By T. Perry Bowers
You’ve probably heard the saying “the first step is the hardest.” It’s true; getting started on any project in the music industry takes guts and self-belief; but I believe the finishing steps are infinitely more difficult. Finishing a project is a challenge too tough for many to overcome.
I spend a lot of my time talking to artists and I can usually tell straight away if they are a “closer” or not. A closer is someone who finishes things. There’s something about the way they talk, and carry themselves. I know when talking to them their project is going to happen with or without me. They are willing to spend their hard earned resources and people are going to see or hear whatever it is they’re doing. It puts me on notice. It makes me stand a little straighter and speak a little clearer because I want to be a part of their project.
Unfortunately, many artists do not know how to close. I’ve noticed people who don’t finish things spend a lot of time talking about their projects and how great they’re going to be. They spend a lot of time trying to convince me (and other people) how big their project is, whereas people who close will let their project speak for itself. People who close are also much more realistic in their expectations.
When you actually finish a project you have to come to terms with its level of success. Once it’s done, your audience can witness it and come to their own conclusion about its value. (Every person who witnesses the final result will come to a different conclusion about that!) But the project is finished. There’s no more tweaking; no meddling. There probably won’t be a “director’s cut” so this is it. For a lot of people that finality is hard to face.
I had a friend who was a fantastic guitar player. He and his brother, who played drums, had a little project. They made four or five songs together. They practiced and practiced, and made demo recording after demo recording. Everyone who heard them was blown away by the tightness, synergy, creativity and their originality. But my friend never released any of the material. He always told me it wasn’t ready. The reality is, the material was ready. But he wasn’t ready to face the success or failure of actually finishing the project.
Most people believe they are scared of failure. They think they won’t be able to handle the criticism. (After all, we all want everyone to love us). Artists want approval and they think if they don’t get approval, they will be proved wrong — and they don’t want to be proved wrong! I know some artists like this — if they did release an album and it was disliked, or worse yet, ignored, they would suffer greatly. All their talk and bravado would be a big joke. It’s their worst nightmare — everyone would laugh at them and tell them they never really had what it takes. Some people really are scared to fail, but most people are scared of something much bigger: Success.
Success is really much more frightening. As soon as you are successful, you are put in a box. If you find success because of something you did during a period in your life, you have to keep doing that thing over and over again. Or, you have to do another successful thing. Once you are great you have to keep being great. The pressure to maintain success is demanding and people only love you for the art you create, not for who you are. So you are only ever as great as your last song. That’s a ton of weight for most people to handle. It’s much easier to fail and play the victim. To be successful and persevere, that’s a real task.
The good news is you don’t have to be a failure or a success to find fulfillment. You just have to close. Not every body of work you create will be great or seen for it’s greatness. I’ve recorded a lot of songs in my time, many of which have never been heard by anyone except me. But sometimes I play those songs in my headphones or in the car all by myself and I love them. (I have to be in the right mood to allow myself to appreciate them, but that’s another blog altogether). I appreciate them, not just because I think they are beautiful, but because I put real effort into finishing them. I put a bow on them and sent them out into the world. Sure, there are still things I would change now, but that’s true of every piece of art that has ever been created.
If you are willing to finish something, you can move on. You can stand back and learn from it. It teaches you what to do (and what not to do) on your next project. If everything sits around in a jumbled pile of unfinished work it can never guide you. Feedback from your audience and the feeling you get when you listen to your recordings will drive you on. When something is done, its impact is much greater than when it is in process. The process is great — enjoy it. Be present in the process, but allow yourself to close. It’s all learning. In the end it’s all good.