5 Signs You’re Overthinking Your Songs

It’s easy to overthink the songwriting process whether you’re a seasoned pro or are writing your first batch of songs. But regardless of where you’re at in your music-making journey, you and your music will end up suffering if you nitpick your songs to death. Spontaneity and curiosity are two crucial character traits you’ll need to make interesting music, but prioritizing perfection and your own intellect leaves you more likely to make boring music and less likely to finish your songs. Here are five red flags that you’re overthinking your music:

You can’t seem to finish your songs no matter how long you work on them

Some songs take a long time to write, but others can be fully formed in a couple of minutes. It really depends on the songwriter(s) involved and other factors like goals, inspiration, and context. But if you find yourself unable to finish your songs over and over again no matter how much time you devote to them, it’s likely you’re overthinking the writing process. If this sounds like you, the best thing you can do is commit to finishing everything you write so you can move on to better ideas. 

Your finished work sounds dull 

If everything you write sounds boring and predictable, it could be a symptom of you putting too much unhelpful thought and energy into your songs. Some of the best music sounds messy, loose, and unrefined. Overthinking music is like pouring sanitizer over your sonic creations. Sure, you might end up with something that sounds safe and “perfect,” but you probably won’t make anything that human beings will want to listen to. Authentic, unguarded, and adventurous music always wins out over songs that are polite and created to please the masses. 

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You let things get between you and the joy of making music

Making music should feel fun or therapeutic in some way to you, and if it doesn’t, something is wrong. What makes overthinking music so dangerous is that it steals the joy from your songwriting process. It’s endlessly rewarding to discover that next amazing chord progression, beat, bass line, riff, or vocal melody. That instant jolt of energy that makes you say “yes!,” isn’t just something that’s nice to feel. It’s absolutely essential if you want to be a serious songwriter. If you haven’t experienced a sense of joy in your writing process for a while, you’re probably overthinking your music and need a different strategy.

You can’t stop striving for perfection

Perfection doesn’t exist, and yet so many of us punish ourselves for not being able to write perfect songs, deliver perfect performances, and achieve our perfect notions of success. It’s a lifelong challenge for some songwriters to let go of their pursuits of perfection. This is important because clinging on to perfection will end up making your songs worse, not better. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t put all your effort and passion into the writing process but instead that you’ll be in the best position to create music if you prioritize joy and curiosity over your narrow and unachievable standards of perfection.

You’re no longer getting anything back from the time and energy you put into making music

If making music has stopped being rewarding for you in any way, it could be because you’ve unconsciously let doubt and insecurity rule your process. Making music needs to give something back to you at the very least, whether you earn money from writing songs or are just starting out and are building up your writing experience. But letting the baggage of expectations weigh you down will put an end to the rewards you get from creating music regardless of your goals, background, and experience level. The music creation process is a lot like life in the way that so much is out of your control every time you write. You can’t force yourself to write an amazing song, or for people to love what you do. You can only show up to the process again and again and try to get better at writing songs. The more you try to control things the worse off your music becomes, so focus on letting go and getting comfortable with failure. 

Whether you’re a bona fide successful songwriter or are struggling to finish your first track, overthinking your songs will set you back as a music-maker. Letting go of expectations and your ideas of perfection aren’t easy, but your songs will be so much better off if you try. 

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.

Dave5 Signs You’re Overthinking Your Songs

11 comments

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  • Sellve - January 18, 2022 reply

    The information in this post are amazing. I live it. I learn a lot.

  • Richard V Tuttell - January 19, 2022 reply

    Thanks again, Patrick, for your sound advice.

  • Ron Sanderson - January 20, 2022 reply

    Good points here.

  • Darrell Varela - January 20, 2022 reply

    Thanks

  • Ken Williams - January 20, 2022 reply

    Interesting article. I have felt at times that I overthink in songwriting, but only because I do not have a lot of extra time and feel guilty about taking time away from other things I need to do. I know that time varies with each inspiration, but do you have some sort of guideline to let you know you are overthinking?
    I also sometimes go back to what I felt were finished songs and in listening, I hear lines and sometimes even melody and/or chord changes that would work better. Is that considered “overthinking”?

  • Sheena G - January 20, 2022 reply

    Love this! I can relate to this article in many ways. Thank you for writing it. It lets us artist know… its all good, its all gonna be ok! write on write on!!! 🙂 Sheena G

  • Frank - January 21, 2022 reply

    Very good article.

  • Michael Barone - January 21, 2022 reply

    Oswald And The Herringbones often let #4 mess with us. Fortunately over time we grew to accept that Imperfections make for interesting bits of music. Of course you want to do your best and get the best product you can, but don’t sweat the small things. They may make the song better!

  • Mark - January 23, 2022 reply

    This is obviously the opinion of somebody who isn’t willing to put in the work to craft a good song, rather than crap one out.

  • Adrian - January 28, 2022 reply

    Very useful content. This is fantastic! In many respects, I can identify to this story. This is clearly the viewpoint of someone who is unwilling to put in the effort to write an excellent song rather than spit one out.

  • Elyse - January 28, 2022 reply

    Thanks for this, Patrick. I really needed to hear it… I’m printing this and putting it on my wall as a reminder!

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