The Ultimate Taboo in the Music Business

The soundboard at Atomic Studios, where The Paisley Fields recorded "Oh These Urban Fences..." due out in September 2015. 

The soundboard at Atomic Studios, where The Paisley Fields recorded "Oh These Urban Fences..." due out in September 2015. 


Salvador Dali said, “The thermometer of success is merely the jealousy of the malcontents.”

In her song “Revelations” Yoko Ono sings, “Bless you for your jealousy, it’s a sign of empathy.” 

Jealousy is one of the most common emotions we experience, but it is rarely discussed in the music world. As much as musicians hate to admit it, we get jealous of one another. I want to win  awards. I want the top selling record. I want to sell out every show. I want to hear my song on the radio.

It happens much less these days, but I have to admit, I still get jealous. Think about the last time you got jealous. Was it when you saw the guy down the street get into his Maserati? When you learned that Rihanna’s net worth is $140 million? When you saw Sally got 28 more likes than you on her new profile pic?

Jealousy can be an ugly thing that destroys relationships. So why do we feel jealous?

Jealousy strikes me when I compare myself to others. I remember sitting on the couch as a kid, watching Alicia Keys perform on the MTV Video Music Awards. Her hit “Fallin’” was nominated, and she started the performance with “Fur Elise”.

“That is so dumb,” I scoffed. “That piece is so easy.”

It wasn’t her competency as a pianist that concerned me, but more so that I was comparing myself to her. I thought I deserved her success because I could do a better job. Keys’ performance was great, but I couldn’t enjoy it because I was too overcome with jealousy.

When I first started out in New York, I couldn’t even go see other bands play because sometimes jealousy overwhelmed me. It was ridiculous, and it prevented me from seeing many great bands perform. I was unhappy with myself, and I let that poison my enjoyment of seeing other musicians play.  

A wise teacher told me, “Never compare yourself to anyone else; only compare yourself to yourself.” It’s good advice, and I try to remember it when I feel jealousy creeping in.

A record executive from a label I was on introduced me to a bandleader who is now well known. His band was just starting to blow up. I wanted that kind of success for myself. I totally blew the meeting because I wanted what he had, and that’s all I could think about. 

Living and working in NYC, it’s easy for a musician to become jealous. U2 sells out Madison Square the fourth night in a row, as you struggle to fill a room that fits 50 people. Madonna lives up the street in her mansion, and you are struggling to pay rent on your studio in Bed Stuy. Everyone you know seems to be two steps ahead with twice as many fans. 

Competition can push you harder, but jealousy doesn’t get you anywhere. Still, jealousy is something we all feel from time to time.

So when you start to feel jealous or angry, you should look at yourself, instead of focusing on those you see as being more successful. Instead of comparing yourself to others, you should compare yourself to the person you were last year or five years ago. It is important to remember the things you have accomplished, rather than getting mired in all the things you have yet to achieve.

Be grateful, be passionate and be happy. You ultimately control your attitude and emotions.

And if that doesn’t make you feel any better, know that someone, somewhere was jealous of you at some point. Because you have done some pretty kick ass things.