One of the hardest things to do as an artist or musician, can be saying ‘this is done’ to a piece of work. No red light goes off saying ‘this is perfect’. And it is even harder when you have full creative control. A record can ALWAYS be fixed up a little more, recorded better, mixed better. And it’s hard to tell when you are improving a record, versus spinning your wheels. The trick is to learn to trust yourself in making those calls.
In 1998, I began recording what would be my ‘Silence Is Suicide’ record. I started with a digital 8-track, and recorded about 8 songs. Around that time I took an internship at a recording studio, bought more gear, and got better as an engineer. So with that added skill, the first order of business for me was to re-record those 8 songs. For the next year, I recorded those 8 songs, and another 30-40 songs. It became what I did everyday. Get home from work, write and record. I made a few CDrs for friends of the work, and got positive feedback. Then I’d make another CD of a new batch of songs, rinse / repeat.
About three years later, the record had become something I played for bands in the car outside the studio on breaks from recording their own bands, and the question would always arise, “Are you going to put it out?”. And I’d reply ‘At some point.’. I was in no hurry, and I could keep improving things. I kept going like that for another year, adding little bits of improvement.
Then one day my friend told me point blank ‘You just keep fucking with it. You need to quit fucking around and release it.’ I was suprised, had I really just been fucking around with it for a few years? I thought I had been improving it. But to my friend, the changes seemed barely noticeable. And then I realized I had been spinning my wheels. Like a truck stuck in a ditch, I was applying massive effort, but it wasn’t getting my music anywhere appreciably different.
So I decided to call it done. I picked some of the songs, and released them as the ep ‘Ep1020′, and pressed them up on a CD. About a year later, I had another EP, ‘S.O.S. October’, and released that digitally, immediately after recording it. By the time I was working on the final EP of that vein of music, I was recording it with the plan of releasing it immediately, and thats what I did.
Then about a year later, while in Chicago visiting my sister, I came across one of those ‘Silence Is Suicide’ CDrs I had given her. Listening with fresh ears, I realized it was a great record, and in 2006, released it digitally. The funny thing is, I probably made technically better versions of all of those songs, but the way it hit me when I listened to it that day: it was good enough. It was solid.
Over the years, I’ve learned to keep an eye on myself; To make sure I’m putting work into the goal of the record, rather than making a perfect record. Sometimes it’s still a bit hard and I have to ask myself “Am I improving this, or spinning my wheels?”. And sometimes it’s an answer of either. The important thing is to not get so lost in it, that you miss having a great song and performance by getting stuck focusing on one little flaw you have become fixated on. And it’s about trusting yourself, so if you can come back to it with fresh ears, maybe after a day or week of being away from it, and say ‘it’s done’, then that it is done, no matter what you initally thought earlier.