Using Objective Listening to Improve Your Songwriting

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Listening to MusicObjectivity, from a songwriter’s point of view, is the ability to listen to your own music as if it were someone else’s. And that’s not an easy thing to do. When we write something, we tend to fall in love with it much the way we love our own children or other family member. As you will know, we tend to accept family, warts and all. But in songwriting, warts can prevent listeners from connecting with your music.

The difficulty of listening to your own music objectively is why producers in the recording process are a must. Producers have two important qualities: 1) they are knowledgeable of current styles and trends; and 2) they can be dispassionately objective, a crucial quality in making musical decisions.

But before your music ever makes it to the recording studio, you must become dispassionately objective. In order to create music that speaks to your audience, that touches them in exactly the way you need, it’s essential that you fall out of love with your music, and listen with an impartially critical ear.

As I’ve said, it’s not easy. But the best way to achieve that necessary impartiality is to do the following:

  1. Create a good demo of your song. Get it as close to finished as you can. Be fussy with musical details and performance and recording quality. Work as if you’re creating the final studio version. If you need help with mixing, check out Bobby Owsinski’s guest post on this blog from last year.
  2. Put the recording away for two weeks. Separating yourself from the project by a few weeks will help reduce the subjective love you have for the music, and allow for a more objective standpoint.
  3. Listen to your recording, but BEFORE you press play… Sit quietly, and imagine that you’ve just bought the recording. It’s not by you, it’s something you found online, and you’re wondering if you made a good purchase. Imagine someone sitting in a studio, playing and singing a song that they’ve just written. What do you think?
  4. Be critical. “Critical”, in the arts world, doesn’t mean being negative, by the way. It means being discerning, being attentive and being aware. Critical listeners are just as likely to hear and acknowledge good things as they are to hear bad things.
  5. Jot down absolutely anything that doesn’t please you. Again, be fussy with musical details.

If you find this hard to do, it’s because it is hard to do. If you’re not able to get your mind in a place that allows you to hear the song as someone else’s, spend more time sitting quietly before playing it.

Objective listening can help get a song working properly. Objective listening is what can tell you that the bridge section is too long, that the chorus isn’t catchy enough, that the lyrics sound a bit lame, and so on. It’s a technique that all songwriters need to develop and use to take their music to the next level.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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