Expectation and pressure can be good for you as a musician, whether you’re performing on stage in front of a huge crowd or paying by the hour to record new music in a studio. Without a dog in the fight, what you’re doing as a musician is a carefree hobby. But, like so many other aspects of a healthy music career, a balance has to be found between striving to perform well and living up to what’s expected of us and not overthinking and questioning everything we do. When we let doubt, insecurity, and fear guide us in music, we stifle our best ideas.
Fear is an enemy of creative expression
When you set out to create new music, what’s on your mind? Are you genuinely curious about what’s possible in music? Are you bogged down with a desire to make music that’s conventionally successful? Overthinking the songwriting process is really just a symptom of fear. You might hold a belief that you aren’t cut out for music, or that everything you create isn’t good enough. Other musicians write with the idea that they’re perpetually one step away from a melody, beat, or chord progression that can launch their careers and validate their efforts. Rather than addressing our insecurities head-on, many of us work by questioning each and every aspect of our creative processes. Pressure can be good for performing live. However, having doubt and fixating on mistakes or shortcomings can ruin shows by building a wall between musicians and audiences.
Constant overthinking is a terrible way to work because fear and creativity don’t go well together. You’re likely to come up with your best ideas when you create in a way that embraces curiosity and risk. Just know that occasional failure is an inevitable part of these things. We often overthink writing music out of the fear of not living up to our potential. However, we then end up writing safe, bland, and forgettable music that doesn’t reflect our true talents and creative energy. But while not addressing the root causes of overthinking during the songwriting process often makes for bad music, the greater danger here is becoming discouraged and bailing on your music interests altogether.
If you let your doubts lead you, you’ll end up going places you don’t want to. Managing your fears and insecurities during the creative process is crucial for musicians who want to make creative expression a permanent fixture in their lives.
How overthinking damages the non-creative aspects of a music career
Actions like negatively obsessing over your streaming stats and social media follows is a misuse of focus. The same goes for artists who constantly feel like other bands have unfair access to opportunities that they don’t. Yes, most of us find motivation in connecting with large audiences while succeeding locally and beyond. However, similar to how fear thwarts creative expression, insecurity damages our ability to advocate for our music and find opportunities. For example, if you directly connect your self worth as an artist to the number of streams, listeners, and social media followers you get, you’re probably never going to be fulfilled as a creative, and that’s a recipe for quitting. Similarly, if you’re more obsessed with how comparable bands are doing than you are in creating great work and sharing it, how can you expect to get where you want to go?
Come back to what you love about making music again and again
If overthinking is hurting your career, try making a conscious effort to return to what you love. Once the fun aspects of a music career disappear, musical creativity becomes nearly impossible to keep alive. Fun in music embraces creative risks. It doesn’t obsess over failures or another band’s tour schedule or social media presence. There’s no easy way to balance the uncomplicated joys of being musical with the endless complexities of trying to sustain a successful music career. It’s a unique balance we all have to find for ourselves. But failing to do so damages our confidence and limits our music.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.