I think a lot of us creatives suffer from thinking our way of creating is the right way, simply because we don’t know any other way. As a result, we eventually become comfortable and complacent and stuck in our old ways like a senior citizen.
For example, I was working with a rapper on a song and like most rappers his verses were really strong but his hooks were lacking. When I suggested he put just as much effort into the chorus as he does into his verses, a light blub went off. He had no idea his hooks were weak. What was so obvious to me, wasn’t so obvious to him.
When I pressed him he said that in rap, hooks are based more of feel rather than his verses which he put more thought into it. I thought this was interesting because in a lot of fields, people will claim the reason they created something the way they did is based of feel. I think creating based of feel is fine but when most people say they create based of their intuition it is either to sound cool, more artistic or even divinely inspired. In other words, relying on your gut instinct is not only lazyness but counterproductive and more importantly why your song sucks.
How to Suck Less
So how do you suck less you ask? Stop making decisions based on your gut instinct and yes I know people will tell you to use your gut but you do not have enough “data” aka life experiences to make sound judgements based of feel alone. For example, when medical researchers want to see if a new drug works they test it out on thousands of people over years. If they just used their gut instinct instead of testing, there would be a lot of dead people. You obviously don’t have the time to test thousands of hooks for a song, but you reasonably could try two or three and then choose the best one.
An even better approach and more efficient one is to focus on the chorus first. Treat your chorus like the most important element. Or if the verses are the issue and your hooks are strong, work on your verses. That sounds easy but the real issue is you don’t know what your problem is. You don’t know if it’s your songwriting or production or mixing/mastering or vocal performance that is lacking. How do you figure out where you need improvement?
Audition Your Demos
There really isn’t an easy answer here but I would say to play your music for 5 people whose opinion and taste you respect and ask them for feedback. These could be people like deejays, artists, producers and music reviewers (basically anyone with a blog) who know what the heck they’re talking about. In my experience, it’ll be difficult to find those 5 people whose opinion you trust, you can always buy them lunch or a coffee (bribery works) but once you have those kind of people, their insight is invaluable.
I remember I played a song for a local artist and he mumbled something about the beat having so much space in a certain spot and I could have easily ignored it but after a few days I thought about it again and added some effect to that space and it totally made the song better. Another thing to remember is that most people just don’t have the technical knowledge to give you feedback you can use. For example, they wont say something like “your inflection on this verse is all wrong”, they’ll say something vague like “not feeling it”. It’s really difficult to work with that kind of criticism so it’s important you try to “get” what they are not feeling.
Now I want to hear from you: Tell me in the comments some of the things you do to gauge if your music is working or not?