But perfection in music is dangerous…
Striving to do your best and always push the envelope is great. It’s the force that motivates you to keep going and improve your craft. But when it turns into perfectionism, it becomes a blocker.
Perfectionism leads you to the impossibly harsh inner critic that gives you a bad review every time you do something—so you end up doing nothing at all.
It leads to procrastination, self-doubt and stress that hinder your real creativity.
As an artist, you’ve surely been paralyzed by one of these before:
- Not knowing where to start
- Fear of failing
- Your last failure
- Your last success (and needing to top it)
- Someone else’s success or talent
- Someone else’s critiques
All of these fears grow from the pursuit of perfection.
The truth is, when you learn to embrace your imperfection, you’ll be able to finish more music, stay inspired longer and grow your craft much quicker—less fear means more releases. And more releases means growing as a creator everyday.
So to help you make everyday a creative one, here are five ways perfectionism might be hindering your music, and how to overcome them. So you can get back to being the incredible (and imperfect) producer making your best work.
1. You think you always need more stuff
Your browser has 20 tabs open with tips on how to perfect your mix. You’ve watched 10 tutorials on which guitar pedal to buy—but you already have 20 of them waiting on your pedalboard.
You obsess over gear you don’t have or learning this or that new trick…
But have you actually sat down to make music lately, with the gear and knowledge you already have?
When new gear or obsessive tweaking become a way to avoid finishing a track, that means perfectionism has become procrastination.
Your preoccupation with perfection may be THE thing keeping you from taking risks and challenging yourself. So just close those tabs, disconnect and return to your track. Turn off the inner critic for 45 minutes (time it if you need to!) and just create freely—come back to it and fix it later.
2. You always work on your live set but never play live
Having some performance anxiety as a musician is normal. But endlessly practising in your basement thinking that you’ll only play ‘when you’re really ready’ is a trap.
It might lead to never playing at all.
Get out of your bedroom! Book a show and work your ass off to get ready for it. The time limitation will be healthy.
Book a show a few months from now, even if you don’t feel ready. Having that date on the calendar will push you to work towards a concrete goal.
Remember that your music sounds different out in the world—on different PA systems, in rooms full of people, on dancefloors bursting with energy. You need to play your music out to see how people react to it. And it doesn’t have to be perfect from the first show.
Hot Tip: Use your ENTIRE soundcheck slot to make sure everything is absolutely tip-top. It’s what it’s there for. Measure twice, cut once!
Being a little scared gearing up to a show is good. Take the leap to playing shows and get out of your comfort zone.
Rehearse, prepare in advance and get everything set up to minimize the stress of the unknown. Get in the mind frame where you can embrace your mistakes and leave your perfectionism at home. You’ll find that the challenge was worth it. In the process, you became ready for anything. On to the next milestone!
3. You never share because it has to be ‘perfect’
We’ve all said it: “I’ll share my track when it’s perfect.” Or “Oh no, I can’t share any music with you, it’s not finished.”
I have news for you: Perfection doesn’t exist—even if it did, it’s not what makes a good song.
It’s normal to want your best music out there, even if you’re just sharing it privately with a friend. But waiting until it’s “perfect” before you share it to anyone leads to:
- Never finishing your track, even though it was finished a long time ago and now you’re just fussing over details
- Not hearing what’s good about it anymore because you heard it too many times
- Believing that it’s never going to be perfect and giving up
- Actually over-tweaking your song so much that you ruin it
It’s time to redefine how you think about sharing your music, and what it means to be ‘finished.’ I’ve already talked about how sharing music during the process is beneficial. Getting feedback during your process can vastly improve your music because you get a second pair of ears.
Is your fear of being judged holding you back? Is your fear an excuse? You’re missing out on a lot of opportunities for great feedback, potential collaborations and learning experiences.
Put perfection back in the pantry and share early and often to find your best sound.
4. You’re too focused on the outcome
Of course, your final track is what most of your fans will hear, so it’s important to have a great finished sound.
But obsessing about the final outcome can block you from making your best work because your mind isn’t free to create.
When you’re in the moment and you let things flow, your best work comes out. All the magic happens organically: Those happy mistakes, those aha! moments and those new discoveries. Ultimately, it’s during the process that you shape your technique and tastes–what makes you who you are.
If you don’t leave some space for messes and mistakes, you’re missing out. Novelist Anne Lamott writes: “Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend.”
Don’t think of your goals as all or nothing. Let yourself be fully engaged in the process even if it’s not what you expected—because at least you are creating. And you might be surprised what comes out of it.
5. You compare yourself to unrealistic success
If your goal is to be the best at something, you’re setting yourself up for failure. There will always be people who’ve been at it longer, who have more experience, have a different path, have different advantages, etc. Comparing yourself to someone else will hold you back. Be YOU first.
Instead of setting unrealistic expectations by comparing yourself to others, turn inwards. Look at yourself: what are you good at? What do you enjoy and what can you work on? If your measure for success is you, you’ll find that growth and improvement is easy to see.
Being good at something is a great starting point—it’s your starting point. Work on building those skills at your own pace, and listen to your creative instincts.
Set goals that are important to you. Start from where you are at. Set some steps to achieving those goals, put some dates on it and get to work. Filter out the noise of what other people think or do—find value in your own path.
And remember it’s ok to not succeed the first time. Review your goals as you go and adjust them to your reality. When you put in the work, you’ll see that it’s easy to outdo yourself. Do your best, and forget about the rest.
Perfection Is An Illusion
What hides behind your heroes’ perfection is actually hard work and tons of failures that were all part of the process. Perfectionism isn’t a good thing. It kills creativity and produces unnecessary stress, doubt and discouragement.
So take things one step at a time. Set goals that represent you and break them down into smaller steps.
Give yourself permission to show up at the studio and see what happens. Maybe nothing. Maybe not today. Maybe your first few takes are bad. But it’s all about doing it. You’re a musician? Do it every day. One of these days something great will come out—Eventually it’ll become everyday.
Soon enough you’ll see that by not comparing yourself to others and getting rid of the obsession for perfection, attaining your own definition of success is easier than you think.