Last post, I wrote about my first song and how far my songwriting has come since then. The timing couldn’t have been better. All through the next week, the words were ringing in my head… embrace the cringe…
That week, I recorded a few of my songs for the first time.
In our last post, I addressed the two times we cringe at our work: when you look back at your past work and “die of embarrassment”, and when you look at your current projects, compare it to professional work, and die of embarrassment. At the time, my perspective was of one looking back at past work, but also seeing that there are a lot of ways my songwriting will still improve as I keep practicing.
But the week after posting that, producer Gianni Palermo and I recorded a few of my songs. While recording, I felt the weight of my expectations for my career pressing upon me. I wanted to create a perfect track, and as I kept making mistakes, I became discouraged and felt pathetic for thinking I could do it.
The piano isn’t in time with the metronome. Start again.
Gah, I can’t sing! I want to re-record that line; it’ll bug me forever that it’s flat.
You can hear the plectrum hitting the guitar as I strum… will that be okay?
Why does my mouth make that much noise??
I’m still out of tune… *cries* I’m never going to get a take I’m happy with 😥
Shouldn’t I be better than this?
Specifically, I was struggling to sing “Colourful”. The out-of-tune and weak vocals hid the great backing track, and while I didn’t enjoy listening to it, there was no guarantee the next take would be any improvement.
But suddenly I remembered: Embrace the cringe. It’s okay if it’s not perfect. This is my first recorded track; it’s allowed to have flaws. Be proud of the parts you really love, and expect to improve next time.
As I drove home from the studio one day, I realised that it wasn’t right. In fact, I’d misinterpreted my own post!
The part I’d missed in the process was remembering how proud I’d been of “Too Long”. I loved that song so much that I sang it endlessly, and even performed it! In front of p e o p l e !
The satisfaction I find in my improvement comes directly from the knowledge that I’d done the best I could at the time. Remembering how much work I’d put in and how happy I’d been after finishing it is what makes me cringe most, because looking back I can see how terrible it really was.
In the studio that week, I told myself that my singing would improve over the coming years, and that one day I’d look back on these songs and die of embarrassment.
And that’s when I realised: I would die of embarrassment. I’d remember that I hadn’t really cared enough to do another take. I’d “embraced the cringe” too early.
All week, Gianni had been pushing me to retake and retake, to not give up until I was truly happy with the result. I’m really thankful for that push, and the next day, we did two new vocal takes.
By then I was more comfortable singing in the studio, and had practiced a lot throughout the week, so these ones sounded much better. With the two new tracks up our sleeves, we went through the song, piecing it together line by line with the best fragments. Gianni played through the whole song, and I was finally satisfied with how it sounded.
I’m so glad we did that. I hate the feeling of submitting something I don’t like, so hearing it and thinking, yes, this sounds good, was a weight off my shoulders.
Truth be told, when Gianni sent me the final mix, I was scared to listen to it. What if it’s not as good as I remember? What if I’m still not happy with the vocals, or the piano, or I find a new problem I hadn’t thought of that week?
Well, they all sound fantastic. The vocals sound great, and fit really well with the backing track. I don’t care if one day I’ll listen back with all my new-found track-making wisdom and think, I released that to the world?
To my future self, I say: It sounds amazing, so why wouldn’t I?
If a project of yours is discouraging you, may I encourage you to persevere? Find the small ways you improve each time you try again. Keep taking deep breaths, breaks, and remember to laugh at your mistakes. Think about how amazing it will feel when you finally get it right!
There will always be flaws in our work; it’s what gives them charm, personality, and humanity. Yes, one day you’ll look back on this work and die of embarrassment, but today is not that day 😉
Amazing creators, what’s something you’re struggling to get right? When have you been rewarded for persevering on a project?