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.
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.