Perfection seems to be the goal of most artists, yet it’s the one thing that’s truly unattainable. This might sound discouraging, but it all depends on your perspective. You could look at the impossibility of perfection as a reason to give up, or you could see it as an opening to infinite possibilities. If all art is subjective, you’re free to make whatever you please. If this means most of your time is spent making mistakes, there’s value in that, too. And in many cases, making mistakes leads to the most interesting and unique art.
Practice makes perfect sense
There are more than enough cliches related to making mistakes, but for good reason. The lesson in these sayings is that the act of persistence is more valuable than the goal of success itself. In other words, the more you work at something, the better you become overall. Even if you never reach the end of a given pursuit, perseverance alone adds fortitude to your character and brings you closer to achievement.
When it comes to music, the phrase you probably hear most is “practice makes perfect.” As mentioned earlier, perfection isn’t real, but this doesn’t disqualify the sentiment. Practice indeed makes one better, and consistent practice helps form good habits. Practicing properly matters, like using a metronome or recording yourself when you’re playing something new. By using good practice techniques, it’ll be easier to notice when, why, and how you’re making mistakes. The only way you’ll truly improve is to acknowledge these imperfections, not ignore them.
Writer’s block blues
Of course, musical mistakes aren’t limited to performance. The act of creating music is oftentimes even more difficult. “Writer’s block” is a well-known term for a reason. As with writing stories, writing music is often a process of revision more than anything else. Sometimes an entire song will come together as a string of fortunate mistakes. Other times, a song you felt good about one day will seem like a mistake the next. These apparent perils should be embraced, not feared, however.
As difficult as writing a song can be, it’s important to not get too attached, even when the song seems nearly finished. Like a painting, the song is never really done, it’s simply abandoned for others to witness. It’s okay if you never feel your music is finished, but knowing when to step away is crucial. Any mistakes left in become idiosyncratic marks that define the art.
Making mistakes in the mix
At the production level, mistakes abound. Since mixing a song is a process of addition, subtraction, and experimentation, making mixing mistakes is the rule, not the exception. Fortunately, today’s technology encourages taking these risks. Most DAWs allow you to save settings or sessions from a previous mix so if you stray too far you can always return. This way you never have to fear ruining the hard work you put in yesterday. Rather, you’re able to experiment as much as you please. This experimentation might lead to better results than you could have imagined.
As humans we’re hardwired to avoid mistakes whenever possible. But when it comes to the creative process of playing, writing, and recording music, we need to learn to embrace our flaws and let some of the chaos in. In doing so, we might end up making something more beautiful, daring, and durable than ever before.
If you enjoyed this article and want to find out more, check out Mastering Mistakes When Mastering Your Own Music and discover how you could improve your process!
About the Author
Ethan Keeley is a musician, voiceover talent, and writer from Rochester, New York. When he's not on tour with his band Unwill he's working on new songs and stories.
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