In addition to writing songs, we’ve taught songwriting for years and, in the process, critiqued lots of student songs. We’ve heard all kinds—the good, the mediocre, the disastrous, and sometimes the wonderful.

Some who have attended our classes have become successful songwriters and recording artists. But many of these songs were performed by aspiring writers who thought their songs were great and were astonished to find that no one else seemed to think so.

Many of the songs were indeed hopeless, but others, with a few changes, were made into usable, even outstanding, songs.

At the annual Christian Artists Music Seminar at Estes Park, Colorado, where we taught for many years, a man who had just won the contemporary songwriting contest with a terrific song came to us and said, “You don’t remember me, but I was in your course last year. I submitted a song for you to critique, and you crucified me.” (Who, us?)

“Well,” he said, “I took my notes, went home and decided I was going to learn to do it right. And I did!” Did he ever. Later, the second place winner told us the same thing. We were almost more pleased with their awards than they were.

Sometimes a lack of understanding of just one or two aspects of songwriting is all that frustrates the efforts of a hopeful writer. We know the feeling. We wrote songs for some time, never quite understanding why some of them enjoyed success while others, which we thought were just as good, didn’t.

It wasn’t until we learned to analyze our songs that we began to have a better track record. We learned to rewrite—strengthening, honing, polishing and distilling our songs to make them the best we could before we considered them finished.

So, what do you need to succeed as a songwriter? Talent. A gift. Only God can give you that. But the good news is that we are not locked in to our current level of expertise. We can improve our abilities and reduce our limitations by study and practice.

If you have the gifts of a good ear, imagination, dedication and persistence, you’re on your way. We’re here to help you organize and discipline your talent into a constructive, creative process. To do this, we’ll give you specific guidelines you can use to critique your own work.

Musical Examples

One of the beauties of today’s musical milieu is that there’s room for a variety of styles to coexist, and many people genuinely enjoy more than one style. We’ll reach out broadly in our sampling of musical genres, so many of our examples will be secular.

Many examples will be the “standards”—songs that were hits in the beginning and are still being played.

(When large numbers of people hear a song and rush out to buy it, that song is a “hit.” When a song’s popularity endures into succeeding decades or even generations and survives translation into many styles, it’s a “standard.”) These songs have stood the test of time because what they say, and how they say it, still hits us in the heart.

But today’s fad hit is often forgotten tomorrow, so we don’t want to cite current songs without proven longevity. You can find any of the standards we mention on iTunes or YouTube or other internet sources. If you’re not familiar with them, do yourself a big favor and listen!

Our main reason for citing pop standards is their quality. Writers for the Christian field should be as objective about the quality of our work, and as tenacious about improving it, as great secular writers are. They have to be good.

Because we cite a secular song as a musical example doesn’t necessarily mean we agree with its philosophy. For instance, we don’t believe in wishing upon a star, but two of the greatest popular songs of all time contain this fairy tale concept, and we are not so legalistic as to refuse to learn from their musical craftsmanship.

However, there are certain blatantly profane artists and writers whose influence we, as Christians, feel uncomfortable exposing our minds and spirits to. Where that line is drawn in each of our readers’ lives is not for us to say. That’s the work of the Holy Spirit.

So, don’t just read our current article; dig into our stack of over 140 posts from over the last four years.

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Daniel Grove

Dear Carol and Jimmy: I have written to you before, and always enjoy your aritcles. I have several questions and I’d love your advice:

I still (!) am in the process of readying three songs to demo for another songwriting blogger, who will listen and critique (live via skype) for $150.00. Is that money well-spent?

What do you think about pitching directly to an artist, assuming I could find their contact info and preface the songs with an introductory letter?

I worked at Sparrow briefly back in 1979. What would you think of approaching someone there (I know it’s EMI/CMG now)? Again…this would be a “cold call”.

And finally, I may have asked this before, but do you critique songs anymore?

Thank you so much.
Rev. Dan Grove

08 October 2016
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