Topic: Criticism

As a songwriter, how well do you take criticism of your songs?  I don't mean someone just saying they like or don't like the song you wrote, but an analytical critique of the song for form & structure and how well you as a songwriter have conveyed your artistic vision to the listener.  A while back Beamer and I had an email discussion about having songs critiqued. I used to attend an NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International) group that did a weekly songwriter's open mic, occasional work shops and a monthly "critique" session.  At the critique sessions each songwriter would bring copies of the lyric sheets for a new song, then perform the song while other members followed along on the lyric sheets and made notes in the margins about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the different song sections and sometimes made suggestions for possible improvements.  After you played your song there was a comment session where your song would be discussed and then you were also given all the comment sheets for later review at home. The first time I attended I brought a new song I was working on and thought it had some potential, but was really surprised how bad it got hammered by the group.  At first I took it personal, but as the group leader said, the critiques were not personal attacks on the writer but rather trying to identify weaknesses and strengths each writer has in the songwriting process and helping them to improve.  After several years of friends and relatives constantly telling me how "great" my songs were, it was a wake-up call that maybe my songwriting needed more effort. (One lady wrote religious songs and told the group her songs were inspired by God so she wouldn't change anything - if that was true then God is not a very good song writer IMHO wink  It was more than a year and lots of negative comments before I ever presented a song that passed muster with the group. It was tough but a learned a lot (as well as becoming thicker-skinned).

As a "lyrics" kinda guy, I  was hoping that by writing clever lyrics, they would carry the song alone, but found that is only true in writing poetry. To be considered a "song" there must be both lyrics and music and even great lyrics combined with a weak musical structure is not something most folks want to listen to (unless its your mom).  The music should complement the lyrics (prosody) through rhythm (beat/groove/time signature) harmony (chords/key) and the melody.  Not only that, but the music as well as the lyrics should have contrast between the verses, chorus and bridge (if used).  This was identified as one of my weaknesses and there has been an on-going attempt at improvement.  Like a duffer/golfer I occasionally get off a good shot most of the time I'm hacking away in the rough.

Other things I found I needed to work on:

Stronger opening lines to grab the listener's attention or a short "catchy" musical intro to get the listener to want to listen to the lyrics
Better hook development
"Showing" not "telling" (painting a picture with words rather than just providing info like a newspaper article)
Getting to the chorus more quickly and effectively
Dynamic and engaging melodies
Overuse of unnecessary words

Have any of you went through these type critiques?  How did you handle it?  Did the honest feedback help you as a songwriter?

DE

I want to read my own water, choose my own path, write my own songs

Re: Criticism

Hi ed,I am not a songwriter but I think some of those people should try too help instead of telling you, you are not doing that good

my papy said son your going too drive me too drinking if you dont stop driving that   Hot  Rod  Lincoln!! Cmdr cody and his lost planet airman

Re: Criticism

Nobody criticizes my music anywhere near as much as I do, so I'm fine with it. smile

Re: Criticism

Feed back  good  or  bad  is  ok  as long  as  people  take  the  time to listen to  what  you've  done

Re: Criticism

If you are in a group for that purpose I agree that you should take the good with the bad.  It shouldn't hurt your feelings if you are trying to learn.  Friends and relatives tend to be nice and say good or greta job.  This really doesn't help us.

You can see all my video covers on [url]http://www.youtube.com/bensonp1000[/url]
I have finally found happiness in my life.  Guitars, singing, beer and camping.  And they all intertwine wonderfully.

Re: Criticism

Gidday

Good subject,i`m not a song writer,i just scribble stuff down.
Some times i call it a song sometimes a poem.
I don`t care what anyone thinks,i just need to get them out
of my head and written down some where.Hence i probably won`t get any good.
If someone likes it as is thats a bonus.
Funny thing though,i gave a song to a friend.She did it, really differently
to how i did it.At first i was flattered that someone wanted one of my
scribbles. Really loved what she did to it,but she added two lines,they
where rhyme lines.
I felt that changed the whole integrity,I`m still not sure how i feel now.

The King Of Audio Torture

Re: Criticism

An interesting thread! I've never gotten a penetrating analysis of song I've written, but I think it would be very interesting. My own 8 part critical method method goes like this:

1) get inspired and come up with a song,
2) get very excited about it,
3) play it a lot, thinking how great it is,
4) wife says, "sounds like you've come up with a new song," (meaning, "could you maybe play something else for a while?!")
5) get her drift and put song away for a couple of weeks,
6) bring it back out, play it, and realize it's not as hot as I thought it was,
7) think to myself, "why bother?" and go back to playing other people's songs,
8) get inspired and repeat

Oh well . . .

8 (edited by Tenement Funster 2014-02-04 10:56:14)

Re: Criticism

I'm not a songwriter, although I do jot some poetry every so often. I've never been good at finding the "right tune" for most of my poetry, so that's that.

My own sense is that most attempts at anything in life will come under criticism by someone, somewhere. If we're attempting something because we crave the accolades of others, then we'll likely reap a lot of hurt feelings throughout life. BUT ... if you enjoy what you do, and it gives you satisfaction and pleasure to keep doing it, then who really cares what others think? We know that many professional musicians have had to change their image significantly in order make sales, and that's always unfortunate ... Phil Collins comes to mind. But staying true to what you enjoy is key, which I guess is why there are sooooo many genres of music. Something for everyone!

Artie ...  I love your songwriting cycle; made me grin!

Re: Criticism

I think I may have some of the emails still smile

DE and Jeff Gilpen have been my most consistantly great soundboards.  I write something and then sometimes after I have fooled with it all I can,, I send it to one of them.  Almost all the time I like all the suggestions. 

Artie, +1 on your cycle is funny!

Easy, I would still be Proud of your friend.  Her changes are what suited it to her style, Your comment makes me remember thescene in THE JAZZ SINGER When the punk type dude is destroying neils song in the studio,, Neil says here let me show you how it was written,, does song,, and then punk guy says,,," PISS OFF I paid for it!"  or something like that.  I am sure it happens all the time.   
Guy writes song,, Guy sells song, Producers and artist turn it 180 out from what the guy wrote. SOP.

“It’s like a Jab, you got the squeeze and you got the attack, you got the guitar and the emotion behind the song. 
You can plug into a Marshall, but if you are not attacking it,  it's just going to sound so-so.  If the song doesn't grove, you are just bashing through chords” .
-- Mike Ness,  Social Distortion

Re: Criticism

DE, I like the needed to work on list. It's a great list to serve as a songwriters guide. We all write songs in our own format. Their are no hard and fast rules about how to write a good song. Critique is always good but in some cases can crush the writer. If you are looking for critique you must be prepared for all and any unfavorable opinions. And I do say opinion. The end result of a really good song is what your audience thinks of it. They will determine if the song is truly well written and they can relate to it. The song you expect to be good may not be the one your audience likes. I myself have played and recorded friends songs. I don't do them the same way they do. It's the way I hear the music or lyrics. It's my opinion about how the song should be. The way my friend wrote the song is not wrong, It's how they tell the story and how they felt when they wrote it. The more you play your songs for people the more you get the feel for how they accept them. The better your story telling gets , the more you see the songs become accepted. The more you write the better writer you will become. Even the best songwriters can be criticized, so don't be disappointed by what people say about your work. Listen to your audience they'll let you know what they like.


Joe

Re: Criticism

hi ed, i've been longing for this thread since i joined chordie, only i didn't know it.

easybeat and i have had a little chat on this subject, people writing songs putting them up for show hoping to get some kind of critique and getting no response.

when i first joined there was a group of members from all round the world that would do just that. it was nice. one rule; don't get nasty or rubbish someones work. you cant expect a 14 year old to enjoy a love song written by a 62 year old, so don't reply. if you do like it, or can give a little advice or suggest something that's great.

as you can see, i wish more people would take part in critiquing the offerings put up here. when you write a song, you can be blinded by your own ego.

EB, i think your friend should have asked your permission first and maybe you could have added or changed the lines suggested. having said that, it is a great feeling when you hear someone else's version of your song.

Ask not what Chordie can do for you, but what you can do for Chordie.

Re: Criticism

Interesting comments.  What prompted me to initiate this thread was finding some old comment sheets from 10 years ago when I was attending the critique classes.  10 years later I still need to work on many of the things I listed.  What I miss is the honesty in the critiques. Through the group I learned that as songwriters or artists we have a "vision" for an artistic work but that vision alone can't create art and we must employ necessary skills to render the vision on canvas or in a song. On the other hand, if all we have are the necessary skills but lack artistic vision, then new art is still not created. The goal is to marry the vision with the "craftmanship" necessary to best display our work so studying the various methods and techniques that can be used by songwriters or artists creates a bigger "toolbox" for a songwriter/artist to use.  The group motto was "no rules - just tools". 

Like most of us, I write songs mostly to fulfil some sort of artistic "need" , not to pitch or sell for profit.  However, even though we basically write songs for ourselves, the purpose of a song is to be played and heard by others, not to be locked up like entries in a diary.  So from my perspective if the plan is to let others hear our songs, we should at least try to make it our best effort.....  Kinda like selecting the best rods, reels and lures before a fishing trip or sprucing up your house before guests arrive. wink

I've usually had very good audience acceptance of my songs Joe, and its a great feeling to be on a stage when folks are into what you're playing.  As you said, occasionally I'll get a real positive reaction to what I consider to be one of my poorest crafted songs although the ones I've put more thought and technical effort into seem to have a higher "acceptance" percentage, so learning about the "craft" of songwriting has helped me considerably with my songwriting efforts.  I've also had the honor of having a few other musicians play some of my tunes and personally I like it when they adapt it to their own style.

Phil, i agree with what you're saying, but It's hard to critique a song if all you see are the lyrics and chord notations but can't hear the accompanying rhythm and melody. 

DE

I want to read my own water, choose my own path, write my own songs

Re: Criticism

I tend to be a "music first, then find a song to go with it" guy, rather than right a poem/song first, and put music to it. Critiquing music is a very subjective thing, and so are suggested improvements. If you write poetry or songs just for yourself, then it don't matter a monkeys a**e what other people think. But if you want to perform or sell music to others, then it becomes very important. As long as criticism is intended to be honest and objective, and is taken by the composer in the same way, then everyone benefits. I guess it you don't want other's opinions on your work, don't put it on here!

"War never determines who is right , only who is left"
"Democracy is the right to protest about  the lack of it!"

Re: Criticism

While on this topic,,, Jets and DE I got something ill be sending for advice/ help with as soon as I can get it typed up.

“It’s like a Jab, you got the squeeze and you got the attack, you got the guitar and the emotion behind the song. 
You can plug into a Marshall, but if you are not attacking it,  it's just going to sound so-so.  If the song doesn't grove, you are just bashing through chords” .
-- Mike Ness,  Social Distortion

Re: Criticism

I guess I'm pretty set in my ways now on how I write songs. Here is what I do. Sometimes I will get an idea for a song, specifically the lyrics or story of the song. The song idea could come from anywhere so I try and stay wide open to song or story ideas. I will usually start writing right a way if possible (near a computer or pen & paper and of course a guitar), and I try to at least get a good shell of the song out, or sometimes finish it all the way then and there. If I only get the song part of the way done I will set it on a shelf for a while to get back to, which could be soon or could take a while. Somewhere in my lyric/song writing process I will start to put it to music and I will just write the music to fit the lyrics, again it could take a while or not depending on how I'm thinking at the time. That is about it for when I come up with the story or lyrics first. On occasion I will get some music that comes to me that I think will be good for a song. When I do that I usually try and think of what story or lyrics would fit the music...this sometimes takes quite a while for me unless the idea for the music spontaneously makes me think of the story, sort of at the same time.  Lately I have been doing clean up on some of my older songs that I wrote a while back, but for the most part I let what I have written in the past remain as I originally intended. I am fine with taking someone's criticism about my songs and music. I don't always agree with them, but I try and see the individual critic's point of view to help improve my perspective, and make me a better writer. I have to really like a song to give them any comments or share criticism, and if the authors don't agree with my comments I am perfectly okay. If a song doesn't catch me or interest me, I will not try to help fix it so that it does. I don't like to give criticism on songs I don't enjoy reading, playing or listening to so I usually refrain from commenting on those songs. I also have to be in the right frame of mind to listen to new music so I sometimes I don't comment, read, or listen to new posts right a way out here in chordie land other than to do moderator checks, but I will come back and read, listen to, and/or play most forum songwriting posts when I am more open to new music.

J  E  T  S
...and yet a Redskins fan ...long story...HTTR

Re: Criticism

Great input Jeff.  You wrote: " If a song doesn't catch me or interest me, I will not try to help fix it so that it does. I don't like to give criticism on songs I don't enjoy reading, playing or listening to so I usually refrain from commenting on those songs."

I think most of us don't want to provide negative critiques so we refrain from commenting - even if the songwriter is asking us to be honest.  However there is still something to be learned. When I hear a new song that doesn't "catch or interest me" I try to analyze why.  Sometimes its merely the subject matter or genre.  If it's a genre I don't particularly care for then I realize its just a matter of musical taste and stop there. But if it's in a genre I normally write in I'm intrigued why the song didn't work for me as the listener.  I know the songwriter was trying to say or show me something that was important enough to write a song about so I try to figure out what it was about the song that didn't grab my attention. By analyzing what was effective or not affective, I can apply it to my own songwriting.

Was the subject matter personal to the writer but not applicable to me or other listeners?
Were the lyrics poorly written or hard to follow?
Was the rhyme scheme inconsistent and distracting?
Were the rhymes "forced" and not free-flowing?
Did each verse provide new information to peak my interest as a listener?
Did the hook/chorus or bridge provide lyrical and musical contrast to grab my attention?
If there wasn't a chorus or bridge (VVV type song) were the verses too weak to stand on their own? - if so was it due to lyrics/music/both?
Does the time signature/beat/groove support the lyrics and theme of the song?
Does the chord structure (minors/majors, etc) complement the lyrics and theme?
Does the melody/vocal range enhance the lyrics? (do accents in the melody stress important song parts or is melody range too narrow producing a "droning" feel)

As several have said, we critique songs by our own personal "yardstick".  What has one listener yelling for more may induce another to scratch their head and wonder what all the hoopla is about. That's why there's so many different genres. For me, analyzing songs similar to my own writing style helps me choose the the best tools from my own toolbox when creating a new song. Unfortunately my toolbox still has saws and chisels that could be sharper wink

DE

I want to read my own water, choose my own path, write my own songs

Re: Criticism

i hardly ever sit down to (force) out a song any more. i used to, and went through several years of trash. when i joined chordie i thought i needed to write songs that had meaning and or a story.

these days i only write when something is itching to get out; i was in the shower and an opening line came to me, so while i was washing my bits i was developing the words and tune (they usually come together) so after drying off, i scurry down to my studio and pop the words down and look for the chords. if i have something good then i need to record it right away as if i don't by the time i get back to it, it's gone, so i leave it in my slush pile, and when i have a tune but no words i'll go back and see if they fit, maybe years later!

other times i've been strumming away or tinkling on the piano, when a chord sequence or a riff or tune comes out, soon a few words will come along whether i'm trying to write a song or not. in all cases the first few lines dictate the theme/story of the song, and what may start out as a rock song may end up as a ballad!

Ask not what Chordie can do for you, but what you can do for Chordie.

Re: Criticism

hi ed i cant read or write music so i think i'd be classed as a lyricist,i write what i feel and sometimes seeing or doing something will get me writing,i'm thinking of the tune as i write,then play it before i post,i only play about 12 chords so i bet a lot of my word sounds the same,i try to change its sound by picking and vamping or strumming ,so i struggle with some of your works with all the different chords available but then i try to transform it to how i play,but the rule of thumb is if you dont know ASK and listen to those who do......stay cool

love is life ,life is for love,keep a true heart and live life to the full....stay cool