Self-Awareness for Musicians: How to Become the Best You

By: Pat Watters 
​Published: January 22, 2017

There’s an entrepreneur and public speaker I love named Gary Vaynerchuck. Gary talks all the time about self-awareness, and how it’s one of the most valuable things that any budding entrepreneur can have. While thinking about that stance of Gary’s, I started thinking about how self-awareness applies to musicians. 

Musicians sometimes have a reputation for having a big ego. Shocking, right? 

An ego isn’t always a bad thing. I’d argue if you’re going to stand in a room facing a group of people expecting you to entertain them, you probably ought to have a bit of an ego. If you don’t believe you’re worth watching, they’re not going to believe it either. 

But the best musicians know when to harness their ego for good, and when to tuck it in their pocket for safe-keeping. Part-time musicians, especially ones with families, know all too well that it doesn’t matter how many people you played for last night. This is today. And that diaper isn’t going to change itself.

One of the best ways to keep your ego in check AND make the most of your potential as an entertainer,  is this exercise in self-awareness. 

STEP 1: Honestly Assess The Skills You Possess 
To make this easier to understand, I will complete this exercise using myself as a real-life example. 

Musicianship: I am not the best guitar player in the world. In fact, I play guitar in a band that has two guitar players and I am the third best guitar player in the band. On a 5-point scale, I am a 2 to 2.5 as a guitar player, and that’s probably as good as I am going to get. 

Vocal Talent: I am a good singer. I’m not Adele or Michael Buble (Buble’? Booblay? I don’t know, and I am not going to look it up). Not even close. But I sing in key, I have a unique voice, and I know how to use it to convey the appropriate emotion in a song. On the 5-point scale, I’m probably a 3. 

Songwriting: I am also a good songwriter. I passionately pour myself into crafting great songs. I struggle sometimes to find truly unique melodies, and I don’t think I am anywhere close to as good as I can get as a lyricist in my lifetime. But I have created a good catalog of songs that the people we play for seem to connect with. I feel I am a solid 3 who’s constantly striving to be a 5. 

Performance: I feel I excel as a performer.  Through my years as a solo musicians, I’ve learned how to work a crowd. I can hit (and miss) on a few improvised jokes a night. I know what it takes to get and hold a crowd’s attention, and most nights I can pull it off. I would rate myself an even 4. 

Promotion: This is my strongest point. Thanks to my training and day job as a marketer, I have a stronger ability than most musicians I know to promote shows, brand and market the band, get performance opportunities, and grow our digital presence. I think I am probably a 4 to 4.5 (always room for improvement). 

Wow, that was incredibly uncomfortable to type. But hopefully it provides a useful framework for you. These are by no means the skills you need to assess. They’re just the ones of mine that I think add value to the band I play in. 

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STEP 2: Double Down on What You’re Good At 
The temptation for many musicians would be to try to get better at the things you recognize as weaknesses. But I have been playing guitar since I was 10. I’m likely not going to become a better guitar player, and I don’t really want to. I could pursue vocal coaching that might allow me to become a better technical singer. But I’m not going to do that. I’m afraid it might change the way I sing, and ultimately take the joy out of singing for me. 

Instead, I am recognizing who I am as a musician. I am a strong performer and promoter, who is striving to become an exceptional songwriter. Realizing that, I know what I bring to the band. I know what I am good at, and that’s where I should focus the bulk of my attention because it brings the most value. 

STEP 3: Surround Yourself With People Who Complement You 
You are not the only person who can make you better. I wrote a song for our last album called “Loved to be Wanted.” I liked the lyrics a lot. I liked the melody too. But the intro I wrote was weak. It was just a chord progression designed to get us to the opening line. You know the kind… one measure of G, one of C, another of G, and (wait for it) one final measure of C. When the band got together to start arranging the song, our guitar player pulled out a riff that now makes the song instantly recognizable within the first 6 notes. 

Instead of putting a magnifying glass on your weakness, find other band members who fill those gaps. Work with people who make you better. Odds are, you make them better in a completely different way. You get better by bringing your best to the table, and welcoming other people to do the same. 

Self-awareness is a process that requires vulnerability and sometimes painful honesty. But it's worth it. I beleive we all possess the ability to become more self-aware if we allow ourselves to. And once you do, you open yourself up to the opportunity to capitalize on your strengths, complement your weaknesses, and reach your maximum potential. 

Go make some noise!