In today’s shockingly competitive music industry, it’s not easy knowing how much music to release and how often. There’s a feeling that between how hungry listeners are for new music and the astounding number of new songs uploaded to major streaming platforms every day that artists will lose their audience’s attention without constantly releasing music.
The problem is that it’s hard to write, record, and produce great music consistently, and that if you’re approaching the songwriting process in ways that embrace curiosity and risk-taking, you’re bound to run into false starts and failures over and over again. Since not everything we write should see the light of day, it’s crucial to be able to discern what’s worth sharing and what needs more tweaking when it comes to our music. Here are four signs that your music isn’t ready for release:
Something feels missing
If you feel like you’re nearing the completion of a song and get the sense that something’s missing, it’s important to take that intuition seriously. When we’re more concerned with putting out music consistently or finishing music on a deadline, it’s easy to cut corners and leave our songs far from reaching their true potential. Whether it’s a subpar performance or a section of a song that isn’t as strong as it could be, releasing music that feels unfinished or lacking in any way is a bad idea.
Numerous listens reveal glaring errors
It should go without saying, but if there are noticeable errors in your songs, they’re not ready for release. By errors, I don’t mean minor and nuanced parts of your performances or production choices that can be interpreted as beneficial sounds that build character in your music. Instead, I’m referring to stuff you’ll listen back to later with your head in your hands because it sounds so bad and embarrassing. If you’re a spur of the moment sort of musician that wants to release lots of music, that’s totally fine as long as you’re not putting out rushed and flawed art that will end up hurting your career and report with fans down the line. It’s easy to fix errors in your songs or decide they’re not strong enough to share. Recovering from putting out weak work however is much, much harder.
The song sounds unintentionally unmixed and unproduced
Intentionality is a big deal when it comes to the way your songs sound and feel to listeners. If noticeable parts of your music sound like you didn’t mean for them to sound the way they do, it’s a signifier that the track isn’t ready to be heard by anyone aside from you and your collaborators. There’s plenty of happy mistakes and surprises to be found in the process of recording and producing, but when things come off as unintentional in ways that are inconsistent, distracting, and unsupportive of the song and your musical aesthetic in general, your work isn’t finished as a music-maker.
You wouldn’t want to listen to it if you weren’t the artist that created it
This is the most important sign. If the end result of a song is a piece of music you genuinely wouldn’t want to listen to if you weren’t the songwriter behind it, it’s either unfinished or unworthy of being released. This is a hard pill to swallow for developing artists who are establishing their voices or anyone else who’s spent lots of time on a song only to see it go nowhere or need new revisions, but if you follow this rule, you’ll be so much better off as a songwriter. When you put out music you’re genuinely excited about, everything becomes infinitely easier and more natural as an artist, whether it’s playing the same songs over and over again during concerts or promoting a new album. If we want and expect people to support us and our music, we need to hold up our end of the bargain, which is delivering meaningful music that other human beings will actually want to hear.
Once you recognize that your work is valuable and can be hugely meaningful to listeners, you’ll find the balance between wanting to give them music consistently and only sharing songs that reflect your best creative effort.
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.