So many songwriters overthink their music, and it’s easy to understand why. Our songs are judged as good, bad, or forgettable. That judgement can feel personal. So not only do we want to win over audiences, we also want to avoid the pain of criticism. To protect ourselves we seek to make our music perfect.
The problem is that “perfect” is a moving target. If you choose perfection over progress, some of your greatest assets as a music-maker will take a backseat to overthinking. Here are 4 signs that overthinking might be hurting your songwriting process (and how to break free).
If you’re the kind of musician that just wants to make music and do nothing else, it’s a sign your heart is in the right place. You’re going to need a huge amount of passion and grit if you want to connect with an audience in an industry as brutal and competitive as music. Unfortunately, passion alone isn’t going to be enough if you want an actual shot at making this your career or even simply creating music long enough to find an audience. Creating goals big and small, short and long-term, is something every serious musician needs to do to succeed.
No, scratch that. We got into music because we couldn’t not get into it. Because there’s something in us that just feels right at home when we pick up our instrument, or walk into the studio, when our creativity gets to soar and we get to be ourselves in that very unique way that only happens when it’s us and our music.
Musicians know the feeling. Industry professionals know the feeling. You know that feeling. That’s why you’re here. We all chase it. But sometimes we have to put it on the back burner because of work or life or whatever else—and that feels awful, doesn’t it?
But when you’re working full time and trying to manage all the other little pieces of life, it can feel exhausting to try to fit in your passion. It starts to feel more like a chore and less like the thing that truly lights you up, until it becomes more and more difficult to make it a daily part of your life again.
First, you’re not alone. We all feel this at one point or another and everyone struggles to prioritize the things they love. It doesn’t mean you don’t love it, it just means you might need a little help finding time for it. And you’re also not alone in juggling your day job with music. Most musicians are in this stage right now.
There is a whole community of musicians hustling to make this their reality, but if you’re not careful, it can start to feel overwhelming. So, how do you break the cycle and balance your music career with your day job?
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.
It can be a massive letdown to pour everything into your music and find out that hardly anyone is listening. High streaming numbers of your song may show that it’s good and people like it. However, does a low amount of streams mean a song or album isn’t very good? Well, no, actually. This overly simplistic way of judging music’s value is inaccurate and damaging because many music-makers and fans believe it.
Think of songwriting like a romantic relationship. When things are going well and ideas come by effortlessly, it feels natural and doesn’t take much work. This is akin to the honeymoon phase of falling in love, when all you want is to be with the person you’ve fallen for. But when things go poorly — songwriter’s block, your album flops — staying the course is much harder to do. This difficult season of music creation is like a long-term relationship. It requires effort and hard work to keep things humming along. It can feel difficult and isn’t instantly rewarding, but putting the work in is worth it.
Running into dead-ends in your songwriting practice is inevitable – it could hit you at any stage of your journey. As creators, we can embrace that uncertainty or turn away from it. The former, however, may lead to unexpected inspiration and creativity. Try one of these strategies whenever you’re stuck with your projects.
You may not realize this if you’re a developing artist, but you have a unique songwriting practice. This includes everything: from your approach to writing lyrics to how you come up with riffs, beats, melodies, and song structures. It’s individual to you, and looks different for each songwriter. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your time creating, whether you’re new to music-making or a seasoned writer: