Feedback is a tricky thing in the creative arts. Just because someone dislikes a song you’ve written is not an indication that you’ve done something wrong, or that you need to change anything about the way you’re writing.
By the same token, if you only surround yourself with people who claim to love everything you do, you don’t get a balanced view of how your songs are really coming across. Also, having no critical review of your music gives you nothing to consider or use when it comes to good, healthy, self-critiquing.
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These days, where you can write, record and distribute your songs without ever leaving your house, it’s possible to live in a creative vacuum where you don’t actually know much about how your songs are affecting others. In the popular music genres, that’s just not a good situation.
Feedback is difficult for songwriters because it means accepting the shade along with the love. And we find negative press hard to handle; it can be very discouraging.
So what should you be doing as a songwriter to get feedback, and what do you do with it? Here are some thoughts:
- I’ll say it again: a bad critique doesn’t mean you’ve written a bad song, or that you need to change anything. The number of fantastic songs and albums in the past that have gotten horrid reviews when they first came out should teach us that much. The Beatle’s Abbey Road album was called “an unmitigated disaster” by reviewer Nik Cohn, writing for the New York Times. Right.
- Know the source. It’s completely fair for anyone to have an opinion, and since it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to love your songs, you’re always going to have those who don’t – always. So if someone who’s well-versed in your genre has a negative view of some aspect of what you’ve written, that might carry some weight. A folk music fan who hates your songs will carry less weight if your genre of choice is heavy metal.
- Don’t use fear of negativity as a reason to not get your songs out there. If you aren’t streaming your songs, or in some way making it easy for others to hear them, you’re missing the only good opportunity you have to build up a healthy fan base.
- Respond to bad online comments with civility and/or humour. If someone demeans your music with expletive-laced comments, they’re not really trying to have an intelligent conversation, and it might be best to ignore them. But any comment that is negative but well-written should be responded to. You’ll find that if you can manage a respectful reply, perhaps with a bit of humour, you can preemptively disarm others who have nothing intelligent to add to the conversation.
- Don’t engage in online arguing about your music. Treat your own songs with respect by thanking people (when appropriate) for their comments. Don’t overly defend your songs. By staying above the fray, you give the impression that your music doesn’t need defending, and that’s a good thing.
What To Do With Advice
So when you come across criticisms that you think are valid, what do you do?
I recommend using whatever good advice you get as a way to change your approach for your next songs, rather than going back to “fix” old songs. Let old songs be what they are. Everyone has a right to develop, and every good songwriter has started out as an inexperienced writer with something to learn. You too.
The best way to get good feedback is to seek it from other musicians whose opinions you trust. Good musicians tend to be respectful of anyone’s honest efforts, and so seeking out other good songwriters in your area, as well as performing musicians, producers, technicians, etc., will give you the best shot at opinions worth considering.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter
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