The Problem With Imitation

I’m gonna rant.

Now, this isn’t one of those pointless grumpy old man rants. This is going to be a helpful rant, a rant that will assist both you and me in our journey to make great music.

How It All Started

You might have noticed, I tend to read a lot of business books. Being an entrepreneur and an idea guy, I love feeding my brain new ideas. Or at least, I did.

I would read roughly one business book per week (and by “read” I mean “listen” to audiobooks on the Audible app). Reading business books introduced me to many business experts, some legit and some not. I also followed a lot of online business personalities, bloggers and such.

Between these books and websites and online courses and print newsletters and conferences and mastermind groups, I dove DEEP into this world, learning tons about things like direct response marketing, writing sales copy, lead generation, promotion techniques, etc. The list goes on and on.

Undoubtedly you’ve seen me try various different things here on Home Studio Corner over the years. I’ve created tutorial products, released tons of free videos and articles, launched a few free podcasts and paid videos. Some things work well. Some don’t.

So here’s the thing. Last year I paid to be in a business mastermind group with a bunch of high-level entrepreneurs. I paid a LOT of money to be in this group, in hopes that it would help me grow my business. I learned a lot of interesting things and met some incredible people, but…

As I dove deeper into the belly of the beast, hearing how these information marketers were running and growing their businesses, I became disillusioned.

Bitter is probably more accurate.

I would sit through these two-day mastermind meetings, and the conversation was all about making money, maximizing profit and customer retention, generating leads, turning those leads into customers, and charging more for your products and services. Those are all great things, but I discovered that when I enter that world, I become a worse version of myself. I become focused on numbers, dollars, percentages, and statistics. I begin to focus on STUFF instead of people.

During those long, fascinating conversations in that mastermind group, could you guess what topic never came up? You.

I don’t think we ever talked about the people our businesses were trying to serve. Sure, we talked about target markets and niches. We talked about demographics and repeat customers. We talked about creating something the market would pay for, but the topic of serving that market never really came up. It was assumed, but kind of ignored.

Am I saying these people are evil, greedy people? No, not at all. They were some of the smartest, kindest, driven people I’ve ever met.

But I didn’t fit in.

Like I said before, I become a worse version of myself when I’m focused on STUFF instead of people.

And here’s the interesting part. You would think if I turned away from that numbers-heavy focus my business would tank, right? Surely my business couldn’t run on warm, fuzzy feelings and rainbows, right? Of course not, but here’s what happened. When I stopped looking at myself, and I started looking at my customer, at my subscriber, at YOU, things began to change.

Did my business double in 90 days?

No, nothing dramatic happened business-wise. In fact, things stayed surprisingly the same. When I stopped trying to sell so much, I still sold stuff. When I focused more on what I can GIVE to both my customers and subscribers, the numbers took care of themselves.

It felt so liberating. I felt like I could be myself. Joe the musician. Joe the audio guy. Joe the goofball. And also Joe the entrepreneur.

Any time you have the option to be yourself, choose that.

Is everything perfect now? Far from it. I’ve actually dealt with a lot more anxiety in the last year than I ever have. But I think it’s part of the process. I’m transitioning from trying to be someone “they” tell me to be into being who I am, warts and all.

That means you probably won’t see a lot of hyped-up sales copy from me. I probably won’t send you an email with the subject line “5 Ways to Use Compression Like a Pro.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m still gonna try to sell you stuff from time to time, but only in the context of being me, the dorky, nerdy, sometimes funny guy from Nashville who loves to make music and help others make better music.

And I’ll be honest, I think it’ll end up being better for my business in the long run anyway.

So…What’s the Point?

Why am I telling you this?

Because there’s a problem in the world of music, a problem that affects all of us, a problem that needs to be addressed.

Now more than ever it’s incredibly easy to become obsessed with how other people are doing things. With powerhouses like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter churning out content 24/7, we can drink from the proverbial firehose as much as we want.

What if I want to know exactly what guitar pedals and amps Joe Bonamassa plays through? I can find that. What if I want to know what thickness pick he uses? Yep, there’s a video of that.

What if I want to know if Angus Young ever plays the neck pickup on his SG? Found an article about that.

What if I want to know every pro guitarist who plays a Fender Bassman amp? I can search for days and never get a full list.

These are all really, really good things. I’ve spent several afternoons working on email while listening to concerts in the background, artists like AC/DC, John Mayer, Rush, Raconteurs, Jack White, Coldplay, Foo Fighters, Joe Bonamassa, Eric Clapton, The Black Keys, Muse, Led Zeppelin.

I’ll say it again, there’s nothing wrong with these things. I’ve been so incredibly inspired by watching others perform that’s it’s gotten me more and more excited about playing my own music. I’m inspired to book shows and write new songs. Inspiration is an incredible thing.

But inspiration can quickly turn into obsession. That’s the part we need to be careful about.

I can go from enjoying AC/DC’s live show to losing two hours of an afternoon reading every article I can on everything about Angus Young’s guitar playing.

It sounds innocent enough, right? But I know when I’ve crossed the line into obsession. I start to feel a bit icky about what I’m doing. Because I know that there’s literally no point in me knowing everything there is to know about Angus. Why? Because I’m not in an AC/DC cover band. My music doesn’t even sound like AC/DC. Not even close. At some point an innocent curiosity turned into a raging excuse to do research instead of make music.

That’s the real problem.

Being unique and authentic, creating something that’s uniquely you, that’s a horrifying proposition for a lot of people. So we hide. We watch videos of other people doing what we want to do. We get inspired, sure. We might even come up with a few cool ideas for our music, but ultimately we’re hiding. And we know it.

Inspiration vs Imitation

There’s a big difference between inspiration and imitation.

If I’m watching a Foo Fighters concert because I want to be inspired by their raw energy, great. But if I’m watching a Foo Fighters concert because I want to copy exactly what they’re doing, I’ve lost touch with what matters.

Music isn’t about copying, it’s about creating. Your favorite musicians are unique. Sure they pull inspiration and ideas from their favorite musicians, but ultimately what makes you like Dave Grohl isn’t that he can play that riff exactly like Jimmy Page or Eddie Van Halen, but because he’s combined all those influences into something that is uniquely DAVE.

They say imitation is the greatest form of flattery, but I disagree. In music, the name of the game is CREATION. Go make something new. Don’t copy someone else. Stop asking questions that begin with “Should I…”

It doesn’t matter what amp Eric Clapton played through on “Layla.” What matters is he wrote a great song and cranked out some killer guitar solos.

Go write a great song and crank out some great parts to go with it. Be an inspiration to the rest of us.