Whether songwriters like it or not, critics and tastemakers representing blogs and media outlets are a major part of how music is vetted, marketed and sold, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. With how important music criticism is to the success and longevity of a release, it can be tempting for writers to try and make their music sound like something they think will please critics, but they shouldn’t. Here are three reasons why:
1. Music written for critics comes off as insincere
Music that manages to stay relevant, genuine, and impactful almost always comes from a place of longing, dissatisfaction. and true emotion in a songwriter. Music critics and listeners will be able to discern whether your music comes from a real place of honesty and thoughtfulness or if it’s aiming to imitate the feelings and ideas of someone else’s. While you write music, make sure you’re working in a way that honors your unique thoughts, ideas, and story.
2. The sort of music that resonates with critics is always changing
With thousands of artists writing and releasing music more than ever before, it’s almost impossible to predict what ideas are going to last over the ones that will entertain the masses for a year or two and then fade into permanent obscurity. Shaping your music in a way that fits current stylistic or thematic trends is a bad idea because you run the risk of making something that sounds tired and dated the minute it gets released. Songwriters have to walk a delicate balance here between finding their own unique voice while recognizing that the music around them is constantly shifting and evolving.
If you find yourself wanting to imitate the trends you hear in the music around you, take some time and ask yourself what exactly it is you resonate with so much. Whether it’s the vocal manipulation techniques currently employed in so much electronic music today or the folk “whoop!” heard in so many songs back around 2010, many trends in music are short lived, so don’t put them into your music to please critics.
3. It won’t work
Probably the biggest reason not to create music to please critics is because it most likely won’t work. Despite what you might think, music criticism isn’t an easy job, and an experienced critic will be able to tell if your music is written to cater to them after a few seconds of listening. Your best bet is to do the hard work of creating music on your own terms that honors your own ideas and story. The trick here is to recognize your influences and interpret them rather than to imitate them outright. That’s no easy task, but it’s something you’ll have to do if you want to make impactful music.
Also, it’s important to recognize that critics of any artform shouldn’t be the final say of whether something is good or not. Whether it’s a giant music blog with lots of traffic or a Youtube commenter, remember that criticism is merely an outside perspective. If your main motivation for songwriting is pleasing other people, neither you or your listeners will be happy.
Patrick McGuire is a musician, writer, and educator currently residing in the great city of Philadelphia. He creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.