Whatever you’re setting out to accomplish, the best thing you can do for your career is finish your music projects and bring your ideas through to completion.
This might be the simplest and most valuable piece of career advice I can give you: Finish things! It doesn’t matter what those “things” are: maybe they’re songs, an album, a music video, booking a tour, a crowdfunding campaign, a new website, or new merch designs. Whatever they are, the best thing you can do for your career is get in the habit of finishing your music projects and bringing your ideas through to completion.
The problem with perfect
I see so many musicians sitting on their ideas, songs, and projects for months (sometimes years). They keep refining and editing, trying to improve their product because they feel like it needs to be absolutely perfect.
But, this idea of “perfection” can really hold you back. Seriously, I want you to ask yourself something: Is anything ever really going to be “perfect?”
Probably not. As a musician, you’re constantly growing, learning, honing your skills, and improving yourself and your art. Something you’re proud of today could be seen in a totally different light if you look back on it in a month’s or a year’s time.
And that is why it’s so dangerous to aim for “perfection.” It’s all relative, and that standard is constantly being raised by your own practice. In short, with this mindset it’s very easy to just sit on your ideas, songs, and projects forever. And if you’re trying to grow a fan base, that’s not going to get you anywhere.
The value of finishing
There’s a great quote that really sums up this idea perfectly. “A plan executed imperfectly now is better than a plan executed meticulously never.”
Having something out there – flaws and all – is infinitely better than nothing.
Why? Because fans gather around finished and released songs, not the idea or intention of a song; and because opportunities stem from music that’s out there in the world getting discovered.
Released songs can grow your audience as more people discover you, so you have even more fans waiting for your next song release. Completed songs, albums, crowdfunding campaigns, and merch can make you money: money you can use to make your next project even better. And a published body of work can attract industry attention – no one is going to to find you if all your songs are sitting on your hard drive.
On top of that, you’ll learn so much more from completing a project than you will from endlessly tweaking.
I know this is easier said than done, especially if you’re undertaking something big, like your first album or EP.
There’s a real fear of criticism, a fear of putting something out that doesn’t fully represent your vision, and of course, fear of failure. It’s a weird little mind game you start playing with yourself: your subconscious convinces you that if you never put anything out there, you’ll never fail.
But you’ll never really succeed either. You’ll end up completing what is perhaps a masterpiece of a song or album years down the road to no one.
If you find yourself afraid of releasing your music or finishing your projects, try setting a deadline for yourself. Write it on your calendar, write it on a piece of paper and tape it to your wall. Hold yourself accountable. Do everything within your power to get the project as good as possible by that date, and then let go and get it out there.
This is where time management becomes really valuable. (If you want some tips on making the most of your time and organizing yourself so you can get more done faster and meet those deadlines, check out my free time management guidebook, The Musician’s Guide to Getting More Done.)
Quality vs. quantity
When talking about finishing music projects, there’s an interesting discussion to be had about quality vs quantity. Both have their merits in certain situations.
For example, in practice, it can be very beneficial to write a TON of very rough songs or guitar riffs. You’ll learn a lot about what works and what doesn’t work simply because you had the chance to try more things, experiment, and even fail.
With other projects like an EP or album, there’s a different balance. You need to get that album as good as you can with the resources and skills you have available.
In other words, release quality work, but DON’T let the pursuit of quality hold you back.
Don’t wait to record your album until you can afford to record in the best studio in the country. Don’t put off your EP until you become the most technically proficient keyboardist on the planet. And don’t wait to launch your Kickstarter project until you have the skills to film a Hollywood-quality pitch video.
Instead, finish your project. Get it out there. Give your fans something to get excited about. LEARN from your experience and make an even better album or song next time!
Building a habit of finishing songs
This “finished, not perfect” mindset can be applied to songwriting with a simple exercise. Next time you sit down to write, set a timer for 30 minutes and write a song start to finish.
It doesn’t have to be a very long song. It doesn’t have to be something you’ll post on social media. It just needs to be a song with a beginning and an end. Try to keep your writing session under a half hour – when you go longer than that, you start getting bogged down in the details.
When the timer goes off, close down the recording program, put your pencil down, and walk away or work on something else. Save these little song exercises and come back to develop some of the ideas later.
While you may not write anything ground-breaking in these little sessions, you’ll get into the practice of finishing things and bringing an idea from start to finish. Which can influence your mindset towards other aspects of your career.
Of course, there’s something to be said about taking the time to really refine and develop a song idea. It builds dedication, persistence, and the finer skills of songwriting that pertain to polishing off a piece of music.
However, for many musicians this can definitely become a source of creative block. They keep reworking, and the more they rework and the longer they put off releasing it, the more frustrated they get.
There’s an art to knowing when to stop tweaking and bounce the file. Practice getting familiar with that line.
Hopefully this has motivated you to finish whatever it is you’re working on right now. Set a deadline for yourself and get it out there. Just by taking that simple step of releasing your music or launching your music projects, you’ll be infinitely more successful.
Dave Kusek is the founder of New Artist Model and Berklee Online. Over the years he’s worked with tens of thousands of musicians around the world across every genre imaginable and in many different markets. New Artist Model is an online music business school designed especially for indie musicians. Learn how to turn your music into a career, understand the business, and start thinking like a musical entrepreneur.
Done is Better Than Perfect for Your Music Career
Are you making excuses, or dealing with challenges?
Will this gig help you reach your music career goals?
Choose quality over quantity for your next CD release
Musicians, follow this time management plan to get more done