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12 Signs Perfectionism Is Ruining Your Music Career (And How To Fix It)

  • Damian Keyes
    Damian Keyes
  • Aug 22nd 2021

Perfection is a myth.

It's one ugly piece of work and is one of the biggest music career killers.

Perfectionism can keep us from taking risks in our music and prevent us from challenging the norm.

Striving for perfection in music might seem like the right thing to do, but it can be incredibly dangerous and damaging to your growth as a professional artist.

I'm not saying that musicians shouldn't have high standards or that you could throw your content out there without thinking about it.

But sometimes, perfectionism can interrupt your art and creativity flow, causing you to become paralyzed.

It's a trap. Changing your mindset and learning how to take the pressure off yourself can help you overcome this horrible feeling as a musician.

Songwriting session

Why are musicians perfectionists?

I'm no psychologist but what I do know is that the music industry is a competitive environment. Other creative fields suffer from perfection and 'creativity paralysis' for this reason.

Art and music are subjective. Of course, you can like or dislike a piece of art or music, but the idea of something being universally labeled as 'perfect' is pretty much impossible.

The very concept of being a perfectionist is so fundamentally flawed as you are literally chasing the impossible every time!

Performance plays a huge part in these feelings and it can promote anxiety and self-doubt in our playing. Musicians are wired to create and perform music as if their very survival depends on it.

Not to mention that many musicians are driven by aspirational feelings of famous artists they admire, and how this can cause artists to feel like they've failed when they don't achieve the same success as some of the biggest stars in the universe.

Musician recording

When speaking with artists and singers I often get this feeling that they think "when I am good enough then life will also be good". Every time it hurts to see talented artists getting caught up in the idea of perfection and not enjoying the journey.

They are so concerned about meeting a final arbitrary perfect goal and avoiding the idea of failure, that they forget to enjoy the process of growth and creation.

Does this sound like you?

Here are some of the biggest signs perfectionism is ruining your music career, and some tips on how to overcome it.

1. You Have A Fear Of Releasing Your Music

So many artists are scared of actually putting out their content or music. They spend so much writing and working on their craft, but neglect to put their art out there. I get it.

The fear of someone seeing you, judging you when you're not quite at your best... This fear is real.

So what do you do?

Learn to love the fear.

It’s hard putting yourself out there. You constantly worry that people are judging you, or even worse they just won’t notice you at all. It can be a real slog.

Worrying about how people perceive you and your achievements is a common trait among any perfectionist. Check out this awesome quote:

"You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do" - Eleanor Roosevelt.

So basically... no one cares about you or anything you do. Sad face.

Or maybe this isn't a bad thing. It's actually awesome and can cause you to feel free and inspired.

Why? ⠀

Because it means you can create, experiment, and post your talent without anyone judging you.

Don’t get caught up in the doubt. It doesn’t matter at the end of the day, all that matters is your action.

The more you feel fear, the less you do.⠀

And the less you do, the less you hit your goals. ⠀

You make progress when you come out of your comfort zone and ignore the fear. Give everything, even if you’re scared.

Microphone recording studio

2. You're Quick To Make Excuses for Songs You Share

If you are brave enough to share your music with close friends or family before releasing it, well done.

But don't be that songwriter that lists out 20 reasons why the track sucks before anyone has had a chance to listen.

As you can imagine, I receive music all of the time asking for my feedback. Before I've even had a chance to listen to it and make my own judgment about it, the excuses always begin.

  • "It's just a demo at the moment so don't judge"

  • "The vocals kind of suck in the chorus so ignore them"

  • "The mix is pretty muddy"

  • "There's not enough EQ on the snare at the moment"

  • "The guitar in the bridge is slightly out of tune"

  • "The lyrics are kind of rushed"

The list goes on.

Is this something you've done before when sharing music with friends or other musicians?

Musicians do this because they are so caught up in the idea of perfection, and allowing anyone to listen to something you've made that falls even slightly below that high standard creates a sense of insecurity and self-doubt.

Hence the barrage of excuses.

When sharing a mix with those you trust, here's what to do.

Just shut your mouth and see if they hear any of the same 'mistakes' you do.

Chances are, those small mistakes that you think completely ruin your track will be completely unnoticed. And if they are noticed, no problem. You know it's something to fix.

Don't ask for specific criticism, just ask, "what do you think?" If it's all good, that means nothing blatantly stood out (bad mix, crappy lyrics, out of tune instruments, etc).

3. You Try and Match Your Song Recordings to a Clear Vision of Perfection In Your Head

Many artists will have a clear idea of exactly how their song should sound before they begin recording.

Every beat, every note, and every single moment of their new song.

How many of you can hear the entire song in your head, all the tiny details and everything in between before it exists in any tangible form?

Now, instead of lowering your standards and accepting that your final product will be less than ideal or not quite match what you envisioned, why not actually approach the songwriting and recording process as exactly that...

A process.

We are creatives. This is not data entry. This is music. Art.

Instead of loading up your DAW and trying to register this perfect sound you've created in your own mind, it can help to curb your idea of perfection and lean into the creative process.

The thing is, we often create our best work when we aren't tied to a pre-ordained idea before going into the process.

Discovering new sounds, structures, and ideas as you go can be instantly more fulfilling and inspiring.

It helps to avoid disappointment in your own sound as you aren't striving for a state of perfection to begin with.

You are just enjoying the journey of creating a track and may do things you wouldn't have done otherwise.

Songwriting and recording

4. You Practice Your Live Set Often But Rarely Perform Live

Performance anxiety is a pretty common thing amongst most musicians.

Some musicians never even get as far to experience real performance nerves as they are stuck forever practicing, and never performing.

Waiting until you are truly prepared to take to the stage might lead to never actually playing live at all.

If wanting to play live in front of an audience is something you aspire to, don't allow your perfectionist mindset to stop you from letting it happen.

It is such a shame to see those that could have a real talent for live performance stuck practicing in their bedroom forever for a show that will never happen.

Practice is great but it's important to realize that performing live in front of an audience is so different from playing to yourself in your room.

There is a different energy, lots more to think about, and situations that you simply can't prepare yourself for without experiencing them for real.

You need to play live to see how people will react. Your first show isn't going to be your best, but you have to start somewhere!

Live band guitarist

5. You Have Way More Unfinished Tracks Than Finished Tracks

There's nothing worse than the hard drive of doom. We've all been there. It holds a plethora of unfinished projects, tracks, and ideas that never see the light of day.

The thing is, we are always one piece of content away, one song away from greatness. You don't get to decide which song becomes great. But you get to decide which ones get released.

The key to success in actually releasing something is deadlines.

Don't aim to 'perfect' songs. Aim to finish songs instead. Keep creating and sharing. Finish tracks and move on.

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” - Leonardo da Vinci:

Over-analysis leads to paralysis. If you don't set a deadline, you'll never complete anything.

Imogen Heap famously set herself a deadline of one year to make her debut album, booking a session to master the album one year ahead in December 2004 before she even began recording.

That's how you ensure something is completed!

Hard drive

6. You Are Defensive When it Comes To Criticism About Your Music

You can spot a musician obsessed with perfection when they jump to defend their craft at any sign of criticism.

It's an effort to protect a self-image and to take control of a situation where there is none.

In music, you have to learn to deal with rejection and criticism as it happens all the time. Literally, every YouTube video I put up will get a few dislikes and some troll comments!

What happens is you end up focusing on that one negative comment instead of the hundreds of positive ones.

It’s never easy to deal with, regardless of how big or small that criticism is.

The important thing is how you deal with it.⠀

Accepting that not everyone is going to like what you do is a part of the process. Don’t take it personally, more often than not, it’s not about you.

You can only control your own thoughts and actions. Everything else is inconsequential.

Put your everything into what is in your control, your music and content.

Musician practicing

7. You Release Music and Content Inconsistently

Another trait of perfectionism in musicians is inconsistency.

Pouring all of your energy into this big release hoping it will bring you success, and then going missing on social media for a huge period of time afterward whilst you slowly craft your next masterpiece in hiding...

It's a deep and endless loop that just doesn't work.

There's never a 'perfect' time to release something. There's always going to be a reason NOT to do something.

At some point, something will blow up. I can promise you there will be plenty of times where you'll put something out and it will do better than you think.

Keep the content flowing and build a body of work rather than being held back by waiting for a perfect masterpiece to appear.

Perfectionism

8. You Feel Like Asking For Help With Your Music Is A Sign Of Weakness

You believe that if you can't do it all yourself, then you can't be perfect and that isn't acceptable.

Being an independent artist in today's world is hard. There's a lot to do. Asking for help is actually a sign of strength and self-awareness as an artist, not a weakness.

Think about the most successful artists you look up to.

Do you think they go to where they are completely by themselves and with no one else helping them? Of course they didn't.

The lone wolf hero story is clearly very appealing. To go up against the grain and take over the world by yourself. Life isn't like that though.

Surround yourself with people who are invested in your journey and seek help when you need it.

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9. Creating Music Is Starting To Feel Like A Chore

Not enjoying creating music anymore is a classic sign that perfection is having a negative effect on your career.

It can soon feel more like a chore than an accomplishment to release your art.

It's important to realize that you don’t need to love every second of it.⠀

But you do need to love the journey and the process.⠀

It’s so easy to get caught up in the numbers, the frustrations, and the unknown.⠀

We’re all in the same boat there, it’s not easy to feel that love when anxiety sets in. ⠀⠀

Just remember that every day you work, every moment you’re putting you’re all in, it’s another brick to the foundation of your empire. ⠀

  • You can never release your first single again.⠀

  • You can never play your first gig again.⠀

  • You can never hit those landmarks again.⠀

So treasure it, whatever stage you’re at. You never want to look back saying I wish I had more fun with it.

So love what you’re doing, work hard, and treasure every second.

Take time to think about how far you’ve come as an artist, listen to some of your earliest productions.

By looking at how far you’ve come, you will realize just how much you have to celebrate rather than criticize.

Guitar on amp

10. You Procrastinate During Creative Projects

It seems a little backward that perfectionism can lead to procrastination.

Especially as procrastination leads directly to poor productivity, but procrastination and perfectionism do work hand in hand.

This stems from a fear of failure.

Perfectionists worry so much about doing something poorly or making mistakes that they become completely paralyzed and unable to do much of anything at all.

Procrastinating can cause even greater feelings of failure. It's a vicious cycle that perfectionists often fall into.

Basically, perfectionism can lead to 'never-getting-shit-done-ism'.

There is always a better performance or better take or better something.

You have to make a choice and move forward, otherwise, you make no progress whatsoever.

Musician recording at home

11. You Always Feel Like Your Gear And Equipment Is Holding You Back

A perfectionist tendency is to have an unhealthy relationship with their tools, and deflecting the problem of why creativity might be feeling a bit lackluster.

A lot of musicians are obsessed with gear as part of their performance or home recording setup.

They are always chasing perfection with their sound and of course, your equipment can play a huge part in this.

The search for the perfect setup can go too far though.

It's easy to blame a tool, your musical instrument, a plug-in, your microphone, and more for your shortcomings.

Dreaming that your new guitar or flashy new recording software will finally unlock your true potential as a musical artist is a recipe for inaction and ignores the bigger picture.

Professional athletes with shoes, artists with their favorite brand of brushes, engineers with the latest machines, photographers with the best lens on the market... you see it all the time.

Good gear doesn't replace talent. It really doesn't matter. If you keep thinking "I'll get started on my masterpiece when I finally have all the right equipment", you'll never actually get started.

Music equipment

12. You Compare Yourself To Unrealistic Standards

I’m not good enough.⠀

How many times have you told yourself that when scrolling? ⠀

  • “How have they got more followers than me?”⠀

  • “I’ll never be as good at photography as they are” ⠀⠀

  • “They have so many streams I can’t compete” ⠀

Healthy comparison is great. But often we slip into an unhealthy mentality that can ruin our energy and hinder us from making progress. ⠀

You have to remember... ⠀

You can never see the whole picture. There is no end to the comparison game and your focus is on the wrong person entirely.

Comparison means nothing. If anything, it stops your enjoyment.

From today, try to focus more on your own journey rather than let yourself get carried away with other people’s journey and comparing yourself to unrealistic standards of perfection

Focus your energy in the right place and you’ll be rewarded for that.

When you put so much pressure on yourself, setting yourself unrealistic goals, you start to hate what you're doing and feel like a complete failure.

These tips are designed to help you learn about letting go of perfectionist tendencies that burden the psyche. Chasing perfection in music is a waste of time.