Chasing perfection in music creation is a constant temptation. It’s natural to want to create and perform the best music you can, but focusing too much on perfection isn’t how you’re going to get there. From dumbing down your best ideas to sacrificing authenticity, your music ends up suffering when you obsess over its flaws. Here are four big ways your music suffers when you worry too much about perfection:
Your music feels less human
It’s easy to forget that the songs we write will (hopefully) go on to find an audience and a place in people’s lives. The ways your music touches and relates to listeners is far, far more important than anything else. By over-focusing on perfection, you run the risk of removing the most human and engaging parts of your songs, whether it’s censoring a lyric because it feels too revealing and honest or changing an interesting melody because it veers out of what you consider to sound “normal.” When we overthink things, we often end up killing our best ideas and putting up walls between us and our listeners. This especially applies for choosing technically great vocal and instrumental tracks over the ones that are messier but are played with heart and feeling. Heart and feeling win every time.
Spontaneity and natural ways of creating are sacrificed
Because songwriters are also musicians, there’s often a tendency to let the structures and approaches that make us successful players leak into and hurt the songwriting process. There are a few perfect ways of playing a 3-octave G Major scale on the guitar. There are endless ways to approach writing just one song. If you can’t stomach the uncertainty of a piece of music sounding bad or weird or undefined until it starts to take shape, your creativity will end up suffering for it. Specifically, spontaneity and experimentation can’t really happen if you’re wanting perfection out of the gate with a new song. An idea sounding messy and filled with vocal gibberish at first is completely normal. You have to be okay with something sounding weird and off long enough for an actual idea to emerge.
Overthinking things results with worse ideas and less productivity
Trying to make everything about your music sounding perfect can lead to overthinking during the writing process, and this isn’t good. Overthinking things almost always causes us to choose safer ideas over bolder and more interesting ones. It makes us second guess our best takes and brings unneeded doubt into our mindsets and live performances. Focusing on perfection or thinking about it in the wrong way will ultimately result in you being less productive as a musician. Everything from coming up with ideas and finishing songs to performing will be way harder to do if you obsess over getting things exactly right.
You’ll miss out on happy accidents
“Mistakes” can lead to incredible ideas you couldn’t have found if you’d tried to. But you won’t discover these ideas if you’re too rigid on how you define what’s acceptable in your music and what’s not. Creating a songwriting practice where you can get the most out of your mistakes means accepting failure and being willing to try different approaches than you might be used to. Holding on too closely to nailing the technical aspects of your recordings, performances, and writing sessions means losing out on tons of great creative opportunities. And, frustratingly, usually the tighter you grip on to your idea of musical perfection the worse you’ll play, write, and lay down tracks. You’ll end up being so much more creative and prolific if you can try relaxing and working with an open, curious mind. If you do that, you might end up with something even better than your idea of perfection.
While perfect probably means something different to each of us as musicians, it’s clear none of us are ever going to get there with songwriting, recording, or performances. Luckily, the best music prioritizes humanity and connection over flawlessness. All we can do as musicians is try our best and put our hearts into what we do. If we can do this, we’ll end up making a lasting impact on listeners.
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.