What’s the difference between making one change and making twenty changes after a song is finished?
Here’s a hint: It’s a smaller difference than the difference between making no changes and making one change.
Endless revisionism is a killer for productivity. Most commonly, it’s a killer for completion. Every now and then I’ll see a project (thankfully not my own!) get dragged out way beyond the planned completion date because someone in charge doesn’t know when to stop. It’s a lack of discipline – there’s a discipline is making yourself do the work, and there’s also a discipline in making yourself stop. Without that discipline, it’s all too easy to make one more change. Tweak one more thing. Make one more adjustment.
Here’s the trap: There’s no such thing as ‘just one more adjustment’. Never ever. As a musician or producer or engineer, you’re always developing your skills. You’re always getting better. You’ll always be able to improve on past work.
If you allow yourself to break your workflow to make one more adjustment, you open the floodgates of endless revisionism. You’ll allow yourself to make the second change for the same reason you allowed yourself the first change.
Endless revisionism can have disastrous effects on projects:
- Projects seemingly go on forever. They turn into the project management equivalent of an amorphous blob – with no clear size or shape. If you don’t know when this project will end, you can’t schedule any following work such as marketing or further production projects.
- Projects lose creative direction and focus. The longer you direct a project, the more likely it is that your tastes in music will shift and evolve. You can quite easily find yourself working to a direction and creating music that you’re no longer excited about. This is insidious because the shift is usually gradual, so you’ll think you can shoehorn the project into a *slightly* different creative direction. This creates more work, which lengthens the project, which widens the creative direction gap, which triggers the cycle again…
- Career goals shift. You might start a project as a solo album, but by the end of it you might really want to work on collaborations with other people. Or you might join a band, but later realise you want to go solo. If projects take too long, you can easily find yourself being held back by commitments you made twelve months ago (or longer!).
Maybe it’s not such a problem if you’re a hobbyist who just wants to have fun playing around with plugins, but it’s a different matter if you’re trying to get things done and build a career.
In order to avoid the trap of endless revisionism, you need to accept that any recording is a snapshot in time. It will never be the state of the art – it’s a record. It’s a record of a point in time. You also need to have a clear workflow so you know how much time to give yourself on each task.
PS. Also, be aware that some cases of endless revisionism are actually the result of deeper psychological issues – particularly low self-esteem and a compulsion to impress others. I can’t offer any generic psychological advice on this blog.