The Worst Thing You Can Do to Me

In the songwriting context, that is.

In the songwriter-education industry, there are lots of opportunities to get song feedback and critique, which I love and use. For the past couple of years, I've had access to an industry pro who's generally blunt, sometimes kinda caustic, and generally straight to the point from a commercial standpoint.

I loved it.

The first time she heard one of my songs, she hated it. So much. She thought that the verse was so long that she couldn't stand it (the chorus came in at about 45 seconds.) She wasn't rude or mean but she made it clear that the song was a little bit pathetic. I hate being treated like a beginner (it is, however, not The Worst Thing You Can Do to Me), and I was newer at this than I am now. I couldn't sleep that night and I felt raw and miserable from that kind of critical assessment. I can process all kinds of criticism and become grateful for it, but it's not pretty.

She was right, and she helped me. A lot. I realized that it did not bug me that she didn't think my song was good. It struck me that my song made her angry, and I couldn't sleep until I understood why. I figured it out, I think. My song, which wasn't good and was euthanized shortly thereafter, was what I thought a country song could be. It was (to be fair) what a country song might have sounded like 20 years ago; it was kinda jokey, kinda hokey, and made fun of itself the way country songs used to.

It finally occurred to me maybe that she felt I was condescending to the entire genre. And you know what? she was right. I hadn't noticed that contemporary country takes itself very, very seriously. In general, it seems like country music is very tired of being the cute sidekick or the joke (to the non-country world), and is demanding to come into its own as a serious art form celebrating sex, drugs, and rock and roll. And trucks. No one likes being condescended to, but my song was the one doing it this time.

That pro helped me so much. For a while after that she heard several songs of mine, and for a while she continued to be blunt. In three sentences she has told me that my song is good (or not) but she can't pitch it because the idea is flawed or no one will want it. She's liked one of my songs very much, and she's hated some and she's been crystal clear about what needed to be fixed. I have valued her opinion so much, and I had decided that getting a thumbs up from her on a song was a significant goal.

But now, for no reason that I can understand, she has been nice. Neutral. She's said that she likes the song, there's nothing she would change, that it works. She doesn't want it, she's clearly not excited about it, and I hear her thinking "Next!"

I do want to say that industry folk like her who listen to millions of songs, most of them bad, and still have reserves of kindness and patience to give feedback, are doing good in this world and I appreciate and admire them. I also think it's right to save the most kindness for the beginners, and if there's nothing left for the likes of me I'll be okay.

I wish there was a "preferences" tab for relationships. I wish I could turn the "honesty" slider way down so that people wouldn't say they would love to hang out with me when they don't, or that they're not mad at me when they are, or that they'd love to work with me but they're just SO busy right now.

This is the worst thing you can do to me. There is something she doesn't like. The song is maybe just nothing new. The song is maybe just technically good but not likable. It could be me. Not everybody likes me. I wish I'd tried harder to be the most polite and least objectionable version of me with her, but I always wish that. Might not have helped anyway.

So I'm thinking "Next!" as well. I'm confident that I can find some industry person who believes in me enough to not be quite so "nice."


Anonymous said…
I just stumbled across this, and just wanted to note that I love your honesty here - I think that alone is certainly something that makes your songwriting worth paying attention to. I also took note of what you said about the contests. I am currently waiting on the results of my submission to the Great American Songwriting Contest, Based on what you said above, perhaps I'm expecting too much. I'll know soon enough. In any case, thanks for putting this out there into the ether. It was nice to run across this, and gave me much food for thought.
Sarah said…
You're welcome! It's easy to be honest when no one is reading. Good luck with the contests. The only thing I can say is I don't think winning contests has done much for my career, and sometimes I think "this song isn't marketable but it could win a contest," and that's something I hope to be done with. Even winning the whole damn contest turned out to not do much for my career. But the evals from the great American contest were right on the money, and helpful, so at least you've got that if you don't win the grand prize.

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