TMCP 005: Why “Done” Is Better Than “Perfect”

By Richard Pryn •  Updated: 02/04/20 •  15 min read

In this episode I cover a question I got from one of my students, which was; “Why is “Done” better than “Perfect”?”

The reason they asked me this is because I say this quite a lot in my course videos. As a way to alleviate stress and worry about my cue not being good enough I would just tell myself to get the cue finished and to not worry about it being “perfect”.

Perfection is an ever-changing ideal. Over the years of working as a creative professional I have found that one day I could think that a track was “perfect” only to hear it a few days later and think it was “rubbish”.

Needless to say, I stopped chasing perfection and started chasing the journey.

Without getting to “out there”, I realised that the process of creating was the magic and the output twas the by-product. As long as the track felt “done” in a round about sort of way I would send it off. Set and forget type of thing.

This is a must in my opinion. Learn to let go of perfection and embrace enjoying creating a track that has elements of awesome and is a little rough around the edges.

IT doesn’t mean your work is any less worthy, it just means you are saving time and stress and increasing output!

Transcript

Hey guys, welcome to session number 5 of the Trailer Music Composer’s Podcast. Let’s dive in.

[Intro music]

Hey guys, welcome to session number 5 of the Trailer Music Composer’s Podcast. In this session you can probably tell that I’m actually out and about walking around, rather than in my studio, with my rode mic.

The reason I’m doing this is because I got asked a question recently by one of my students. He said, ‘Why is done better than perfect?’ One of the things I talk about when I’m doing my courses or tutorials on YouTube is ‘done is better than perfect’. I’m going to keep reiterating it. The reason I say this is because perfection is a constantly shifting idea. If you chase perfection, you will find yourself chasing it for a very long time and you’ll end up spending an inordinate amount of time trying to perfect those tiny tiny elements of your track. Whereas if you get to the point where you go, ‘Ok it’s not actually perfect in my mind’—I say perfect with speech marks—’but it’s done’. It does the job. It captures the mood. I’m excited by it. It does all the things that I want it to do. It ticks those 5 rules of trailer music, impact, and that. So I’m just gonna send it off. Done! There we go.

I’d never actually thought about why ‘done is better than perfect’ beyond the fact that my experience of trying to perfect a track means that I end up spending days on a piece of music for minimal gains. Whereas if I just focus on getting it complete, maybe like 80, 90% complete, then it means that rather than me spending days trying to complete it, I am spending just a matter of hours. That’s really important. With my work schedule I only work a few hours a day, if that. So if I was to spend 12 to 20 hours on one track, I’d only get one track done every 1 to 2 weeks, and that’s not great! I would expect myself to complete, at least have a sketched out track, by the end of each session of writing. By the end of a week I’d have between 3 to 5 ‘done’ tracks, as it were. At least done where I can send them off to Vic, my publisher at Elephant Music, and he can do his excellent job of producing it with me and sort of guiding the track to final completion.

It wasn’t until recently when I heard an interview with a really cool guy called James Wedmore, you might know him from his YouTube channel, but he also does lots of coaching and stuff. He was talking about being integrity, showing integrity to yourself. Basically what that translated into is when you say you’re gonna do something, do it. He’s not talking about grand things, he’s talking about small things. When you say you’re gonna sit down and write for 10 minutes, sit down and write for 10 minutes. When you say you’re gonna meet your friend at the train station at 10 in the morning, meet your friend at the train station at 10 in the morning. He kind of goes into the psychology of this, which I’d never thought about, and it was amazing when he said it. I was like, of course, this is why I preach the way I do about—you know, not religion, obviously—writing and creativity. Because when you get things done, you’re showing up for yourself. When you sit down and write a track, you say to yourself, you sit down, ‘I’m going to write a piece of music today’. Then when you write a piece of music and it’s done, it’s like you can give yourself a tick, a pat on the back. You can trust yourself a little bit more.

How does that translate to your bigger career as a composer? That translates because if you can trust yourself to complete the small tasks that you set each and every day, be it work-related or personal-related, then you can trust yourself that when you set a bigger goal, you know you will fulfil it. That was what James Wedmore was saying about being able to prove to yourself that you can achieve these small wins each day. Then you will give yourself the confidence to know that when you sit down and say, ‘You know what? I’m gonna get 20 trailer placements this year.’ You have confidence in yourself that you’re gonna achieve that, and that is huge.

I didn’t realise that I was following that guideline the entirety of my career. I always focus on the small wins. I’d always spend each day—or as much as I could—writing a little piece of music and trying to get things finished and out. Out the door. Partly because my views on inspiration and creativity are that it’s a constant flow. If you’re not letting things go, you’re therefore not letting things come in. So if you’re spending your time trying to perfect your synth line from Bar 38-42 with all the various filter sweeps, and effects, and whatnot, until you find the exact perfect patch, you’re not letting the creativity and the inspiration through. You’re preventing it, because you’re not letting that track out. You’re kind of blocking the flow.

I didn’t really realise that actually parallels to you also not giving yourself proof of your ability to be successful because you’re saying to yourself, ‘I just can’t finish music.’ Then you’ll do it again. You’ll start another track because you didn’t finish that last one. ‘Oh, I’ll start another track.’ You’ll just spend days perfecting it, and then you won’t finish it and you’ll say, ‘Oh, you know what, I still just can’t finish a piece of music.’ I know a lot of my students suffer from this. ‘How do you finish so many pieces of music?’ You know what? I’m not a perfectionist, I just produce a track to the point where I think, ‘This is exciting!’ Then I send it off, regardless. I’ve embarrassingly enough had stems sent back from Toby Mason, who mixes and masters most of my stuff, where there’s audio files that I haven’t faded at the end and the beginning. So you get all these little clicks and pops. Funnily enough it kind of suits the way I write.

The key to it is ‘done it better than perfect’. Show yourself, give yourself proof that you can actually do the small goals. Achieve the small goals that you set. So next time you sit down to write a piece of music you say, ‘Hey, you know what? I’m going to write a piece of piano music today.’ Sit down and write it. Just finish it. Go from start to finish. Get your track from 0 to 2 minutes 20, and then stop. Done. Then you can go, ‘You know what? I can tick that off the list.’ Yeah, you can go back and edit it, but that’s not the point. That’s not writing a piece of piano music. It’s something else altogether. And that’s the trick to my productivity, well one of the tricks to my productivity, is that I hold this idea of getting things done over getting things perfect. Because perfect is always changing. I mean how many times have you sat down and you’ve spent hours on a track, only the next day to listen back to it and go, ‘What was I wasting my time on? This track is rubbish!’ And you feel naff as a result of it. Whereas since I’ve switched it and said to myself ‘I’m gonna spend a couple of hours tops producing a track, and then stop, and then I’ll listen to it the next day.’ Almost always I listen to it and go, ‘Hey, this track’s got potential.’ Do you see what i’m saying?

So, my question to you is can you switch it for yourself? Can you prove to yourself that you can achieve these small goals? So that when you take my course, or somebody else’s course, or even when you’re pitching to a publisher, you can believe that you are actually going to get that publisher’s sign off on your track, and therefore an editor’s sign off on the track, and therefore the paying client’s sign off on the track, and therefore that picture of that poster of that film on your website on your showreel. Hooray! And then that bump in your paycheck. Because you showed up for yourself on the small things. You showed up for yourself by completing a track, not to perfection, to the point where you go, ‘Yeah this rocks!’

I mean I can think of countless examples, not just in my work, but of… Ok, here’s a good one. The Beach Boys. Beach Boys was on in my house growing up all the time. Brian Wilson,

sort of lorded as a musical genius, and The Beach Boys, amazing. Obviously I don’t want to get into The Beatles, Beach Boys thing, they’re both amazing. But I’m talking about The Beach Boys here because when I was a teenager one of my friends got the acapella sessions from Pet Sounds, which was just the voice recordings. We listened to it and we were like, ‘Wait, they’re out of tune, and they’re kind of out of time.’ It was amazing to me, because it didn’t matter. The feeling was captured to the point where it didn’t matter about the timing or the tuning. I remember hearing an interview with Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins when he was recording—I think it was Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. He was saying that actually the producer, I can’t remember who it was, I don’t think it was Butch Vig on that one. Anyway, whoever was producing Mellon Collie, he took the vocal takes that were the most emotional over the ones that were the most technically good. So if there was a bit of screeching on the vocals, he took that because that captured the emotion, over the one that was more in tune, more in time. And that’s the approach I suggest you take with your music.

Get it done. Capture yourself and your emotion in your music, and then send it on its way. So that you can then move onto the next, send it on its way. Move onto the next, send it on its way. Who cares if there’s a little mistake in it? [Laughing] I know I’m going to annoy some people who are very very keen on getting their tracks perfect and amazing. And you know, well done Sirs and Madams for doing that because I don’t have the patience to do that. I just wanna get tracks out and into the world. That is why I always say ‘done is better than perfect’, because you then prove to yourself you are worthy of the goals that you set yourself in the future. Be that goal getting a single track placed on a single piece of video, or be that goal winning awards, getting 10s and 20 placements a year in trailers.

To be honest with you, that’s kind of why I’m walking around in a wood, next to a golf course, near my house, holding my phone. I could have waited to get back to my studio where I can put this through a compressor, give it a noise gate, all that business, make sure it’s nice and clean. To be honest with you, my recordings of my voice aren’t even that good anyway. But I wanted to get this done. Because you know what? I’ve listened to tons of podcasts where they’re over a skype connection and the connection is terrible, but it doesn’t matter. You’re listening to the content. You’re listening to the heart of what they’re saying, above and beyond the finished product.

I remember when I was at college, this was the first time I’d ever heard this saying and I think this is a genius saying. ‘You can’t polish a turd.’ If the heart of what you’re producing and saying isn’t good, then no matter how perfect you make it with your production, etc., it doesn’t matter. It’s still gonna be a polished turd, isn’t it? I’m not saying that your writing is a turd! I feel like I’m going on a tangent now. What I’m trying to say is, focus on the real core of your music, the real core of what you’re trying to say with your creativity, and you will find the rest of it just falls into place. If you’re worried about your ability to mix and to master, don’t worry, most publishers have mastering engineers and I am blessed to have a publisher who also pays for my tracks to be mixed. Although yes, I can do the balancing stuff, and I can mix it to a level that I’m happy with, I’m not gonna pretend to be that level of mixing and mastering at all. Because I want to focus on the writing! That’s my—I was going to say that’s my jam! But it’s not really, I’d say it’s more my peanut butter.

That’s what you need to do. Focus on those 5—remember those 5 rules I talked about—the heart of what you’re trying to say with your music. Getting yourself and your impact into your tracks. Don’t try and perfect everything that you do. Especially when you’re dealing with, you know, some of my trailer cues have got 120 tracks. How am I gonna sit there and perfect all of those? I’m not gonna bother! I’m gonna make sure they all have the jist of what I’m trying to do.

If you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe. I’d love to have you listening each week to my ramblings and obviously leave a review of the podcast. And of course you can go on over to YouTube and subscribe to my YouTube channel where I get into more detail about actual production and writing, so you can see me sort of doing walkthroughs of my cues. I’m trying to reveal to you all the tricks I do, because you know what? They’re not tricks. You will notice there’s certain ways I write and I’m not hiding anything. I wanna show you everything. If you want more, you can head over to the Trailer Music School, where I’ve got tons of courses. It’s a membership site, so you sign up monthly or annually to get access to all my courses and the fantastic community of other composers we have. We’re all so supportive, we have monthly calls and monthly briefs where I set a brief and everyone produces a track and then we give feedback. If there’s anyone that shows any promise to maybe produce more work along that vein, then perhaps I get in touch with them about maybe taking them further.

Thank you so much for taking the time to listen to this. I am very very grateful and I do hope you enjoyed it. Thanks guys!

[Outro music]

Richard Pryn

Hey there. I am an award winning composer for movie trailers, including Bladerunner 2049, Diablo II, WandaVision, and loads more. I am the founder of The Trailer Music School where my aim is to teach everything I know about music composition, production, and generally being a functional human being. I podcast, blog, vlog and jog (sometimes). I also love coffee, nachos and self-improvement. I live with my wife, three kids and numerous pets. I am also known by my pseudonym, Richard Schrieber (it’s a long story).