This is something I think every single artist struggles with at some point or another, especially when they are first starting out in their craft. It’s embarrassing and painful, but we all deal with it. Comparing my music to other musicians’ work and trying to get my music to sound like theirs was so frustrating that I almost quit making music altogether a few times, and I guarantee any other artist you ask has similar stories. So, what’s the key to overcoming this?
I had a conversation about this with a good friend the other day; we have both been creating our own art for enough of our lives that we have come to learn a few things about it. And here’s the key we have both experienced: We as artists must tap into the vast world within ourselves, the inner well from which all uniqueness and creativity flows. Without access to that well, true creativity doesn’t exist; we have no other choice but to look to others’ work as our source of creativity.
Of course this is much easier said than done, so I’m gonna go into a bit more depth and outline some steps you can take to access your own creative well.
The Dangers of Comparison and Duplication
You might be thinking what’s the big deal? So what if my song sounds like this other guy’s song? It may seem harmless; after all, if you copy another painter’s style of painting or another musician’s sound, they’ve established that style as being “good” and people have recognized it as such, so your similar work will be perceived as “good” too. Right?
Nope, not at all. It’s a lie from Satan himself that is incredibly easy to believe.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “comparison is the thief of joy” – sounds like just another cliche phrase that adults tell teenagers in youth group, but I’ve come to find that it’s completely true. Trying your hardest to look or sound like other artists is not only exhausting and frustrating, it robs you of the satisfaction and joy that comes when you’ve completed a creation of your own design.
God has gifted each of us with our own uniqueness; we all have our own unique fingerprints, eye colors, face shapes, personalities. But our individuality goes deeper than just our physical bodies: our souls were created just as uniquely, if not much more. If we’re not creating from the God-given uniqueness in our souls, the message God intended us to bring to the world is lost.
And of course, any creation that God inspires from your uniqueness will not look or sound at all like the creation that came from someone else’s uniqueness, so comparing your unique work to someone else’s is a hopeless venture that will only end with insecurity and frustration.
We must remember that the enemy is real, and his goal is to steal, kill, and destroy–and if he can steal, kill, and destroy your unique God-given art, he wins.
How to Tap Into Your “Inner Well”
I wish I could give you a straightforward “3 steps to overcoming your problems” type of answer, but it’s just not that simple. Getting to know the unique flow of creativity within you takes time and dedication; I still have a long way to go in mastering it myself. But I will outline the things that helped me.
Learning about true humility and your unique place in the Kingdom of God is a great place to start. I’m not talking about the self-deprecating “humility” that makes you think you are below everyone else; I’m talking about real, God-given humility that gives you confidence in your worth and identity while also recognizing that without God you would be nothing. This will require spending a lot of time in God’s presence, getting to know him for yourself.
Of course, viewing/listening/reading other people’s work is important to growing as an artist in your chosen field, so discipline yourself to think differently and admire that person’s unique creativity instead of thinking “I’ll never be able to do that.” Notice the differences in different people’s work. Teach yourself to think of “different,” even radically different, as a good thing. And when you feel yourself getting discouraged about your lacking skills while looking at a really great work of art, remind yourself that you’re always growing and your skills will improve with time.
A great practical step you can take is to start a project in your chosen art form that is for your own eyes and ears only. Really be secretive about this project and discipline yourself to keep it to yourself. Comparison often stems from a need to be liked (which we all naturally have to some extent), and detaching yourself from that need will require you to entirely step back from the eyes of other people for a while. This really helped me in my own music; I took a year to just create music that was never shared on the internet or shown to friends, and it really helped me to develop my own sound and style that I enjoyed. This went on to be one of my own personal values as a musician: If I don’t enjoy listening to my music, I shouldn’t release it.
Above all, keep at it, and never stop creating. Like I said, I still have a long way to go in this area, and so does every other artist; it’s a slow (and sometimes frustrating) journey, but one that will bring you so much joy and satisfaction. Keep growing, keep pressing in, keep seeking your unique voice, and you will find it.