Episode 37 – Stop Studying Already!

Studying your craft is critical to master your singing. But when does study become a crutch or avoidance mechanism?

Fear of failure. Fear of judgment.

These can be crippling.

Yet if we don’t embrace fear and criticism our singing will likely never reach its full potential.

In this episode, John explores why you need to get out of the practice room and out of your comfort zones.

True artistry must include embracing risk and failure.

Listen to this important episode and find your inspiration and courage to get out there and get singing.



Episode Transcription

Episode 37 – Stop Studying Already!

Hey there, it’s John Henny. Welcome back to another episode of the Intelligent Vocalist.


Today, I am going to give you a piece of advice that no voice teacher in their right mind should ever give you, which is stop studying. I mean, really. This isn’t meant for all of you. There are some listening to me right now who actually needs your back side in gear and really begin studying your craft and getting better at your craft. But this is directed to those of you who are using studying to avoid taking action, to avoid taking risk, to avoid putting yourself out there. And you feel that if you just keep on taking lessons, or looking at Youtube videos, or reading books, or buying different warm-ups, is going to take you where you need to be, if you want this career on any level, it’s not.


You cannot study your way to a successful career. It is a part of it, but much like professional student – we all know those people who just kind of stay in school because they don’t want to get out in the real world – you are going to have to go out into the real world of singing. And the real world of singing involves risk. And it involves criticism. And it involves rejection, disappointment, failure, all those kicks to the face that you are going to have to back up against.


Think about any performer, thing about any singers you truly truly admire – how much criticism does that performer take? Really, think about how much criticism. Anybody who is successful at anything gets it on a daily basis. Until you’ve experienced it, and until you’ve got used to it, it’s actually scary. And that fear can keep us in this mode of study, which is actually a mode of delay.


The reason I’m bringing this up is I’m looking at writing a book. It’s something I’ve been thinking about. I’ve done courses and online courses but actually sit and really write a book. I’ve had some different reasons for doing it, some I actually just like to be an author for myself, so there’s a little bit of ego. But also it’s very good for business, and I have different out-growths of voice teaching that I do – some of it is training voice teachers, some of it is actually working with music teachers and voice teachers on their businesses, helping them grow that, helping them grow their studios if they have an academy, performing arts academy, etc.


So, I’m looking at writing a book. I belonged to some entrepreneur groups that I pay good amount of money to belong to. And these are like masterminds. These are collections of entrepreneurs, business people, and I’m usually the only musician in them, maybe one other in larger groups. But I went on to this group, one group in particular that’s pretty hardcore, lots of really intense entrepreneurs. And they will give you kick in the backside if you needed it. I said, “I’m thinking of writing a book. What are some good trainings and courses I can take?” and two of the top people in that group came right at me and said, “Asking about trainings and courses sounds like a delay tactic. You just need to start writing. Here are your steps: Get an outline and start typing. If you’ve read a book, at least one book, you know what you’re doing. Go.” And I thought, “Man, they’re absolutely right! I’m looking to delay.”


Why am I looking to delay? Because if I start searching around, think about all the delay this affords me, I can start looking at different courses about writing the book. So now I’m researching. But I feel like I’m doing something. “oh John, you’re really accomplishing something. You’re getting in there and you’re researching courses of how to write a book. Let’s find a book on how to write a book. Let’s order the book on how to write a book. Now you’ve got to read the book.” I mean, you get it. I could spend weeks and weeks, or even months. “oh this course!” “No, this course looks better.” “I half-start this, I half-finished this book. Oh I’m going to start this one.”

We all know we get into the ADD of it all. And in singing, there is so much. There are all kinds of courses and lessons, warm-ups and endless Youtube videos, where you are just wasting time. You are just studying, and researching about studying and researching.


So as I do that, the researching delays the hard work of actually consuming the course. Let’s say I’m consuming the course, and putting in that delays the hard work of actually writing the book, which delays the hard work of publishing and marketing the book, which delays the horrible work of putting up with the criticism that comes from it, which ultimately delays the reward of having the book and working with people that are going to be at a certain caliber because I’ve published the book and the right people find me.


At this point of my career, I really would just like to work with the right people. That goes for my voice teaching which I’m cutting way back on and pruning who I work with and only working with people that are really really good fit, to training voice teachers, to helping people with their business. I want to work with the right people. That’s the reward.

So, all of this is a delay tactic from the pain that ends up giving me the reward. So how this is tie in to your singing?


Listen, if you need to do the studying, you need to do the work, then, this isn’t for you. My advice to you is get good at your craft. Alright? But for those of you who have been studying for a while and you’re just kind of pondering around, but you’re avoiding getting out there or avoiding getting on stage, or avoiding getting to auditions, you’re avoiding recording and putting it online – you’re avoiding the risk. You’re avoiding criticism. And you have got to get that thick skin.


I’m reading a book called The Thick Face Black Heart, and it really is. Part of it is it’s basically a Chinese philosophy that the authors talk into Western business people, but basically. And it is at its core. It’s learning to not care what other people think. You need to not care what other people think, and you need to not use studying to avoid having people judge you. Everyone who steps into the ring is going to be judged. You are going to be judged. I, myself, Youtube is not something I’ve done a lot of. I’ve done basically obviously my podcasts, I do Facebook and put out product, etc, Buy Youtube is all full of trolls. And on some level, that has dissuaded me. I’ve had to stop and go, “That’s ridiculous! What do I care if some idiot wants to criticize everything that I do and tear it down?”


What I’m doing is I’m punishing people that could benefit from this knowledge by not putting it on that platform, if they want to absorb it from that platform. You know, I’ll never forget putting out a blog post. And I think when I put it on Social Media, when somebody shared it just auto-filled with the picture of myself I had on the page, and at that time I was pretty heavy, I’ve lost a lot of weight (now), but somebody commented and said “oh. What’s the next lesson on? How to grow a gut?” And I let that get me really upset, and that was just idiotic of me. Who gives a crap? So I had a belly? It had nothing to do with the information. If that person obviously feels that that’s their contribution to the dialogue, then it just needs to be ignored.


When you do something, somebody’s going to hate it. Period. Your favorite artists, somebody hates them. A lot of people hate them. But what does that do? That makes you defend your artist even more. So you need to really start thinking about getting yourself out there and putting out product, if you will, taking risks. And here’s the bottomline: if you think about it, your favorite artists, first things that they put out, in retrospect, is probably not their best work. Yes, some people’s first album is their best. But if you can find their early demos or early performances, this is not them anywhere near the lever that you came to know and love them. But they were out there throwing their hat into the ring. And the bottom line is, if you’re not out there actively doing this, if you’re not out there taking these risks, you are going to be hampered in your growth. You are not going to grow at the rate or the level that you need to.


I have people study with me, and they will come to me and they’re hobbyists. I will work with people who are very very dedicated hobbyists. That’s fine. But some of them don’t even want to take the risk of performing even as a hobbyist. All they do is just take voice lessons. And their growth gets little strangled at a certain point. Now, I’ve worked with somebody who is very successful in his field, extremely successful, and he is a hobbyist as a singer. But he has put together a band of other people in his field, and he has created a stage in his home and hosts these big get-togethers where he performs for all his friends and family and colleagues. He has a very big house, he’s very successful, very big performer, and he packs this thing out. And he will never be a professional, but this is not only a bliss for him in terms of a hobby and stressful job, but it makes him a better singer.


I have another client who is a very very successful attorney. and he goes and he does some performances. It’s not all the time, he actually just start doing this about a year ago. He did some performances and his improvement – once he started, once he put a performance on the calendar, he got better really fast. He got more focused. He got more dedicated. And then post performance, suddenly his musicianship was going all of these things because he was tested in the fire. And the personal reward was just huge. I mean, he was just so excited, and happy, and fulfilled by going out there and doing that. All of the fears didn’t come to fruition. It was a wonderful wonderful thing.


Now, if you’re going to do this professionally, the criticism is going to come your way. There’s no way around that, other than to accept it and learn to not care about it. But for him as a hobbyist, this was a necessary part. This is a necessary part of getting better. So if you are just caught in the non-stop grind of Youtube videos, and the non-stop grind of the different vocal courses, you need to wake up and get out there and sing. Go to a local karaoke. Get together with some musician friends. Record something and put it on your Facebook, put it on your Youtube. Make yourself apply. Application. Action. Not just study. You will get so stuck in the study you will go nowhere.


If the thought of doing this paralyzes you with fear, good. You need to do this. And what you need to do is you need to put a date on the calendar. You need to make a commitment. You need to go to that local karaoke or you need to say, “You know what, I’m going to take my three original songs I’ve written on my guitar, and I’m going to find a place to perform them.” And that date needs to get on the calendar. “I’m going to get together with my friends, I’m going to record this, and this is going up on Youtube on this date.” And that date goes in the calendar. And that is a promise you make on yourself. This is a painful gift you are going to give on yourself to make yourself get in the ring. You got to get in the ring.


I played poker for a while, it was kind of release when I was doing lots and lots of teaching. And I have since cut back my hours that I dedicate the time to one-on-one teaching, I’m much more exclusive now. But when I was doing that, I studied playing and then I said, “Man, I just got to go and play in a poker tournament.” I was nervous. I couldn’t count my chips, I looked at my cards and forget where my cards were, I wouldn’t act when it was my turn. I was a mess. It was embarrassing. But I went back and did it again. You know, I was never a great poker player, but I would take the final tables on some of these not big tournaments, but still. I could go. I didn’t play big stage but I could make some money. I was kind of like grind-along, breakeven average player, but it was fun. And it made me better, the fact that I stepped in there and I took a risk and I put some money in the middle of the table. And that sharpened me. You know, there’s a thing called pot-committed.


The one thing about games, games like poker, games like chess, is that they teach us about life. And poker is a great lesson in controlled-risk, and uncertainty, and odds, etc. and chess gives us a lesson about strategy and anticipating the person’s next move. But there’s a thing in poker called being pot-committed. And when you’re being pot-committed, that means you have so much of your money in that pot, that the decision-making process has changed. If I have a hand that the odds of it winning is pretty slim, and I don’t have a lot of money in the middle and the pot’s not that big, I throw it away. I can fold it. But if I have a hand that’s only going to win one time in fifty, but I’ve got a big chunk of money in that pot, and the pot itself is really huge, so that what it would cost me to call on that hand will pay me more than fifty times back, then I make that call.

I want you to be pot-committed in your singing, if you want to do this professionally, if you want to be better at this. I want you to have so much in that middle of that table, that you need to take action, you need to make that call, you need to take that risk. And then I want you to learn to be able to accept the failures. Learn from them to take criticism that’s valid, and get better. To take criticism that’s not valid, and toss it away, and to not care and not let it throw you. So I need you to stop studying.


Unless, of course you do want to study, then you can go to my website, which is johnhenny.com. I do have courses there for singers and as well as private lessons. If you want to study with me, if you think we may be a good fit, as long as you’re out there also applying this, you can click on the LESSONS, and go from there. I just want to say I’m really looking to working with people who are serious and who are committed. I’m really pairing down my teaching schedule and who I want to work with. I love to help people but I want to help the right people. Not just people who are right for me that I want to work with, but also I’m going to be right for them. Nobody is the right person for everybody. But if you’ve been listening to the podcasts, if this resonates with you, if you’re a serious singer, then by all means, go ahead and check out the lessons.

Until next time. To better singing! Thank you so much. Bye.