I'm not like other musicians.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not not advocating bland conformity or obnoxious conservatism. However, there is a very real dark side to the statement, I'm not like other musicians. Let's pause and dissect some mistakes one could make by such self-characterization:
1) It makes unqualified and unkind assumptions about other musicians whom you don't even know.
2) It argues that you deserve recognition at their expense, simply for being supposedly different.
3) It's just plain not true most of the time. I can assure you that if you feel this way about about yourself, there is someone else in your position who feels exactly the same way. It's remarkable, for example, just how many conservatory students say their style of playing is a little too 'old school' for their teacher. Hypocritically, many musicians who think they stand out are actually part of the problem of conformity they claim to address.
4) This one is subtle, but it's an implicit insult to the listener in the conversation. Never assume audiences who make someone's career are stupid just because you wouldn't go to see their concert. And don't be that guy complaining about how someone who beat you in an audition doesn't deserve it - I can guarantee they're doing something better than you, even if you don't think it's important. Who are you to say what the judges should reward?
Let's give some further context to the idea, I'm not like other musicians. At least in the classical music world, this is often expressed in a supposed dichotomy between instrumental technique and good musicianship. You can't throw a rock stop in a conservatory without hitting someone who has complained in the last thirty days about the glut of supposed technical machines with no soul or individuality who are somehow demolishing the international competition circuit.
Whenever someone says this, the question arises: Who are these people? I'm not an overly confrontational guy in daily life, but I have yet to hear a satisfactorily concrete answer. My feeling is that this is fundamentally a racially motivated fear against some very technically proficient musicians who are being stereotyped as nameless and faceless, but that deserves a whole separate discussion. As far as I can report, I have yet to meet a colleague at that technical level with such distinguished professional accomplishments that I would ever call a poor musician.
Joseph Polisi, president of the Juilliard School, had some choice words to say about the haters who sling comments like this around. In a 2014 speech to students, he acknowledged the existence of this derogatory stereotype, especially regarding students at his own school, and then followed with a devastating retort:
But the worst thing is not to be a technical machine with no soul. It's to have no technical control at all.
Well said, Mr. Polisi. And also remember that anyone at Juilliard will simply laugh inside and take it as a compliment if you tell them they have perfect technique.
Think of the musicians you know who are happy with their career and still love what they do. I don't know for sure, but I'm willing to guess these people are too busy making their contribution to the arts and building others up to worry about petty differences between themselves and their colleagues. It's always harder to define yourself by what you are rather than by what you're not. But if you take the harder path, tangible results will follow.