What exactly is a mistake in music? Some mess-ups are big and undeniably embarrassing, like putting the capo on the wrong fret of the guitar during a live show. Others are more subtle, like a singer mumbling through a line of lyrics during a vocal recording take, or an overeager drummer consistently falling ahead of the beat during an exciting section of a song. While every mistake is different and some don’t bring any value to us as musicians, there are some mistakes in music that end up adding a lot of character and value to our music.
How mistakes can make your music more interesting
What we initially perceive as errors often are the qualities of a new song, live performance, or record that end up making music sound more unique and engaging. Sometimes it’s the way singers bend pitches on their way to the correct note, or the happy accidents that happen when a player hits a wrong note or chord and it ends up presenting a section of music in an entirely new and exciting context. There are even stories of artists who’ve recorded music with equipment that’s cheap, damaged, or ill-fitting for the recordings they’re featured on, and the result is music that ends up sounding way more interesting.
What we need as musicians, songwriters, performers, and producers to turn a mistake into a powerful musical asset are acceptance and resourcefulness. Acceptance is crucial in music because the hard but unavoidable truth is that things are just never going to be exactly how you want them to be. Whether it’s your mindset during the recording process, the live sound at your next show, or the equipment setup at your band’s studio, things are never going to be ideal for you as a musician. This applies whether you’re a rich and famous artist or are a young, unknown band.
When you accept that mistakes are inevitable in music, you’re forced to look for opportunities anywhere you can find them. A drum fill that comes in at the wrong part of a recording becomes the inspiration for an entirely new beat after the producer slows it down and loops it. A singer’s imperfections get heard in a new and beneficial way and it lays the foundation for their unique and unmistakable style to emerge. A solo artist flubs up the lyrics on stage and uses it as a chance to connect with the audience and laugh at herself. Sometimes mistakes improve our recordings, but other times they’re helpful for enhancing live shows, tedious band practices, and dead-end song ideas. It all depends on your perspective.
Every mistake can help you as a musician with the right attitude
There are endless opportunities to use everything in our lives as fuel for our music, and failures, mess-ups, glaring errors, and even horrifically bad performances can end up improving your life as a musician. It all comes down to your mindset and whether you’re willing to work with what you have or not. Sometimes the only value of a mistake is realizing that you or your band need to put in more practice before playing your next live show, but that sort of error ends up becoming a huge gift if it motivates you to become more prepared and confident perspective. We can use each and every seemingly bad thing that happens to us in life as an opportunity to create something great.
If this all sounds a bit stoic, it’s because it is. Pursuing music seriously is something that is going to discourage you, beat you down, exhaust, and infuriate you at some point or another. Major disappointment is headed your way no matter what you do. You have the choice to either leverage your shortcomings and transform them into gifts, or allow them to get in your way. If you apply the same sense of creativity and innovation to your mistakes that you use to make music, you’re going to give yourself the best chance at thriving and succeeding as a musician.
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.