Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Song Critiques: Can Too Many Cooks Spoil Song?

Working with singers who are also songwriters, I am frequently asked what I think about song critiques. Here is what I tell them: Critiques of songs can either help the writer turn a mediocre tune into hit song... or they can absolutely kill the song, derail and shut down the voice of the writer.

Where can you get song critiques?
1. Songwriting coaches
2. Music industry insiders (people to whom you pitch songs)
3. Songwriting organizations like NSAI
4. Family and friends
5. Your audiences
6. Your own heart

What sources are right? 
They can all be right ...and they can all be wrong.

There are examples of hit songs that break most of the songwriting 'rules' you will hear about. If you are on the leading edge of a musical movement (think Dylan, Morrissette, Ani DeFranco) you will DEFINITELY be breaking some rules. And...rules are different in different genres.

Yet if you don't write with excellence, you will not get a cut (unless you cut the song. So what to do? In my own experience, five things helped me become a better songwriter:
  1. listening to, singing on and dissecting LOTS of songs
  2. co-writing with different people who were as good or better than me
  3. getting my songs critiqued by some hard industry people (some were great, some were wrong)
  4. playing songs out for audiences
  5. writing lots of songs.
So how do you know your song is well written?
You can get some good courses, books, critiques from pros. I've seen some great ones with insight that can help especially new writers tremendously. But more often, I see critiques that are just someone's personal preference - which may or may not be relevant to your ideal audience or your heart.

And it's not about how long it takes you to write... I took a day to write "Early Fall". It took 3 months to co-write "One Way Ticket"... because Keith Hinton and I actually thought of too many options and had to weed them out!

I think the best evidence of the worth of your song is in the reaction you get from your audience. Try to be honest with yourself... was it a reaction? Even if it's a quiet reaction... you can feel the electricity in the room created by a good song well delivered. Or it will feel like you just delivered a dud (or delivered your good song to the wrong audience!)

So yes, get your songs critiqued, get training, get better... but remember that songwriting is an art more than it's a science. After you get your critique, ask yourself in your heart of hearts if you agree with the revision suggestions. If so... edit your song. If not, maybe try getting other opinions from a different sources (and audiences). Or maybe... stick a fork in your song, it's done!

Have any of you gotten some song critiques you thought helped you be a better writer? Where did you get those reviews done? Do you disagree with what I've said here? Why or why not?

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  • At January 5, 2012 at 11:16 AM , Anonymous Lyndel Lucas said...

    How much is performance and how much is the song itself .. ive noticed that songs i sang that i hadn't mastered that i wrote didn't get the same reaction as when i performed them ,and had a better grip on it . my son thinks you can take a mediocre song and turn it around just in the way it is arranged and performed .. how much truth is there in his thinking ..thanks

  • At January 5, 2012 at 11:31 AM , Blogger Unknown said...


    Yes, both matter... the performance/recording of the song, and the song itself.

    Yes, you can improve the reception of a mediocre song with great production and performance, but no, it will never get the response of a great song that is also performed well.

    It's like a recipe. Even if it's a great recipe, cooking with lesser quality ingredients can never match the results of cooking with high quality ingredients.

    A great song, however, as this article suggests, is subjective. That's the tricky part... knowing if the song is great or mediocre is where you start.

  • At January 5, 2012 at 5:09 PM , Anonymous Daniel stevens said...

    I can agree and relate to this lol. I can get wrapped up in one side and not the other which causes conflicts internally lol. It is a delicate balance lol. Great read!!

  • At January 9, 2012 at 1:46 PM , Anonymous Leigh Ann said...

    Interesting note about how long it took you to write two great songs. A good reminder that creativity has different paths for everyone--and even sometimes for the same person.

  • At January 9, 2012 at 4:51 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Thank you, Daniel, and Leigh Ann.. amen to that! Originality has a mind... and a time... of it's own:)


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