I believe that in songwriting, no one can improve what they do until they can hear their songs as others hear them. And that’s a big challenge; it’s not easy to develop that level of objectivity.
A song represents your heart and soul in musical form. Most of the time, it’s a personal reflection of you — what you think and feel. In that regard, songs are a little like your own baby. Because of that, it’s hard to see your own song the way that someone else does. And it’s definitely hard to be objective.
Developing objectivity is a necessary part of improving your songwriting skills. It’s difficult — perhaps impossible — to make necessary changes to a song if you love it unconditionally. Objectivity becomes even harder if a song comes together quickly. Songs that seem to write themselves in a few hours are hard to critique, because there is a feeling that they already existed in the ether, and must be honoured in whatever form they appear.
Ether or not, practically all songs need to be honed, shaped and otherwise changed from their first incarnation before they become in any way excellent. And to do that, a certain level of objectivity is needed.
Start by recording your song. Once you’ve done that, try these tips for ensuring that you’ve got the necessary level of objectivity to change your lousy first draft into a successful song.
- Leave some time before self-critiquing. Unless you’re writing a song for a performance you’re giving tonight, take some time away from it. Coming back to it after a week or two makes it more likely (or at least possible) that you’ll find the objectivity you need to make hard decisions.
- Think quietly before listening. As you sit down to critique your own song, take a moment to quietly meditate on what you’re about to do. Imagine that it’s someone else’s song, not your own. Don’t push the play button until you’ve come as close as you can to imagining this as someone else’s song you’re about to hear.
- Don’t spare your feelings. Objectivity means being able to make hard choices with little to no regard for how long or hard you worked at it. Don’t be afraid to toss old ideas, to experiment with new ones, or to even throw out entire sections.
- Don’t get bogged down. Keeps several songs on the go at any one time. Once you feel that you’re getting stuck in the mud with this current song, move on and leave the first one for some later time. At all costs, you want to avoid the negativity that comes from frustration.
- Sing a song for a small public venue to test it out. Of course you want your song to be as finished as possible, but if you’re doing a small house concert, or singing at a reception where people will only be casually listening, try the song out. Sometimes the act of singing it as if it’s finished will clarify what problems might remain.
Remember that as a songwriter, there’s nothing wrong with subjectivity. Removing all subjective reactions to your own song is nearly impossible, but in addition, it might render a song completely irrelevant. The balance between objectivity and subjectivity is exactly that: a balance. If you find that you love a song too much to change it, that’s when you need to reset that balance.
And then, of course, once you’ve got the song sounding the way you want, you’ve got something you can love and adore, and objectivity has played its important role in that.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.
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Another way to get objective – listen to the song with someone else. Whenever I play one of my songs for my wife I become much more aware of the parts that need fixing.
Love this blog, Gary! Hands down the best of its kind on the internet.
Great idea, Michael. (Glad you love the blog!)