Songwriting Part 11 - Getting/Giving a Song Critique

by SaskMusic

July 30, 2009 in Songwriting & Copyright

Everyone’s a critic! To me, the difference between a bad critic and a good critiquer is whether or not they can offer constructive criticism and helpful suggestions. Being a good critiquer means not only recognizing that something is wrong, but being able to pinpoint what would make it right. A good teacher will recognize a problem, and then suggest ways to remedy the problem. They will not, for example, say "You’re playing that wrong," and leave the child to figure it out.

As a songwriter, you have likely found yourself in the situation of getting a song critique. You want to get the most out of the experience. If you are the one getting a critique, you can steer the comments in a way that gets you something more specific than "it doesn’t make sense." You can also use the points below to locate rough spots in your songs on your own.

Beware – sometimes the writer requesting a critique is actually quite happy with their song, and simply wants someone to shore up their opinion of it being "the best song ever written". Are you one of these people? And sometimes people realize there’s a problem but just can’t bear to mess with their baby. That’s okay, just don’t be surprised when the critiquer DOES find a problem with the song. A good critiquer will want your song to be the best it can be – not just "close enough".

The Checklist for Critics...

"It doesn’t make sense." Why not?

  • Is a crucial detail missing – time of day, the setting, who the main characters in the song are?
  • What question has been left unanswered?
  • Are there too many different plots going on at once?
  • Is the plot/moral of the song illogical or arranged out of sequence? (He leaves a girl, and then meets her. She shoots her husband because she’s cheated on him.)
  • Does the point-of-view shift aimlessly, leaving you confused as to who’s talking or who the action is affecting?


"It’s boring."

  • Is it the subject matter of the song? Is it a common plot (boy meets girl, boy loses girl) without a new spin?
  • Is there a build to the melody, or is the melody too repetitious?
  • Are certain words used repeatedly?
  • Are there too many "lazy" words and not enough substance? Does "oh baby" pop up a lot?
  • Are the rhymes too predictable?


Other small details...

  • Should it be sung from a male viewpoint instead of a female’s, or vice versa?
  • Do the melody and lyric work together? Would the lyrics be better suited to a rap song than a country ballad?
  • Lack of focus: Is there too much information that does not further the plot, and/or is the song just too long?
  • Does it seem finished? Is there an "end" to the story?
  • Is the singer (or protagonist) sympathetic, likeable, or easy to identify with?


And that melody...

  • Is there a sense of movement right to the end of the song?
  • Is there enough chord variety?
  • Does the melody catch your ear? Can you remember most of the melody after the song has been heard once?
  • When the chorus hits, do you feel a sense of "satisfaction"?
  • Does the chorus need to be repeated again?
  • Is the bridge introducing something new, or just rehashing the topic?
  • Does it need a "hook" (or a stronger hook)?


The listener (critiquer) should be able to answer the following questions after one listen:

  1. What’s the title of the song?
  2. What’s the song about? (one sentence summary)
  3. Who are the main characters?



The title is not always sung in the song, but if it’s in there and no one heard it, problem!

Sometimes songs become popular even though no one seems to know what they’re about (Louie Louie)!

Sometimes there are no characters, just a singer’s views.

The most valuable tool of the critic is a fresh ear.

The writer may think they’ve explained the setup sufficiently, but when you hear the song, for example, you have no idea who the writer is referring to in the chorus. Or that clever metaphor they’ve created is so clever that no one will get it.

Don’t force your suggestions on the writer. No one likes being told what to do, and in the end it’s still their song.

A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down. It’s much easier to say "your chorus needs a stronger hook" if you add "but I love how the verse leads into it". Learn how to find something good in every song and encourage the writer to build on that.

Take into account the writer’s personal style, and the genre. The language of rap will not be the same as country, so don’t expect it to be. If you don’t agree with the message a song is portraying, make sure you at least understand the writer’s viewpoint.

And what if they take your advice? Sometimes a critiquer turns into a co-writer. Be realistic about your contributions; changing one word may not be worth co-credit, but writing a whole new bridge probably is!

Finally, thank your critiquer, even if you didn’t hear what you wanted to. If you instigate changes they suggested, let them know. It’s not an easy job!




By Lorena Kelly for SaskMusic. Originally published October 2000.



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