If you live in one of the major music cities – Nashville, New York or Los Angeles – you’ll be surrounded by a large group of your songwriting peers. This can be a huge help as it’s always easier not to go it alone as you develop your songwriting skills. One of the many benefits of a songwriting peer group is that you can help each other grow by getting together weekly or monthly to critique each other’s songs. That being said, remember that the songwriting process is particularly fragile early on. So fragile that a single unkind word can derail an otherwise promising song from ever being finished. I thought I’d put together a few things to think about in order to help you navigate song critiques by your peers.
As with any critique, the goal isn’t simply to agree to every criticism and try and change your song accordingly. Rather, you should look for comments that seem to come up over and over again and give some thought as to why you’re hearing the same thing as often as you are. It’s absolutely fine to dismiss one-off comments that you don’t agree with. Taking the approach of looking for trends, however, will give you a bit better perspective on the impression your songs are making. By the way, it’s also fine to disagree with a comment you keep hearing from others as long as you’re consciously aware of the songwriting choices you’re making.
Given that your peers are not professional songwriters with extensive critique experience, you’re likely to receive comments that have more to do with whether or not they like your songs as opposed constructive comments meant to help you improve your writing. A comment like “I don’t like your chorus” is much less useful than an actionable comment such as “you might consider making the rhyme scheme in your second verse match the rhyme scheme in your first verse.” Observations like this are more clear and give you something concrete to think about or possibly change in your song.
This may sound obvious but not everyone likes the same kinds of songs. Criticism – especially the inexperienced kind – can come through the prism of a particular person’s preferred genre which might not apply to your particular song. The key here is to keep in mind not only the comment but also who’s making it. Not everyone has to love your song for it to be great to you and at the end of the day, a song is only “great” when you decide it is. Relying on anyone else to tell you whether your songs are working is a dangerous approach as it leaves your songs – and your career – in someone else’s hands. The more you continue to write, the more clear it will become to you when you’ve achieved the vision you had for your song no matter what anyone else says.
Although it can be tempting to feel like you’re supposed to heed all the advice you’re given during a peer critique, it’s important to remember that you’re all still learning your craft. Some of the criticisms you’ll receive will be spot on and help you refine your process but others will surely be the inexperienced comments of your fellow amateur songwriters and should be considered in that light. Remember that you’re all learning together and trying to improve.
Along with keeping your peers’ comments in perspective using the approaches above, it’s important to remember that your words carry weight, too. All this to say, remembering to be respectful, constructive and kind to your peers with your comments will go a long way towards raising the level of your discourse and, hopefully, your songs.