Critique Suggestions

 
       
 
Jul 04, 2012, 05:49 AM

The moderators have put together some of the things that industry folks look for when listening to songs, and we thought it might be helpful to post a kind of critique checklist here to help you comment on each other’s songs.  Let us know what you think!

Lyrics:
Saying something different – you’ve heard this before but we can’t emphasize it enough.  You need an original hook/idea or new twist to an idea that gives the song impact.
Strong opening line that catches the listener from the very beginning.
Good imagery that takes the listener someplace so they actually “see” what you’re saying instead of just hearing it.
Sing-ability (not too many syllables with good use of vowels so another singer will want to sing it too.)

Melody:
Original sounding with a structure that’s well thought out, and not too long.
Contrast between different sections to keep it dynamic and engaging for the listener. 
Memorable (so that you walk away with it still in your head – in a good and different way.)

Demo Quality:
Adequate enough to give a good representation of the song that makes the listener want to hear it again (not out of tune or with distracting background noise or feedback).

[ Edited: 04 July 2012 05:57 AM by SW101 Moderator 2]
 
     
SW101 Moderator 2 Joined Jun 07, 2004
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Jul 04, 2012, 05:04 PM

That’s a good list. We often don’t know where to look or listen to enable us to offer constructive critical feedback, or even complimentary feedback.

Lyrics:
Saying something different – you’ve heard this before but we can’t emphasize it enough.  You need an original hook/idea or new twist to an idea that gives the song impact.

Some one said, “It’s all been done before. The trick is, to do it again.” Despite the writing of thousands of songs writers keep coming up with new ones. Despite thousands of ‘love’ or ‘love-gone-wrong’ songs, somebody will come up with a new one that we all recognize as a new twist on the matter. And that often happens in your next suggestion;

Strong opening line that catches the listener from the very beginning.

I had the epiphany that, as the writer, YOU are the first listener. YOU should be hooked by the elements of your song the same way you hope others will be. You get hooked by the first sounds you hear, percussion, notation; they have ‘hook factor’. That first line is usually the first element of ‘hook factor’ for the lyric. The story implied in that first line you ad lib or think of and try to sing, hooks you. You, yourself, want to know more about the implied story. What’s the singer-character (not necessarily you, but the imaginary guy/girl in the song) talking about? What’s happened, or is happening right now, to make them say…whatever it is they said. When it hooks me, I want to know the rest of the story. I may sing it again, getting a better feel for the execution, the dynamics of the prosody, how the line fits the guitar work, melodically and in tempo. It may take a while, minutes, hours, days, to conceive the story of the lyric. But it starts in that first line with that ‘hook factor’ that ‘hooked’ my interest in wanting to know more.

Good imagery that takes the listener someplace so they actually “see” what you’re saying instead of just hearing it.

We often write abstract concepts, instead of imagery. It’s about love, anger, happiness, depression, all concepts that may manifest themselves in myriad visible ways, but if we don’t mention the visible aspects of it, it leaves the listener to conceive them (or not) on their own. The less you leave to the listener to imagine the more likely they are to imagine it the way you want them to. If a lyric mentions a concrete thing, a table, a bottle, a car, the imagination can’t resist imagining that ‘reality’. That doesn’t mean you should just load up on things to imagine, but remember that the singer-character (or you, if it is autobiographical) is in a ‘place’ and ‘time’ and there were ‘concrete’ elements around that ‘set the scene’, like props on a stage, enabling the ‘actors’ to employ them to help ‘show’ the story.

Sing-ability (not too many syllables with good use of vowels so another singer will want to sing it too.

The number of words, counting all syllables, dictates that notes will be sung for each syllable. If it’s too wordy it may lose the nature of a melody and become more of a recitation. That may work. It may not. A lyric is a communication. The singer is ‘sending’. The listener must be able to ‘receive’. Too many words, obscure meanings the listener can’t get a meaning for, bland meanings, things that are so personal no one but the singer knows what they mean, can fail to communicate. Simplicity is a safer bet for getting from sender to receiver.

Some sounds don’t rhyme well. Vowel sounds usually do better than consonants. Even vowels can get tricky when the note is sustained, an ‘o’ sound changing to an ‘oo’ sound, for example. If you want people to sing your song, fans, other artists, you have to think about these things.

[ Edited: 07 July 2012 12:53 PM by Gary E. Andrews]

There will always be another song to be written. Someone will write it. Why not you? http://www.garyeandrews.com

 
     
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Gary E. Andrews Joined Apr 12, 2005
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Jul 04, 2012, 05:05 PM

Continued;

Melody:
Original sounding with a structure that’s well thought out, and not too long.

Melody is a hard one for many aspiring writers. I get the impression many just try to get from the opening word to the last word in a line without thinking much about the emphasis they might put on one word instead of another, just as they would when speaking. When I listen to people talk, I hear their voices rise and fall in pitch, and volume. I hear them emphasize words, sustaining some ‘notes’, clipping others short. There may be a rhythm of beat they employ to deliver the ideas they are talking about, emphasizing the important ones. A lyric should be ‘conversational’ in that aspect, finding the natural mode of speech to ‘say’ what the singer-character is saying.

Contrast between different sections to keep it dynamic and engaging for the listener.

Verses do ‘exposition’, ‘exposing’ the plot, the character of the singer-character and others in the story. They set the scene, set up the story. The Chorus demands a change of dynamics, to break the monotony of expositional Versification that might result if you go on too long. Generally, a Chorus will rise in emotional intensity, just as a speaker would when getting to the point of their tale. It may rise in pitch, changing the pitch dynamics. There should be no mistaking that this is just another Verse, the same melody or more exposition, setting up to make the point; by the contrast the listener knows this IS the point. The point, lyrically, should stand out as being summary of the story so far. Many elements in a song have hook factor, but the title, THE hook, should be the one that clearly delivers the ‘punch’ line of what the song is about.

Memorable (so that you walk away with it still in your head – in a good and different way.)

The opposite of ‘Memorable’ would be ‘Forgettable’. Often, a song ends and I realize I wasn’t listening. Maybe it was just me, tired or distracted, and so I quit paying attention at some point and only noticed when the song ended. Often, I have no idea what I just heard; it was ‘forgettable’. Nothing stayed with me. I didn’t get engaged in a storyline of lyric. The melody didn’t stick in my head. I don’t know what THE hook was. I wasn’t hooked. They were sending. I didn’t receive it. Again, maybe it was me just not interested in paying attention. But the end result is, I’m not ‘hooked’ and want to hear the song again. I’m not able to tell others about the song. My money stays in my pocket. Nursery rhymes employ simple rhythm and rhyme to make them ‘memorable’.

Demo Quality:
Adequate to give a good representation of the song that makes the listener want to hear it again (not out of tune or with distracting background noise or feedback).

This may be one of the most strategic of demands for entry into the marketplace. Most of us start out with the ‘artistry’ of ‘creation’. We sing because it feels good to sing, to emote, to imitate, to write lyric, to compose melody, to ‘do arrangement’ of accompanying instruments. But to take your art to market demands product packaged with equal qualities to that being sold in that market. My old cassette, home-recordings were adequate for copyright registration. They’re not adequate for radio-play, or pitching to publishers or artists. If there’s one lesson for the aspiring songwriter it is to learn the use of recording technologies. You can do a lot yourself, if you have the technology and the know-how. The more you can do for yourself the less you have to rely on others, who can be less than reliable, and time-consuming.

[ Edited: 07 July 2012 01:09 PM by Gary E. Andrews]

There will always be another song to be written. Someone will write it. Why not you? http://www.garyeandrews.com

 
     
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Gary E. Andrews Joined Apr 12, 2005
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Apr 30, 2014, 05:22 PM

Thanks for the outline Moderator 2. And thanks, Gary, for expounding upon the outline.

Being a lyricist I find I write most lyrics fairly quickly then spend the next month (and more) massaging, trimming, re-writing and finding more interesting ways to to convey messages. At the end of a year if I have 8 lyrics that I’m pleased with (would present to a collaborator or for recording), I’ve had a good year.

One of my (our) biggest challenges is “does this paint a clear picture for someone listening to the song”? I always know what I’m trying to say, and sometimes a line or verse that makes sense to me retrieves a blank stare from another listener or reader. I can usually recognize those parts after a few passes but it’s always helpful, at some point, to have someone else read or listen to the lyric. Then I ask “what did your hear, see, and think of during this or that part”? If the answer is not what you specifically intended to convey, go back to work on it.

Personally, sing-abilty directly correlates to, not only a good story, but does the lyric stand on it’s own when read? Is it more pleasing to read or hear Dr. Seuss or Stephen King? The answer for me is Dr. Seuss, because I fall into a rhythm with that style of writing. (Don’t get me wrong, Stephen King writes a great story, but it would be hard to sing.) This certainly isn’t the definitive word on how lyrics should be written, it’s just how I prefer to write. It also challenges me say things in a structured format ... which is fairly difficult with the English language. What can I say…I like rhyme.

I think a key to creating exceptional songs is having someone to bounce ideas off and collaborate with. Once I think I’m finished with a lyric I immediately wonder if there’s someone out there that could help make this song better (I know the answer is “yes”). I think, with a very few exceptions, songs are like paintings…is it ever “finished” or do we just stop working on it?

I love writing, the process, and especially at the end when someone just nods and says, “cool”.

SW101 can be a tremendous help to writers. Nobody wants to hear their baby is ugly…but if we can take all the feedback objectively, there are nuggets of good feedback everywhere. There are experts here that can really help. Use it, it’s free.

MB

[ Edited: 30 April 2014 07:38 PM by Mark Bernard]
 
     
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Mark Bernard Joined Mar 22, 2014
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Apr 30, 2014, 09:14 PM

Going out and playing everything I write makes it easy to test songs. If I finish playing a song and someone comes up afterwards and says, “Great guitar playing man!”, I know the song wasn’t that great. I’m a pretty good guitar player, but not so good that it should stand out beyond the song. While I am a fan of great music, I don’t care about making great music - only great songs - and there’s a HUGE difference. When you’ve been playing for 35 years, you’re very rarely going to make bad music, songs however - you can write bad songs 95 years into your career! I’m not gonna pick on anyone specific (like they’d care) but there have been many GREAT bands through the years who played GREAT music over CRAPPY songs. In fact that accounts for MANY, maybe even the MAJORITY of rock bands through the last 50 years or so. I skip past songs that aren’t good - even if the music’s great. Most people do - even if they’re just subconsciously “skipping it.” When you live for NOT being that artist who gets ignored due to boredom - you write better songs, or at the very least learn to recognize when you’re not.

When you go out to play and people REQUEST certain songs you wrote - now THAT’S the ultimate acknowledgment of your songs greatness potential. ...well…almost… the ULTIMATE is when other musicians in the room ask you if they can PLAY your song at THEIR shows! ...so for me, playing the song out is the most important part of the entire writing process.

Training yourself to be a good 3rd party listener to your own music is another really important thing that gets overlooked. It takes practice, but once you get good at it, it enables you to approach outside opinions with the confidence that the material will be received well (and will help you throw away a lot of songs before they get out there…). The only way to get good at it is to harass people constantly over what they like/don’t like (in general, not concerning your own music). And not just in music, but in life. I know hundreds of people that I deal with every day. Every single place I go: Grocery store, coffee shops, diners, convenient stores… I know every single employee of every single place I go by name - it’s hundreds of people, and it’s a lot to keep track of, but it helps me in every aspect of my life - ESPECIALLY my writing. Once you know someone’s name, they talk to you. The more people you have talking to you, the more stories you have to base songs on. The more you know what kinds of things turn people on or off. Plus, in the service industry people are so used to being treated as nameless/faceless nobody’s that you can make a person’s whole day by simply asking their name and listening to something they might have to say. SEE? Now you’re gaining material and improving lives!!!

 
     
Songster Joined Apr 26, 2014
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Jan 03, 2015, 05:42 AM
Sam Jimenez - 30 April 2014 09:14 PM

Going out and playing everything I write makes it easy to test songs. If I finish playing a song and someone comes up afterwards and says, “Great guitar playing man!”, I know the song wasn’t that great. I’m a pretty good guitar player, but not so good that it should stand out beyond the song. While I am a fan of great music, I don’t care about making great music - only great songs - and there’s a HUGE difference. When you’ve been playing for 35 years, you’re very rarely going to make bad music, songs however - you can write bad songs 95 years into your career! I’m not gonna pick on anyone specific (like they’d care) but there have been many GREAT bands through the years who played GREAT music over CRAPPY songs. In fact that accounts for MANY, maybe even the MAJORITY of rock bands through the last 50 years or so. I skip past songs that aren’t good - even if the music’s great. Most people do - even if they’re just subconsciously “skipping it.” When you live for NOT being that artist who gets ignored due to boredom - you write better songs, or at the very least learn to recognize when you’re not.

When you go out to play and people REQUEST certain songs you wrote - now THAT’S the ultimate acknowledgment of your songs greatness potential. ...well…almost… the ULTIMATE is when other musicians in the room ask you if they can PLAY your song at THEIR shows! ...so for me, playing the song out is the most important part of the entire writing process.

Training yourself to be a good 3rd party listener to your own music is another really important thing that gets overlooked. It takes practice, but once you get good at it, it enables you to approach outside opinions with the confidence that the material will be received well (and will help you throw away a lot of songs before they get out there…). The only way to get good at it is to harass people constantly over what they like/don’t like (in general, not concerning your own music). And not just in music, but in life. I know hundreds of people that I deal with every day. Every single place I go: Grocery store, coffee shops, diners, convenient stores… I know every single employee of every single place I go by name - it’s hundreds of people, and it’s a lot to keep track of, but it helps me in every aspect of my life - ESPECIALLY my writing. Once you know someone’s name, they talk to you. The more people you have talking to you, the more stories you have to base songs on. The more you know what kinds of things turn people on or off. Plus, in the service industry people are so used to being treated as nameless/faceless nobody’s that you can make a person’s whole day by simply asking their name and listening to something they might have to say. SEE? Now you’re gaining material and improving lives!!!

 
     
sanitair Joined Jan 03, 2015
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Jun 11, 2017, 07:51 PM

I started out writing nothing but instrumental music (mostly jazz, but other forms as well).  Melodies seem to come to me, and I’m grateful.

My first lyric was Not a Bad November, written in 2003—-that’s really not that long being a lyricist (posted elsewhere on this site). Did I tear my hair out over that one! And, like your first child, it’s still my favorite.

But I learned in my first collaboration (with the late Jimmy Norman, a very talented R&B-soul singer-songwriter who wrote lyrics for Time is On My Side and songs with Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix) about ‘universality’. Jimmy had a real gift for the earthy, gritty lyric, where I was trying to be (I THOUGHT) sophisticated and clever—-coming from ASB writers, especially Porter. My songs had ‘inside jokes’, like having the word ‘up’ fall on an upbeat. Jimmy straightened me out: ‘Who’s gonna get that but you? You want EVERYONE to be in on the joke or relate to the theme’. And when he sang the song we co-wrote (You’re My Foundation) he sang ‘You lift me UP’...with ‘up’ right on the 1st beat of the next measure. We had the hook in the chorus, but he really taught me to lose the ‘cleverness’.

You don’t write or play ‘down’ to people, but TO them—-by including their lives when writing about yours. That’s how to connect with listeners—-without changing a note or a word or ‘dumbing down’. We have to believe that if we do our job right people would get it and it would resonate with all types of people.

It was good enough for Irving Berlin…

[ Edited: 11 June 2017 07:53 PM by joel fass]

‘Charlie Christian got me in a world of trouble’—-me

 
     
joel fass Joined Jun 03, 2017
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