Writing songs is a solitary exercise and, early on, it’s hard to have a sense as to whether or not your songs are working. Song critiques by either your musical peers or industry professionals can be a great way to gain additional insight into how your songs are coming across. The blessing and the curse of critiques, however, is that you’ll have to figure out what to do with/how to think about what you hear. Whether the comments are negative or positive, keeping perspective is the key to moving forward. Here are some ways to handle less than glowing critiques of your songs.
Let’s start with the reminder that songs are art and art is subjective. Whether someone likes or doesn’t like your song is only their opinion. Granted, the opinions of experienced songwriters/industry professionals are based on a deeper understanding of the prevailing commercial songwriting environment but they are, nonetheless, opinions. To that end, I make sure to tell the songwriters whose songs I’m critiquing, there are only two responses to my critiques that will make me happy. First , that they agree with one of my suggestions and feel like it helps their song or, second, that they disagree and can tell me why which means there’s actual intention behind their songwriting decisions.
If, in a critique, you hear a one-time negative comment about one of your songs, that shouldn’t carry any more weight than a one-time positive comment. However, you should ask yourself if you’ve heard this kind of comment before. If you’re hearing the same comment or kind of comment from multiple sources then I’d recommend giving it more serious consideration. This doesn’t mean you need to change your song but you should, again, be confident that your decision to keep the critiqued element is intentional and serves your vision for your song.
As a rule, professional song critiques and even critiques from songwriting groups of your peers are impartial exercises designed to help you make the most out of your songs. However, it’s not out of the question that petty rivalries and jealousy can rear their ugly heads. Upon hearing or receiving a particularly harsh criticism about one of your songs, it’s always a good idea to ask yourself if the person or people who made the comment have your best interest at heart. If so, you’re well within your rights to suggest that they make their tone more constructive so you can more easily hear what they’re suggesting. However, if you suspect that there are other factors at play beyond helping you improve your songs, I’d highly recommend removing yourself from that situation as consistently negative comments can be discouraging and damaging to your motivation.
As I’ve said, there is no law that requires you to adopt all – or any – of the suggested changes. However, if you do decide to implement the changes, it is well worth your while to make a concerted effort to edit/tweak your song according to the suggestions. This is a great way to build your songwriting muscles as you’ll be required to dig back in and edit a song you might have thought was already finished. However, there are also times when a critique is accurate but the song – after a concerted effort to change it – doesn’t feel fixable. That’s fine, too. Critiques are often based on songwriting conventions so you can still, of course, keep the comment in mind and let it inform your future songwriting.
As I mentioned at the start of this article, songwriting is an art and only you know what you want your song to say/achieve. There will always be someone who can find fault with one of your songs but that certainly doesn’t mean you have to agree. Think about the number of hit songs out there that people love to hate. Trust your gut and keep going.
Receiving a harsh comment or critique about one of your songs is never fun. We all want our songs to resonate with our listeners the same way they resonate with us. Think of song critiques as yet another tool in your quest to refine your craft. No matter what your craft may be, however, you shouldn’t use the same tool all the time. Keep writing songs. The more songs you write the less individual critiques will sting and the more experience you’ll gain in how to realize your unique vision for your songs.