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How to overcome Imposter Syndrome (as a musician)

How to overcome Imposter Syndrome (as a musician)

build your skills Jun 14, 2024

Imposter Syndrome in Musicians

It’s very common to feel like an underachiever from time to time. Sometimes we do not see ourselves for who we are and often become self-critical at times when we need ourselves the most. Our self-criticism makes us feel like an outsider in our own lives, an imposter when in reality, we are not. This could be detrimental to our mental health.


In this article, we have tried to answer a few questions:

    1. Why do I feel like a fake artist?

    2. What is imposter syndrome as an artist?

    3. What are the 5 types of imposter syndrome?

    4. What triggers imposter syndrome?

    5. How to deal with imposter syndrome in musicians?

    6. Which famous people suffer from imposter syndrome?

    7. Is imposter syndrome a weakness?

Why do I feel like a fake artist?


Feeling like a fake artist is a pretty common experience shared by many in the entertainment industry. People often describe the feeling as a sensation of depersonalization, lack of control, and the persistent feeling that their achievements are often ‘undeserved.’ This is usually the most common and well-known symptom of imposter syndrome. 


The causes of this emotional experience could be various, ranging from socio-economic factors, personality traits, family history or genetics, and so on. However, some of the most common causal factors connected to the feeling of fake artists are:


Constant comparison

If you’ve grown up being compared to your well-achieving siblings, cousins, and other classmates, then this could easily manifest as one of the casual factors for developing a feeling of being a ‘fake’ artist. You’d have been compared with others so much that you’d have internalized the sense of inferiority and don’t believe your achievements hold any value. The constant comparison with other contemporaries in your field, other musicians, and music artists can lead to feelings of being ‘inadequate’ and that no matter how much you try, you can never measure up - which can be a pretty bad downward spiral. 



One of the many traits individuals with OCPD (Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder), share is perfectionism which often gets in the way of the completion of the task at hand. A personality trait of perfectionism has been linked with the emotional experience of feeling like a fake artist among musicians. More often than not, this perfectionism stems from a sense of self-control and self-criticism. Artists believe that if their work does not live up to these great expectations, they will be perceived as failures or fraudulent. Perfectionism can result in ongoing displeasure with one’s job - you may end up disliking your job as a musician.


Pssst…come here: While being meticulous is often lauded and considered as a desirable trait, anything in disproportionate measure sums up to be disadvantageous. The same goes with the trait of perfectionism because you’d want to achieve highly unrealistic standards of work and in the process, you’d learn to be harsh on yourself, rather than understanding and compassionate. 


Lack of formal validation

Artists who have not obtained formal schooling or training, or who have not been professionally recognized (e.g., through awards or exhibitions), may believe their accomplishments are less valid. This lack of external validation can fuel feelings of inauthenticity. This holds true, especially for those musicians who have been operating in the industry for quite some time and haven’t been able to establish a mark for themselves. While this is extremely natural and quite common in the industry, it doesn’t translate to any inability or lack of talent. However, the absence of validation in the field has been connected to the feeling of a fake artist. 


What is imposter syndrome as an artist?


For a musician, imposter syndrome is characterized by constant insecurity and the fear of being recognized as a fraud regardless of proof of one’s abilities and achievements. 


Let’s do some quick social psychology 101:


We often attribute actions and behaviors of our own and others to different causes, these can be external and internal. By external causes, we mean, situational factors and by internal causes, we mean personality factors. For example, if we watch someone spilling coffee on themselves while driving, we can assume two possibilities:


  1. He must be a clumsy person (personality factor). 
  2. He must be in a hurry, maybe he is late to work (situational factor). 


In technical terms, this is called fundamental attribution error, where we, as observers, tend to attribute others’ actions to personality factors more and undermine the situational factors, especially when the actions are unpleasant or negative to look at. 



On the other hand, we also engage in something called a self-serving bias. Here, we attribute our own success to personal factors and our failures to external factors. For example, a musician would credit himself for the tremendous sales of his music, and blame situational factors like the lack of support of record labels if his music doesn’t do well. 


Artists suffering from imposter syndrome frequently credit their achievement to luck or other situational factors instead of their dispositional factors like their own abilities and originality, which is the exact opposite of self-serving bias. This syndrome can cause worry, anxiety, and a lack of enthusiasm to seek new chances. Artists with imposter syndrome constantly doubt their skills and the validity of their talent. They frequently think they are not highly competent and that what they do is unworthy of the recognition they get. It could be extremely stress-inducing because these individuals also feel the constant fear of being exposed as fraud. Artists are concerned that others may soon learn they lack the talent or inventiveness they are perceived to possess.


Pssst….come here: It is extremely important to take note of any such symptoms of the syndrome as seriously as possible because it doesn’t take long for the symptoms to manifest in chronic loneliness. Artists may isolate themselves, believing that collaborating or sharing their experiences could reveal their imagined shortcomings. This can result in isolation and an absence of assistance from peers.


If you work in a musical field that demands a certain level of technological skill and understanding, such as producing, imposter syndrome comes into play. You might not think you have the technical skills to call yourself a ‘professional’ producer. Advances in technology might often make musicians feel as if they don’t fit in with the dystopian new musical world, and that technology is overtaking their talents.


What are the 5 types of imposter syndrome?


Although most of the symptoms are shared, there are 5 types of imposter syndrome:



This is the most common and generic kind of musician experiencing imposter syndrome. This kind feels insufficient until they’re functioning flawlessly (see why it’s impossible and unrealistic?). They create very high expectations and feel defeated when they fall short.



These people push themselves to work more diligently and for longer than their peers in order to demonstrate that they aren’t fraudsters. They frequently suffer from exhaustion. Late hours are something they almost take pride in and even though it causes burnout, they continue to be at it. See why it’s called Superman/superwoman?



Natural Genius

These individuals believe that they have to comprehend new knowledge or master new skills right away. When they don’t, they feel ashamed. Such musicians often rush through the process and if they don’t get it right the first few times, they believe that they just ‘suck’ at it which triggers a whole lot of negative emotions. 



They believe they have to fulfill duties on their own accord. If they require assistance, they interpret it as a sign of failure or ineptitude. Such musicians translate taking help as a sign of dependency and weakness. So such individuals often do try to avoid any such circumstances, but when they realize that they NEED help, they become extremely self-critical and feel like imposters. 



They assess their ability based on what they understand or are capable of doing. Even modest gaps in their expertise can lead to self-doubts. This is very similar to the natural genius traits, except here, they’d like to master a skill and become an expert but any insignificant gaps in their knowledge make them feel less competent. The all-knowing type of imposter syndrome manifests in insecurities that become apparent when the musician realizes that he or she doesn’t really know a new technique in vocals, let’s say, and just this realization will make them feel like a fraud, and that they bear no talent whatsoever. 

What triggers imposter syndrome?


Stressors that usually trigger the symptoms of imposter syndrome are usually notable when there’s an underlying disposition in the individual. For example, if someone has an underlying genetic disposition tofear of criticism and rejection, then they are bound to react more negatively and be prone to the symptoms of imposter syndrome. 


Some common triggers include:


Starting something new

When artists begin fresh assignments, take on new roles, or obtain promotions, they frequently face additional obligations and expectations. Such new problems might allude to insecurity and worry, causing people to doubt their skills and talents. The pressure to perform well in an unknown territory might make individuals feel like impostors, fearful that their lack of abilities will be revealed. For example, a musician may be concerned about their capacity to match the demands of a high-profile concert or collaborate with renowned musicians.


Family background

Family dynamics influence your self-image and attitudes toward success. Growing up in a high-achieving family might put a lot of pressure on you to succeed. Conflicting messages about success, such as being applauded for accomplishments yet chastised for failing to fulfill extraordinarily demanding requirements, can trigger symptoms of imposter syndrome. An artist from such a background may suffer from the dread of failing to meet family expectations, believing that their achievements would be never enough. 


Cultural and Gender-based factors

Societal influences and cultural stereotypes can have a considerable impact on artists, particularly those from underrepresented/underprivileged groups. Cultural expectations frequently affect who are regarded as naturally talented or deserving of success, posing additional challenges for people who do not meet these preconceptions. For example, female musicians and musicians of color may experience unconscious biases that weaken their confidence. The need to overcome these societal boundaries and demonstrate their worth can increase thoughts of being a phony, as they may believe their successes are evaluated or examined more closely than those of their peers.


How to deal with imposter syndrome in musicians?


Combating imposter syndrome as musicians could first seem tedious and even impossible at times, but if the management techniques are utilized consistently and effectively, it is possible to reduce the subjective experience of the symptoms. 


Acknowledge your emotion

 Accept and acknowledge your emotions and thoughts of self-doubt rather than dismissing or repressing them. Embracing these feelings reduces their power over you. Recognizing that self-doubt is a natural component of the process of creation can be soothing and allow you to go ahead without being immobilized by fear.


Identify negative thoughts

Pay close attention to the negative self-talk that leads to feeling like an imposter. Examine these thoughts by seeking evidence that both contradicts and supports them. This way, you will see what’s the reality; the circumstances where you actually didn’t do well as well as those where your musical abilities proved skillful and successful. Actively looking out for negative thoughts and breaking them down into realistic instances will help you become more of a realist than a pessimist, which could help avert the downward spiral of imposter syndrome. 


Celebrate your achievements

This comes after you’ve taken note with evidence, of those wins in your journey that have previously gone unnoticed before. By celebrating your achievements, as well as attributing your successes to YOUR hard work, you could learn to avert the feelings of being an imposter. Note that these achievements could be big or small. Make a list as well. When you feel like you are ‘not enough’, refer to this list to reassure yourself of your strengths and accomplishments.

Set realistic goals

Realize that no one is flawless, and everybody makes mistakes. Even your professional contemporaries will have produced songs that they would rather forget! While aiming for perfection is laudable, expecting perfection is unachievable all the time, and can lead to feelings of inferiority. You can make reasonable goals and break them down. Large projects can appear intimidating and unachievable, causing greater self-doubt. Break down massive tasks into smaller, more doable steps. This technique makes objectives more manageable and less scary, allowing you to keep at it.


Pssst…come here: This may seem obvious, but positive affirmations help a great deal. Start your day with positive affirmations, those that align the best with your ideologies, and be consistent with them. You do not have to believe in the universe and the cosmos, but you just have to remind yourself, that you believe in YOURSELF. Makes sense?


Change your perception of failure

A major symptom of imposter syndrome is the fear of failure that seems to be chronic in nature and interferes with the occupational functioning of a musician. But is failure something you HAVE to be so afraid of?


Sure, the experience of failure is mostly negative and feels disappointing, for starters. But they are very important in the journey because they teach you the best. If you want to learn and be better, then there’s actually no better way than to make mistakes, or at least give yourself the freedom or liberty to fail. Failure is NOT the end of the world and certainly not the end of your career. An active change in your perception of failure could really help alleviate and overcome the symptoms of imposter syndrome. 


Luck is a part of it all

Accept that luck plays a role, not only in your success but in your failures too. But remember that although it does make a difference, it is a very small component in the big picture you are trying to paint. Everyone has their fair share of luck so what really matters is what you do with it. As a musician, you can do your best at every project you take, every song you write or make, and put sincere and honest work into it and that is something you should take full credit for. 


Talk to your confidante/professional

Sharing your experiences, thoughts, and feelings will help in understanding your own emotions better as well as make you feel better. If you have a trusted friend, a family member, or a mentor, try to express and communicate. If you don’t think you trust anyone in your personal life enough, you can always approach a mental health professional. Their job is to listen to you without any judgments and will help you navigate through your problems. 


Which famous people suffer from imposter syndrome?


Imposter syndrome is more common than you think and we’ve listed a few famous names who have spoken about it. Understand that you aren’t alone and you can battle through it as well. 



Adele has openly addressed her difficulties with imposter syndrome, particularly in relation to her stage performances and fame. Despite her immense fame and countless honors, she has shown self-doubt and dread of not meeting expectations.


David Bowie

A legendary figure in music and contemporary culture, David Bowie confessed in interviews that he frequently felt like a fraud. Despite his pioneering work and significant career, he battled with self-doubt and the belief that his achievement was undeserved.


Ellie Goulding

The famous singer of Love Me Like You Do, has spoken openly about her difficulties with imposter syndrome. Although her success in the music industry has been tremendous, she has discussed feeling unworthy of her accomplishments and the continual need to prove herself.


Is imposter syndrome a weakness?


No, imposter syndrome is not a weakness. It is just a psychological thought pattern that often results in a chronic state of mind that hinders professional progress. Although it’s a mentally consuming condition, it doesn’t define your musical capabilities and is certainly not a ‘weakness.’ It simply reflects the discrepancy between your perceived (and often unrealistic) expectations and your available resources, other variables, and competence. While imposter syndrome can cause anxiety and impair performance, understanding and resolving it can promote personal development and resilience. So it is important that you see it as a problem to conquer, rather than a character flaw.


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