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.

1. Remember critiques are only opinions

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.

2. Look for trends in the comments

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.

3. Ask yourself if the critic has your best interest at heart

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.

4. Apply the suggestions to the critiqued song

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.

5. Ignore the critique and trust your gut

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.

Conclusion

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.

Good Luck!

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11 responses to “Five Ways To Handle A Negative Song Critique”

  1. SooESoss says:

    Great articles…….
    It felt as if you were speaking directly to me.
    I plan on following and learning more about you and the business of music licensing.

    I’m a producer, song writer and lover of the Bass guitar that I have been playing for over 30 years.

    I have tracks that I will be shopping around.
    So I would lIke to say than you for sharing your wizdom.

    Thank you Mr. Macher

  2. SooESoss says:

    Music is Art and everyone has an opinion, some people like chocolate some people like vanilla…lol

    However contructive criticism keep me thinking..
    You can never learn if you stop listening to what others may have to say about your music..

    I take the info\criticism and put it in my back pocket maybe one day I may need to pull it out and use it maybe not…

  3. as i am not crafting for the marketplace, have never cared a whit about how the music is received….besides, i am my own worst (and best) critic…for most arteeests, praise is the desired response….but, a negative reaction is also a positive sign….as it indicates that you hit a nerve…and one of the goals of creativitiy is to connect and, hopefully, dislodge the audience from their comfort zone….Oscar Wilde said it best, “if an idea isn’t dangerous, then it doesn’t deserve to be called an ‘idea’ at all”….so, if you wanna make some dough and get laid, then churn out the schlock…but, if you want to explore and illuminate this musical universe, then let your freak flag fly….

  4. Dale O. Tjaden says:

    I am intrigued by this subject and have thought a lot about it over the years. I am going to be 79 this year. I have one particular song which I feel is one of my best (in my mind) but have often wondered what would cause an artist to do a song that might reflect negatively on his or her image as a singer. Most people think that the singer is also the writer which couldn’t be farther from the truth. I have heard that some singers become so famous that they can sometimes do any material they want and may try to gamble tarnishing their image and do a song that they feel so strongly about. That has got to be pretty rare though. I’d be interested in what and who you might give as examples of people that have handled controversial subject successfully and the names of the songs. I remember one by Kenny Rogers that sounds like it was meant to be sung by a female artist, but he sang it and made it a hit. I think it was called MUSIC MAN, or at least had those words in it.

    • Hi Dale. You’re absolutely right. It’s extremely rare that an artist will be brave/adventurous enough to sing a song that puts them in a less than flattering light. Randy Newman and Lyle Lovett are two artists I’m aware of who sing songs from the “untrustworthy narrator” perspective but they’re certainly the exception.

  5. Christina says:

    One of the songs I’ve written was constructed using suggestions from a stack of critiques. I considered each suggestion and built it from the ground up, structure, lyrics, bridge, Title, Etc.
    Afterwards, I sent it out, and the comments read, Great song but already outdated! Need to add more pop sounds. Ha! I no longer worry about critiques, I write from my heart. It was never my intention to write cookie cutter songs . I DID learn a lot over the years with each heartbreaking critique. But it nearly destroyed my faith in my ability to write. I write songs because it’s exciting, fun, and challenges my creativity. I’d just like to add that it takes guts to put yourself out there and have your “song babies,” sometimes torn to shreds. Songwriters are a courageous group and should be applauded for their bravery!

  6. Kelly Allison says:

    I have received critiques and will continue to use them to improve and become the best songwriter I can be. I agree with Donald McCrea…if I like a song I’ve written that’s the only critic I have to impress Thanks once again Cliff for some insightful information.

  7. As always this is very insightful. One important thing that I have learned over the years is that art is relative.

  8. Ricky Hunter says:

    Great advice Cliff – your experience shines through once again… I’ve had a few critiques that I’ve had to take a few deep breaths from and wait a couple of days, then go back and tweak after I realize those blank a dee blanks were right… LOL and YES my writing muscle has gotten and is getting better! 🙂

  9. David Myers says:

    I’ve had critiques from some of the best in the business. Every one of them told up front, it’s thier opinion…based on years of experience. Every one of them have had positive things to say about my are…BUT…Yep, this won’t work in Nashville, that one would be great except…yada yada, the best one was change a thing…I almost passed out. Cool. But my all time favorite was where I had a Bridge twice as long as both verses together….a month
    later I was driving across Lake Ponchitrain(24 miles long) , I
    had a thought…I’d much rather have a Bridge too long than one a bit too short. Damned near drove off the side of the bridge laughing…Honestly though, my experience with quality critiques has been positive…especially the ones I hated, because of how my art was
    treated…professionaly. Yep still long winded. Duh

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