Is it Possible to Enjoy Recordings of Yourself?

September 21, 2022, 3:27 PM · Even if I perfect something, my sound is far too "familiar" to enjoy. I'm not talking about intonation/phrasing errors. I'm talking about the point where - as far as I can tell - a piece of music is "finished" (and yes, I know there's a rabbit hole of nothing ever truly being finished).

I can still enjoy recordings of others playing the same piece, but my own sound will never seem novel to me (especially after I've practiced it to a high level), and even in a blind test I would recognize it immediately.

Does anyone else encounter this? Have you ever actually *wanted* to listen to your own recording of something?

Replies (27)

September 21, 2022, 7:27 PM · Yes.
Edited: September 21, 2022, 8:36 PM · I've had a few performance where I did as well or a little better than I thought I would do, and then I enjoy listening to those. For a time. My jazz quintet made a CD in 2012 and I enjoyed hearing that for a while but I've improved as a player and would like to record again.
September 21, 2022, 11:31 PM · The more time has passed, the more I'm likely to be able to say, "Oh, that wasn't so bad." But it's hard not to cringe, especially right after a performance.
September 22, 2022, 1:17 AM · I don't get much pleasure hearing myself play solo but I do enjoy many of my multitracks in which the nasty noises are less apparent, e.g. about 15 of me in Barber's Adagio...
September 22, 2022, 3:22 AM · Is it Possible to Enjoy Recordings of Yourself?
Not in my experience, lol.
September 22, 2022, 5:31 AM · If I play well, then yes.
September 22, 2022, 7:19 AM · No, but I have found that some old, forgotten recordings were not as bad as I imagined! Even ones where I sang..
September 22, 2022, 8:20 AM · Not really. You listen so differently when it is yourself (or your kids). It's hard to pull back and listen holistically.
Edited: September 22, 2022, 9:43 AM · If you are anything like me you will listen for every flaw - and find them - especially if they are recordings of an actual performance. I had to get past that before I could listen for good things.

Thank goodness those days are at least 30 years in the past.

Edited: September 22, 2022, 9:58 AM · Adrian, yeah, I've read old essays and been surprised at how good they were, but thankfully I don't have any old recordings! And my voice is too adenoidal to be worth recording.
September 22, 2022, 10:05 AM · Hi, I am surprised by the other responses! I don’t listen to my recordings in order to enjoying them, of course, but I cannot remember a single performance of mine that got recorded which didn’t turn out to sound WAY better than I thought during playing.

So, yes, I admit, I did enjoy my recordings. Not to say others couldn’t play it, better, of course, just in comparison to my impression while performing.

September 22, 2022, 10:52 AM · I dislike listening to my recordings. To my ears I don't sound bad or wrong, just ordinary, only correct, and that is discouraging. For recording sessions, backgrounds on commercial stuff, I prefer to trust the director's or engineer's judgement. For singing, I assume that it would be worse. I trust my coach or the level of audience applause. I have never heard a recording of my singing. My cousin does professional voice-over work and impressions in LA. He tells me that Everyone hates the sound of their own voice.
September 22, 2022, 3:36 PM · That's very relatable, Joel. As you noted, I don't sound "bad or wrong", but rather ordinary. I really think it's that I hear my own "voice" all day long, so no matter how much I focus on making my playing distinct, I can never outrun the familiarity of my own sound.

I suppose it's like a magician trying to be impressed by their own tricks.

This also probably explains why, despite my own violin being quite good, I'm always looking for another one. It's the only way to "change my voice" in a way that I can't easily predict. Like a singer trying out different filters.

September 22, 2022, 6:45 PM · My intonation always sounds worse when I hear a recording of myself. I hear myself more off key more often, and I've wondered about it- a LOT! When I sing it's the same thing- it always sounds better ringing around inside my head, and even though I've learned a lot how to use a mike better, it still never sounds as good to me than my own ears- maybe they're defective?
September 22, 2022, 7:29 PM · Nancy, I think a big part of that is that when you're listening to a recording, you can dedicate 100% of your brain to *just* listening. Thus, every mistake is heard. When you're playing, it's impossible to dedicate the same brain power to listening, even if you're trying.

The other part is that since the violin is so close to the ear, certain overtones get exaggerated, and since we tend to use overtones to tell if we're in tune, you can imagine what that leads to. I have found putting an earplug in my left hear helps to retrain the brain to "listen" with the right side a bit more. This also gives me a better idea ahead of time what the violin sounds like from a distance, so the recording isn't such a large change from what I'm used to hearing.

September 25, 2022, 3:18 PM · Well, I don't really know that many players in person. So I resort to playing with a record of myself to make duos. It is quite fun at times.
September 25, 2022, 7:59 PM · One other factor that I think plays into this: when we're playing, we're necessarily thinking about what we want to hear so that we can play it. I would suspect thinking about that colors what we think we hear while playing.
September 25, 2022, 10:30 PM · Also, I really think this feeds into the whole 'classical music perfectionism' thing. I do find it harder to listen to myself playing classical music than say, pop solos or folk. Often with classical, we're all trying to push ourselves to the next level of technical difficulty, and the next level, and then the next level. Don't forget to play 'easier' things from time to time!
September 26, 2022, 9:18 AM · Listening to my own recordings can be a source of modest enjoyment in two ways. "It's better than I thought it was", and "It's a little better than last time". It has two other benefits as well: it helps to identify the problem areas, and, most importantly, it enhances my appreciation of professional recordings, and of the dedication that must have gone into making them.
September 26, 2022, 12:01 PM · Normally I would say no, but last night I was recording myself into a looper pedal testing out a microphone and piezoelectric pickup to see which one I like better. The loop is nice because I could loop playing A vs B over and over to compare the two.

Since I was focusing on the microphone and pickup sound, and being critical about those, I was actually able to listen to myself play with a less critical mindset, and quite enjoyed what i played. I think once I had something else to nitpick, I could enjoy myself.

September 26, 2022, 12:34 PM · I think that there are multiple different mind states we can bring to our listening, and they all may have their time and place, but some can be counterproductive.

When I go to a student recital, I bring my most positive attitude as a listener. I understand that the student has worked really hard, and that I actually value expression and some amount of risk taking and vulnerability over perfection. I hope that I can infer something of the player's intention and personality (even if this is sometimes a bit of a projection), and I understand that this person thought, planned, sweated, and is now putting themself in a vulnerable-feeling position, so I try and root for them and enjoy and take a holistic view of the performance. This doesn't preclude me from taking in details or noticing flaws, but my overall intention is to enjoy and not to moralize. This is the attitude towards listening to my own performance that I should bring; if I get overly focused on mistakes or flaws, it may be a sign that I need a little more self-compassion, which ultimately benefits me as a performer, so my listening back to myself with positive regard feeds back into my attitude towards performing and putting myself out there.

However, there is another important mode of listening, which is where we learn and benefit from hearing ourselves objectively, and which is likely the way many of us will spend most of our time listening to ourselves. This is a mode of analysis: what patterns of mistakes are we making, what kind of flaws of intonation, what expression is lacking, and so on. We need to listen objectively so that we can learn and fix our mistakes, so that we can effectively guide our practice and not waste our own limited time, and so that we can ultimately play more how we want. In this mode, we need to be meticulous, but we need to be especially careful not to tip into self-judgment or moralizing. Our analysis should be energizing, and underlying it should be the knowledge that we can go into the practice room with this new information and come out better players. That's a really positive thing, and if we internalize that process, then it will make us excited to hear ourselves, and excited to practice.

It's a balancing act. We need to be aware of our proclivities to be harsh to ourselves and squash them. Some of our performances may just not be interesting enough or to our baseline standards that we won't have much reason to listen to them, but maybe sometimes we can as a benchmark of progress, as some have stated. Being an audience member is a really active process of discovering not only the music, but ourselves and our attitudes.

I would argue that, despite my tendencies, moralizing as an audience member is rarely useful, although sometimes I find something repulsive or insincere about a performance. How many performances that I've panned may have been due to indigestion or sleeping poorly or some other factor that really had nothing to do with the performer? I still think that the world could use some more critical reviews, but it's a tough balance to strike.

Edited: September 28, 2022, 11:31 PM · What Lydia said. I think though that to truly enjoy them you'd need recording of actual performance, not the ones taken in a practice session.

I used to have one (taken in the early 1970s in a small church with a magnetic tape machine; when the machine was abandoned I lost access) with a Bach violin/"clavier" sonata and even I have to say it was pretty good.

September 30, 2022, 7:06 AM ·

Erik boderik, banerik, banerak, banana.

This is a problem that most face, if not all. They start with something unique, and over time the end result is the same. A lot of Jazz musicians do this: they end up playing the same melody at the end of each piece. We also do this with articulations, bowings, vibrato etc...
Some call it a style and some call it a rut. Flower vs weed, yet they are both flowers.
Maybe a good time to record one's playing is early on, so you are making note of what you like(emotion) and want to keep, instead of recording the end result and finding the playing bland.

There's also so many other variables: the room, the violin, distance from mic etc...

Another thing I've notice, when you hear someone play a new piece on youtube, and you are like, I love that song, and they played it perfectly. Then you learn it, and then go back and listen to that recording and now you hear their errors or other things that are not pleasing to the ear. One thing we can do is have a break of not playing the piece, then before you listen to it have a class a wine and and this will give a better judgement of the piece.

October 1, 2022, 7:53 AM · Hello Erik,

I have definitely had many times when I would totally resist listening back to my own recordings. I think it's completely normal to feel that way. However I recently learnt that recording and listening back to yourself plays a very important part in developing your playing and I have come to realise that once you figure out more and more things that you could improve by listening to your own recordings, it can become much more fun and enjoyable to watch yourself as there are many things that you can discover and improve!

My best suggestion for you is that whenever you're annoyed with something you've heard in your own recording, perhaps you could be patient with it and just take a little bit of time to take notes as you're listening to your recordings and just note down anything that you don't want to hear in your future recordings. After you have listed all your things that you don't like, practise those slowly and carefully and take some time into finding what sounds the best. You can also record this to find out what sounds best in a recording.

If you're having some trouble finding out what sounds best, you can listen to videos of professionals playing your pieces and have a careful listen to their interpretation and if you particularly enjoy something that they did in their recording/video you can sort of integrate it into your own playing.

I hope this makes sense, if not you can ask me!

Happy practising!
Jialin :)

October 1, 2022, 9:59 PM · I think one has to listen to themselves play (or sing!) fairly often to even get past the cringe aspect. And even then, I record myself playing multiple times a day and still cannot enjoy the entire recording. I sometimes appreciate occasional moments in the recording, like, "Hey, that articulation was crisp and satisfying," or, "Ooh, I liked the tone color there." But when I'm playing for a recorder, I can usually tell which moments will satisfy me before I hear the recording. My evaluation of everything else is typically "so-so," and then I listen again to imagine how I can correct this or that.
October 2, 2022, 4:46 AM · I appreciate everyone's input.

I'd like to reiterate that I'm not talking about the effect of hearing mistakes: I'm talking about how the recordings aren't enjoyable to listen to, even when they're past the point of errors.

The best analogy I can think of is that when a magician already knows how their trick is done, they lose the ability to feel the "magic" that the audience feels.

By practicing something to a high level, you already know exactly what to expect. There are no surprises. You planned the vibrato to sound like that, the shifts to happen when they did, and the phrasing to be a certain way.

But it brings up a broader point, which is that we should be careful not to assume that the audience will feel the same way we do. To them, it's all brand new, and the magic is very real.

October 2, 2022, 12:31 PM · I think recording yourself is the musicians equivalent of the mirror walls in the dance studio. Delayed instead of instant but personalized feedback.

The problem of being self critical is that, more often than not, we're not qualified to critically listen to our own playing without being hyper critical.

I'm sure that the highly paid professional use self recording a lot. That is their source of income. For the non-professionals a good coach/teacher is a much better source of analysis than you are of yourself.

Not everyone has a Glenn Gould personality that never leaves the studio, and is in the perpetual pursuit of absolute perfection.

Music, like a lot of things in life, is subjective. I remember playing the descant line of a hymn in church a log time ago. Most of the people complimented me, the organist said she loved it, one member of the congregations button-hold me with "That was terrible, don't do that again... I hate the violin!"

Yeah, I played along with the organ many times after that and he continued to complain every time - every time the same statement.

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