What “I Can't Listen To My Own Music” Means

When a musician uses the phrase, “I cant stand to listen to my own recordings,” I tend to dismiss them. I'm only about as modest as the next guy, to be honest, but I figure most people don't care for attention whores. I do—or at least I respect what they're trying to do, if they've got the chops to back it up.

I treat a musician who says they don't listen to their own music as one of three things:

  1. A really bad musician. I want to treat these people like a skinny cook: either they don't like what they do enough to enjoy it themselves, or they don't actually enjoy what they do. Either way, I'm not interested.
  2. Dishonest. If they're being falsely modest and saying they don't listen to their own music—when in fact they do—then they're liars. I have no problem with modesty, but true modesty would be to say, “Well, I like it. I don't know if you would.” In this craft, we're all salesmen, and if you're lying to me about yourself so that I'll listen to your music, you're a dishonest salesman. And you can go fuck yourself. If they're telling the truth, though, and they're not a bad musician, then they're probably...
  3. A tortured soul. They'll probably self-destruct. Has nothing to do with the material, or whether it's good or bad, but more to do with the kind of person who is genuinely dissatisfied with everything they do, in this case probably unhealthily so. The music might be good. Might be killer. If I heard it before I read the interview with the artist who can't stand to listen to themselves, I might even keep enjoying it right up until they put a shotgun in their mouth, or overdose, or ask Lynyrd Skynyrd's pilot for a lift... In any case, this is the least likely of the three options.
    I know this is something most people don't want to hear from a musician, but I love the music I make. I write music that I like. If that's not what you're doing as a musician, then you're doing it wrong... It sounds stupid and simplistic, but it's true.

And do I write songs that I'm not thrilled with? Sure. I don't record those. I don't play those. I don't share those or want people to hear them. I don't think of them as unrecorded gems... If they were gems, they'd have been recorded, and I'd listen to them.

It seems immodest, I know. But it's not as if I don't listen to other artists—I do. A lot. But sometimes I wanna hear those songs that I wrote, songs that started as idle thoughts and grabbed me so hard I had to make them happen. I was moved by those ideas enough to set them down, and I remain moved by them when I listen. So I proselytize them. I'm not saying they're masterpieces, or amazing work. I'm not putting down people who don't like them. I'm simply saying that I like what I do, and I think people with similar tastes will, too.

If you're a geek who likes rock music and Firefly and/or Roleplaying Games and/or Comic Books and/or Science Fiction and/or Fantasy, I'll say you should listen to my Impotent Nerd Rage album. You might like it. I do. If you like dirty jokes and guitar comedy, or even just rednecky/white trash humor that is self-aware and tries to reveal the ignorance and misogyny inherent in the stereotype, I'll say you might enjoy my Comedy Rock Star stuff. I do.

But what I won't say is this: I never listen to it. 'Cause that's a lie. And even if I am a bad musician, I'm an honest bad musician who enjoys the music he makes and doesn't pretend to be anything else.