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Songwriters...how do you get/take feedback?

Discussion in 'Bad Dog Cafe' started by Flat6Driver, Sep 8, 2017.

  1. Flat6Driver

    Flat6Driver Friend of Leo's

    Age:
    44
    Jan 14, 2013
    DC Burbs
    Something I have been pondering and I figured I would kick off the Friday discussion. I don't write, because I think everything I would write would be crap. Well, I have written a couple of songs, but they were sort of silly. I had one I spent some time really working on a theme as a piece of historical fiction, but I haven't done anything with it.

    I saw I singer a couple of weeks ago at an open Mic. He borrowed a guitar and played these amazingly crafted song that had almost two guitar parts and strong strong vocals. They were technically good but seemingly "insincere" if that makes any sense. I loved the spirit, but not the songs.

    I listen to Outlaw Country on the weekends and they often have long form interviews with folks about their music and they talk of working with a collaborator. I'm sure that often makes a song better, but how do you really open yourself up working on an artistic endeavor with another person?

    I write all manner of stuff for work and take the edits without drama, because it's not a labor of love or a creative pursuit, but if you write, how do you do it? how do you get feedback from friends, family, and peers? I have been on the open mic circuit and heard some good and some boring/awful stuff. Surely the better stuff has had some feedback and polish along the way.

    What say you?
     
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  2. chulaivet1966

    chulaivet1966 Tele-Holic

    730
    Nov 17, 2011
    California
    Well....

    I've been writing songs since the early 70's when I was playing in live bands.
    I haven't promoted myself in over a decade but do have some songs on soundclick.

    My desire to write has nothing to do with expecting any patronizing outside encouragement.
    If one puts their music out on the internet one best have the skin of snow tire and not expect anyone to tell us how great our songs are just because we've spent an agonizing amount of time writing/recording our material.
    There is no guarantee that anyone will like our efforts....we have to accept that likelihood/possibility and just continue on.
    Song writing is a very personal experience and it's easy to think we're turning out a plethora of masterpieces.
    Good song writing is not easy....it's requires ongoing effort and a nurturing over time.

    I'm happy if I can keep a respectable distance from the you totally suck meter.
    If someone actually does stop by and give a listen or comment I'm very grateful and will thank them sincerely.

    How do I write?
    I'll come up with a subject that I like and flesh it out lyrically.....I'm very critical of lyrics/phrasing so it takes me some time to please my own sense of song writing merit.
    I make great effort to avoid vapid overdone subject matter and stay away from using dull cliches and meaningless phrases just to fill up song space verse/chorus. (hence, I don't write love songs or about sappy relationship failures. :))

    Song writing is just creative therapy for me as I've done it for a long time.
    I have done a few collaborations in the past but I prefer to write/finish up the lyrics myself once I've started it.

    I know my place in the music scene and accept the fact that my material will never have any mass appeal.
    I always endeavor to tell a coherent story in my lyrics.
    Whether I succeed at that or not is not determined by...the listeners will determine that and I must accept any comments favorable or otherwise..
    I don't write formula, cookie cutter music for teenagers or to please the commercial masses....I write about life based on my own experiences and perspectives.
    My material is far too boring for the commercial music world so I've never had a fan base.....I'm a failure! :)

    I would suggest to all.....write for yourself, strive to improve, collaborate more if you like and if something good comes of it that's just frosting on the cake.

    Anyway.....hope my comments didn't stray from your topic.
    A good weekend to all.
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2017

  3. teletimetx

    teletimetx Poster Extraordinaire Gold Supporter

    Jul 25, 2011
    Houston, TX
    There's some really fine songwriters here on TDPRI, and you may have come across a few over on the Twanger Central subforum. I've had the opportunity to share a few thoughts with some folks via pm and so forth. Probably not gonna tell you anything you don't already know but here's a few thoughts from my experience:

    From the moment I picked up a guitar, I was composing stuff. Early on, it was primitive, and not necessarily in a good way. IMHO, etc. this was around 1966. I continued piecing together pieces of music, but never felt like my lyrics were worth the time I spent trying to cobble them together. But at 14, 15, 16 years old, not many souls have that ability.

    Like a lot of things, persistence can help. sometime around 2000, after a living through the daily grind, kids, etc., surviving, and reading, reading, reading, one day I just came across a thought and it turned into fully formed lyrics. Not great stuff, but not a bad start either.

    Soon after that, I joined a local songwriter's association. the Houston Songwriters Association. There's plenty of these local things out there. Once a month meetings. Everybody who has one presents a song for review and discussion. The additional thing they do (and I wasn't quite prepared for this concept) is that the group then voted for a "song of the month". There are definitely pros and cons to this process and I could agree with either side of that coin.

    This group also carries that process as far as a "Song of the Year" and "Songwriter of the Year".
    I'd like to say I didn't get caught up in such a pretentious mess, but I did, and in one year I won both of those items. In retrospect, it was kind of like winning "Lawn of the Month" in one of those stifling suburban neighborhoods. But the good thing was that I continued to work, work, work on songs. And think about lyrics and the how and why of songs.

    I found many people in that group to be helpful, thoughtful and some of the comments about what I was writing proved to be of use. A fair amount did not. One thing that I had to learn was that I wasn't ready for so much help.

    After reassessing things, I decided to move on (or over) to the local chapter of NSAI - Nashville Songwriters Association International. There's a chapter in your part of the world, looks like it's more on the south side of the Potomac, but I know nothing about it.

    I no longer belong, but this also involved monthly meetings with song reviews, however, no local contests. NSAI does sponsor annual contests*, but for me, I decided that the contest process wasn't helping me learn much**. NSAI membership also includes a sort of mentoring opportunity to submit a limited number of your songs annually to professional Nashville songwriters for feedback. I did not take advantage of this, so I don't have a useful opinion on that process.

    NSAI definitely had some really interesting folks and it also has a certain element of writing to sell. That's a fine and wonderful craft, but not really a direction that appeals to me at the moment. I've met a small number of professional songwriters and every one of them had great stories to tell.

    I perform once a week in a house band and I usually include one of my songs every night. sometimes the crowd reaction (or lack thereof) is instructive.

    My wife is a serious, non-fiction, journalist writer. I rely on some of her advice as well, but one thing I try to remember is something she phrased this way: "Sometimes, you have to kill your babies". Meaning, no matter how much you might like and approve of something you've created, it might actually need some real improvement.

    anyhow, I've also learned that every song you write need not be a perfect song. A lot folks barely listen to lyrics anyway, and plenty of great music has only passing fair lyrics.

    I don't rush through the process like I used to. Sometimes, I want to feel like I've done something more than just formulaic in the composition and then maybe put in a set of placeholder lyrics 'til I figure out what that song is about. At this point, what does it matter anyway? I do it because I can't not do it. Stuff just pops into my head.

    If you are really interested, I would say at least try one of the songwriting groups. Might not be your flavor, but you'll learn some things you wouldn't otherwise.
    -----------------
    * maybe monthly ones too, but nationwide, not local; some NSAI person would know for sure.
    ** I might have a different opinion if my songs were selected in such a process; however, my take is that I have never heard again of any of the contest winners. 15 seconds, maybe.
     
    Last edited: Sep 8, 2017

  4. blowtorch

    blowtorch Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

    May 2, 2003
    Wisco

  5. Jakedog

    Jakedog Doctor of Teleocity

    Mar 26, 2003
    The North Coast
    I write songs. I record them. I play them live, and sell records. If people like them, and buy the records, they're good songs. If they don't, they're not. That's pretty much how I feel about it. Mostly, they buy the records. That makes me happy. As for formula, and how to do the writing thing, I have a philosophy, and have even taught workshops on it. But it's a lot to go into here.

    I will say I've never had luck trying to work with a co-writer. But I'm still open to the idea.
     
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  6. Flat6Driver

    Flat6Driver Friend of Leo's

    Age:
    44
    Jan 14, 2013
    DC Burbs
    Thank you for the insightful replies. I'm not really looking to do this myself (maybe I am?) but I enjoy learning about the process. When we see someone onstage, they play their tunes and say what it means to them or that its their favorite new song on their new album, but we don't get to peer behind the curtain to see how it go that way. I consider it rude to ask. (I did tell guy that I liked his songs but they were all so sad and he told me he was going through a divorce :( ). Occasionally you get glimpses from these conversations on the radio.


    I read a great article about a guy that wrote a book and loved it. His editor trashed it and he was pissed and rewrote the whole thing. Then he said it came out WAY better.

    The pissed part is the part I'm interested in. :)
     

  7. bowman

    bowman Friend of Leo's

    Sep 15, 2006
    Framingham, MA
    If you truly want feedback, ask for it. But if you've come to that point, you must accept what people have to say with out resentment or anger, or any other emotion. Their opinions are just that - it's what they think, and you did ask for it. Like any other statistics, you need a very large sample for the findings to reflect reality. So, unless every single person thinks you suck, don't sweat it. :DSome of the songs I don't like were written by some of the greatest songwriters ever. That doesn't mean they can't write well, because they obviously can. It just means that I don't like that song.
     
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  8. william tele

    william tele Doctor of Teleocity

    Nov 7, 2009
    Kansas City, MO
    I'm not dissing the idea of collaboration. We all know there are iconic songs that would probably never have been written if not for two heads together...but when I hear your songs, G, so many of them seem so personal and focused that I'm not sure you would benefit from a co writer. I mean, if you already have full command of both lyrics and music...???

    I, myself put together things from the same basic place...to the point that some songs are so acutely based on personal experience that what I'm writing about is almost unable to connect to a large body of listeners. That's where I could use help to try and get those ideas to a more beautiful and succinct presentation like you just do naturally...

    When the realization hits that you have no special knack, or even no knack at all for writing music you really cast off all worries about just exactly how bad you really are, and seriously, just do it for your own enjoyment...
     
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  9. teletimetx

    teletimetx Poster Extraordinaire Gold Supporter

    Jul 25, 2011
    Houston, TX
    Yeah, it's funny the different ways a person can be motivated to do amazing stuff.

    I didn't mean to imply my wife made up that quote about killing your babies - it's standard journalism talk. My daughter is a journalist as well, and yet she and the step-mom, not so wayno, but that's another story.

    One version is attributed to William Faulkner - "In writing, you have to kill your darlings".

    One of my wife's heroes was Howard Weaver, the long time editor of the Anchorage Daily News, where she worked for part of her career. He wrote a book called "Write Hard, Die Free", which I highly recommend.

    I wouldn't and wish I wasn't shy about asking songwriters about their lyrics - like most folks they love talking about themselves...but I share your sense about it and have missed many opportunities as a result. It can get a little wonky though, but you will hear some great stories.
     
    holdonphoton likes this.

  10. brogh

    brogh Super Moderator Staff Member

    Jun 26, 2010
    italy
    Well,

    I'm no songwriter, or better, i tried to put down a few and still have them around somewhere, i'm starting to write something again since from some very recent time ago, the new acoustic guitar was a boost for that and i really wanted to do that.

    What i do is to try to put in words what i feel and what i think i believe it's the only way to write a song, yes you might get some help from some musician friends to get things around better, but i firmly believe that the big part is "I"

    I mean, (cope with me ) it wouldn't be silly to write a song about something that you never did or something that you really don't know...
    I wouldn't be able to write a song about racing cars, i never had or drove one, so it would be pointless to write about it for how i see things.
    I think your life experience is your music/chord book, and you should be telling your stories and/or your points of view,I'm perfectly aware that many songs are written from others for singers, to me it's different, if You write a song ... it should be in some way You.

    get this, one of my favorite song of brad paisley is " he didn't have to be " it's a beautiful song, beautifully played and crafted, i was a bit disappointed when i discovered it was not his story,,, don't get me wrong .. i get it ... but still.

    my 2 cents about the subject

    Great thread Flat6Driver :)
     

  11. Paul in Colorado

    Paul in Colorado Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

    Mar 17, 2003
    Fort Collins, CO
    I just play them and see how an audience reacts. Do they get into it? Do they dance? I might tweak a song a little after I write it to make it easier to sing or something, but once it's done, it's done. I don't perform it until I'm happy and I'm picky.
     

  12. catdaddy

    catdaddy Tele-Holic

    I've been writing songs for over 50 years. One of the things I've come to realize is that getting constructive, insightful and honest feedback about your work has a degree of difficulty about equal to the actual writing of a quality song.

    Listeners and critics like all humans have predilections and prejudices. Any feedback from any source will be colored by the person's background and viewpoint. As such over the years I've gotten to know a few colleagues whose opinion I respect and trust. Those are the folks whose feedback I listen to. Other folks not so much.
     

  13. voodoostation

    voodoostation Tele-Afflicted

    Age:
    44
    May 10, 2007
    Midlothian, Va
    I started writing about a year after I learned to play guitar while I was in high school. I wrote a bunch when I was in the Navy, then mostly instrumental stuff until I started playing with a guy who walked in to my house with a folder full of his stuff, which was good. Of course, I had to up my game, so I started writing again. No sense in him getting all the glory! I run them by my wife first, and always get the requisite "Who is this woman you're writing about?" For being an English Lit major, it never seems to occur to her that songwriters can write fiction as well. Then I'll play it for the rest of the band, get their ideas for lyric changes, choruses (I'm good at verses or choruses, but rarely do the two meet in my writings), whatever else it takes to bring it to fruition. It works similarly with the other songwriter in the band. Then we play them at gigs, because we do mostly originals. As long as the audience doesn't walk out on our songs, then they're good enough. And they haven't, yet.

    There's always a personal element in the songs I write, I feel more invested than when writing prose. I still get nervous showing new songs and getting feedback. Sometimes, it's like showing someone your diary. Depends on the subject, of course. I find songwriting to be a very personal endeavor, with the brevity, the content, the meter and tempo and the result on paper. Good opinions are very useful, though, and oftentimes, quite helpful.
     

  14. Teleposer

    Teleposer Tele-Meister

    Age:
    47
    368
    Sep 28, 2016
    UK
    Just follow your heart. Learn your craft. Don't listen to anyone. Keep on doing your thing.

    There does come a point though, even if you aren't planning on selling millions of records, where you might like to tear down the chicken wire.

    It's around this point you will know, whether you are any good or not, critics be damned.

    I'm speaking metaphorically of course, kinda...
     

  15. studio

    studio Poster Extraordinaire

    May 27, 2013
    California
    I have really cool songwriting partners.
    there are many ways to COMPLETE a song!

    It's always fun when the red pens come out and we start slicing and dicing
    to make things work cohesively. That's the beauty of good collaboration.
    If you don't have that humility to let someone cut open your song or lyric,
    then you are destined to be writing on your own for the rest of your days.

    Criticism, helpful criticism starts within your own circle. The actual collaborators
    first, the friends and family, then the public, forums, groups etc.

    But don't trust every individual comment. Some folks are too nice and some
    are just too eager to let you have a piece of their expertise. Ink sniffers.

    [​IMG]
     
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  16. 1955

    1955 Poster Extraordinaire

    Apr 10, 2010
    Certain uncertainty
    I just have always worked really hard when I did it, other people's perspective is appreciated, I don't take it personal good or bad. Very rarely do you get useful criticism unless it's someone that has more success than you do with songwriting. That goes for everything else, too. Why waste time indulging the hot air of detractors that don't even care as much as you do and can't even write a song?
     
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  17. Jakedog

    Jakedog Doctor of Teleocity

    Mar 26, 2003
    The North Coast
    What you're looking for is what I call universalism. It's a way of taking something very personal and wording it in a way that the majority of people can sink their teeth into. It's not always easy, believe me.

    And that's why there's not a lot of truly great songwriters. There are a lot of successful ones. There are a lot of good ones. But not a lot of truly great ones.

    Anybody can string together a few rhymes about love, beer, moonlight, tire swings, trucks, cars, dirt roads, whatever. It's a breeze. My seven year old writes coherent songs about stuff she thinks is fun. There's really nothing to it. But it doesn't mean anything. It's just fluff.

    Not that that's always bad. I have a deep appreciation for a well crafted pop song, and not everything can be deep and transcendent. Sometimes you get yourself a "Wild Thing", or a "You Really Got Me", or an "I Wanna Hold Your Hand". Again, stuff a grade school kid would write. But with the right melody and delivery, a timeless piece of genius. It's all the pieces of the puzzle. And it's worth noting, none of those were based on any formula. None of those were trying to cash in on a defined market. There's a difference between simplicity and completely contrived ********.

    I focus on reality, and universalism. First, I never shoot for a formula, a style, or a market. I just write a song. I don't sit down with a pad and paper and say "Now I'm gonna write a song about _______. It's gonna be a country song, upbeat, swing, and be three minutes and 40 seconds long for max play opportunities."

    If I did that, I'd write stuff as crappy as everybody else who does that.

    I wait until I'm inspired. Which luckily, is frequently. I wait until something guts me. Or makes me so happy I want to cry. Or I have a personal revelation in which some great truth, whether real or perceived, about life, love, bourbon, and the universe is revealed to me. Then I use my admittedly loose and rattly command of the English language to take that deeply personal thing or experience, and try to lay it on the table in a way that many people can relate to, hopefully without giving away too much of myself in the process. That's universalism.

    As for getting and taking feedback, which was the original question, sorry for dragging the thread so far off track...

    Like I said, my main source of feedback is whether or not people "get it", and want to buy it. If they don't, I didn't do my job. That's my fault, not theirs. Too many writers blame the audience:

    "They just don't see what I'm trying to do".

    "It's over their heads. Too smart for them."

    "Nobody cares about great songs anymore".

    Nah. If people ain't buying what your selling, more than likely it just sucks.


    As far as critique and advice, I take all that crap with a grain of salt. Especially if it comes from non-writers, or bad writers. If they knew Jack about what I was doing, they'd be doing it. I don't give legal advice to my attorney, or medical advice to my doctor. I'm sure as hell not gonna put a lot of stock into their thoughts on songwriting. We all do what we're good at.

    I will take seriously, always, advice and input from my elders and betters in the field. And gratefully. Doesn't mean I'll heed it, but I know it's coming from a good place, and a knowledgeable place, no matter how harsh it may be delivered. I personally know some heavy duty songwriters. Like, major cats. At least in my world. Some of our discussions and critiques of each other's work can get pretty heated to say the least. What we do is a deeply personal thing. But it's all with the best of intentions.
     

  18. 1955

    1955 Poster Extraordinaire

    Apr 10, 2010
    Certain uncertainty
    In terms of opening yourself up with collaboration, you have to do just that, you have to do whatever it takes to see the idea to fruition. Two is better than one. Two hungry and ravenous ones, that is. Three is even better. Get absolutely obsessed, and hunt. Hunt the song, the melody, the lyric, hunt everything down like a stone cold killer. It is a maddening and exciting adventure, but in my experience, if you chase that muse with a bloodthirst, you finally catch that sucker.
     
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  19. holdonphoton

    holdonphoton Tele-Holic

    730
    Jul 17, 2013
    ALABAMA
    Amazing thread! I've learned a lot from many of the guys who've posted replies here already.

    Very grateful for a community that helps us keep perspective and sharpen our craft on each of our personal journeys.
     

  20. Flat6Driver

    Flat6Driver Friend of Leo's

    Age:
    44
    Jan 14, 2013
    DC Burbs

    This seems to be a theme in whatever profession you work in. You need to selectively take advice from those you trust or have proven themselves.


    About universalism. I read this cool artist profile on a Taylor ad actually. Some guy wrote a good but deeply personal song. His mentor said that it was too personal and to "generalize" it a bit. He did and it was a hit for someone. He works in Nashville now writing songs. (I think I have that right).

    Anyhow, this is all good info. I love hearing about others' work and how you approach it. Call me anytime if you want to talk about finance. ;) I don't.
     
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