We live in an era when checking online for advice and opinions is second nature. Want to buy a new toaster? You’ll probably not do that unless you’ve read the reviews. And for most people, reading the customer reviews often feels more relevant than the professionally-written ones.
This need to see what others think extends into the world of artistic creation. It’s common for songwriters to post a quick video of their latest song to some streaming service (Reddit, YouTube, etc.), and then ask others what they think.
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That may seem like the ideal way to get your song sounding its best, but as a songwriter, it’s important to keep online opinions in perspective. It is entirely possible that following whatever advice you may get from random strangers will stunt your artistic development, even if that advice leads to what you think is a better song.
The reason that random advice may stunt your artistic development is that the average person will give advice by comparing your song to all the other songs that they happen to know.
If John Lennon lived in the social media age, what do you think most people’s reaction would have been to him streaming his newest song, “I Am the Walrus?”
Probably: “John, what were you thinking…? “Walrus??? Come on…!”
And then what? Lennon sits down to change one of the most unique, innovatives songs of the pop-rock era based on the opinions of people who still have “Twist and Shout” ringing in their ears??
Most people offering an opinion on your new song have only their own personal past experience with music to rely on, and I stress the word ‘past’. Most people that you find online can only tell you what they happen to already like. And if you really think of your own songwriting as representative of art, following most people’s advice is only going to give you something similar to music that’s already been written.
And maybe that’s fine for you. If your aim is to write something that sounds like all the other songs that are already out there, then it’s probably a good thing to ask for the general public’s opinions and take those opinions as advice.
But if you want to make waves, and stand out from the rest of the pack, and you need advice or instruction to help you, you need to purposely look for other excellent musicians who can listen to your songs and help you shape and craft what you’ve written, based on what they see as your vision, not their opinions.
You’ll find those people in the form of other songwriters, but you’ll also get great instruction and advice from excellent performers, producers and teachers — people who’ve put their energies in their own musical projects, and who already understand how to respect songwriters who are trying to go out on a limb and write something unique and powerful.
It’s so tempting to ask on a public Reddit-style forum what everyone thinks of your new song, but by following random advice given to you by someone you don’t even know, you risk taking something powerful and unique that you’ve created, and dumbing it down until whatever statement you thought you were making is washed away.
And that would be a shame.
In most cases, if you’re writing something a little off the beaten path that most of the world hasn’t really encountered before, it may be true that you could do with a good dose of courage more so than other people’s opinions.
If your songs are truly innovative and cutting-edge, expect that some, but not all, will like them, at least in the first instance. You should expect dissenters. You need to be courageous and confident enough to be willing to put those songs out there despite dissenters, and stand by them.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.
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