How Songwriters Should React To Negative Song Critiques

Man vs Row

 Okay, so you finally got the chance to either sit down with (or email) an industry pro to have them listen to your song… and they didn’t like it.  Maybe they were “meh.”  Maybe they ripped it apart.  Your song- your sweet little innocent baby- and they tore into it like a redneck tearing into peel-and-eat shrimp at a Chinese buffet.

What do you do now?

Well, first let me tell you- we’ve all been there.  Every songwriting pro started out as a newbie with bad songs.  And, at some point, somebody in the industry heard them and didn’t like them.  I remember mailing in (yep- snail mail) my best song to NSAI’s song evaluation service years ago, waiting weeks to get it back… only to wonder how in the world the evaluator seemed to be completely oblivious to my songwriting genius.  I mean, I was certain back then that I was a virtual songwriting panther, but the evaluator just seemed fixated on his opinion that my song would NEVER get cut.  Seems MY title “By The Time I Get To Phoenix,” had already been a huge hit for Glen Campbell.

Oops.

Other than yelling “But I’m a songwriting panther!” into the empty Arkansas sky (which I may or may not have done), here are some helpful ways to react to a negative song evaluation.

1. Don’t freak out.

Chances are, you’re feeling a little kicked around. Don’t worry- we’ve all been kicked around. This is an opportunity to build your “getting-back-on-the-horse” muscles. Believe me, you’ll need them over the years to come. It’s important not to swing too far in either direction- “I’ve arrived” or “I’ll never get there.” Just because your coach didn’t do backflips doesn’t mean it’s time to feed your guitar to a woodchipper. Just take a deep breath.

2. Don’t go off.

You might feel personally attacked.  You might think that idiot has bricks for ears- and should be informed of that fact immediately.  Well… don’t.  Just don’t.  There is NOTHING to be gained from storming out of that office or sending that nasty email.  You can’t argue someone into liking your song.  All you’ll do is take that person from not liking your song to not liking YOU.  Writing a bad song is forgivable.  We all do it.  But being a bad person- that poisons the well.  Play the long game.  Be nice even when you don’t feel like it.

3. Thoughtfully consider their feedback.

Put away the voice of pride which says, “they don’t know what they’re talking about- just ignore ‘em.” Also put away the voice of fear and laziness that doesn’t want to admit you may have a lot of work ahead of you. Honestly, did the coach make some valid points? Maybe you brought in a rodeo song and your coach told you rodeo songs aren’t in demand right now. Well, get on iTunes or Billboard and do the research. It’s not about seeing the world as you want it to be. See the world as it is.

SWP 2

4. Seek out additional educated feedback.

Nobody’s opinion is gospel. Nobody has perfect understanding. If you disagreed with everything your coach said, get another opinion. If you agreed with everything your coach said, get additional opinions. If you hear the same point made by two or more pros, really give it a lot of consideration. But there’s another reason to seek additional opinions- it will help you grow your network and increase the chance that you find your champion.

5. Don’t quit.

Write more songs!  After all, didn’t you start writing songs because YOU love it?  Don’t let one or two people’s opinion of your song change your love for songwriting.  Don’t let one meeting determine the validity of your dreams. That is a decision for you, your family, and the Good Lord. Well, it’s actually HIS decision alone, but it sure is a lot easier on everyone if you and your family get on the same page with Him.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.  Have you done something you regret right after a song evaluation?  Or did you do something to make the most of a bad evaluation?  Do you have some advice you’d like to add to this list?  Please leave a comment!

If you want to become a songwriting pro (in how you write songs or in how you do business), then a great place to start is RIGHT HERE.  I want to help you on your songwriting journey.  I’ve been in the music business for years, and I’m here to help you get the cuts – and avoid the bruises.  CLICK HERE TO START HERE.

God Bless and Enjoy the Journey,

Brent

Brent Baxter is a hit songwriter with cuts by Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Lady Antebellum, Joe Nichols, Gord Bamford, Ruthie Collins, Ray Stevens, and more. He’s written a top 5 hit in the US and a #1 in Canada… so far.

Man vs Row

19 thoughts on “How Songwriters Should React To Negative Song Critiques”

  1. Man… I thought I was the only one who has people that listen to my songs and have no clue how insanely great I am!! 😜😛😁

    Seriously though, if you haven’t gotten torn to shreds at some point, you aren’t dealing with people who really are the decision makers in the music biz. Some industry pros can tell you that your song SUCKS, and they are so proficient at it that you will find yourself trashing the song right along with them. Others will rip your song apart, and rip out your heart for good measure.
    At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter how they go about it, it’s what they say that makes it either a valuable (albeit painful) experience, or a non-event.

    Here’s what I mean:
    If they tear it to shreds, but give you concrete reasons why your song is atrocious, and suggestions as to how you might go about writing songs that might someday compete, then the manner of delivery is beside the point. Pay attention to those reasons, and forget the fact that they seem to be enjoying it.

    However, if they just offer vague generalities as to the high suckage factor of your song, such as:
    1. “Don’t quit your day job, and try not to suck at it as much as you suck at writing songs.”
    2. “I have 29 people downstairs in my dungeon writing this kinda garbage. Why the hell do I need you?”

    Then chalk it up to universal human behavior, exhibited by people who:
    1. Hate their jobs, cause they signed those 29 dungeon dwelling, garbage song writing, reflections of THEIR ineptitude.
    2. They strongly dislike the state of their existence in general. Married the wrong person for the wrong reasons, had kids that are a handful, and nothing at all like the kids all of the childless, child rearing experts seem to have dealt with.
    3. They are just hungover. Their significant other is a b!t¢h on wheels BECAUSE they’re hungover. Again.

    Chalk their criticisms up to their joyless existence, and call it a wash. You learned which kind of critiques are not helpful, and what bad life decisions can lead to.

    As to the former group, who may in some cases be seriously in need of some “social skills for Dummies” private reading time, listen to the reasons offered as to why your song just ain’t flipping their lid. It’s not fun, it still feels personal, and you can still make voodoo dolls in their likeness later, but you’ve been given some great intel that you can use later when someone who is tactful, yet brutally honest in their assessment of your song gives you the same feedback.

    Rule of thumb… If one person tells me I have no chance of writing a hit song, they’re stupid. If 10 people who successfully and consistently have songs on the charts tell me I have no chance of writing a hit song, I might be stupid for continuing. (At least until I figure out how to capture the hearts of the people listening to my songs in an obviously moving way)

    Long winded reply, and I apologize for the thesis. I just hate it when my songwriting brothers and sisters are so weary from the batterings at every turn, that they wonder if it’s worth it to continue expressing themselves so honestly, and being pummeled mercilessly for doing so.

    At least if you can distinguish between the criticisms that are worth considering, and the ones that are possibly more about the critic than the “critique-eee” you have a point of reference.

    From there, go with your gut.

    Most importantly, if you NEED to write songs, and your passion for creating a tune that didn’t exist until you gave it life is genuine, and insatiable, then NEVER EVER let anyone rob you of that outlet!!! Whether you ever have worldy success or not, if it brings you joy and you are fulfilled by the process, then you have already won.

    Write my friends!!! Write to live!!!😋😉😎

    Todd

  2. I remember my first song evaluation. It wasn’t pretty and I was seriously pissed.

    A few days later I started thinking about what he said and realized there was probably some truth in it.

    Years later I know that song I thought was so great really sucked.

    I went through a year of song evaluations that were all negative until I finally got one that was vaguely positive.

    It’s not easy to listen to the negative feedback but the sooner you get used to it and use it as way to grow the sooner you’ll be writing better songs.

    If you’re starting out most people giving song evaluations are actually being as positive as they can when they tear your song to shreds.

    It gets tougher as you move up the chain and the feedback gets more brutal.

    I remember one pro who listened to one of my songs saying “the lyrics on that one didn’t make me want to throw up”.

    I realized several days later he was giving me a compliment.

  3. Great article Brent! And yep! Been there done that. Had a song shredded by pro songwriter but kept at it and have had one with NSAI go recommended for publisher luncheon and have also had one taken by a publisher. And for my writing, I think the pros reviewing them have been spot on with their analysis. So, I did what you suggested here and kept honing my craft. And I think I’ve gotten way better as a result. So thanks again for this encouraging article!! 🙂 now just to get a cut … Keep writing, keep writing … Lol 😂

  4. Thank you for this – I agree with you. I submitted a song for licensing and they hated it and gave it an awful review. Then, I submitted it to a competition where they not only praised it, but it won best song. Old Spanish saying (translated) “colors were made for different tastes” – such it is with music. Never give up!

  5. thank you Brent. Been there and done that, many times. Today isn’t that day though, less than a half hour ago I just did the final scan for a two song publishing contract and both songs have been accepted by a major Blues Artist for their next project. Three songs were submitted and i feel very fortunate that the artist explained to me in a 3 minute phone conversation why the third song was not chosen. Not because it was “less deserving” of being cut but it did not fit exactly the artist’s audience, and that means the world to this artist.
    thank you Brent for all you share with us…we really listen !!!

  6. I think most songwriters have found their songs (egos) trashed by harsh critiques. However, I find that critiques are subjective. Submitting a song to NSAI, for example, will result in criticism stemming from a hit-making formula they’ve devised (from what I’ve been told, at least) and doesn’t necessarily mean the song is bad, but it won’t be a hit on modern radio. If your goal isn’t to write a hit, but just to put down in words and song what you have pent up inside you (or whatever subject matter one decides to write about), then there are other factors to consider. I’ve gotten reviews that I’ve wholeheartedly disagreed with and still do, but they weren’t modeled after a hit-making formula – they were just comprehensive thoughts put together to tell a story. I’ve also gotten reviews I’ve completely agreed with. Songwriting is a process in which we might get things wrong from time to time, but the point is to continue learning from our mistakes and not be complacent with our sometimes stubborn minds, egos, and pride. I write songs for the sake of writing and for personal satisfaction. I’d be lying if I wouldn’t want a country star to one day cut one of my songs, but that’s not necessarily my goal. I take all critiques seriously and revisit my songs with a fresh and objective mind, ready to revise and edit whatever my songwriting partner and I think (and agree) needs changing. Not everything’s gonna be great, but we eagerly move on, ready to learn new things, studying old and new songs, constructing creative lines that stand out, and trying to come up with melodies, hooks, chord progressions that we love and hope those that hear them love as well. Most important things I’ve learned in my few years of songwriting is not to be closed-minded and to be willing to learn from your mistakes.

    1. Carlos,
      One thing I always try to get clear on if I’m listening to a song during a coaching session is “what’s the goal of this song?” A song written to be a hit country song requires a different set of ears than a song written to capture a favorite family memory for your daughter. Not knowing the goal of a song can lead to a lot of wasted time and bad advice by a listener/evaluator – and frustration on the part of the songwriter.

  7. As we all know…song writing is so very subjective. One of my songs was slowly & methodically annihilated & left for dead…by some big Nashville outfit…but like a phoenix that arose out of the ashes…was soon to be picked up by a grammy nominated producer to be submitted for television. To quote Marie, “Colors were made for different tastes. ” Amen to that!

  8. if you should be so lucky to have pro musician check your song….songs …thank your lucky stars and keep trying until they like one ! … what’s good for the goose is not always good for the gander !

    Jean

  9. Thanks Brent! I had a song critiqued where I thought the guy totally missed the mark. It was a love song! How could he/she suggest that it would only be good for an environmentally themed fundraiser? Sure enough, two years later, I got the opportunity to pitch it for an environmental project, and it might get cut this summer. So you never know…

  10. Brett, This is really good advice. All of us know how hard it is to take criticism but one great point you made that I try to hold onto is, God is in control. That doesn’t mean I don’t have to do the hard work to make my songs better and a big part of that is learning how to take feedback and make my songs stronger. A comment I heard a few weeks ago that helped me was, ” keep remembering it’s not about the song you just wrote or the one that is getting ripped apart, it’s about your body of work.” I loved this statement and I took it to heart. My body of work is who I am and if God gave me the talent, he will complete it in a way that will reflect his purpose. I may never have a hit song, but I will do the work and continue to be true to my gift. Thank you Brett for the work you put in to helping songwriters. I am thankful.

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