Guitarist - Songwriter

Songwriting and Healthy Self-Criticism

One piece of advice songwriters hear over and over (and I think it’s usually good advice) is to “silence your inner critic.” The belief is that songwriting can grind to a halt when you spend all your time finding fault with what you’re writing, before it’s even finished.

Being critical, though, need not always be negative, and I think that’s the problem with having a so-called “inner critic” in the first place: we tend to think of criticism as always being negative or contrary-minded.

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In reality, criticism is a more disciplined process. A good critique finds the good and the bad. It finds the positive and the negative. And it finds the things that are solid, and the things that need repair.

So when we tell songwriters to silence their inner critic, we really should be telling them to “balance their inner critic.” Balancing positive with negative (i.e., identifying the bits that work and the bits that need work) should be a positive experience that leaves you feeling excited and inspired.

Two Problems With Self-Critiquing

So there are two main problems with songwriters and the kind of self-evaluation/self-critiquing that they do:

  1. They tend to focus on the negative; and
  2. They tend to critique as if the song is finished.

Regarding the first point, as you cast a critical eye on your songs as you write them, you should make note of the parts that sound great as a first step. This allows you to more properly deal with and fix the parts that don’t.

Regarding the second point, I would maintain that there’s nothing wrong with critiquing your songwriting efforts before the song is complete, but that it should be done acknowledging that fact: it’s not finished.

And in fact, good, balanced criticism of your song can be an important part of the songwriting process. There’s nothing wrong with critiquing a song before it’s finished; the problem is that you’re critiquing the song as if it’s finished.

How to Criticize Your Own Songs In a Healthy Way

As you work on your song, you’ll want to stop from time to time and glance back at what you’ve written. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s important to not let it become a negative part of your process.

So here are 3 quick tips to consider:

  1. Remind yourself that the song is not complete. You should be considering criticism as a healthy part of your songwriting process.
  2. Start by identifying the good bits. Find the parts that you like, because those are going to be important sections that will help you fix the parts that are weak.
  3. Use criticism as a way of building up, not a way of tearing down. There are times when you’ll want to toss out what you’ve written, but that should always be thought of as a positive building process, not a negative destructive one.

So yes, silence your inner critic when you write, but only inasmuch as that inner critic tends to be negative. Remember that criticism is a balance between identifying what’s good with what’s bad.

If everything you think is negative, you aren’t really being critical. Think of good criticism as a healthy part of your songwriting process.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter. Hooks & Riffs“Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how a good hook can make the difference between songwriting success and failure. With great examples from pop music history.Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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