Do you feel like your music sucks?
You listen to the great songs that inspire you, then you listen to your songs, and you feel like they're not even close in quality?
Does that get you discouraged and wanting to quit making music?
Well, you are not alone. I know that feeling. In fact, every artist goes through that.
For the first couple of years that I produced music, for each song I made — even cover songs — I went from heaven to hell 20 times before I realized the songs were ready.
You and I need to talk about it.
Some things took me a long time to understand, but I want you to learn them now to avoid making the wrong decisions as I did.
Giving up on a music production dream
I quit music production once — a long time ago.
It all started with this music production dream that I pursued for a while.
Then things didn't go as fast as I thought they would.
I got discouraged, made the wrong decisions, and life happened, so I quit and sold all my gear.
Ever since I made those decisions, my life felt empty. Life without making music doesn't make sense to me.
It's weird. But that's who I am.
Until the day I couldn't take it anymore, so I went back and started over.
Got some basic gear, a DAW, and a microphone and started producing again.
Just telling you my story so you know that whatever you're feeling about your music right now, I've felt that same feeling.
I want to make sure you understand one thing:
If you're able to compare your music to an artist you like and realize your songs are not as good as theirs yet, that doesn't mean your songs are bad.
That doesn't mean you can't be a good songwriter or music producer. That only means one thing.
You have good taste
You know what good music sounds like.
And you're capable of realizing that for one reason or another, your songs haven't reached that level of quality yet, no matter where you are in your music-making journey.
If you can hear that, you're halfway through.
That shouldn't discourage you. That should motivate you to try and figure out how to get there.
That's what I wish I had done, many years ago.
But if that actually discourages you, maybe what you need is patience.
The forgotten art of patience
We're so used to getting everything quick, everything is so immediate these days.
We can't wait for anything.
Even the things we want to purchase are delivered overnight. There's Amazon Prime and that kind of stuff.
These things make us more and more impatient and anxious every day.
But success is not an overnight thing. Got to put in the hours.
That's why it's so hard for us to accept this.
Making music, like every life skill, takes time, practice, and most importantly: patience.
Comparing yourself to successful artists
When you compare yourself to a successful artist, you're disregarding the long and hard path they had until they figured out how to be successful.
It may look like it was an overnight success, but that's not how life works.
Whoever you admire as an artist or producer went through these dark feelings at some point, just like you. Everyone does. I did.
People probably just choose not to show it.
You most likely can only see their trajectory after they became successful.
And that's not a fair comparison.
Current work vs. Past work
A fair comparison, which is what you should be doing, is comparing your current work to your past work.
Just open your old projects on your hard drive and listen to your songs when you started.
One by one, from the day you started until today. I guarantee you're going to see progress.
I bet you're going to find a project or two where you're going to ask yourself:
"What the hell was I thinking when I made this? That's garbage."
And that's alright.
You already had good taste back then, right? You've been listening to good music since you were a kid.
But your music skills, those had to start somewhere.
Most people don't think their music sounds right, but when we look back at our old material, we clearly notice we've come a long way.
Over time, our skills get closer and closer to our taste. And that's something that will only happen with time and massive amounts of songs made.
I mean it when I say massive.
Everyone's songs suck for the first hundred times. It's part of the growth.
Go make a hundred songs and you'll see what I'm talking about.
When you get to a hundred you won't believe how much you've improved.
Now, you can be a perfectionist and finish a hundred songs in 10 years — taking 10 years to improve.
But be aware that perfection doesn't exist.
Sometimes you just have to accept that you've done the best you could at that particular moment and learn to live with that.
I know your art is really important to you, but you're better off giving yourself creative deadlines, finishing a hundred mediocre songs in 4 months, and improving faster than you thought was possible.
It's really easy to feel stuck
But remember: the difference between the expert and the amateur is that the expert has failed more times than the amateur has even tried.
Even if you feel like you're not creative enough to make all those songs, even if you have to almost copy a bunch of artists.
Just put as many songs out there as you can.
If you do that, I promise you, you'll not only refine your skills, and close the gap between your taste and the quality of your songs, but you'll also develop your own sound, you'll figure out what's unique to you.
Discovering your signature sound
You'll discover your signature sound, that unique quality your music has that no other artist can deliver.
And that's how you differentiate from other people and get noticed, and grow as an artist.
That's when people actually start liking your songs even when they don't know you.
Because I know, ultimately, that's what most artists want. And I don't just mean musicians. That's true for any kind of art.
Even when we get to the point where we like our own craft, we just wish people cared about them as much as we do.
Only you know how much time and effort you put into each project, am I right?
Go finish songs.
When is my song over?
Now that's another problem, huh? We never know when the work is over.
And the bad news is our songs are never really over. There's always another issue to fix. Even Katy Perry has this problem:
"Guess it's never really over..."
Yeah, I don't think that's what she meant. Anyway, here's how to know if your song is over:
You will always hear problems in your songs because you're too close to them — you know all about them.
There's always going to be something that bothers you. Some problems you think you still have to fix.
It's that last 1% that we never seem to get right, and we keep tweaking.
We laser focus on details and lose sight of the big picture — lose perspective.
And we tweak and tweak until it drives us crazy so we abandon it.
Have you ever done that?
It's OK. Creative minds do that all the time.
We are our own worst critics and we'll hear things that almost no one else will notice.
But your music is like your children. At some point, you just have to let your children go out in the world.
Get the right kind of feedback
So take a break and show the song to someone you know appreciates music.
Even better if they know how to communicate musical ideas.
Ask for feedback and be vague about it. Don't tell them what problems to look for.
Just let them hear it and they will tell you if they find anything that sounds wrong.
If two or three people don't say it's garbage, that means it's ready.
Your mom doesn't count, by the way.
Also, if you play it in your car and you're moving around and feeling it, that's another sign it's ready.
Release it and move on to the next one.
Using reference tracks
While you're writing, producing, or mixing, you can use a reference track to try to match a song you like.
Actually, I don't even think anyone should mix without a reference track because our ears adjust to what we're hearing, so we need a reference track to reset the perspective.
But once you've finished the song you can only compare your new song to your older songs. That's the only fair comparison.
Focus on the progress, not on the immediate results.
And it's OK if a week after releasing a song, you still find things you wish you had done differently.
But that's over now. Just learn from the mistakes and use that knowledge on the next song.
Finish as many as you can, as fast as you can.
Give yourself deadlines
You need deadlines. Every professional in the music industry has deadlines.
“The enemy of art is the absence of limitations”. A quote by Orson Welles.
And since we don't have many limitations with making music nowadays, just make time your limitation.
Don't fail your deadlines. And don't you quit on music.
I don't want your life to feel as empty as mine did for some years.
If you were feeling like quitting, I am sorry but I'll have to tell you this. Actually, I couldn't say it better than Dory:
Sound good? I know you probably weren't expecting this talk but...
Alright, alright, I'll stop!
Just remember there's always going to be a gap between where you are now and where you want to be.
And that should be your motivation instead of stopping you.
Recently I made an article that I think — from the bottom of my heart — will help musicians of any level to develop their songwriting.
In case you're interested in writing better music, check it out.
For more music production tools and guidelines, visit my website.