At some point, every songwriter has wondered “Is my song any good?”
When you’re writing a song, it’s difficult to fairly evaluate your song. You’re left doubting yourself and your song because you’re too close to it and you can’t listen to it “for the first time” like your audience will.
In this article you’ll learn 4 ways you can test your songs!
Know that you’ve written the best song you possibly can. Confidently release a song you’re proud of, instead of wondering if you should bother to release it!
Below the video lesson is a summary of all 4 types of testing, with additional details not covered in the video. At the end of the article, there are links to other songwriting resources to help you improve your songs….
What’s the Point of Your Song?
Knowing what you want to accomplish with your song makes your goal clear… you need to
1. Engage your audience – so they listen to the entire song so you can
2. Transform your audience – create an emotional reaction so they feel differently after listening.
The emotional reaction is what will make them want to hear your song again… that’s the power of your music!
How to Test Your Songs
Test your song to find ways to improve it, to:
1. Better engage your audience, make it more interesting to keep their attention, or
2. Better transform your audience, create a stronger emotional reaction with your song.
You’re looking for feedback, ideas or ways to improve your song.
What can you change? What can you change it to?
I think of songs as experiments… some are successful, perform them, publish them, promote them!
Some experiments aren’t successful… find ways to make those songs successful, and learn from them even if you can’t improve it enough to release it.
I think of song testing in four categories…
1. Self Test Your Song
You self-test as you’re writing, even if you aren’t conscious of it. This is normal and only becomes a problem if you start
Play your song or a section into your phone. Listen without doing anything else and ask yourself:
Is it interesting? If you find yourself getting bored, focus on that part. If you feel a lyric is awkward, explore alternatives.
Will it create an emotional reaction in an audience?
Does it make sense if someone is listening to the song for the first time?
Is there something I need to work on to improve the song?
2. One On One Test
Test your song with someone you trust who can give you honest and useful feedback.
1. Honest – you want to hear the truth, not a sugar coated version of reality.
2. Useful Feedback – Can it help you improve the song?
General comments might make you feel good (or bad, depending on what you hear) but you want detailed feedback that helps you improve your song.
Find people that can give you honest and useful feedback. The more musical detail they can offer, the easier it is to incorporate their advice into your song.
With the right person you can get useful, detailed feedback. You can have a conversation and dig deeper into their opinion.
3. Test Your Song with an Audience
Ultimately, your song needs to work for an audience. Test your song with one.
You can get the best feedback in a songwriting group. You can play for a room of songwriters who know how to write and have a discussion about your song. This is one of the best ways to test your song.
Google “songwriter group” + your town (or county/province/state) to find a group of songwriters and attend their next meeting!
Performing for a live audience is the big test. With a receptive audience and a great performance you’ll know if your song works. Watch their behaviour and body language as you play. You’ll notice changes during the weak parts of your song. Focus there when you’re working with your song later.
4. Get a Professional Opinion
If you can, try to get feedback from a music industry professional. If you don’t already have a personal relationship, it can be difficult to get their attention. Don’t take it personally, if they’re good, they’re busy. It’s not their job to help you out, but they can give you detailed feedback.
This includes but isn’t limited to: professional songwriters, professional musicians, music managers, music supervisors (who choose music to place in television or movies), radio DJ, radio program director (chooses which songs to play on the radio).
Their perspective is coloured by their role in the industry and their musical experience. A professional songwriter will tend to hear your song through their own style of songwriting. A professional guitarist will listen as much to the guitar part as the rest of the song. A professional vocalist will usually focus on the lyrics and melody. A music supervisor will hear your song’s production quality and its potential to place in a television show or movie.
You can pay to have your song critiqued. Prices range widely as does the quality. If you get useful feedback that you can apply to your song and your songwriting it can be worth it. Do your research before paying money to somebody on the internet. I’ve included paying for a critique under “professional opinion” because when done well, a paid critique is a professional transaction for a professional opinion.
Note: if you get a glowing critique where everything is awesome and they’ll record the entire your song for you for $$$ it’s often a shady deal.
Some “song critiques” are offered by companies with a business model of creating song demos for (their) profit. You pay several hundred dollars for a mediocre studio recording. The song critique is actually the first step towards charging you big bucks for a studio recording. I’m not saying that they can’t do an excellent job of recording your song… just that there are some companies that don’t do a good job of recording your song. If you want a professional recording of your song there are better ways to ge it… talk to musicians in your area for a referral to a local recording studio and find out what services they can offer!
Special Note: FaceBook Groups
Many songwriters post song demos in songwriting FaceBook groups for feedback. Some groups have members that offer excellent advice, some groups don’t. Check the quality of the feedback other songwriters are getting on their songs before posting in a group.
I’ve noticed many songwriters post finished songs (linking to bandcamp, Spotify or other places where you should only post a finished song) and ask for feedback… they actually want people to listen / purchase the song. The song is finished, they aren’t likely to change the song in any way and any advice or critique is wasted on them. They would do better to ask for listens/likes/shares….
Always ask clearly for what you want… otherwise you won’t get it!
Bonus Content, Not Included in the Video
What to Do When You Get Contradictory Feedback
I had an interesting conversation with a frustrated songwriter. She knew how to get feedback on her songs, but she kept getting contradictory opinions. One person would tell her a song was great, but another told her to change X, Y and Z. She had no idea who to believe.
My Advice Was:
1. Consider who was talking. A music industry professional likely has a more refined opinion than someone who isn’t an industry professional. A professional songwriter can give you better advice about the songwriting, but a music producer can give you better insights into the music production.
2. Get a tie-breaker opinion. If you have two conflicting opinions… get a third.
3. Trust your gut… ultimately, it’s your song, so trust your musical instincts and training. I don’t mean ignore good advice, I mean: it’s your song, do what you think makes your song the best you can make it!
More About Contradictory Feedback…
There are 2 other reasons you might hear contradictory feedback:
1. Music is subjective… there will be people that don’t like your song / style / music / personality… that’s okay. People are different and diversity makes the world interesting. This does not mean you get to ignore constructive feedback that you don’t want to hear (think American Idol contestants who can’t really sing but “everyone loves my singing!”)
2. It’s difficult to articulate music in words… while someone might recognize a problem in your song, they might not be able to explain it to you. Musical training makes it easier to talk about songs, but music is also emotional. Just because they aren’t feeling it, doesn’t mean they can explain why.
Is My Song Any Good: Summary
Make testing a regular part of your songwriting process.
Test your songs to get honest and useful feedback to improve your songs. You can test your songs with:
- Self Test
- One on One Testing
- Test with an Audience
- Get Professional Feedback
Don’t get frustrated when feedback is contradictory or difficult to understand. It’s hard to explain emotional reactions or music using words.