Don’t Be A Perfectionist Or Else You’ll Never Get Anything Done, EVER – By Scott Bradlee

Since a lot of PMJ fans happen to be artists / aspiring artists themselves, I wanted to write today’s post just for them.  It hasn’t been very long since I was a struggling pianist in New York City, so the difficulties that up and coming artists face are still very fresh in my mind.  This isn’t about the usual struggles that most people think of, though.  It’s about the internal struggle many of us face called, “Perfectionism.”

Artists have a habit of being their own worst enemies. At some point in the creation process, an artist will naturally ask themselves, “Is it good enough?” This can be a pretty dangerous question. It’s important to value quality of work, but there’s a fine line between quality control and trying to live up to some idealized image of yourself.  Over the years, I’ve known some tremendous talents that have missed numerous opportunities due a to fear of doing something that didn’t match the vision of themselves that they had in their head. I’ve felt this fear myself, and I’m extremely thankful that I’ve found a way to force myself to ignore it.

See, making YouTube videos almost didn’t happen for me. Let’s go back to 2009:

^^That was my first viral video.  It was a ragtime medley of ’80s songs that I had actually been performing since 2002, but never recorded.  I was afraid that if I recorded it, all my technical flaws would be put under a microscope, and I wouldn’t be able to live up to the expectations that I had created for myself in my head. Sure enough, when I did finally record it – making a whole bunch of mistakes in the process – I was a bit disappointed with the results and afraid to release it.  I finally worked up the courage to put it on YouTube, but shared it only with my friends.  I even played up the fact that I recorded it spontaneously, so it wouldn’t look like I had actually put any effort into it.

Imagine my surprise when, the next day, it racked up over 10,000 views in a few hours and was featured in viral news blogs all over the internet.  Yes, some of the comments were negative, and said all the things I was afraid they would say about my piano technique (and then some).  A funny thing happened when I experienced that criticism, though: It didn’t bother me that much.

I realized that I had spent a good seven years in perfectionist limbo – time that could have used to create. I had rationalized that I just wasn’t ready…for seven years.   Experiencing the criticism that I so feared firsthand showed me how little it actually mattered.  I began to think of each new video as just a snapshot in time, nothing more.  I was finally free to create.

Understand one thing:  you will never feel “ready.”  If you’re a musician and you’ve just written a song that you’re on the fence about, the best time to record it is right now. If you’re a filmmaker and you want to make a movie but don’t have the best equipment, the best time to begin making it is right now.  If you’re reading this and have a feeling that this might apply to you, get up and do whatever creative thing you’ve been putting off…you guessed it- right now.

beatles

The Beatles wrote hundreds of songs, and most of them weren’t hits. History tends to remember artistic successes, while artistic “failures” are usually forgotten. The upside of creating art completely dwarfs the downside. If that still isn’t convincing enough, keep in mind that most critics just follow the fashions anyway, making “good art” largely subjective. On pretty much every Postmodern Jukebox video, you will find both, “This is the best video you’ve ever done!” and “Meh, not your best work” in the comments. I’m not sure which is true, nor am I really all that interested. I’m already busy working on the next one.

This is not to say to be careless with what you release, or to dissuade you from doing your best work.  Having some perfectionist traits are clearly a good thing, because they allow you to identify things that can be improved for the future.  If perfectionism is constantly getting in the way of expressing yourself, however, you might have a problem.

If you’re having trouble working up the courage to create something, my best advice is to set a deadline for it, and do so in a way where you have to meet that deadline. I’ve done this quite a bit; it’s not unusual for me to announce the release of an album before it’s ready to go. Releasing things this way helps to motivate me to stay the course, because to delay or cancel a release means that fans will be disappointed. It’s way easier to get over having perfectionist tendencies than it is to get over disappointing your fans.

It takes real courage to be an artist; if it didn’t, everyone would do it.  Don’t wait till you’re ready.  Don’t wait till you’re older.  Be impatient, and it just might work out for you…

Screen Shot 2015-12-25 at 11.04.12 PM.

…just don’t read the comments.

-Scott

@scottbradlee

 

P.s. A new video will be coming out on this site tomorrow, and don’t worry – it’s actually perfect.

  • Kenny Poo

    Great post, Scott. but I noticed several flaws. 😉

    Srsly, tho, what u say is true in life beyond the artistic realm, as well. Whatever your craft, whether you’re a perfectionist, procrastinator, or both, the act of doing is the best remedy to analysis paralysis. Thanks for the first hand insight and advise. We can all use it.

  • Viet-man

    Hi M. Bradlee ,

    I am a French musician (Piano) and I’ve exactly the same feeling about creation.

    I always have in mind when I record my music that it is bad enough to be erased, that it couldn’t be worse , and that someone in China will do the same, better !
    for that reason, I can not finish my work and I feel ashamed.

    Moreover, I feel like I’m Showing-off when i think about putting my music on Youtube
    , Help me M. Bradlee !

    Thank you and
    Joyeux Noël à vous tous !

    • zuzu petals

      M. Bradlee just did help you. You aren’t showing off any more than millions are on the net. Post your stuff. Someone will always do better, but someone will always do worse. Put it out there and let it go. After all, who is going to see it anyway? And if someone does like it, how cool is that? Joyeux Noel also. Your English is great.

      • Viet-man

        Thank you very much for your kind answer, I really appreciate ! I will let you know when I post my music ! Bonne soirée !

  • TC

    I don’t really consider myself to be a musical artist, or an aspiring one at that (I’m long, long past that point), but I do enjoy playing and creating music of my own or interpretations of others … even if it is just for my ears alone. Yeah, I’ve done stuff in the past and some more recently, and amateurishly recorded it on my own or with some help and posted it everywhere… but that’s to keep me sane. I don’t get anywhere near the numbers of listeners … but there are a few out there who appreciate it. But you’re right about being a perfectionist. It is a curse – a disease in disguise. I’ve posted some crude stuff, flaws and all, and said “Why not? I’m not perfect either”. I’m so glad you kept on it. What a waste that would have been if you caved in to your own fears.

  • kcatthedog

    Always play with good spirit: that is what touches people and truth be told we and you are all having our own experience 🙂

  • Kyle Hyre

    Not a musician, but an artist by trade, I used to live by perfection but it only stressed me out by living up to it and other’s expectation, until I found this japanese saying or word.

  • Regina Moraes

    Hi Scott!! I’m not an artist, I do not write, I have nothing to do with show business. But I am a teacher, and I often have to represent, read with more drama to captivate my audience, I say, students. And I always wonder if the work was good enough. I’m a perfectionist and very demanding with myself. I’m working on that with my therapist for a year and some dreams are beginning to come true. The rewards aren’t always good, but I’m learning to deal with the frustrations that are part of the process. Thank you so much for sharing your personal experiences with us.

    • zuzu petals

      Regina, are there kids listening to you? Do kids in your class come to you for advice? Do parents give you feedback indicating their kids learn from time with you and that they enjoy time in your classroom? As a former teacher I can tell you that you won’t have the answer as to whether you are really reaching them for about 10 years or so when you run into one of them at the grocery store and they yell, “Hey Miss Moraes, how are you? I remember you reading that book in class. Because of you I loved reading and read to my kids all the time.” The hints will come at the oddest times, like a small drawing left on your desk by a kid, or a parent who mentions that their child no longer hates getting up to go to school because of your class. Teachers ALWAYS make mistakes, because every child, day and class is different and trying to constantly adjust for that is crazy, but your love for the kids and process will carry you through. Just keep motivated, and let go of the pressure of being perfect. Your being more relaxed will make the experience so much more enjoyable for both you and the kids.

      • Regina Moraes

        Thanks for the nice words, Zuzu.

  • anthony icuagu

    Hey Scott, Thanks for this simple and straight-to-the-gist article. I’ve been building up to climb out of the perfectionist ”limbo” (I’m a singer/songwrite)…..THIS was just what I needed. Thank you 😀

    • zuzu petals

      So will your first YouTube post be by the end of the week? Come on, we’re waiting anthony.

  • Well said….The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one — Elbert Hubbard,

  • zuzu petals

    Let It Go. I live with an artist. He does graphic art as a sign man and perfectionism is his albatross. I’m a perfectionist in my own way, but learned early on that there was a point that I had to move on or I’d get nothing done. I was open to an idea that someone taught me, “What’s the worse thing that could happen?” If it’s not, “They could die,” then just do it. After doing your best on a project, and rechecking, it’s time to put it out there and move on. If you spend so much time on something that you never put it out there then you will never be successful and your art will never be profitable. My husband is amazing at what he does, but he spends hours and hours producing his product for little if any profit, which means his business does very little to support us and has never grown to be what he had envisioned. His perfectionism has held him back. Don’t let that happen to you all out there.

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts Scott!
    Similarly, as the composer/performer Tim Minchin once put it, “Art is an artifact of what you did in the time you had” – apparently we all (artists, and the rest of us too) easily forget the “time” factor in the equation.

  • Lena Belle

    Lmao, that comment is hilarious. Yeah, Scott Bradlee’s such a douchebag except for the fact that he’s the nicest, friendliest guy ever! Thanks for this. Yeah, I’m totally afraid of YouTube criticism or especially the embarrassment of what could be regarded as over-self promotion or undue arrogance. I’m used to downplaying myself to please others, so I gotta get rid of that habit. No one’s gonna watch my stuff if I’m just like, “It’s alright… You can watch it if you want.” Haha

  • Scott Bradlee, don’t ever worry about somebody criticizing you or trashing your musical creations. In the age of the internet, we’re all connected whether we like it or not.

    However, some people lack the ability to praise. Others have nothing but criticism, cynicism, or hate-mongering to share. What’s up with that?

    I’m always amazed at the language used in comments, considering most people who share their so-called opinions are not musically knowledgeable or accomplished. But they are vocal, which is the voice of freedom ringing in our ears off the pages of the electronic media.

    Most people really love what you do, though they may wonder why you’ve turned the PMJ tour over to the very capable hands of music director Todd Schroeder.

    Of course, given that you’ve gone nonstop with Postmodern Jukebox since 2012, and you’ve relocated from New York City to Los Angeles in 2015 while touring the world, it was time for you to nest and rest, right?

    Somehow, launching a new website, taping a video every week, creating new arrangements of pop hits/misses that are turned into retro musical gems, finding capable vocalists, instrumentalists, and dancers, and conducting a touring group while dealing with a manager, a booking agent, a webmaster, and everyone else (including this volunteer writer/moderator) seems a bit daunting to me. You might be nesting, but it’s highly doubtful that you’re resting.

    Cut yourself some slack, Mr. Virgo. Perfectionism is a major part of that earth sign. Glad that you are so prolific in your creations and that you are able to look beyond any perceived shortcomings. The bar can only be set so high even if you enjoy stretching yourself to the max.

    It’s really good that you feel comfortable enough to share your experience and expertise with the PMJ community, and that you are encouraging artists not to sit on their butts due to issues of artistic self-doubt, self-worth, or criticism from so-called professional experts.

    Keep up all your creative ventures, and take some time for yourself personally. Infuse all your efforts with enthusiasm, humor, and a calm attitude that you are doing exactly what you love to do while promoting other musicians for creating viral masterpieces.

    If you ever feel that “stop the world I want to get off” mentality is creeping in, it’s time for that massage session I keep on recommending to you.

    Quiet the mind and treat your body with compassionate care. Today might be productive, but stressful. Tomorrow will bring new opportunities and challenges. Get a good night’s sleep and don’t worry about anything. Things have a way of working out.

    But did you remember to phone home today to speak with your mother and father just to say that you love them?

    ~ Frank Michel (simplereminders.com/guestauthors/frank-michel)

  • Shahab Gabriel Behzumi

    Thank you so much.
    I created “Berlin Hyperlapse”..and it took me 4 months or so..not ready to release it..I wanted to make it look “professional” and was afraid that people “find out”, that I am only an artist who pretends to be a professional. .so self sabotaging all the time.. fortunately somebody told me to finally release it. If I would have not release it on that certain date, it propably wouldn’t have been a success..cause it matched to the date of reunification, a holiday in germany.

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  • Roger Krebs

    Dear Scott Bradlee,
    as a musician to I can fully agree what you wrote. But in the classic
    Music Business it’s completely different, you should be perfect. I world
    of Instagram, youtube etc…your mistakes will circle faster around the
    world as you can say hello and all the others will be happy when you
    fail. Anyway OI hope to find a way to bring the same spontaneity, fun
    and easiness in to my work as you and Post modern Juckebox is doing
    this. I wish for as such a great platform to bring out our love to
    classic Songs.
    Hope to see you in April in Munich best Roger

  • Beth

    Someone needs to send this to Dr. Dre.

  • richlost

    Scott, I enjoyed this video when I accidentally first saw it back in 2009. I was searching for Scott Joplin songs, and being as YouTube loves to throw curves when we search, it took the words “Scott” and “ragtime” and included your video in the results. I subscribed and have watched everything you have ever done, ever since.
    I will say that watching it again has given me a newer appreciation for your artistry, and in watching again I couldn’t help but notice the ending, as your rose from your seat and started to walk off camera…something you never do in your later videos, allowing yourself to blend with the talent you surround yourself with…but I digress…that simple move towards the “fourth wall” reminded me of that time when Puddles did the same at the end of the “Royals” video. They say that life imitates art, or is it the other way around….or does art imitate art?

  • IMHO the nuances and minor flaws are the character of the performance/piece. If the title says “live” (meaning a beginning to end continuous recital) I always enjoy a best-cut version over a bunch of back-end engineering.

    For some reason the YT videos tend to be a distraction from the music for me, which could be the way the video syncs with the audio. Lindsey Stirling seems to be the master at creating effective mosaics. Multiple camera angles also help make for an end product that brings the music and imagination to the forefront.

    So post production on the audio, not so much, properly recorded live cuts are awesome. Professional post production on the video generally, enhances the audio and the experience.

  • Ron Veldstra

    I bet 95%of people including me cant/do not hear the mistakes or imperfections.

  • SharlzG

    I don’t think you look like a douchebag, but do agree that you’re a great piano player, with an incredible ability to place a kaleidoscope on a song and make it into something completely different and a piece of art in its own right. As a singer I completely understand the perfectionist curse, but I’m so glad you worked up the nerve to step out beyond the doubt.

  • Hossein Ghanaati

    oh man i started to composing hundred’s of peice in last 10 years but couldnt even finish one because of that, i really know what are you talking about. tnx -:- , 🙂

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  • I love everything about this. I’ts exactly what I needed to hear. Thanks for sharing, Scott!

  • Jenny Hardy Hulme

    I needed this Scott, thanks <3