Who Are You And What Are You Doing Here
I am extremely fortunate to work in the music industry in Nashville, Tenn. I’m a communication associate at BMI, the leading performing-rights organization in the States. I went to college at Auburn University for marketing, with a minor in Spanish, and quickly followed that degree with a master’s in communications, also at Auburn, learning and languishing while the economy slowly recovered and strengthened from 2010 to 2013. I taught public speaking to undergrads, studied abroad in Amsterdam, interned at Auburn’s Office of Communications and Marketing, and managed a screen-printing shop. I moved to Nashville on a whim in 2013 and was quickly hired on the licensing side of BMI, managing radio and TV stations’ accounts, as well as chain “general” side licenses, including restaurants, bars, retail stores, YMCAs and any organization broadcasting music. Having the licensing experience was the perfect foundation when I was promoted to the Communications department, eventually landing in public relations after stints in content creation, management and social media during departmental restructuring and temporarily filling vacant positions. I’m extremely well-versed in BMI, its mission and goals — so why do I feel like someone is about to catch on to my imagined ineptitude and out me as an imposter?
Defined in 1978 by Drs. Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes, “imposter syndrome” is characterized as an inability to internalize one’s own achievement and intelligence, and a fear of being outed as a fraud. It is particularly prevalent in high-achieving women. This is me. I am an imposter.
I also have a twin sister, which makes me acutely sensitive to comparisons, purposely or subconsciously. We have always been compared: by friends, teachers, family and complete strangers. It just happens.
Both my twin senses and my imposter senses tell me that people are always comparing me to others, judging me, and usually, sizing me up to be less than. Especially in Nashville — Music City, where almost every person on the street has invested large sums of money in the music-business programs at Middle Tennessee State University, Belmont University, Vanderbilt University, Berklee College of Music or even my college’s rival, the University of Georgia. They have done the incredible unpaid internships at labels and p.r. firms, lived in NYC for a semester, and all the other things that build the foundation for a career in music. I have not. I was fairly unaware of music-industry majors, could not afford to take unpaid internships, and my only connection to the music biz during college and grad school was my weekly hourlong radio show, which I cherished even if my grandmother was probably my one dedicated listener.
Imposters often attribute what they’ve earned to luck and good timing, rather than ability. I did this just now. The economy was better, I was lucky to get started in licensing, and the timing was right for me to move to BMI’s Communications department. While those are all true, it was also that I have good degrees, am fluent in Spanish, taught public speaking, shined in the licensing department, and worked hard to get to my position.
Even while talking to friends who were other college DJs, most of us out of school for years and years now, I find myself doubting the quality of my old show on WEGL because we were allowed to play off our iPods and didn’t have to shuffle through the records and promotional CDs lining the walls. Was that good enough? Does it even count? A guy friend of mine who had a show on WXYC had to take the 4 to 6 a.m. shift before he could get his own show. He was strongly discouraged from even playing digital playlists.
Are my degrees good enough? I’m working in public relations now, but I’ve never taken a p.r. class. In fact, I avoided them in grad school because I had planned to become a professor. I did write a good bit about music and pop culture, and my thesis was about Sofia Coppola soundtracks. Does that make me “good enough” to be talking about music professionally? When is someone going to point out I don’t have the right credentials and replace me?
And, as a woman, this is a constant struggle. My guy friend who started with that 4 to 6 a.m. WXYC radio show has a degree in sports medicine. He never doubted his ability when he showed up to a meeting about an internship at an indie distributor and record label, interviewed, and got the job. He’s still at the company, and is now fully employed in A&R and business affairs. I asked him if he ever felt like he didn’t deserve what he has or if someone was going to find out he doesn’t belong. He said no, admitting he often had those general “What the fuck am I doing with my life?” moments we all have, but never one about not deserving the job he has. I laughed out loud!
If someone has chosen to major (or minor) in music business, that is wonderful for them. The programs offer great information, invaluable connections and opportunities, and hopefully inspire a passion for an ever-changing industry. I’m happy when people I know get great internships and jobs I would never have dreamed of.I’m happy to see interns and students I know become employed in this crazy and competitive industry. I’m finally getting happy for myself, too, learning to celebrate and call attention to my achievements and my accomplishments. I have a great boss, who, incidentally, went the music-biz education route; she trusts me and lets me take the reins on projects and makes sure I get the credit I deserve.
Hard work does get noticed, no matter what your background is. It’s possible to carve out a space for yourself in this business without “formal” training. I take inspiration from musicians themselves, people who see a great band and pick up an instrument the next day, who teach themselves by listening to their favorite songs over and over, and who are all the better for it. The best education is to learn by doing — on the job, at the gig. My favorite musicians would never doubt how good they are, and neither should I. And neither should you.
By Kat Harding, distributed under a Creative Commons CC-BY license.
Image by Calvin Walker, distributed under the CC-BY-SA creative commons license.
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