One of the most essential tools to quality songwriting is the ability to self-edit. It is of paramount importance that as a songwriter, you’re keenly aware of your own strengths and weaknesses (otherwise, you’ve probably picked the wrong occupation).
But how does one successfully evaluate their own work? After all, a lot of songwriting critiques are subjective. There’s no consistency, because everyone has an opinion about what makes a good song.
This highlights a need for objectivity - which requires criteria that can be quantified and measured from which you base your ultimate judgement.
For example, if you’re writing a song and your purpose for its creation is purely self-expression, then you’re not going to have a ton of objective criteria to keep in mind for the purposes of a self-evaluation. However, if you’re writing a song for commercial purposes, there are certain benchmarks you can look at based off of songs that have already achieved that kind of success.
Standard elements found in hit songs tend to be as follows:
- Simplicity. Use tools like Word to assess the readability/grade level of your lyrics. Most hit songs are at or below a third grade level, written in a very simplistic and straightforward way that a lot of people can understand.
- Rhyme. Rhyme is an essential pneumonic device that enables people to remember your song, and also sets up a rhythm in your lyric that is not dependent on your beat. [Even when we learn the ABCs as children; that song rhymes so that we can remember it!] As an exercise, examine your favorite songs to see how rhyme schemes are utilized.
- Repetition. Repetition is another pneumonic device, and one of the most powerful tools for memorization! It adds to the simplicity of your lyric, and underscores the other two criteria.
Another method for evaluating your song is to take your lyric and instead of singing it, read it out loud like you would a letter. It’s often easy to gloss over things that might be unclear when you’ve set your lyrics to a melody - but once you read your song like a letter, you notice.
Lastly, while it’s unrealistic to have a professional evaluate every song you write, it is a good idea to check in with a pro [NSAI’s Song Evaluations are a part of your annual membership!] when you can. It doesn’t matter how many hours you practice your craft if you’re unknowingly practicing bad habits. If you’re doing something wrong in one of your songs, you’re probably doing it consistently. But if you practice with a pro just once who shows you how to do it right, then you’ll practice more effectively and truly hone your skills.