the comparison game is not a healthy game. Social media is a battlefield, a minefield of comparison. You get on Instagram and you start to see people with their vacation photos and you think, I haven’t had a vacation in a year. If I did have a vacation, I can’t go to this wonderful exotic place that they’re going because I have responsibilities or I’m being more responsible with my money or I have children. There’s always somebody living their best life that they’re putting forward. And our initial reaction is to almost always compare it to our circumstances. And we often find our circumstances lacking and then we start to become, I don’t know if the word is depressed, but slightly less enthusiastic about our situation. And this will happen with your voice. If you start comparing yourself to others, you will see yourself as less than. I mean I fall prey to this.

So I started doing the reaction videos and I did one of Adam Lambert that kind of took off. And when I last checked, just over 20,000 views. And my first thought was, wow, that’s pretty good. And then my next thought is, wow, there are voice teachers with over a million views on their reaction videos, and that’s just ridiculous. First of all, they’ve been doing it longer than me. Second of all, they have an audience. They’re doing something that people are reacting to. And it has nothing to do with the 20,000 views that I got. To get 20,000 people paying attention to anything you do is mind blowing. You know, that’s filling a pretty good arena of people. And I know it is a tiny sliver in the YouTube world, but I can’t compare myself to others because if I do, I find myself absolutely lacking.

It’s tempting to do it. Voice teachers will do it all the time and they’ll look at the students or what celebrity students that you’ve got and name-dropping becomes this sport and what they’re doing is it’s just a way of kind of one-upping and seeing where we are on the ladder. And I’ve really had to do some introspection and thought and realize what is important. And is it really racking up the most views or getting more celebrities than somebody else, or is it just really helping people that’s good? My job in life as an educator is to help people, not to rack up things for my own ego. Now, we occasionally do get little hits that tick off a box in our ego. I don’t think those are bad, but if that becomes the primary focus, if that’s what we’re chasing, we’re losing the plot.

As a singer, your job is to communicate to others, to bring happiness to others, to bring them catharsis that they can experience emotion through your voice. You pull them out of their daily troubles or them feeling less than in their own lives and you give them this little oasis where they can experience emotion through you, your voice, and it’s just very safe. It’s a beautiful thing and that’s what it should be about. It shouldn’t be about having more followers than another singer or hitting a note that they can’t hit. It’s not a competition. When you turn it into a competition, again, you’re losing the plot and you’re going to start to hit circumstances where you’re going to be less than if this becomes an ego trip in any way.

If you want to gamify this art of singing, and if you want to make it about views, if you want to make it about what you’re achieving, if you want to make it about one-upping other singers and comparing yourself to other singers, you are going to hit a point where it is going to fail you, where you’re not going to get as many views, where somebody is going to sing technically better than you. And this game of comparing is going to come around and bite you. There are singers and it’s not just from an ego place. Then there are singers where they’ll just compare themselves as a way of beating themselves up and it just keeps pulling your eyes away from what it is that you are trying to achieve. This is going to sound like a cliche, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Your job as a singer is to be the most realized version of you that you can be. What is the highest level of you? And I’m going to tell you, you’re never going to reach the highest level of you.

Your potential is always going to be better than what you are able to achieve, but your job is to become you. It my job is to be the best John that I can be. The best communicator, the best educator. And there’s so much more that I need to know that I can get so much better at my craft. I work on it. I work on creating courses that I believe are going to help people, putting out content, podcasts, et cetera. But it’s how many people can I help achieve their dreams, whether your dream is doing this professionally or singing karaoke or singing at your own wedding or just singing in your bedroom for fun. How do I help you do that? And you as a singer, how do you help others with your voice? Really think about that. Why are you doing this?

And I would hope it’s to not be better than others. It’s about being the best you. And I don’t want you to lose sight of that. This comparison game, it’s a dead end. There’s always going to be somebody better on some level. Again, this argument of who’s the best singer is like arguing who’s the fastest runner, and that’s something we can quantify. We can look at the time that it took them to run a certain distance and we can say this person was faster than that person. But to say, who’s the fastest runner– Are you talking about a sprint? Are you talking about a middle distance? Or you’re talking about a marathon? Because you’re talking about different people. Are you talking about hurdles? Because that is as a different thing again. So when you start looking at who’s the better singer, there’s all different styles of music.

There are different types of voices. Reacting to Dimash. As amazing as he is, it doesn’t make Amy Winehouse any less amazing who didn’t have the gift of instrument that Dimash has. She did not have the gift of instrument that Whitney Houston had, but Whitney could never be Amy and Amy could never be Whitney. And they’re both so valid and so vital and so important that it’s not a game. It’s not a competition. I remember, when I was a little kid, and Marlon Brando refused his Oscar for The Godfather. He did it in kind of a dramatic fashion, but the way he protested it, you can look that up, but it isn’t a competition. How do you compare The Godfather to Star Wars, right? I know they weren’t in the same year, but you look at these movies, it really is apples and oranges. And not only you and another singer are apples and oranges, but you are a unique apple.

You are a version of an apple that has your name in front of it. I am the John apple and you are the blank, your-name-here apple. And you just need to grow the best version of that apple. You don’t have to worry about competing with someone else. And I know when you go up for roles, if you’re in musical theater or if you’re going on a competition show, you don’t compete with those people. The only thing you compete with is yourself. What I would tell you when you go into an audition and you hear the person in front of you, when you start to freak out because you think, well, I can’t do that. I can’t do that. You’re probably right, but they can’t do you. You don’t have that other person in your head.

Don’t worry about that other person. You just be authentically you as best you can and just let the chips fall where they may. Your turn will come. Your expression, your type of voice, your gift. There will be the time when you are the right person for that and if you’re not the right person for a situation, that’s not your fault. All right, I am six foot seven. I, as much as I would ever want to be, could never be a horse jockey. Just wouldn’t happen. Not going to happen. I would have made a terrible gymnast. I’m too tall. You know baseball players don’t tend to be as tall as I am. They tend to be shorter. My strike zone would be a bit large, but in basketball I’m starting to get in there where I could be competitive even though I was a horrible basketball player, not a gifted athlete.

But that wasn’t what I did when I was a kid. I discovered drums and that’s what grabbed my passion and I had a bit of a gift for that. And then I discovered singing and even more so than singing, teaching singing. And I feel that I have a gift for that more so than even being a singer. So you need to discover what makes you special and embrace that as a beautiful thing. There are things that make you special and the combination of those are unique to you and that is your job to be the absolute best version of yourself. When you find yourself comparing your singing and your abilities to others, the only way to do it is to use it as inspiration, to look at somebody and go, wow, they do that really well. How can I do that better in my own way? Not copy them, but do it in my way. Really find who you are as a singer. Really find what you want to express and communicate and how you can serve others with your voice. Be inspired by others, learn from others. Don’t compare yourself to others.

Hey, if you want to know more about me, please visit my website, johnhenny.com sign up for my email list there. I do send special offers to my email list subscribers, and if you go on Amazon, both of my books in the Voice Teacher Success series, Teaching Contemporary Singing and Voice Teacher Influencer, are available on Kindle for 99-cents each. So that’s a pretty good deal. So if you’re interested in being a voice teacher or you want to grow and expand your voice studio, I can recommend both of those books. Not going to compare them to other people’s books, but they’re a pretty good version of teaching contemporary singing and growing your studio. Awesome. Thank you so much for listening. And until next time, to better singing. Bye bye.