"I Was Positive My Career Was Over": Andy Mineo on the Struggle to Reach His Creative Peak

Fresh off the release of his 'I: The Arrow' EP, Andy Mineo opens up about his struggle to create new material.
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My name is Andy Mineo. I'm a recording artist and founder of Miner League, but beyond that, I'm an overall creative who is passionate about all aspects of my art. This year I'm releasing four EPs, which will collectively culminate in my third album. I invite you to journey with me as I reveal some things I have learned along the way. Be sure to check out chapter I of my LP, I: The Arrow. I hope we get the benefit of doubt.

This past week, I dropped my first solo project in almost three years. By 2018 standards, that’s a long time. I am not the type of artist who has the luxury of taking a three-year hiatus.

I was creating almost every day. I was putting in the hours. But nothing was coming out. At least, nothing that I thought was worth sharing. My label was begging me to turn something in. Anything. My mind was so occupied with responsibilities, worry, fear and doubt, there was very little room for new, interesting and creative ideas. Simply put, I was stuck. Clouded by a slew of self-imposed thoughts that ate away at my confidence and creativity. I was positive my career was over and my greatest years were behind me.

“Now I know why Chappelle went missin' / Now I know why Brit got the clippers / Now I know why Ye started trippin' / The pressure and the expectations get ya.” —Andy Mineo,“I Ain’t Done” (I: The Arrow EP)

Success is a strange, double-edged sword. While I’ve experienced a good amount of it as an artist—I have a Gold single, I’ve sold over half a million albums, I’ve charted in the top 10 on Billboard and I make music for a living—I had no clue my achievements would mess with my brain as much as they have.

I didn’t know that if you’re fortunate enough to make something great, you now have the awesome and terrifying task of doing it again.

And next time, it has to be better.

In a shorter period of time.

In addition to all of the added responsibilities of being an artist—including but not limited to rehearsing, touring, press runs, video and photo shoots.

Not to mention, being a business owner that employs a slew of people (managers, touring crew, DJ/musicians, etc.) that depend on me for their income.

Simply put, when you gain a lot, you have a lot to lose. For me, the fear of losing what I’ve earned, and the pressure to maintain it, became creative kryptonite.

As a result, I began to make mistakes...

I became “careful.” The worst thing a creative can be!

When you’re careful, you create from the head, not the heart. When you’re careful, you don’t want to create the coolest thing, you just want to create what “works.” When you’re careful, you anticipate the words of your critics and try to edit yourself mid-creation. When you’re careful, you stop taking the creative risks that make art so exciting! Instead, you end up settling for blending in. It’s a disaster. You end up losing the edge that made you uniquely you in the first place.

Bending too easily to criticism and praise.

I don’t think any human should be subjected to as much criticism or praise that is now possible through the internet. Tweets of scathing criticism, from people I’ve never met, can find their way into my bedroom at 11 p.m. when I am trying to watch Netflix with my wife. It’s a wild time.

A healthy amount of criticism can make you sharper. Too much can crush you. A healthy amount of praise can give you confidence. Too much can make you an egomaniac. I found myself trying to prove my critics wrong while I was creating instead of just making what was in my heart. Trying to edit myself while simultaneously expressing myself has been an exhausting and impure process.

Comparing myself to others.

Comparison began to steal my joy. No matter how well I was doing, there was always someone doing better. As I went down that Instagram rabbit hole—“How did they sell out that venue?! They sold how much first week?!”—it made me a lot less grateful for what I have. It made me envious. It bruised my ego and created insecurity. Sometimes that can feed a competitive edge, but for me, it fed self-doubt. To this day, I still google the ages of my creative heroes to find out how old they were when they created their best works. Then I do the math in my head and find out how far off I am. What a waste of energy.

Perfectionism.

I used to believe that being a perfectionist was a badge of honor. I used to believe that sweating the details was what set me apart. And it’s true, there is a level of attention to detail that separates professionals from amateurs. But at some point, that can go from a valuable ability to recognize and enhance something, to an obsessive, endless cycle of tweaking and altering.

Reading stories of other creatives helped me feel less alone in this battle. Recently, I was comforted reading about SZA’s critically acclaimed album Ctrl. Her hard drive was literally stolen by the TDE team to force her to stop working on it and put it out. Hearing the LEGENDARY Dr. Dre say, “No song is ever finished, it's just released” gave me the confidence to let go and trust my team when they tell me to “stop!”

I worked on the song “I’ve Been...Lost” for almost two years. I don’t think it’s much better now than when I first began working on it. “I Ain’t Done” took exactly one year to complete. I actually think the earlier versions of the song were better.

A producer on my team once told me, “Andy, you are no longer moving forward. You’re moving sideways. The energy you are exhausting on this song could have been used to make 10 more songs. Going from 98% to 100% on this song is not worth the hours you are putting in. Let it go. It’s great.”

I’ve found out that a lot of my perfectionist tendencies are rooted in fear. Fear that I won't be loved, accepted, or appreciated if I am not “perfect.” This just got deep. But it’s true. If you dig deep enough, you’ll find that the fear of not belonging or mattering informs so much of what we do.

Thinking about myself, too much.

If a majority of my time is focused on thinking about me, my work and where my career is, I become self-absorbed. And even worse, I run the risk of believing what I do is who I am.

I’ve had to find ways to get off social media. Spend more time with my wife and friends. Have a hobby. Spend time, money and energy with people who can’t do anything for me. It brings me out of my own world and back into reality.

Takeaways?

If I’m honest, I still make all of these mistakes. But being aware of them was the beginning of managing the tension they bring.

Life is much more enjoyable when it’s not seen as a competition. Creating is a privilege, not a frantic race for recognition. It's important to enjoy the process of making things instead of putting so much pressure on the outcome or how it's received.

Respect your opinion. Not everybody is going to like what you make. Hell, some people will ridicule it. That’s fine. You are only responsible to make what you like. The people who like it will find their way to you.

Perfectionism is a waste of time. Some will disagree. But I’ve found my obsessing has sucked the life out of my art and drained my energy to create something new.

If it doesn’t work, make something else. I’ve spent too much energy wallowing in my creative busts instead of just starting anew.

Be brave! Innovation doesn’t happen without failure or risk-taking!

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