Struggling with impostor syndrome as an artist or music engineer?

As impostor syndrome is a prevalent topic in this group, lets get detailed and work through it a bit.

Impostor syndrome (as we have discussed) is defined as a belief of self-doubt which meets 3 criteria:

  1. It is false (and unjustified - meaning assumptions differ from reality)
  2. It is degrading of self-value
  3. It requires something is being compared to something else

If criteria 1) It is false… is changed to ‘it is true’, then self-doubt changes to self-awareness. I am self aware that I will never be a pro athlete. That is no longer impostor syndrome and becomes a rational and justified belief.

If criteria 2) It is degrading of self-value… is ‘affirmed’ rather than degraded and taken to an extreme, but 1 and 3 are left as-is, then we are no longer discussing ‘impostor syndrome’, rather than ‘delusions of grandeur’ syndrome.

If criteria 3) It requires something to be compared to something else… is omitted, you don’t have impostor syndrome, you simply have low self esteem.

Addressing criteria 1. Impostor syndrome is not impostor syndrome unless the facts are incongruent with reality or you are in denial of relevant facts (which also renders a belief false). If you are confident in facts regarding your belief, this syndrome will not affect you. The facts say I (Jonathan) will never be a pro football player. The facts are correct. I accept those facts (since the assumption aligns with reality) and thereby I am not an NFL impostor. For those of you who aspire to have a successful career in audio, you often question the ‘facts’ of your self adequacy. Let me remind you that by definition, those are still QUESTIONS. Not facts. Impostor syndrome requires that you have formed a conclusion and believed it - NOT merely raised a question.

Addressing criteria 3. Number three is a direct derivative position of number one, except that being an ‘impostor’ requires something to impersonate, as well as a person to deceive (even if the person is yourself). So rather than evaluating ourselves against our competitors accomplishments, we need to focus on our clients expectations. Think about this. If you’re in the NBA, your coach and team owner are your client. Worry about YOUR roll on YOUR team NOW. Not what Michael Jordan accomplished 20 years ago. Tell impostor syndrome to take a seat on the bench by simply aligning your priorities where they need to be.

“The craziest people among us are the ones who struggle with it [impostor syndrome] the least”. - Chris Graham.

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You lost me…I guess I am more of a musician as I couldn’t follow the logic :slight_smile:

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Impostor syndrome is the ‘bully’ of self-doubt where you tell yourself ‘I’m not worthy to be charging people to record/mix/master their music because I’m just not good enough at it and I don’t deserve their business’.

I personally don’t understand why. I have a hard time empathizing with it, because I rarely ever feel challenged or defeated by this. But MANY entrepreneurs in this audio group (six figure home studio) have been open about mentally and emotionally struggling with it. So I took the time to try and articulate why I don’t have issues with it myself.

The SFHS group mainly functions on Facebook, so I used the wordpress platform here on this forum to try and make it more readable, because its ungodly long as a Facebook post.

As with all thing perspective is the key here. As a teacher I have to deal with kids who grow into and out of each of these stages. I grew up in a house with a confident mother and father. My mother is an expert in her field (fabrics) and my dad is best described as the inspiration for the character Doc Brown in Back to the Future. But here’s where it gets weird. I grew up being bullied terribly both in primary and high school. I would say that had a lasting effect on me. I actually recognise all 3 of those statements in me when it came to things that I was good at (such as playing the guitar or messing with electronics).

I think there’s a line where you are not expert yet in a field, and self doubt, self value and comparisons can plague your mind. At the moment I’m really trying hard to get myself into programming and have those moments of “I’m never going to be good enough”. But the rational side of me kicks in and says “you won’t be as good as a full time programmer who does this 12 hours a day for 20 years!”.

One of my interests of research as far as youth and youth culture, is the omnipresent perfection of others that they are immersed in. I have taught classes of students where they have told me to my face that they can never be as good looking as the Kardashians or other “generic” star. I love to burst the bubble of perfection here. I explain that these celebrities have an entire team managing their look, their posts, their “reactions”. They also NEVER post anything direct from their phones candidly - it’s downloaded, colour corrected, photoshopped and then uploaded “candidly”. In this new saturation of perfection culture, I can see more and more youngsters suffering imposter syndrome.

Oh, in that case with me it is a bit different.

I went the Audio Engineer route and had a pleasant although somewhat jarring experience with it. I don’t have a problem charging and in some cases if I am super excited might even go pro bono for a project. It has to be something that I like though, and I don’t like many things that I want to record/produce as most of what I hear is utter garbage with decent or good production…just the songs and the performing talent are not quite there.

So Jonathan, the conclusion is … you’re one of the craziest people among us? :grin:

I remember Brandon Drury (RecordingReview) ranted a bit about “confidence” on at least several threads, of course this was years ago. I think there was an element of imposter syndrome behind what he was saying, though it wasn’t as widely talked about at that time. He pointed to some psychology research that suggested (I wish I could remember the details) that highly confident people were able to hold a belief in their mind of what they were eventually/ultimately capable of (presumably) rather than a belief based on their skills and knowledge today. In other words, you almost have to hold your vision of your “future self” in mind in order to construct high levels of confidence - achieving beyond your current state. Which can look crazy and unrealistic to someone who is more grounded in ‘reality’. So in a sense, you have to have a degree of ‘crazy’ in you to believe something for which evidence doesn’t yet exist. Or maybe it’s imagination and desire, driven by passion.

Yes, one aspect is self-esteem, which is an internal belief in one’s own value, and in some cases perhaps goodness and virtue. Whereas confidence is more of an external belief in being up to par in terms of accomplishing a task or goal.

If you really dive into this there could be many levels. As Jordan Peterson might say, “it’s incredibly caawwmplicated.” :slightly_smiling_face: One aspect is “identity”, how you see yourself. And we can accept an identity we are given by others, or we can create one for ourselves. Indeed, I think a lot of what Tony Robbins and other motivational coaches do is help people shift their identity - probably toward the “future self”.

I think certain personality characteristics can play a role too: conscientiousness, sense of responsibility, perfectionism, and a need for ‘structure’. It might be a case of needing “permission to be awesome”.

There’s also the element of “entrepreneurship” which probably drives a lot of this. In the past, society and business was more structured and gave us a ‘container’ for our identity and our goals. Now, we define conditions in the world with the acronym V.U.C.A. (volatile, uncertain, complicated, ambiguous). This has almost made entrepreneurship mandatory for everyone, even in the corporate realm. You have to figure out your own way, create your own container, identity, and beliefs about yourself and the world.

So Jonathan, having said all that , you gave a logical breakdown of self-doubt in terms of causes and solutions … but it seems there is much more to it. Do you have any further thoughts on why this (imposter syndrome) is something that you have not found to be challenging for yourself?


This is an interesting topic.

Like Stan eluded to, this subject is pretty complex. A bunch of thoughts crossed my mind just reading your post.

All humans are delusional. We all lack knowledge of ourselves. In place of knowledge we choose beliefs…whether accurate or inaccurate. I think most people tend to err on the side of believing we are better than we really are even when we’re just average. Our ego’s have a hard time accepting that we’re nothing special, so we lie to ourselves all the time. Right now, this very minute we are all lying to ourselves about what and who we really are…It’s a self-preservation methodology. Nobody can live without denial of self…We’re masters of denial. Having negative beliefs about ourselves is just the other side of the “denial coin”. Positive self delusion can be helpful to a large degree…IF it’s tempered with a bit of rationality. Like Stan mentioned, before we become good at something we have to believe that we can become good at it. Show me someone who thinks they suck at something who is a master in their particular specialty. They didn’t just start thinking they were great when they became great…Their belief in their self came long before they became great.

And on that note…Greatness is all an illusion too. Greatness is merely a judgment.

I’m not a bible person or religious at all, but…“So ye shall think, so shall ye be.”


This is similar to what Brandon Drury had posted. I think “positive self-delusion” may be the psychological term I’m thinking of, or something similar. With some rationality, it can help people become very successful.

Also, I think uncertainty - or fear of the unknown - may be one of the biggest human fears. Maybe even more than fear of death or fear of falling (or public speaking). People are so averse to uncertainty and the unknown - or it might be more accurate to say our subconscious mind is - that we will create the delusions and fantasies to make us feel better; comfortable, safe, and secure.

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What happens if you get impostor syndrome when you’re working on becoming an impostor - for scamming a bank or something - does that make you a real person?


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I don’t have a clue. Maybe I’m just weird. I dunno. I’m not claiming to be an expert on psychology - its certainly not my strong suit. After 170 of my fellow audio engineer entrepreneurs admitted it was a struggle for them, I did a couple hours of reading on the subject and made some logical observations.

Haha. You will never cut it as an impostor impersonator. You are not good enough. You just don’t have what it takes. No matter how hard you try, you will never measure up to the best impostor impostors in the business. So just go home. Because you give all impostor impostors a bad name.


170 people out of 171? Wouldn’t that make you either an anomaly or an extraterrestrial implant? :slightly_smiling_face:

It’s likely something everyone struggles with at some point in their life, either consciously or unconsciously. Most people getting married or having children realize they have to admit they have no idea what they’re actually doing. Spouses and kids don’t come with user manuals, like your DAW and plugins. That “positive self-delusion” thing has been shown to apply liberally to automobile drivers. :roll_eyes: Managers and supervisors can experience imposter syndrome, especially soon after having been promoted. Basically, anybody who has ever failed at anything or bitten off more than they can chew might experience it at least momentarily. Are you sure you’re not in “denial”. :wink:

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170 people out of 5000 in the group. I have no idea what percentage of active participants that is. But I figured if 170 were concerned enough about it to speak up its something that deserved a little attention. Must be that both of these forums seem like home to me so much that one group reads something perfectly ordinary and the other group (totally lacking context) is scratching their heads wondering what tree this topic fell out of lol haha.

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Yeah, I was both kidding and making an assumption.

Well, that’s only the ones who spoke up, or bothered to post about it. That doesn’t mean those are the only ones who have experienced it. It can be an embarrassing topic for a lot of people. Like I said (and I was serious about that part) it’s something very common and likely to be experienced by any human at some point in their life.

Yeah Monday morning usually.


OK, @Jonathan, I think it’s time for the evidential route rather than the logical justification route (3 criteria) you proposed. That was bugging me. While I understand you were trying to help people, and there is a certain benefit to confronting cognitive dissonance, that route may not work for everyone. Evidentiality brings in the storytelling aspect, where we can relate to other people’s lives.

So I came across this Joe Rogan podcast billed as Henry Rollins talking about George Carlin. It just so happens as soon as I started listening he mentions “imposter syndrome” and that’s what the whole 6 minutes is about. I would urge everyone to watch it, excellent stuff.

I had discovered a long, long time ago that many/most/all artists and performers (i.e. the “creative” professions) are deeply insecure, including yours truly. I don’t know if it’s childhood or personality, or ‘damage’, or what … but it’s incredibly consistent. Henry describes several examples (Ozzy, Carlin) and mentions a few others. It intertwined with my “insecurity theory” and I saw that imposter syndrome is not something to be avoided … but to be embraced! It’s what keeps people hungry and growing. And humble as well. Kind of like ‘stage fright’ I guess. If you’re not nervous on stage, you’re not alive most likely. Now certainly, if it becomes paralyzing then it’s dysfunctional, but all the stories I have heard were that the doubts were there but they faced the fear and did it anyway. I’m not saying this proves it’s a good thing, but certainly anecdotal evidence suggests that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” in terms of insecurity and creative livelihood. Properly managed, it could be helpful and even essential.

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Two of the most successful musicians on earth are (were) insecure about their work.


Great article Ingo! Those guys are a great example, having been one of the most prolific songwriting teams of all time. I have to wonder … is insecurity in some ways the “fuel” for creativity? If we were “secure”, we’d probably have less need to express and communicate our deep emotions. Insecurity could go hand-in-hand with strong emotions (instability) and mental imbalance - adding to the mythology of artists as genius and/or “crazy”. Of course, it’s certainly possible to keep a handle on these things and still make good music, but it seems that many of the pioneering and provocative artists incorporate some degree of their insanity into their art.

Something Paul says in the 60 Minutes video in Ingo’s link really caught my attention about 4:33, and I see it’s in the article text too:

“I think if you care about what you’re doing, if you really want to get it right, then you’ve got to deal with insecurities,” he tells 60 Minutes correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi in the video above. “It’s what makes it right.”

While an insecurity is perhaps technically not the same thing as “imposter syndrome”, I think they’re connected and related. Imposter Syndrome may be a ‘collection’ of insecurities, actually. Thereby making it more complex and harder to tease out. But the point is, as Paul suggests, it’s a flying arrow pointing at the emotional maturity work we need to dig in and do to grow as a person and an artist. I’d venture that artists like Paul and John, that grew so much in their work, actually (though subconsciously) were incorporating psychotherapy into their craft. Much like you might coach a nervous vocalist to a better performance, it could be an essential part of the process rather than a nuisance or inconvenience.

So again, I come to the conclusion that it’s not something to be simply and rationally explained away (though I agree that could be part of the toolbox), it’s an indicator of a deeper psychological need and what that emotional work calls for. In other words, actual personal growth.

Something else that strikes me from Paul’s quote is what I’d call “perfectionism vs. refinement”. Sometimes we label pickiness and striving as “perfectionism”, but I think this can be a wrong view. Perfection is a judgement and an outcome, whereas “refinement” is an expression of craft; a journey and an exploration of self-capability, with the apparent added dimension of personal expansion rather than limitation.

Insecurity, low self esteem, lack of value? Sounds like the prototypical emotional recipe for a musician. Can you ever play something well enough? Can you be satisfied in a career field that inevitably stereotypes you as being “different” because you didn’t choose a safe, comfortable path with a predictable outcome? Can you face the fact that you are generally worth about .09 cents per stream when you put your stuff out there after honing your craft for most of your life?
We’re all impostors, some of us are just better at it than others, and some pick better games to play to be rewarded for their charades.
Some people are very fortunate to believe they found their life’s calling and draw great pleasjre from it, while others just do a better job of making themselves believe they found it. It’s all in the wiring.


Wiring indeed, given that our brain is a mass of connected neurons (which they tell us can be re-wired). Some philosophic traditions talk about “the game of life” and the idea is to play it well. If you’re not good at blackjack, see how the roulette wheel works out. :slightly_smiling_face: Even William Shakespeare said:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts

It can be an interesting exercise to look at your life as if it was a play that was being staged, and if you don’t like Act 3 then do a script rewrite. :wink: Art imitates life, life imitates art, and all that jazz. :trumpet: