Critique and Learn

You may think you’re too new at songwriting to critique…let me tell you a good lesson I learned not that long ago. I had been writing for a number of years, and attended a songwriting workshop where, at one point, we were all supposed to critique each other’s work. Now when I was introduced to some of these writers, I found out exactly how new some of them were to the craft, and I thought to myself, rather ignorantly, how can they possibly help me? I had more “experience”!

As it turned out, they gave me some very valuable ideas, and, most of all, they were able to hear from a totally objective point of view and tell me what DIDN’T MAKE SENSE. You might think you have adequately told your story, until someone comes along and says “How did you get to there from here?” and “What does this mean?”

That’s why I’m a firm believer in critiquing as a way of learning your own craft. What “errors” can you pinpoint in a song? If you just have a feeling about some part of it, can you put it into words, and understand what needs to be corrected?

Most importantly, you will be more open to critiques of your own material! Why? Because you will begin to understand the thought and work that goes into critiquing properly and respect that.

So here are some general rules to critiquing:

  1. “Critique” is defined as critical assessment or evaluation. Anyone can “trash” a song (I’ve heard and read some really bad trash), it’s easy to just say something doesn’t work. Can you say WHY it doesn’t work? That’s where the evaluation comes in.
  2. Look at the song in the same way you would your own. What feels awkward or doesn’t fit?
  3. If possible, give an example of what you might do to change it. This is an excellent exersize in problem-solving for you! Tell them how you did what you did. Sometimes there is not enough time to give examples of everything, but if one seems obvious to you, spell it out.
  4. Never, never say “should”. “You should change this…” implies a hierarchy of some sort and that you know better. Well, if you think you know better, keep it to yourself.
  5. BE SURE to include what you LIKED about a song. It really helps soften up the critiquing you’re about to impart. If you have nothing positive to say about a song, either don’t critique, or spend some good time looking for something.
  6. Remember to take into consideration the style of the writer. A different style may imply a different approach. For instance, some country music works best when the lyrics are conversational but clever. Some progressive rock may imply a less straight up style of lyric-writing. Are there certain styles of music that you loathe? Now there’s a challenge!
  7. The simple things are important. Does the music match the lyric? If there are minor chords, no point in talking too much about what a lovely day it is.
  8. Tell the songwriter that this is JUST YOUR OPINION, and that it must be taken with a grain of salt. They may or may not agree with your assessment. That’s okay! Don’t get your defences up, too! Be humble! Often I’ve had songwriters tell me that someone else said exactly the same thing about the song to them before. This reinforces two things, one is that the songwriter starts to realize that maybe there is a problem if more than one person points it out. The other is that it gives YOU some credibility!

I think there’s alot to say about critiquing, and I may just add some things as I think of them. In the meantime, try it out! See how much YOU learn!

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