How do you know a song is good?

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  • Some ways you can test the quality of your melody

Testing melodies

A good melody is one that gets stuck in your head quickly and easily. However, there is no patent recipe for how to write it. However, there are some ways you can test the “hitability” of your melody.

Abba test

A simple test to determine the hitability of your tune is to listen to it about five to ten times and then just leave it alone. If after a day or a week you are still able to remember the melody effortlessly, you have found a potential hit tune. This trick is rumoured to have been used regularly by Abba to test the hit-ability of their songs. It is advisable that you write down/record the melody anyway, so that you can use it later somewhere, even if you have forgotten it against all expectations. After all, not every song has to be a hit.

Letting other people listen

Having other people listen to and rate your songs can also be very helpful. However, sometimes this is a little difficult. Because your girlfriend/boyfriend, your relatives and work colleagues (who are certainly all non-musicians) will usually be enthusiastic about your musical abilities anyway. And then there’s the social component: while it’s chic to criticise a Justin Bieber, Modern Talking or Tokio Hotel, none of your friends and relatives will accuse you of saying that your music “sucks”.

The assessment by family members, acquaintances and friends is therefore deceptive. As a songwriter, you are in love with the song you think is worth releasing anyway. So are the musicians who sing or record it for you. And so you can quickly expose yourself to public ridicule. The whimsical contestants on the manifold casting and talent shows are a vivid example of this evil self- and external-assessment.

Therefore, categorically exclude family members and friends for such quality assessments. Rather, look for other musicians who take on this part and who are neither acquaintances of yours nor under pressure to grant you a favour. This would be the case, for example, in a “I rate your song – you rate my song” situation, in which one songwriter is afraid of giving the other an honest opinion, because he or she will then rate his or her own song and a “revenge action” could be the result.

One solution could be to make an appointment with several songwriters on the internet and organise a kind of “anonymous rating roulette”. Here, a certain number of songwriters would upload their songs under a number on a server and objectively criticise the songs of the others in writing and point out possibilities for improvement, without knowing who wrote which song. In the end, everyone has, for example, five opinions from other songwriters and could look accordingly to see which criticism can help the song. Of course, you should make sure that the other songwriters are good or even very good and also have a clue about the subject matter.

Run anonymously/under artist name at parties

Another very good way (if not the best) to test your song is to weave it into a normal playlist. In market research, for example, the aim is often to find out whether people would be willing to pay money for a certain product or service. For this purpose, extensive, representative surveys are conducted along the lines of: “Would you be willing to spend money on this and that?

If so, how much?” and so on. But this approach is very hypothetical. There is therefore nothing like a simple attempt: take the product in question and offer it to people for real in exchange for real payment. Because only when someone pulls out their wallet and is willing to pay the price that a product costs can you assume that they would actually buy it. And that would be exactly the case here. At a party, for example, you could put your song in between other, already well-known songs and see if anyone notices it and discreetly ask what people think of the song (without letting them know it’s your song). Of course, this only works if you have been able to produce a good song. In concrete terms, this only works if you already produce the music for your songwriting yourself. And since this is often the case these days, it might be worth asking a regional DJ to play your song at a party or club.

Dealing with criticism

Dealing with criticism is always a difficult task. Negative criticism shows you that someone thinks you did something wrong. And that hurts, of course. But humans are generally conditioned to avoid pain. Criticism is therefore difficult for many people to bear and immediately leads to a defensive attitude. People ignore the other person’s opinion, dismiss it as nonsense or feel attacked and retaliate.

Yet criticism is often a slap in the face that can move us forward if we deal with it properly. A: “My God, that sounds like shit” is often more helpful than a thousand: “That’s very good, but maybe you should work on the lyrics a bit more”. Of course, criticism hurts at first – but it’s worth suppressing the automatic defensiveness and really thinking about whether there’s something to the criticism. Of course, it helps if the criticism is not voiced publicly but privately and is also of a constructive nature, because this way you can improve yourself.

However, this does not mean that you have to accept criticism from all sides and from everyone. On the one hand, you should make sure that the person who criticises you has a clue about the subject matter. On the other hand, you should make sure that you think you can learn from this person. In concrete terms, this means that it is best to have your songs critiqued by people whose skills are either equal to or superior to yours.

Also remember that some people prefer to criticise rather than praise. This is a bad trait, but one that can be dealt with if you know about it. For example, someone might only ever give you feedback on a song if they think it is bad. Conversely, this would mean that they find the rest of your songs good. However, you will not know this. So if you hear only bad criticism from someone, you should ask him specifically whether he sees something good in your song and what that is. Or if they like another song of yours and why this is so. If something comes from this person, you can take the criticism more seriously.

In conclusion

As a songwriter, you are always in love with your song. You’ve taken it through valleys and, yes, logically, you don’t “show it around” until you’re happy with it. And of course you like to listen to his song often. Just as one prefers to eat a dish that one has helped to cook. But what is decisive is the opinion of those who eat the dish afterwards. Or in terms of music: The opinion of those who will listen to and buy the song afterwards. So first get opinions from people you respect musically and then reflect on whether and to what extent you accept the criticism and what you can do better. And ideally, present your song anonymously to a test audience after completion to get a real opinion. Remember: Not every song has to be a hit. You can also earn money with songwriting independent of the big hits. So don’t put yourself under too much pressure.