Top Tips for a Musician's Self-Esteem, with Gaby Kettle
Updated: Jul 3, 2022
Having low self-esteem or bouts of self-doubt is something we’ve all experienced in our lives. In an industry where selling yourself and being the centre of attention is key, it can sometimes be difficult to put yourself out there when you lack confidence. Sometimes, we’re so hard on ourselves that it stops us from focusing on the journey, and we lose sight of the bigger picture. In turn, many of us quit before we’ve even begun just from feeling so overwhelmed! But today is all about focusing on what you can do to help your confidence in the long term.
Before I begin, I would like to make a disclaimer that I am by no means an expert or a professional. This article is just here to give you a bit of advice on how to deal with low confidence and I can only offer up my personal experiences.
So, I know what you’re thinking – who’s this nobody telling me how I should live my life? I shan’t bore you with all the details of my life story, but I think it’s important to at least share parts of it.
Hi, I’m Gaby, I’m a singer-songwriter from Birmingham, and I have low self-esteem. I’ve had body image issues for most of my life. I’ve always been a bigger gal and it wasn’t until my early twenties that it started affecting my mental health. While I’ve sought professional help for it and have more control over it, sometimes my thoughts can still get the better of me. The thing with body image stuff, is that it transgresses into other parts of your life, like work, music, and social situations. You’re not just worried about how people perceive you visually, but also what they think of your personality.
Growing up I was also somewhat of an overachiever, attending every after-school club known to man whilst trying to get good grades. Mix that with being a middle child (YES, middle child syndrome does exist) and you’ve got yourself the perfect concoction for someone that has high expectations of themselves. And when I don’t achieve that, it’s basically the end of the world. There’s a lovely little man in my head who tells me I’m not good enough or that I should’ve done better and once he’s in control, we’re back to square one.
I am by no means at the end of my journey. If anything, I feel as if I’m smack bang in the middle of a cycle right now. However, over the years I’ve learned a lot and developed some better, healthier habits to help myself. It can be hard to put yourself out there when the attention is all on you, but I wanted to share those habits with you and hopefully, you’ll be able to take something home with you today.
Something I’ve been trying to work on over the past few years is being assertive, which is letting people know what you want in a constructive way. If you’re passive in certain situations, you tend to feel more anxious, you doubt yourself and your opinion won’t be heard. You might even end up resenting others and building up anger inside, which is even more counter intuitive.
I remember my first time going into the studio with the band to record my debut track ‘Better Than This’ and feeling so overwhelmed. I didn’t know how to take charge, or what my initial vision for the song was. I basically said yes to everything and everyone and had zero authority over my own song. Now, that’s not to say the song didn’t turn out great; I’m so proud of it and so thankful for everyone’s input but because I was passive, I don’t think it had my full stamp on it.
Had I been assertive, would the track have sounded different? It’s hard to say, but it would have had more of my own input. Nowadays though, I actively engage myself in being assertive when I’m in rehearsals or the studio. I give myself a challenge, where I have to say at least one thing I want to change or try. I’m by no means perfect but give this one a try next time you’re recording or rehearsing to actively express your thoughts about one thing. Just one thing. Start small and build up ‘till it becomes second nature. You could start with something as simple as “Hey, I liked that bass riff, but could we try it this way?”.
Something to be mindful of is that when we are assertive, we aren’t aggressive. We want to express our thoughts and opinions in a respectful way that’s beneficial for everyone involved. Since trying to be more assertive, I’ve slowly become surer of myself as a person and what I want, which I believe, is a huge key to building up your self-esteem.
Focus on your strengths
The irony here is that this is my weakness.
So many of us are focused on what we can’t do that we forget what we’re good at. For example, I can’t play an instrument well and I have very basic/limited production skills. For years, I’ve been so engrossed in how I can’t play piano well or make a solid beat that I’ve often completely negated the fact that I’m a good singer. In fact, I’m a great singer – there, I’ve said it! My strengths lie in singing and writing, so why shouldn’t I be proud of that?
I firmly believe we should all focus on our weaknesses and strive to improve ourselves, however, we should always remember what we are good at.
I’ll tell you now that the other week in rehearsal, the lads wanted to hear my new songs. I wanted to go up to the keyboard and play them, but I just sank into myself. Because I was so much more conscious about my poor piano skills, I acted like a teenager and I just froze. I, an adult woman of 29 years, was having a mini-meltdown in the middle of rehearsal. After a couple of minutes, I was able to regain my composure and it turns out the lads loved the new songs.
In situations like this, feeling uncomfortable is where you want to be – it challenges you and helps you grow. As soon as I got over it, I was able to tell the lads exactly how I wanted things, what sounds I wanted, and we worked together to create something great.
Trust Your Gut
I’m a firm believer in trusting your intuition, because it’s mostly right. You’re working in a creative field where part of the process is tapping into your subconscious, exploring your feelings, and making sense of things. You’ve got to trust your gut. If something isn’t sitting right with you, then change it. If you’ve got a voice inside your head saying, “hmm, this beat isn’t right”, then try something else. It’s your music and you have the power to change it. Something I did too much of before was listen to other people’s opinions. It’s so easy to bounce from one person’s advice to another’s that you lose sight of your own thoughts.
This goes in tandem with being assertive. If you’re communicating that you’re not happy about something, you’ll feel more at peace within yourself and happier in the long-term.
The more you listen to yourself and your intuition the more self-assured and in tune with yourself you become.
Fake it ‘til You Make it
If you’re not calling yourself a musician, then you’re starting that from today. Society has this idea that if you’re not making money from it then that’s not your profession. Well, I’ve got news for you. You’re already writing songs or playing for bands, so you ARE a musician! If you start telling yourself you are, you’ll start believing it. Sometimes, fakin’ it ‘til you make it can go a long way.
It took me a while to openly call myself a singer-songwriter. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I still get imposter syndrome. But when I meet people, I can at least say, “Hey, I’m a singer-songwriter but work in retail to support myself.” I’ve found it makes you so much more open with others; they understand you and your end goal. Most of the time they’re interested and want to know more about you. Who even knows, maybe they have contacts they can put you in touch with!
Practice an Attitude or Mantra
Giving yourself a mantra or engaging yourself in a practice could be very beneficial. I’ve been trying this for a couple of months, and I’ve found it super helpful. What we need is to shift our narrative from berating ourselves to being forgiving, and actively changing the way we think so that we aren’t undermining ourselves.
Where I work, in retail, we had some vinyl stickers for Mother’s Day on our window display. Me being the overachiever and people pleaser that I am, I just wanted to do a good job while my manager had the weekend off. So, when a notification came through to peel off the vinyl, I happily obliged. There was me thinking I’d done a great job only to find out we were only meant to take off the wording and not the entire display. Not only did I spend 45 minutes peeling off some flowers, but those flowers were also meant to stay there till June…’til June people!
Normally I would have let that affect me for the entire day, maybe even the week. I’d be telling myself I was stupid and not good at my job. Instead, I’d already chosen not to sweat the small stuff that week, so I cut myself some slack for once. Obviously, I knew what I did wasn’t ideal but at the end of the day, was anybody hurt? No. Did customers notice? No. It freed me from a bad cycle of thinking and putting myself down.
So, every couple of weeks I encourage you to give yourself a new focus. Whether it’s not worrying about the little things, practising positive thinking, or making new opportunities for yourself. It’s something positive and healthy for us all to practice.
Like I said, I’m not a professional, but what I hope I’ve done is to share my experiences and advice to help you cast away the doubt. Next time you’re hearing that voice creeping through, I want you to catch yourself and try to put a different head on. If you actively start to change your mindset, you will start to believe it for yourself. Finally, wherever you are in your journey, keep working at it. The more you practice, the more it becomes part of your life, the easier things will become.
Gaby Kettle is a Birmingham based Singer-Songwriter. She released her latest single, From You, in 2022 and sits on an established discography of soulful-pop with deeply personal lyrics that massively level up the right playlist.
Catch Gaby on Instagram and Spotify.