Be Hard on the Song

When I was a workshop coordinator for the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) we used to organise "Publisher Critique Nights" in which a music publisher would come out and critique songs for our workshop participants. It was a rare and valuable opportunity for aspiring songwriters to hear about how their material would "measure up" against what the publishers were seeking.  Invariably, these were also the most heavily attended sessions by members of the general public -- writers whom we had never seen in the workshop sessions would crowd into that little school library, filling up the sign-in lists.  Most of them had the eager, expectant look of a songwriter who is mere minutes (or an hour or so) away from having their genius discovered. They were frequently disappointed.  However, the publishers were generally kind, and perceptive, and remarkably tolerant:  much of the music they were hearing ... needed work. But the publishers were gentle but honest, pointing out the major flaws, but always stopping short of brutality.  The more brutal the song, the less brutal the critique -- and where a writer showed signs of really promising material, the publishers were more detailed, more specific, and harder on the song itself. Because it was close, and they knew that the writer would probably pay attention to real constructive critique.  This brings me to one major lesson I took away from that process.

As a writer, I tend to go through several different phases about stuff that I write.  When I'm writing it, and if I've just "finished" a lyric or a song, I'm usually quite thrilled with it.  It's a beautiful baby.  But give it a little time in the drawer (or guitar case), and start looking at it with fresh eyes ... maybe not so much.  As I notice the flaws, I'm trying very hard to learn to distinguish between two different attitudes, one helpful (This song needs more work) and the other, immeasurably destructive (I'm a lousy songwriter).   In my better, more rational moments, I know that I am neither as good nor as flawed as those extremes would suggest.  

I am trying very hard to learn how to be hard on the song, but not the writer --  learning how to cut myself some slack, as a creator, and concentrate on improving the song.  Because attacking oneself, as a writer, does absolutely nothing to advance your craft, whether in general or the particular instance of it that may be staring back at you from the page.  If you want to be hard on something or someone, be hard on the song.  And if this one's not working out entirely as you might have hoped, carry on. Keep trying. Come back to it, if necessary.  Some songs can take years. Songwriting can be a long, slow curve to improve, but if you allow yourself to persist, you WILL improve. The more you focus on improving the songs, the more you will progress. 

Cut yourself some slack ... and go write your songs.  

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