Avoiding the comparison trap: Being an artist on one’s own terms

Illustration: Michael Haddad

Our digital landscape encourages us to constantly measure ourselves against our peers and idols, but comparing ourselves to others can be dangerous and stifle creativity.

There is value to having role models in life and in art. But when one strives to become one’s role models, individuality suffers. Everyone’s paths are different and we are the sum of different circumstances and chance events. Taking this into consideration, comparison becomes absurd.

Find your own truth and stick to it

By wanting to be someone else (or more like someone else), you’re setting yourself back out of the gate. For one, you never will be (you’re you!), and two, you won’t achieve that glowing individuality that radiates from your idols by following someone else’s lead. Don’t want to be someone else – want to be yourself. It’s your only choice. Anything else is a distraction and a sure bet at being uninteresting.

Through the rose-tinted lens of social media, others are often projecting their best selves, if not inflated versions of themselves. They might be struggling in the same way you are, but leaving it out of their narrative. People often suffer more than meets the eye and have messier lives than their Instagram accounts might portray. You’re less alone than you imagine and being an artist – perhaps more than any life practice – is about finding one’s own truth and sticking to it.

Set your own parameters for success

Measure yourself according to your benchmarks. Consider asking yourself: is this bringing me joy? Would I want to listen to this? Would I be floored if this track came on at a party? Does this tell my story? Does this sound like anything else I’ve heard? Does this sound like me?

Success can be measured on one’s own terms, and unlike aiming to be ‘as good as’ your favorite artists, this practice doesn’t hinge on moving targets. Set your own parameters for success and you may find yourself carving out a path that’s distinctly your own. In addition to maintaining your mental health, this exercise will help define your aesthetic values and set guidelines for your work.

Look inward, not outward

If you must compare, try reflecting on your work alongside your past creations. You might be astonished to hear how far you’ve come. You may be also be struck by some of the qualities of your early work that you forgot about and might appreciate revisiting. I’ll never forget digging up some of my earliest experiments after ten years of making music to find a playfulness and curiosity that was missing from my newest work. Sure, I had become technically more proficient over the years, but I had drifted away from the childlike sense of wonder that I made sure to reconnect with on future records. A deep look inward can be infinitely more rewarding than looking outward. Invite yourself to relinquish the latter and dive in.

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June 27, 2019

Erin Rioux Erin Rioux is a record producer and co-founder of the New York label Human Pitch. As a member of the Splice team, Erin creates sounds and content.