A problem we talk about a lot in songwriting is perfectionism, an issue that keeps many music-makers on the sidelines and keeps them from creating their best work. But more and more songwriters struggle with the opposite problem, which is rushing ideas to completion and releasing them when they’re still underdeveloped. With how quick and easy it is to release music now, this is becoming a bigger issue for independent artists. While creating lots of music and sharing it with the world can definitely be rewarding for you and your fans, you aren’t doing yourself or anyone else any favors by rushing to get your songs over the finish line. Here are five signs that you’re not devoting enough time to your creative process:
Every song ends up sounding the same
Creative cohesion is one thing, but if each of your songs inevitably sounds the same, it’s a strong signal that you’re rushing. We’ve all experienced the magic that happens when a song comes together in a couple of minutes, almost as if it was always there just waiting to be discovered. But in the majority of situations, musical development is a long process of trial and error. It takes time to hear what works and what doesn’t. When all of your songs follow the same predictable trajectory, it’s a sign that you’re not doing the necessary work of letting ideas unfold and lead you to the process naturally.
The performances on your recordings aren’t solid
You might have a solid song on your hands, but it’ll never live up to its potential if you boggle the recording process. Recording can be a massive undertaking, even for songs with simple instrumentation. Some days your performances will be spot on, but your takes will lack emotional depth and inspiration. Other days you’ll have the opposite problem. Easing into the recording process takes time, and the vast majority of musicians will never be able to nail their recordings on the first few takes. The fix to this problem is simple, but it takes a lot of discipline to give the recorded elements of your song the time and attention they need.
Your lyrics lack depth
Every songwriter approaches lyric-writing differently, and some view the words in their songs as secondary to the music. But regardless of how important you think lyrics are, audiences do care about them, and a bad line or two could be enough to make someone want to turn your music off. Unless it’s an intentional creative decision that falls in line with your identity as an artist, simply throwing words together and calling it a day shows you’re not putting enough time into developing the emotional character and story of your songs.
Your songs sound boring
You can be a lot of things in music, but being boring all but guarantees that you’ll be quickly forgotten. Most songwriters don’t choose to be boring, of course. Our music is boring when we fill up musical space with whatever easy ideas we have lying around instead of exploring, taking risks, asking questions, and opening ourselves up to the possibility of failure. Writing predictable, bland music is a lot quicker than delving deep into the process and exploring, but doing so won’t give you the results you want.
You’re never satisfied with the end result
If you hate everything you write, it could be because your songs are chronically rushed and underdeveloped. Let’s take a moment to acknowledge how tricky it is to find the balance of spending way too long or way too little time finishing songs and albums. This is not easy territory to navigate much of the time. But never being satisfied with the music you make is a sign you’re not giving your songs the time they need to bloom into fully fleshed-out pieces of music that you’re excited to share.
It’s not easy to slow down and focus on doing the work of developing your songs to their fullest potential. But a little patience goes a long way in songwriting. In many cases, you’ll find that more time devoted to your songs will result with music you’re much more invested in, and that’s crucial when it comes to advocating for your songs when it comes time to promote them.
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.