A friend of mine recently expressed frustration that she doesn’t get useful feedback on her songs. The kind of feedback she gets is too general, and she sometimes suspects it’s candy coated. Phrases like “I really like it!” and questions such as “When did you write that?” or “Did you write that about yourself?” don’t help her to assess whether these songs are hitting their mark in a commercial and still substantial place. Despite the exuberance of some feedback, she finds that when she presents them to industry gatekeepers, their response is lukewarm.
So how do we know if we’re progressing to writing better songs? How do we know if we’re both moving our audience to care about our music as well as finding commercial viability? The frustrating reality is, we don’t know until we get useful feedback from playing our songs out.
The truth is, people don’t know how to verbalize their responses to our songs. We’ve got to ask for what we need, sometimes with agonizing specificity. Try the tips below and see if you can get your listener talking with useful information:
- Play the song through once, then take the listener through the song a second time one section at a time, stopping after a verse or a verse and chorus for feedback. They’ll start talking, where before they didn’t have much to say.
- If you’re presenting the song as a recording, make sure audio quality is high. Provide a lyric sheet if you can so your listener can follow along.
- Ask “What feeling do you get from the words and music?” “What do you think the singer (or main character) is feeling?” (These are the same.) “Do you like the main character?”
- Ask “When the singing started, did it sound natural with the music, or did anything throw you off?” “Did you struggle to hear any of the words or make sense of them?” “Could you tell where the chorus started?” “Can you remember any part of it?”
- “Do you like the mood of the music behind the singing?” “Did it seem to convey the same emotion as the words that were being sung?”
- “What was your favorite part of the melody?” “Can you sing any part of it still?”
Remember that as songwriters, we have a language for talking about songs and music. Our listeners don’t have that language, so it’s our job to help give it to them.