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The Importance of Time, Mistakes and Humility

No one likes being the newest employee at any job.

You don’t know where anything is, no one knows your name, and you’ll probably end up totally embarrassing yourself by the time the day is over.

If you work in music and audio, it can sometimes feel like every day is your first day on the job. There’s so much to know and so much that can change from day to day that even someone with 20 years of experience can feel like a beginner sometimes.

We all like to pretend we’ve got it all figured out (just visit an audio forum for about two minutes and see what people think of their own opinions), but at the end of the day, we’re all just figuring things out as we go. So why not just be honest with ourselves?

Owning Your Mistakes

When it comes to making music, there are two guarantees: 1) you will make mistakes, and 2) you will want to cover up your mistakes.

Why are we so worried about other people seeing our mistakes? The problem might come down to our own misperceptions. Researchers have pointed out that people tend to overestimate the value of their mistakes, while underestimating the value of their successes. So what looks like a small error to someone else may look like a huge blunder to you if you’re the person who made the mistake. This misperception encourages us to try to hide our mistakes, which only gets us into more trouble.

While owning your mistakes is not a comfortable thing to do, it will actually make you look better than the alternative; when we try to hide our mistakes, we come off as defensive, but when we embrace our mistakes, we appear humble, which is a valuable personality trait in any industry.

The Power of Humility

In a hyper-competitive arena like the business world, a trait like humility might seem out of place. But study after study has found that the most effective business leaders are the ones who demonstrate humility.

One University of Washington research project found that “humble people […] are more likely to be high performers in both individual and team settings.” So whether you’re the boss or the intern in your studio (or both), it’s humility rather than arrogance that will help you advance your career.

Many people confuse humility with a lack of confidence, but that’s not what true humility is. While the word humble comes from the Latin humilis, meaning “low,” humility is commonly defined as “freedom from pride or arrogance.” A humble person can be confident in their abilities, but because they’re not arrogant, they don’t place their abilities above the abilities of other people.

Time + Work = Success

Perhaps the hardest thing to accept about working in any creative field is that success takes time. A lot of time. This is especially hard to accept because most creative people are keenly aware of their own shortcomings; we know how good we want our mixes to sound, but we’re also quick to recognize how far we are from getting the sound we want.

Looking ahead to a future that’s just out of reach is easy to do, but sometimes the more helpful thing to do is to look backwards.

Many of us would be embarrassed to listen to a mix we made ten years ago, but if you want to gain some perspective, taking some time to examine your old crappy mixes is one of the best things you can do.

Hopefully, the work you do today sounds a lot better than the work you did ten years ago, or two years ago, or even two months ago. If your work sound better than it did ten years ago, imagine how it will sound ten years from now.

Conclusion

The formula for becoming a better mixer or producer or recording engineer isn’t complicated, but it isn’t easy either. If you’re committed to constantly making mistakes and learning from them, then the only thing separating you from where you are now and where you want to be is time. You’ll still make mistakes in the future, but they won’t be as bad as the ones you make now, or the ones you made ten years ago. With this attitude, you may still feel like you’re starting fresh every day, but at least you’ll know that every fresh start is a little bit ahead of where you started the day before.

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Casey Van Wensem

Casey Van Wensem

Casey van Wensem is a freelance composer, musician, and writer living in Kelowna, B.C., Canada. You can hear his musical work at birdscompanionmusic.com and read his written work at caseyvanwensemwriting.com.
  • brutedawg

    I may have heard this advice many many times in my 30+ years on this planet, but the reminder of this is super important. Thank you for the refreshed perspective as I get back on the music production horse.

  • Anthony Maccioni

    All of this is very well put. Timeless advice!

    The Loud House

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