People hating your songs may not be a songwriting problem at all.
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First, give this a listen. It’s a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”, sung in this instance by American actor and singer Jim Nabors. Depending on who you are, you are either enjoying his performance, or finding it humorously a bit off the mark.
I’m guessing that a good number of you would rather be listening to Stevie’s own version. It’s the one we’re all used to hearing, and it just seems right. But just so that you know, Jim Nabor’s cover was very popular when it came out with an entire subsection of the listening public that just wasn’t much into the pop music of the day.
Those people who loved Nabors’ version were probably in their 40s or 50s or older back in the early 70s. They grew up with Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and the like. Bing Crosby himself released his own version of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude.” To those of us who know only The Beatles’ rendition, Bing’s cover is, again, humorous.
Humorous, but very well done. If the only version of “Hey Jude” you had ever heard was Bing’s version, most of you reading this would probably never have known the song. It all comes down to the tricky art of targeting an audience. When songs are written, they have the potential to be enjoyed by practically anyone, because enjoyment of a song depends on instrumentation, tempo, and performance style. Those are decisions that are made by jointly by producers and performers.
So if you hate Bing’s “Hey Jude”, or Jim Nabors’ “You Are the Sunshine of My Life”, that’s OK. It doesn’t mean that those are bad renditions. It simply means that you weren’t being targeted when the producers made recording decisions.
When people hate your songs, it’s easy to assume that you’ve made errors in the songwriting process. But in fact, that may not be the case at all. If you were at a Metallica concert and Jim Nabors showed up to sing, every note would be hated by that audience. The music would be fine, but the audience would be the wrong one for the music.
If you find that you’re not getting the response from your assumed audience that you’re hoping for, by all means give your songs a good listen and analysis, and make sure that you’re adhering to the principles of good musical composition. But the point is – your songs may be completely fine. It may be time to look at how you are performing your music. Knowing your target audience, and properly targeting it, are two different things.
The solution, particularly if you are producing your own recordings and performances, lies in listening to other music of the same genre. If you find that you are leaving your audiences feeling bored or disinterested, it’s time to tweak your performances.
The best advice, particularly if you’re trying to make songwriting part of your career, is to get a good producer to work with you, someone who can listen to your recordings and give you some brutally honest feedback. If you can’t afford to hire such a person, you can get feedback by posting your music online. The listening public won’t coddle you; they can sometimes be vicious in their honesty.
But that honest feedback will usually be an eye-opener. The listening public will usually tell you the first thing that they hate about your music, and in most cases you’ll find that some aspect of the performance is to blame.
It’s part of being a good songwriter to know when a negative audience response is due to bad songwriting technique, or simply missing the mark when targeting an audience.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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