Criticism is vital, especially for a songwriter just starting out. But finding the right criticism – and being able to evaluate what's useful and what's not – is even more key. Since this is a business of opinions, you're going to be getting a lot of feedback. Here are three questions to ask to determine if that feedback is useful.
1. Who's giving it to you?
Is it your mom who loves everything you do? Your significant other who might sugarcoat his or her opinion to avoid hurting you? Is it a hit songwriter with decades of experience under his or her belt who has nothing to lose or gain by giving you feedback? You might have a tendency to go to those “safe” people for opinions – but opinions and encouragement are two very different things.
2. Is that person's opinion credible?
Does this person know what he or she is talking about? Does he or she have a finger on the pulse of the industry? Does he or she listen to the genre of music you're creating? The answer to all of these questions should be “yes” if the feedback is worth its salt.
There's nothing wrong with paid feedback either – some services charge $30 to $50 for feedback from a professional source (writer, producer, publisher, etc.). Just be sure to vet your source to make sure he or she has a good resume. You may want to try several sources before you find one or two you really resonate with.
3. Is it good criticism?
Good criticism is well thought out and detailed. Someone credible may fire off an email that says, “Sounds good!” But does that mean he or she really listened carefully? Don't be afraid to press a little – what did he or she like specifically? What did he or she think didn't work so well? What are its possibilities in the market? In other words, is it actually pitchable?
A good critique should include these points or something very similar to them. An example might be, “I love your hook, but your chorus melody doesn't really lift. I think if you tweaked it a little, it might have a lot of great possibilities.
Your second line in your verse doesn't make a lot of sense, so you may want to look at that as well.” Having someone pat you on the head and simply say, “Nice job” might be an ego boost, but it certainly won't help you grow.
Equipped with these pointers, you'll be able to separate good, thoughtful criticism from negative responses with no depth (“It sucks! I hate it!”). Likewise, you should be able to spot positive, well-meaning support (“I love everything you do!”) for what it is – a great ego boost (and we all need those from time to time), but not something to necessarily hang your hat on. Or your songwriting career for that matter.
Daniel Reifsnyder is a Nashville-based, Grammy-nominated songwriter, having started his musical journey at the age of three. In addition to being an accomplished commercial actor, his voice can be heard on The Magic School Bus theme song and in Home Alone 2. Throughout his career, he has had the honor of working with the likes of Michael Jackson and Little Richard among many others. He is a regular contributor to several music-related blogs, including his own.