Go on almost any songwriting forum these days, or check out the Songwriting Reddit, and you’ll see that a large percentage of the interactions are people giving a link to their latest song, with a plea for the rest of us to “check it out” and tell them what we think of it.
Having others listen and offer opinions on your songs can be a good idea, but that’s not really what I want to talk about here. I’m more interested in the large number of people who ask the question “What do you think of my song?”
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That probably means that a lot of people aren’t really sure if their song is good or not. And it probably speaks to a lot of other issues that plague songwriters, the most common being a lack of confidence in what they’re doing.
We all love to be loved, but surely (hopefully!) we’re all realistic enough to know:
- not everyone will like our songs; and
- having people hate our music may not be an indicator that it’s bad; and
- having people love our music may not be an indicator that it’s good, or can’t be improved.
So if not everyone will like our songs, and if it’s true that a song can be good while people might hate it, how are we to know if we’ve written a good song?
The Definition of Good
It all depends on how you define “good.” Most songs, to be good, need to make the listener feel that they’ve been on an interesting musical journey. But that can be hugely vague, and a not-very-practical way of determining if a song is good.
But if you’re looking for ways to assess your own songs, here are some tips to consider once you’ve made a good recording of it:
- Isolate the chorus/hook, and listen many times to that one element. Does it have an interesting melodic shape and rhythm, and have you accompanied it with a tonally strong progression? (A tonally strong progression is one that clearly indicates the key. Think “Billie Jean,” and you’ll get the idea.
- Isolate the point where the verse (or pre-chorus) meets the chorus. Is there a smooth connection? Does the end of the verse “beg for” the chorus?
- Consider the general range of the verse and compare it to the range of the chorus. Is there a clear moving-upward of the melodic range? (Hint: there should be.)
- Consider the chords in each section of your song. The verse and bridge chords may wander a bit, and that can be effective. But the chorus progression should be shorter, tonally stronger and sit in a clear, unambiguous groove.
- Look at your verse lyrics, and compare their effect to the way the chorus words work. Do you notice a heightening of emotions in the chorus? That’s an important part of what makes a song’s chorus so effective.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing particularly wrong with asking others if they like your song. I only ever worry about that question on from posters on Reddit and other forums, because I can practically feel their dismay if they don’t get the response they’re looking for.
And it worries me when I think that you may be trying to change what and how you write based merely on a middle of the night opinion from someone who may simply not get what you’re doing.
Before you post a “please listen to my song” plea, I have a suggestion: YOU listen to your song. You do that objectively, and you determine what you like and don’t like. And if you truly like what you’ve done and can defend it, you should worry less about what others think.
It’s always relevant and useful to get advice from experienced writers, because they have a better chance of understanding what you’re trying to do, and can usually communicate their thoughts with respect.
But opinions are, at the end of the day, only opinions. You have a right to write songs that others won’t fully understand. The most important person in the process is you.
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