No one likes negative reviews. You put your heart and soul into the music you write, and then someone says that the lyric doesn’t work, or the instrumentation feels wrong, or they simply… don’t like it.
If there’s a way to put your emotional reaction to a bad review aside, you’ll find that you will learn much more from a well-written, well-considered bad review than you’ll learn from someone effusing love and admiration for it.
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There’s another kind of critique that’s good for songwriters, and that’s self-critiquing. Learning to be critical, in the most positive way possible, is a great way to improve your skills and take your songs to a new level.
Self-critiquing typically means the following:
- Listening objectively to your songs. Make a good recording, listen several times, put it away, listen again… and then ultimately determine what you like and don’t like about it.
- Using negative feelings about your songs as a positive step toward improvement. Noticing things about your song that you wished were better helps illuminate a path for the future.
- Don’t forget positivity. A good critique isn’t meant to simply identify bad things. It’s meant to give an insightful overview that includes identifying the good bits as well.
In my opinion, it’s hard to find a group of musicians who will be as honestly critical of their music as the members of prog rock group Genesis have been. It’s worth doing some YouTube searches for their album titles, and you’ll find interviews with the band members where they put a healthy magnifying glass on every aspect of their efforts.
A great example is the Genesis interview regarding one of their most powerful early albums, “Foxtrot.” You’ll find that they describe the good bits (fantastic rhythms, great songwriting process, etc.) as well as the bad (music is often too busy, lyrics of “Watcher of the Skies” – “They were interesting words, but they didn’t sing well…”)
It’s healthy to accept that all great music is a mixture of things that are good, and things you might have done differently. If you’re the kind of songwriter whose songs are out there in public venues, you’re going to have public opinion to contend with, and there’s no way around that.
But don’t forget that your own opinion counts. And in fact, in many ways, your own opinion, if you’re honest enough, can be all the more meaningful, because you’re the one with the best understanding of the process that created the song in the first place.
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