Other People’s Opinions On Your Songs – Is It Good Or Bad For Your Songwriting?

opinions on your songs-songtown

 

One of the hardest things to come to grips with as a songwriter is other peoples opinions on your songs. Here is a story that can help you navigate those waters.

I wrote with a writer last week who is actively looking for a publishing deal. He is a super talented writer and was expressing frustration over how two publishers suggested changes on a song he wrote and both gave exact opposite opinions on what his song needed. One said his chorus music didn’t go anywhere and needed work. The next publisher he played his song for loved the music but thought his title was not strong enough. “I like the song the way it is,” he said to me in total frustration.

Since I mostly co-write songs I’m a little more used to navigating the opinion waters. So I offered my friend my take on how to handle opinions on your songs.

If my co-writers publishers, a producer, or label person are all giving me feedback that my song is lacking somewhere then I’ve probably missed the mark on my song and they are trying to come up with a reason.

The specifics of what they personally don’t like about my song is not the bottom line. The bottom line is my song is not getting them excited and hitting the replay button. These folks really want to like my song. Their jobs depend on them finding great songs and they don’t care where it comes from.

Now when I have done my job right it usually goes something like this- My publisher is asking when he can get a copy of the demo.

My co-writers publisher can’t wait for the demo and is so pumped up about the song he is running over to a producer to play the simple work tape we did that morning when we wrote the song. The producer then wants to hold the song until he can play it next week for the artist. The bottom line– The song is motivating people that hear it in a good way.

Even though I have a track record of getting songs onto records, I can tell you the second scenario here happens way less than the first.

So opinions on your songs are often an important measuring stick. But I try to stay focused on the bottom line. If a publisher I trust suggest I make a change, I often try it and see if I like it better. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. But it’s always my call.

Reba once called and asked me to write an additional 3rd verse to a song of mine called “Sky Full of Angels”.

After hearing her reasons, I wrote a 3rd verse with my co-writer and she recorded the song. I could have disagreed but she was right with her observation. So the bottom line is I listen to feedback but I remember the bottom line and it’s always a matter of what I feel is right after considering someone else’s opinion.

Write On! CM

Clay

clay-mills-songtown-songwriter

Clay Mills is co-founder of SongTown and a 16-time ASCAP hit songwriter. He has 2 Grammy nominations and is the co-author of  The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Co-writing. 

20 thoughts on “Other People’s Opinions On Your Songs – Is It Good Or Bad For Your Songwriting?

  1. That’s one of the coolest things about songwriting! Sometimes. you know something could be better, but don’t know what to do about it. If you get a suggestion or even a critique about that line, your gut instinct is confirmed, and sometimes the “fix” just pops into place. And sometimes you know you have to defend your idea. — It might seem stubborn, but sometimes you have to play it again before it “pops” for the person who’s listening. I just finished a song about a struggling jazz band that has them Practicing – in the 1st verse – and Playing Poker in the 3rd. My boyfriend thought the last verse was arbitrary (after all, they’re musicians, aren’t they?), but that’s how you know that they might not be getting many gigs, but they still love the music and each other. Gary E. Andrews: I’m in Facebook.

  2. Your Reba story reaffirms my belief about critiques. I take mosr seriously a critique from someone who could get the song pitched or cut if they liked it better.

    1. I feel you have to trust your gut. My publisher and one of my co-writer’s publishers didn’t much care for a little song I wrote called Beautiful Mess and wanted a rewrite. I didn’t agree and kept it like we originally wrote it. It is one of the most played songs in the history of country music now. I thought Reba was right and changed it. I’ve also had great co-writers give good feedback. Good ideas come from anywhere. Our job is to recognize them.

  3. Great blog Clay! Very helpful to me since I have just started sharing my songwriting critique group. It’s discerning people’s personal preferences vs what could improve the song,the delivery etc. A different pair of eyes and ears is always good. This process of putting one’s song out there can be daunting. Ultimately getting the best out of the song’s lyrics and music is the goal..,being able to overcome the fact that it’s not ‘personal’ but that critical thinking is actually helping you.

  4. Hey Clay great points! Thanks. That publisher who said the title was not strong enough of your friend’s idea, I don’t always understand that reasoning he gave cause I ALWAYS noticed how most hit titles are average, common titles or everyday sayings and extremely few have awesome, unique titles like “Everywhere But On” and there is one other unique title now on the top 40 charts but can’t think of it now. Plus “Beer On A Champagne Night” of course.

  5. While I can play basic guitar/keyboard I don’t seem to really get the sound for my lyrics and am not connected with anyone who really writes music. Non- musicians have liked my lyrics but it’s really hard to tell without the music what they COULD be. Being new into sharing those lyrics I havent quite built up the tough skin to not take criticism to heart BUT I would be willing to hear other people’s take on movement of the lyrics (flow) to make it an actual song!

  6. I honestly wish I had someone to write with. I don’t, so all I get is what comes out of my head. I know all my songs need work but ive already given it what I have to offer. Oh ive rewritten some songs so many times ive ruined them and then cant get back to where I even liked it….grrr…
    I do work with a great recording studio and when setting up going into the studio for a new CD I knew there were a couple things I wasn’t 100% into as far as a few lines on a couple songs. so I asked him for help and he was the perfect choice…but he has toured the world with 2 huge bands every one of you know and he’s not going to become a co writer with me, also totally different types of music we write.

  7. Personally, I like feedback. I get too close to things sometimes, and it lets me know where I stand in the real world. I have found that, if you play it for six people and they all say the same thing, well then m, you’ve got a problem. It’s not them, it’s the song needs work. By and large, this is not a business for shrinking violet to doubt on their own art. You tend to get the audience you deserve. My biggest problem is usually that I don’t know when to stop rewriting. LOL.

  8. I find that critiques have helped me become a better writer. I have used comments from fellow ST members to improve and it had been showing. Also helps me to write more concisely with new work. I also find that when I look at other’s work and offer advice, it improves they say I look at my own work. Physician heal thyself!!. Just an added benefit from trying to help others.

  9. I think I would have a “chip” or a “rough edge” if someone wanted to change something or had a problem with my song. I guess I’m too sensitive because it came from my heart and soul but can absolutely see the reasoning behind it. It wouldn’t be a rejection of me and not to take too personal but it’s all in getting the experience and learn from it.

    1. Vern, I write from the heart also. Everyone should! But we can’t operate in a vacum. In just about any pursuit, a coach or a metor is important along the journey.

      Cheers, Clay

  10. This is a good reminder, Clay. If making a small change increases my shot of a publisher pitching my song, I’m always open to listening to them and I usually don’t mind, even if I think my way is better. I still have my original to pitch to others.

  11. Years ago, I had a friend who was an old-time Country artist (now, sadly deceased). He was trying to get a Gospel album started so I would pitch him my Gospel songs. He had a radar-like ability to find any “disconnect” in the song. He wouldn’t say “You were talking about one thing and now it seems like you’re talking about something completely unrelated,” but I knew what he meant. Or sometimes it would just be “How did THAT bit get in there?” The frustrating part is that he was always right, once I took a close look. He wasn’t a songwriter, but he’d been around long enough to know what worked and what didn’t – a very valuable skill.

  12. Good rule of thumb for me-even after putting a song into the “completed” file, I still look at it as an unfinished product. It may be complete for me, but may be a starting place for others. And the “problems” that jump out at others are not usually very drastic, just things I did not pick up on or consider.
    I love co-writing with my son, because he gives me three different perspectives that I do not possess on my own: the male perspective for a male song; the younger person’s perspective to help pick out outdated language; and the performer’s perspective, which is critical for word choice (ie, the “shape” of the word on one’s tongue), number of words in a line, etc.

  13. Makes sense. The Songwriter has already made numerous judgment calls as to what the Song does and when it does it. Now it enters the marketplace where ‘consumers’, artists, producers, managers, mommas, all make judgment calls of their own; only theirs are about whether to ‘buy’ the product.

    Sometimes they’re right. Sometimes they’re wrong. Most of the time there’s no way to test-market the various versions to see if the mass market prefers one over the other.

    So the best advice, it seems, is to make your own judgment calls with deliberation. Examine your product yourself with that critical eye as to what your Song does right, and whether it does anything wrong, or if anything could be done better.

    Is that Introductory Movement too long? Does that first Verse do the Exposition of the storyline well? Is it time to get to the Chorus? Does that second Verse carry the storyline forward and lead to the Chorus logically again? Do you have a third Verse that finishes the story, leads back to the Chorus, and is the Coda (final musical passage) a good way to end it? If you don’t have that third Verse can it work with a Bridge, a final giving of the Chorus, the Coda, and out? An Instrumental Bridge? Or a Lyrical Bridge? How long does it take to execute? Too long? Long enough? ‘Enough’ is the key judgment call throughout the Song. Does each component in the structure serve its function, and get the job done, because it is ‘enough’.

    If you do that kind of analysis before you take the product to market there’s a chance ‘consumers’ are going to like it. There’s also a chance they’ll see and hear things you didn’t. Their opinion may be valid, or not. Again, you have to make a judgment call as to whether you’ll give them what they want to make a ‘sale’ or stand your ground based on your own judgment.

  14. Ha, I read this because I thought I was going to disagree…. not so though… it was great take on feedback.. I loved it! Thanks for taking the time to put this stuff down in words it’s super useful for perspective!

  15. Helpful, Clay. Yes, the bottom line is: is someone excited about it and wants to do something with it or hear it again.

    I used to send drafts of my books to a number of people to edit and give suggestions. I would always make the changes in places where all of them said it needed changes and carefully consider others when just one person had an issue with some part.

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