Without a doubt, I know that in a few years I’ll look back on the songs that I am releasing now and feel some discontent regarding their quality. But I’m okay with that.
It didn’t matter what I chose to release first—I just had to release something. It could’ve been four minutes of silence or ten minutes of conversation. It was the act of releasing something, anything, that marked my closing of the mental gap between where I felt I was artistically and where I wanted to be. It was the start of my refusing to accept the separation between how I perceived my abilities and where I felt I was obligated to be in order to be “good enough” to share my music.
For so long I had told myself, “I’ll release this project at some point” or “I’m looking forward to when I’m good enough to release my work, but that isn’t the case right now.” Eventually I became so frustrated with my own perfectionism and indecision that I decided I needed to rewire my mindset to accept the fact that I would never wake up one morning and say, “Okay, now I’m ready.”
Another concept that I feel compelled to mention is something that I refer to as “the line in the sand.” I’m currently working through my backlog of songs, finishing and releasing ones that have been living on my phone since high school. It feels like a cleanse of sorts. The reason I feel compelled to do so is for the purpose of being able to move forward. I want to draw a line in the sand that separates the past from the present.
As time goes on, I identify less and less with my older songs—although they are still valid, I become further and further removed from the particular situation and mindset from within which I wrote them. By releasing them, I am working towards feeling able to let those moments go and focus on more recent feelings and experiences.
I’ve discovered a few things through this process. Firstly, a song captures a particular moment and therefore waiting too long to release it results in an increasingly diminished ability to represent the very moment that it is supposed to capture. Secondly, I feel anxious sitting on music for too long because I hate asking what it could be doing in the world or who would be enjoying it or what success it could have had if I simply mustered the confidence to release it. Finally, and most importantly, when I hoard songs for later, I stop writing songs now.
I used to want to save my best songs for the future, thinking that they would be far more valuable on my debut album someday or after I had already built some sort of audience. I would write a song (that in the moment felt like my best work yet) and immediately drag it into a mental folder titled “release in the future.” It took some time for me to realize that this habit was toxic to my workflow because keeping my good songs took away my motivation to write even better ones. I’ve realized that no matter what your discipline is, as an artist, it is critically important that you always believe your best work is still ahead of you—I am always of the assumption that I have yet to write my best song. There are two main fears that I have had to overcome. The first is the fear that my best work is behind me and the second is the fear that I will in someway be defined by my old work. If I give in to either, I’ll become paralyzed and hold onto my art for dear life.
So instead, I decided to let both go.