Kim Lajoie's blog

It doesn’t have to be good, but it does have to be something

by Kim Lajoie on November 20, 2012

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Why aren’t you making more music?

Actually, why aren’t you making any music?

Don’t get bogged down in the technical stuff. Sure it’s fun to explore synth settings or audition presets or jam on your guitar. It’s actually important to do that stuff. It’s called practice.

But you’re in trouble if you’re spending all your time practicing and none of your time making music.

I know, we’ve been through this before. But some of you clearly didn’t get the memo. I understand – it’s easy to get dissatisfied with your half-arsed drafts. It can be discouraging. If you’ve gone a while without finishing anything, it’s even worse. You’re out of practice, which means your skills are atrophying. But your expectations aren’t reduced at all. If anything, you’ve raised your expectations because you’ve spent so much time practicing.

Well, practicing your instrument and practicing your tools is important. But even more important is practising finishing. Go for it. Make something that sucks. It’s ok, you don’t have to play it for anyone. But you do have to finish it. Because when you finish it, you can reflect on what worked and what didn’t work, and start thinking about how you’ll make the next one better.

What’s more attractive in an artist?

Artist A says: “I’ve got some bits and pieces but nothing that’s really finished.”

Artist B says: “I’ve got a few songs that I’m ready to record/perform/present.”

Artist A isn’t ready to take the next step. And I’ll give you a hint: it’s usually not because of a lack of technical skill. On the other hand, Artist B might not have the best skills, but knows that progress is made in small deliberate steps.

I’ll tell you something.

A few years ago, I found myself in a situation where I was so busy I had hardly any time to work on my own music. I couldn’t even finish a four-minute song. Forget about an EP or album. I could have given it up for a while or put it on the back burner… but I knew that if I did, my craft would suffer. I’d find that upon returning to it later, my skills would have deteriorated and it would have taken a while to get back into the workflow and mental habits.

So, instead I composed a series of one-minute songs. I didn’t have time to work on longer pieces, but I could see through one minute of music without losing context. It kept my ‘composing muscle’ active and gave me the satisfaction of finishing something. I could measure my progress – even if it had slowed down.

And when my workload started to clear, I could easily scale back up to full-sized songs. I already had momentum. If I had stopped completely, it would have been much more difficult to get back into it. Much more difficult.

I haven’t, and I won’t, published those one-minute songs (although if you’re in Melbourne you can probably strongarm me into playing them for you in person). They’re not very good. But that’s ok. They don’t have to be good. And neither does your music if you’re pulling yourself out of a rut. They don’t have to be good.

But they have to be finished.

-Kim.

4 thoughts on “It doesn’t have to be good, but it does have to be something

  1. Alex says:

    Nailed it down!
    Haven’t finished one piece for quite a while now and that is probably part of the problem. This text is like a verbal kick in the “rear” for me – thx 😉
    I hope it helps a bit, because I find it really hard to finish something that I am not satisfied with.
    Just yesterday I went through that huge pile of unfinished (or just started) projects of mine…quite some good ideas in nearly all of them but never enough for something finished. The same with the stuff I am working on now, it already has “full” length but there are still some things missing….while trying to find out whats missing, I usually mess around with the rest until I become bored by it (loopitis and such)…

  2. Kim Lajoie says:

    Just keep at it, Alex. Get into the habit of finishing. The good stuff will come.

    -Kim.

  3. A lot of artists need to hear this! Including me sometimes – great article!

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