I’d like to start this article by saying that I think it takes real courage to submit your songs for a professional critique. As a songwriter myself, I understand on a gut level that this is like offering up your children to be judged by a stranger. That being said, if you’ve gone as far as to book a song critique, here are a few things NOT to do so that you can make the most of it.

1. Don’t submit finished professional recordings

My concern here is that I’ve had consultation clients in the past who are looking for a fan more than an honest critique. To that end, they think that by putting their best foot forward with a fully produced, professional recording, I’m going to like the song more. However, if the intention is to put your songs under the professional songwriting microscope, it would make sense not to submit songs that you have already spent good money demoing unless you’re truly prepared to re-record the song if you get suggestions that you believe will make your song better. 

2. Don’t talk too much

While some background about yourself at the start of a consultation can be useful for context, I’d suggest doing more listening than talking during your song critique. I understand the urge to talk about how and why your songs were written but given that you only have a limited amount of time with your songwriting pro, I’d advise against this. The reality is that your songs should speak for themselves. You don’t have the luxury in the real world of explaining your songs when they are, hopefully, streamed or played on the radio so you should treat your critiques the same way.

3. Don’t assume the critique is always right

There’s a tendency to assume that whatever a songwriting pro says about your song is the truth. It’s not. Critiques are paid professional opinions based on the professional’s songwriting and industry experience. While the hope, of course, is that there will be genuine insights and suggestions which can help you improve your songwriting, the reality is songwriting is subjective. As I tell my consultation clients, only two things will make me happy, the first is if I offer an observation and you think it will help you improve your song or, second, if I offer a suggestion and you disagree and can tell me why. In other words, as long as you’re making informed decisions as a songwriter, then you’re on the right track. 

Conclusion

Song critiques are a valuable part of refining your songwriting craft but it helps to go into them for the right reasons. Remember that you’re hiring a professional to look for what isn’t working in your songs and, hopefully, they can offer some suggestions for ways to improve your work. Going into a critique looking for a new fan almost always ends in disappointment. There is a lot you can learn from someone who makes a living as a songwriter or music industry professional but there’s a lot that only you can know about your songwriting, too. 

Good Luck!

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4 responses to “Three Things Not To Do For Productive Song Critiques”

  1. SOUND ADVICE (which would make a great book title)….
    except for the “finished recording” thing…
    as “demos” died a long time ago…
    virtually no one in the music biz has any imagination,
    so, they cannot hear the potential of a song…
    therefore, a great recording of a lousy song
    will sell faster than a lousy recording of a great song…
    as a song is just a ditty until it’s a track…
    and, if it’s not a great track, then throw it away,
    and try again…because “good” ain’t good enough…
    besides, if you’re making music just to make dough,
    then be a plumber instead….(it’s far more lucrative)…
    but, if you’re trying to manifest something original
    with gravitas, then let ‘er rip…(don’t worry about what the music hucksters, who are stealing the kiddie’s lunch money,
    think)….good luck!….

  2. Kenny Mac says:

    Good point, Donald. I’ve found that most people can’t hear the “finished product” unless it’s finished. Pros included. Myself included. It’s like spending a year building your dream home. Anyone can walk around the finished house and find mistakes or imperfections. That’s what Publishers do. But for a new songwriter who needs help with structure, lyrics, rhymes, etc., a rough demo is the smart way to go for a crtitque, not a pitch. Nothing wrong with dreaming of being a songwriter. But, as you said, get a day job and keep writing and dreaming!

  3. I’m afraid you’ve missed my point Donald. A critique is far different from pitching to a publisher or a record label or anyone else in the music industry. It’s one of the only places where it IS safe to not submit a polished recording.

  4. Some describe it as ‘having ears’, the ability to listen to a Song in some ‘demonstrated’ form, and recognize its potential for competitive play in the market.
    Someone said Kenny Chesney can’t ‘hear’ it unless there’s a full band playing it. Others might hear you sing it a capella and be able to evaluate it for whatever purpose they’re listening.
    I would contend that if it has merit the simplest performance should demonstrate them. But each of us is different in how we evaluate things. Was it the singer? The voice? The Lyric? The Melody? What was it about the singer, the voice, the Lyric, and/or the Melody that ‘hooked’ their interest, that they perceived potential in? No way of knowing, unless they can and do put their finger on it for you.
    Write. You, as the Songwriter, are the first listener. If you’re hooked there’s a chance others can be too. You can fool yourself, enjoying the emotion of singing, knowing the Lyric and the story, perhaps a story behind it. Any other listener can be fooled, either way, pro or con. The industry history is full of stories of Songs and Singers who were turned away and persisted to finally get a product to market that the public was pleased with and said so in the coin of the realm.
    Leaving something to the imagination of the person doing the critique might have its merits too. They hear the basic Song with just a voice and a guitar, and imagine what their band or artist could do with it. No guarantees, either way. Write good Songs. Explore the market. And don’t be fooled by someone who tells you they love your Song and for $799 they can make a wonderful demo to lay at the bottom of your sock drawer. A good critique or a bad one is offered with a motive. Be sure you have some judgment about what that motive is.

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