The Imposter

In the studio with self-doubt...

‘Imposter syndrome’ has become a cliché of pop-psychology.

It refers to that sneaking sensation we get when we feel that, deep down, we aren’t quite good enough; that we don’t deserve what we’ve achieved, and that, sooner or later, the world will find us out.

In music, it’s a thing that often seems to happen to bands when they come around to recording their ‘difficult’ second album.

When an exciting new band, coming fresh off the back of their breakthrough record, have to deliver for a second time and prove that their first hit was no fluke.

The reasons this can be a tough ask are manifold.

Firstly, the band had the whole of their lives to write the first album.

Now, they have record label executives breathing down their necks and an insatiable public just seconds away from turning their attention towards someone else.

They need inspiration. Lots of it.

And fast.

Secondly, there is suddenly something very real at stake.

Human beings are naturally loss-averse.

As demonstrated by the Nobel-prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, people feel the pain of losses far more acutely than they do the joy of an equivalent gains.

Put simply, losing £50 will hurt far more than gaining £50 will feel like a cause for celebration.

I suppose, at its roots, this probably comes back to our unshakable awareness of death.

Because we know that death is final and irreversible, we’re bound to be naturally cautious.

Stumbling on a buried cache of food is a happy bonus.

The impact of losing a cache of buried food, stored for the cold winter ahead, could potentially be fatal.

In terms of music, this makes the prospect of alienating a hard-earned audience with a poorly-executed follow-up album far more terrifying than the prospect of engaging a new, wider audience is appealing.

Luckily for me, I have the good fortune of being in the amazing position of almost total musical anonymity (that’s the way I like to reframe it, anyway…).

Which means I’ve been back in the studio this week feeling no pressure and plenty of excitement.

It’s also been a nice opportunity for a bit of self-reflection.

I’m comfortably the least-talented musician in my own band.

Which, in my opinion, is exactly how it should be.

Partly because I’ve never really considered myself a ‘musician’.

I’m a songwriter.

My job is to have thoughts and feelings, translate them into songs, and communicate them to an audience.

Bob Dylan isn’t a ‘musician’. Neither is Shane McGowan.

Secondly, it allows me to constantly learn and get better.

Being around very talented, dedicated people is a guaranteed way of broadening your own understanding, almost by osmosis.

I feel like I understand more about musical theory, arrangement, the interplay between instruments, production and much more, than I ever have.

It also feels like a rare privilege to get to hear them play.

Last year, whilst recording ‘Trees’, I wrote a blog entitled ‘The Studio’s Appendix’.

Because that was largely how I felt - a redundant organ that, whilst useful at one point in the evolutionary history of the recording process, became increasingly irrelevant as the professionals took over and brought the EP to life.

This time though, things feel a little different.

Not only do I have more confidence in the songs I’m bringing into the studio, I also have a clearer vision of how they’ll all ultimately sit together and what it is I want to achieve.

Perhaps even more importantly, I’ve been through the process before.

I’ve experienced what it is to go from turning up one Monday morning and loading in a drum kit to releasing a record I can be proud of.

I know what went right last time, and what didn’t go as right.

It's no longer like I’m feeling my way down an unfamiliar corridor in the dark.

And this has definitely helped with that perennial imposter syndrome that we probably all feel to some degree.

There’s an unparalleled amount of self-improvement bullshit floating around on the internet at the moment.

And I’m sure a quick scroll through the right Instagram feed would pull up almost exactly what I’m about to say but in pithier language.

I think imposter syndrome is almost certainly here to stay, and with good reason.

I think that if you don’t feel a little unsettled by the superior skills and expertise of others then you’re probably hanging around with the wrong people.

There’s little value in being the best of a bad bunch, though it might do momentary wonders for your ego.

However, I also think that imposter syndrome can be managed, to stop it becoming a barrier.

The problem is, there aren’t any shortcuts.

The only way to undermine that niggling sense that you aren’t good enough, that you’re deluded and embarrassing, that you’ll never amount to anything like the ideal you’ve constructed for yourself, is to start accumulating experiences that refute it.

It’s hard to feel like an imposter in the gym when you’ve clocked your 100th workout of the year and you’re benching 30% more than you were in January.

Equally, it’s slightly harder now for me to feel like an imposter with some radio play, some pretty decent reviews from some respected places, and most importantly for me, it’s the hundreds of playlist adds on Spotify and the feedback from people like you.

Don’t worry - I still do feel like an imposter now and again.

Just a little less than before.

And maybe that’s a good thing.

Maybe it’s the day you stop feeling like an imposter that you should really be on your guard.

That day when you start feeling like the biggest fish in the pond; the man with all the answers.

In my experience, it’s those people that are the real victims of imposter syndrome by virtue of having lost it.

They’ve lost that shadow of self-doubt that keeps them hungry; that keeps their eyes and ears open.

To quote Bertrand Russell, “The fundamental cause of the trouble is that in the modern world, the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”

Self-doubt gets pathologized a lot these days, in our modern world of mirror-manifestation and positive affirmation.

As though a little isn’t healthy. As though it isn’t useful.

As though that shadow, the one that lurks just on the edge of your peripheral vision, isn’t sometimes that annoying but necessary friend we all need.

The one that might occasionally sidle up and whisper an unwanted, but much needed, bit of truth.

Keep dreaming,


Rob Jones & The Restless Dream

Get our latest news!

Sign up for weekly correspondence: thoughts, ramblings, exclusive mini-releases and more.