Afraid to Be Yourself and Make Great Music? This Might Help You Get Unblocked.

Have you ever wished you could be someone else?

Someone for whom a particular skill or quality just seemed so easy, whether it was their warmth and positive energy, insightful and keen wit, or freewheeling dance moves?

Meanwhile we bemoan our inner Eeyore  and cringe at past memories of uncomfortable attempts at humor  and awkwardness on the dance floor  and wallow in a downward spiral of self-doubt and discouragement.

How do we navigate around this tendency to underestimate ourselves and overestimate everyone else?

Art and self-worth

As artists, we spend a large portion of our lives honing our craft. With so much time and energy invested in the very personal creation of our art, naturally, it begins to seep into our identity and becomes a big part of how we define and value ourselves.

So when our work is rejected, it is difficult not to feel that it is a rejection of us. Of the very core of who we are – and our worth as people.

For us to pour our heart and soul into something and have the world say that it’s not worth much?


It can make us afraid to try again. Afraid to be so personal and share so much of who we are in our next creative effort.

Over time, it can be tempting to close ourselves off a bit, to be safe and aim for the middle, shield ourselves from rejection and put a little less us in what we offer up to the world.

The problem of course, is that this sort of works. At least in the sense that the world is less likely to point a finger at us and call us out. But not because we’ve made something great, but because we’ve blended in, and the world doesn’t really see us anymore.

But then we run across an artist who courageously puts themself out into the world, and we realize how deeply we want this as well. To have the courage to be ourselves, no matter what the world might think. That this is art-making.

As David Bayles and Ted Orland say in Art & Fear, “To the critic, art is a noun. To the artist, art is a verb.”

Alter egos

What would be possible for you to create, if you let go of yourself for a moment, with all your perceived limitations, baggage, and concerns about what others might think?

This is easier said than done, of course.

But then I saw a TED talk by artist Shea Hembrey, which is hilarious, and might just be totally brilliant. Take a look:

In much the same way that it’s easier to develop new positive habits than it is to erase old unproductive habit, what if, like Hembrey, we created an alter ego for ourselves? Complete with name, backstory, and mission in life?

What kind of music would that person produce? How would that person play? What kind of music would that person program? How would that person carry themselves?

Would this be freeing, even for a moment, giving us a glimpse of our potential lying just beneath the fear?


Maybe this last bit is a stretch, but online community company Disqus has found that users who utilize pseudonyms (i.e. adopted identities like BurntToast or MonkeyBiz) contribute more and higher-quality comments online than those who reveal their actual names, and those who choose to remain anonymous. Perhaps there is something about taking on a different identity which allows us to reveal a different side of us without fear of rejection…

Take action

How would you implement this into your own music-making?

I’m curious – are there composers out there who have tried something like this?

photo credit: Innocent Coppieters via photopin cc

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11 Responses

  1. Hi!

    As a musician I can relate so much with this! Especially in classical music which is my field, it’s awfully hard to get attention from an audience and all critique just brings a person down…

    You asked about composers, I know about a few of them. I came across some partitures from anonimous composers or just some uknown names who actually turned out to be Beethoven, Chopin etc. (I think that Liszt used an anagram from his name sometimes).

    Definitely the most famous musician who uses an alter ego and talks often about it is Beyonce- her stage alter ego is Sasha Fierce. She claims that Sasha has all the energy and courage that Beyonce doesn’t have in her private life.

    So you made a really good point with this post! Maybe we all should try it? If it works for Beyonce… 😉

  2. This really makes us wonder about arts.
    I actually felt like all those artists were other people. Only in the the end, I thought: woow, these all were done by only one mind. So many different perspectives. Impressive.
    Thank you so much for this!
    All the best!

  3. When I was reading this post, I thought, “hell, how does he know what happened to me?” Because this is exactly what I’m like! My teacher keeps telling me I should never change my being this humble and modest and stuff – but on stage I should be just everything that I’m not in private life.

    That’s why I think creating an alter ego might help me very much! I’m not only a musician, but also a composer (well, a wanna-be yet) and I’m going to try this for both being a cellist and a composer. I’m thrilled already!

  4. This is right along the lines of the idea you presented in your workshop at UW-Madison that we take on the personality and musicianship of our favorite instrumentalist. I’ve used this quite often since then with my own students with sometimes spectacular results!

  5. I think violinist Kreutzer wrote some pieces in which he presented to the public as being “written by vivaldi” or something like that, and only later (maybe when he died or got old?) people actually found out (or he revealed) that the compositions were his own.
    It may have been someone else, i cant remember clearly whose story is that. What is more impressive, is that when he wrote something “by Boccherini” it was actually in a very similar style to that composer.

  6. Really interesting and very timely article. Today I felt “Boo” (my ‘alter ego’) as I got into practice and Boo really made my whole practice experience so much more fun and engaging.

  7. Wow, this is exactly what I do when I compose! Every song I write is written by a different part of me, almost like the alter ego you’re talking about. I never consciously acknowledged that happening with me, but now that it’s spelt out I can see how much it contributes to my creative process.

  8. Hi and thanks for the inspiring idea. I experienced some liberation the moment I got married and had a new name. My students often pretend they are someone else fitting the piece they are performing, like when they play Bach suite they pretend to be a castle – dwelling countess. So if there is a screw up, it wasn’t them but the countess.

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