I used to have someone that would criticize me every time I did a song for the first time. The solo was messed up. I didn’t know the words. I didn’t sing it well. Blah. Blah. The first time you do anything, it's never perfect. Whether it's a kiss or a date or a dance. It takes time and practice. But more than anything it takes enveloping yourself into the song, the person, the act – connecting with it and understanding it. Allowing yourself to give in a bit and let it take over – but not so much that you lose that sense of yourself. It’s becoming part of it and it becoming part of you.
I had a musician that I played with for a long time that used to say (somewhere around the 4th or 5th time we did the song), “Now THAT is the song.” You just knew when you sang and played it live that the song was done. And, typically, forever after that was the way you played and sang the song.
Even so, songs change. I always tell people that every time you incorporate a different musician into the band, the band’s sound will change. It is inevitable. That new person brings a slightly different (and sometimes radically different) presence that turns the song and sound in a different direction.
I accept these things. Because I am a musician and I love the twists and turns that live music takes. I try not to restrict myself or place myself in a box. Just because I like change. I like dynamics. I like watching things become something new. I like hearing how music can be presented in a different way that I didn’t even think of.
I’ve never been a big fan of “Do it just like the record.” WHY???? OK yes I get that the solo to “Together Again” is amazing. But is that the only amazing solo that could be played for that song? One of my favorite Merle Haggard’s songs is “I Forget You Every Day”. There are 2 very different versions of this song. I have one that I adore. But if he had just stuck with the way he did it on the record, I never would have fallen in love with the song.
Someone posted a live video of me recently singing a song for the 2nd time in my life. I didn’t completely know the words. We didn't commit to singing oohs or playing twin fiddles. I was critical of watching myself in it. And I stopped. It’s a snapshot. A picture of what the song was at that time. When you hear me sing it in a month or so, it will be perfection. . . . or maybe it will only be another snapshot – not because it doesn’t sound perfect, but because I may sing it with some other group and it will just change it and make it sound different.
I recently met with a business owner (through my day job) and she said, “I tell my employees, ‘I do not expect perfection, but I do expect excellence.'” I LOVED IT.
If you demand “perfection” of yourself and those around you, I feel sorry for you. You are cheating yourself of the ability to move in a different direction. You are cheating yourself of the ability to become a different you – maybe not necessarily better, but different.
Try something new. Do something you have never done before. Fall down. Mess up. Look like an idiot. Get embarrassed. Post the picture without makeup and messy hair. But don't stop yourself because of imperfection. Allow yourself to give in to what it is asking of you. Allow yourself to take something from it and make it uniquely your own.
Do it well. But only as well as you can. You’re not perfect. And honestly, why would you want to be? When excellent is so beautiful already.