Episode 77 – Singing and Competition

Most human endeavors have an element of competition to them, and music is no different.

The problem is when competition between singers turns toxic, it can be a discouraging situation.

In this episode, John looks at how to use competition to your benefit, and how to move towards a higher level of competition with yourself, to help push you to new artistic heights.

Episode Transcript

Episode 77 – Singing and Competition

Hey there, this is John Henny, welcome back to another edition of the intelligent vocalist. I do so appreciate you spending your precious time with me. Alright, today is the day I actually uploaded my book to Amazon, both the kindle and print versions and it will be available on March 17th that’s a Sunday. Today’s Tuesday the 12th as I record this, so it’s in five days. I’m very, very excited. You’ll be able to search me on the Amazon store and get my book and I am making the book, it’s called Teaching Contemporary Singing. I’m making it very inexpensive on Kindle. I think it’s going to be about 15 bucks for the print version. For those of you who like to actually hold a paper in your hands and turn pages and really go old school. But for you digital types, it’s going to be under $5 and I’m planning on having some different specials, perhaps 99 cents, perhaps it may occasionally even be free. 

The best way to know is to get on my email list, just go to Johnhenny.com and sign up for my list. You’ll also get a musings from me that I send out a few times a week. I do send out some offers for some of my products, but most of the time you’re actually just getting really good content. At least I like to think it’s good people on my list. Tell me it’s good and this content will often become podcasts. So you kind of see my thought processes. I create an email on a topic and then turn it into a podcast and today is no exception. Today’s podcast subject started off, actually from an email a teacher sent me and she was concerned about the competition her students were facing and not just the competition, but just kind of the attitudes from other singers and the way that they would throw shade and not want to help each other. 

She asked me to comment on that and I just kinda took this idea of competition and I really looked at, you know, the arts aren’t a competition and it’s in their truest sense. I mean it’s a human expression. We’re expressing ideas and emotion, through music and how do you compete with that? What is the measurement to competition? However we like to turn most things into competitions. So we have the Grammys and American Idol and The Voice and all of these different ways to differentiate works of art and singers performances is one being better than another but if you follow the Grammys or look at the Oscars, there are amazing works of art that have stood the test of time that did not receive awards and movies and songs and albums that did win Oscars and Grammys have just kind of fallen away and in retrospect weren’t that good. 

So this whole competition thing is questionable. However, there is competition and when I looked at this in the email, I brought up one of my favorite singers of the past 20 years, Amy Winehouse. Now, if we look at Amy Winehouse and her singing in terms of competition well, for high notes she’s going to lose to Mariah Carey in her prime in terms of a large robust voice she’s going to lose to Whitney Houston in terms of a vocal melisma has and riffing she’s going to lose to Christina Aguilera in terms of star power in stage presence, she’s going to lose to Beyonce. Even in jazz singing she’s going to lose to Ella among others. There’s really few categories where you could say, Amy was the best at this in the last 20 years. However, if you look at her as Amy, if you look at her as this unique artistic being, then she had no competition. 

There was no equal. She was incredibly special but it was in her own unique way and so the idea is there is no competition and there’s truth to that. However, as Amy was coming up, she had to compete to get into elite performing arts schools. There were only so many slots she had to compete for a record deal. There are only so many artists who are going to be signed in a year. She then had to compete to get her songs on radio against more established artists. Radio only has so many slots. Now, a lot of these barriers are being broken down and obviously traditional record labels and radio are falling away, but now you fight for attention and people only have so much attention. There are only so many hours and there’s only so much time people can devote to listening to music and we tend to follow things in Hertz.

So you have to get a certain amount of people paying attention to you to get other people to pay attention to you and there is competition for that. So there’s constant competition and that can be viewed as a negative thing. But competition can be really good for you not in the toxic jealous way. That this teacher was a little troubled by, but in the way of getting you to put in the work. Look, if you really want to be a great artist, if you want to be a great singer, look around. If you have peers that are spending more time in the practice room who are giving up their Friday and Saturday nights to stay in because they don’t want to blow up their voice or their choosing gigs over hanging out with friends, or they’re sacrificing in order to afford voice lessons, they’re spending more time working on their music, working on the material, constantly getting themselves better, then you should probably get a bit of a competitive spirit because you’re going to be left in the dust. 

When it comes time, when you go to the audition room and there’s only one slot for the role that you want and you’re up against people who have worked harder than you, well you’re likely going to lose. There is competition, so you need to let competition push you to do better to drive you. But you can’t be obsessed by it because ultimately you need to just compete with yourself. You need to get beyond that base level of competition that will get you to do the work because you need to want to do the work, to be driven to do the work, to be hungry to do the work and I have an earlier podcast entitled Are you doing the work? And you can look for that Johnhenny.com/podcast just look for the podcast on my site. You can search, you’ll find it, but you need to get this sense of competing with yourself artistically and getting to the higher level of who you are and exploring what it is that you want to say. 

And that’s the real competition. Amy figured out who she was, what she wanted to say, how she wanted to say it and how she was going to look while she was saying it, she really understood what it was to be an artist and she was completely identifiable. Now that the tragic circumstances of her life aside, because she only burned for such a brief time, but man, when she burned brightly, it was quite amazing. She was a, she came in and she really didn’t sound like anybody else and she didn’t use it. Nobody else was doing and she looked away that no one else looked. I mean, she defied all of these expectations and there’s a huge risk in that, when you’re not following the herd, it’s easier to get ignored or to be seen as too risky. But for her, it truly paid off. 

She was really, truly herself and that is your true competition. It’s not about getting jealous because somebody’s got a role that you got that’s going to happen somebody’s going to get more plays on YouTube or streams on Spotify, or somebody’s going to get a record deal and it’s gonna sting a little bit because you know, you’ve been putting in the work and it’s your turn. Even experiences as a voice teacher, and I will admit I’ve seen teachers get clients where it’s like Oh, I’d really love to work with that person. I get, I just know I could really do something with that voice and quite frankly, I think I could work with that voice may be better than that teacher, but I didn’t get that client and that’s okay because there are other opportunities. You can’t let the poison get into your system. 

And if you’re allowing that to drive you to be unpleasant or unhelpful to your peers and other singers or to look down on singers, you just really need to stop and think about what it’s doing to you and your humanity and your empathy. I mean really we have to come through this as human beings in the end and you don’t want whatever the costs of fame or getting your goals you don’t want to lose who you are as a person and you don’t want to let it turn you into someone who’s bitter and nasty. That’s just ultimately not going to work and we need to work on being happy for other people and knowing that if we keep going, things will come for us. It may not necessarily be what you think it’s going to be, but if you keep learning and you keep working, doors will open different doors, doors you weren’t expecting, but they will continue to open and your competition just becomes how do I become a better, more realized version of myself? 

What am I truly capable of? What is it that I really want to say? How can I say what’s been said over and over in a unique way, in my way? Who am I as an artist? That’s your competition. How do I want to sing? How good do I want to sing? How far do I want to take my voice? How good do I want to write songs? And I’m going to tell you, you can’t write songs well enough. You just have to become better and better and then once you’ve written a great song, you can’t sing it as well as it’s been written because there’s always another level to discover. There’s always more nuance. How do I approach language? How do I find and play with the different sounds and the consonant sounds and the rhythm and my phrasing and then bring it all with just this wellspring of emotion. 

I recently just watched a Whitney Houston documentary. What’d you do is heartbreaking. I’ve just been watching all these heartbreaking documentaries, the Amy Winehouse documentary, the Whitney Houston documentary. But man, what she had and she just learned this so deeply, was to just bring her true, authentic self and her emotion, through singing in church and being coached by her mother and she just was a powerhouse and they showed her very first performance on the old Mike Douglas show, which I used to go home and watch when I was a little kid after school was on in the afternoon and she was just a teenager and she just absolutely kills it. I mean you just knew right then and there she was going to be a star and the record labels were fighting over her, from the moment that she started performing publicly. She was, she just had that quality and you’ve got to find that quality in you, but you’re not going to compete with Whitney. 

I’m thinking you probably don’t have her instrument. That’s a really rare instrument. It’s a rare gift. But if you can do what she did in really developing who you are and what it is you want to say and just getting that every day, that’s your competition. Your competition is against your ultimate fully realized artistic self and you need to compete against that version of yourself and if you don’t know what that version of yourself, then you need to find that version and just keep pulling back those layers, those onion layers and looking and searching and learning and listening and being inspired by and studying with. I mean the beautiful thing about this is you never fully arrive and when I read biographies of artists, they almost always have this nostalgic view of when they were working to make it happen. 

Not when they became a star. Sure, they have the memory of the first time they heard their song on the radio, etc. But it’s they don’t look back with fond memories on getting, hitting $10 million of net worth or all of the awards. They really look back on the work. The work that they did to become the artist they are and there’s a beauty there and that’s where the competition is. Competition can be beautiful and it’s not something to stress out about. It’s not something to obsess about. It’s not something to be jealous about. It is something to embrace to just help push you forward. Alright, I’m going to end my sermon there. if you want to find out more about me, just go to Johnhenny.com. I’ve got a course there for singers you can just click on the tab there. Science courses things like that, Vocal science. I also have my contemporary voice teacher Academy. It’s not open for enrollment now but, you can get on the waitlist and I will let you know when it is and that will walk you through the steps to become a contemporary voice teacher and then my new book teaching contemporary voice this Sunday, Sunday, Sunday, and the Amazon Kindle store. I’m really, really super excited and if you read the book and if you like the book, please consider leaving a review. It’s really important on Amazon because the Amazon overseeing algorithm looks at reviews and really holds a lot of weight if that will show up as a suggested book in other people’s searches, if it’s recommended to them and then I’m also working on the audio book. Oh my gosh, that’s a ton of work. But a lot of editing, etc., me reading a book and then not sounding like I’m reading. 

So working on that, that takes a little while to get improved. So I’m thinking that we’ll probably be showing up, sometime in April. And also, it takes a couple of weeks to get approved and, and there’s some stringent guidelines, to get on audible, but I’m going to trudge through this, this a bigger project than I thought, but I’m going to get the audio book out there for those of you who prefer listening and then if you want it on your Kindle to carry around, then you can have the print version, then you can have the audio version, and then you can leave me reviews. And that all equals a happy, happy me. So thank you again so much, the listening and until next time, to better singing. Thanks. Bye bye.