Courtesy of Jhoni Jackson
Why are some musicians total jerk-idiots? And what can you do about it?
Every time you share something that you're doing with your music - that you're proud of - that idiot musician /jerk is right there. They jump in babbling about an accomplishment (to only boast about) that totally trumps yours. Yeah, we're talking about that "Total Jerk Musician" person. Arrrgh!
The one who doesn't congratulate you, the one who's only listening so he knows what kind of accomplishment he's about to one-up you on. When the jerk is a fellow musician, (even worse - when they're in your band), it's endlessly frustrating. But when that person is also a friend, it's incredibly disheartening.
Why are some musicians like this? And what can you do about it?
It really seems you've got nothin' on these people – ever. You finally landed a gig at your dream venue? They'll remind you right away: They played there ages ago, and it was packed, and it was amazing. If you've scored an opening slot for a big-name band? Well... guess what, they were handpicked months ago as openers for someone way way way more famous who, of course, showered them with accolades post-set.
If you've totally had it with these total jerk musicians, then follow these four steps to learn how to best deal with a fellow musician who's constantly one-upping you, or who is just plain acting like a total jerk - all the time.
We can't guarantee he or she will stop right away. A habit like this is usually deep-rooted and hard to break. It's up to 'that person' to change his or her behavior. All you can do is nudge him or her in the right direction by being constructive in your reactions.
1. Consider their motives
"Don't dim someone else's light to make yours brighter," goes the oft-memed adage – or something like that. One-upper jerks aren't usually trying to make you feel less (though that's usually the result). Their gloating is about convincing "themselves" that they're better, about making themselves feel mightier. They more than likely have an inferiority complex, which can bring about the (jerk-like) superiority complex as a defense mechanism.
We're not saying you should forgo your hurt because of their insecurities, but a little empathy can go a long way as you work through the next two steps.
2. Respond in a way that muffles their boasting
Clearly, attempting to one-up one-uppers or slap-down a jerk musician is a not a constructive response. It'll only provoke them to go-off on you again... and again, and again.
Best-case scenario, they leave in a huff, but their frustration will probably re-energize their need to profess just how "great" they are at your next interaction.
The most efficient response is one that stifles their boasting without ripping them a new one. Whether consciously or not, their showing off is how they make themselves feel better, so shaming them isn't going to shock them into change. It'll only make things worse.
Three methods to try:
(a). Shift the jerk musicians thinking; from being "better-than" you to being a "friend." If they brag about how much better of a musician they are than you, say you'd love to improve, and ask if they can help. Maybe you two can hang out and they can teach you something, (yes, this is a lie). Pepper them with questions about how you ought to study, practice and reach the same heights that they've reached. Yeah, this is just messing with them, but it can be a lot of fun!
(b). Offer help of your own. When the one-upping or jerk-like behavior is about work ethic, offer to take on some of the workload to ease theirs. Say, "gee you sound like you've really got your music career going in a big way, is there any way I can help?" Generally, this totally stumps them, (because they do not have much going on in their career, it's all a front for their own ego pumping stupid public behavior).
(c). Completely acknowledge them. Just nod and agree. There's an old saying, "If I knew that you were right, or if I knew that you were wrong - I'd still just agree with you."
Afterward, you can either revert back to your own story, change the subject altogether, (which works amazing - "How about the weather tomorrow - gee it's supposed to be something else isn't it"), Or, just end the conversation on a dime. Avoid allowing them to go on and on to just dominate the conversation completely. These people are so annoying anyway, it just isn't worth it. get the heck out of there!
Say something like, "Well, look at the time, I've gotta go, see ya later," Or... "Man, you're obviously way more successful than I am, I'm going home to practice - maybe one day I'll make it to the level that you're at - if I work hard enough."
By the way, keep in mind, even when using the above tricks, one-upper jerk musicians probably won't respond like you hope they will. They likely won't accept your help, and they'll never give you guitar lessons. They might continue to interrupt and talk over you, seemingly oblivious to their frequent braggy monologues that go on forever. They probably won't even acknowledge you if you leave. Hey, you need to remember, "They are Jerks."
3. Talk to them about their problem
If you are in a band with one of these idiots, no matter how many versions of the response suggestions in try in step two, eventually, you're going to have to talk to this person about their problem. Okay, you don't have to. You could put up with it, ride it out and see if, despite constant frustration, it never sparks a blowout between you. But if you want anything to change, you're going to need to address their idiotic jerkish behavior.
However, it doesn't have to be you who does it. It can be, of course. But if you worry the one-upper jerk musician will not handle your grievances well, consider asking someone close to that person to mediate.Or, if this person is frustrating a group of people, the whole group might want to have a "group-chat."
The focus of your discussion shouldn't be what a jerk he or she is, obviously. You want that person to understand how his or her behavior affects you, and everyone else. Does his or her boasting smother your pride in your own accomplishments? Does it make you feel like you're never good enough? Does it make you wonder if he or she has any respect for you?
Give it to him or her straight and calmly. Explain that that their behavior is causing a rift in your relationship, it's hurting the moral of the band, and that's not something you and the other want because you value your bands relationship.
4. Breaking Ties
This is the toughest one... boot them out of your circle of players, or kick them out of the band. Because, if none of this works, then it might be time to really mull over whether or not you want this person in your life.
In an independent music community, you see the same folks again and again. Your environment can feel really small, even in a big city. Sometimes you can't avoid a person altogether, but you can take steps to minimize the need for interaction in general.
It's not a stretch to assume that the 'one-upper jerk musician' is acting in this way with all of the people that they know. Because they probably are! People in your immediate circle and outside of it are well aware of these jerks. You likely aren't the only one considering to work toward breaking ties.
Jhoni Jackson is an Atlanta-bred music journalist currently based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she juggles owning a venue called Club 77, freelance writing and, of course, going to the beach as often as possible.