The chances are high that if you’re reading this, you’ve released some music at some point. The world is accustomed to hearing stories about artists who make music for the first time and somehow find a massive audience, but this is probably not what happened with your first single, EP, or album. It’s not the way things go for the overwhelmingly vast majority of people who create music. Regardless of what you think of your last release, you can always make better and better music, and a willingness to acknowledge and learn from your past shortcomings will help you improve the next music you write in huge ways.
How do you feel about your last release? Don’t settle for descriptors like “great” or “meh,” but instead dig deep into the details. Your ability to critically listen to your work will help ensure that the next music you write avoids the shortcomings of the music from your past while embracing its best qualities. We can’t control what we write, but we can control how we write. When you thoroughly listen to your old music and identify things you don’t like––cliche lyrics, boring melodies and chord progressions, poor production and recording––you can strive to do things better next time. The same goes when it comes to retaining the strengths of your old music, and this is arguably even more important than avoiding mistakes. A crucial part of becoming a better songwriter is identifying your strengths and building on them.
Would you listen if you didn’t make it?
Accepting the weak spots in your music isn’t easy because it can drive you into extreme ways of thinking if you’re not careful: “my song is horrible, I should quit making music” for example. The truth is that you open yourself up for criticism each time you share music with the world. When you have the courage to look at your music honestly and constructively, you end up preparing yourself for outside criticism and strengthening your future releases at the same time.
A hard but very helpful question to ask with anything you make is “would I actually listen to this thing if I didn’t make it?” You might not like the answer you come up with, but simply asking the question and answering honestly will help to change you into the songwriter you want and need to be. If the music in your past isn’t something you’d listen to now, it’s not a reason to call it quits but an opportunity to delve deeper into your creativity and make something better. It’s not easy. It takes some music-makers years to hit their stride and create their best music. If you’re hellbent on “making it” after your first couple of releases, you might not have the patience needed to create long enough to actually succeed in music. All we can do is try as songwriters, and our efforts will be more successful if we don’t forget the music we made in the past.