I was recently invited to read a spreadsheet full of the comments and scores from 150 “industry experts” and their opinions of a song. The reviews ranged from 1 out of 10 to 10 out of 10 and everything in between. They ranged from “love” to “hate”, from “radio hit” to “flop”, and from “annoying song” to “stroke of genius”.
Some of the “experts” commented that the vocals were amazingly delivered and pitch-perfect. Some commented that they were awful, out-of-time, and completely out of tune. Some commented that the instrumentation was clearly inspired, well toned, and professionally played, while others commented that the instrumentation was poorly executed and tonally insufficient. Some thought the lyrics and melody were so inspiring and rich, while others commented on what they felt was a flat melody and uninteresting lyrics.
The comments spanned from great to poor on every element of the SAME EXACT SONG! It was fascinating to read. The VERY thing that one person loved, oftentimes the next person literally despised. After a while of reading all of these wildly differing opinions, it almost became comical.
And keep in mind: these are “industry professionals” making their notes as they listen to the same exact song. These aren’t casual listeners shotgun-blasting their opinions out of a barrel of inexperience. These are very “well-informed” folks who have a legitimate music career and presumably fine-tuned musical ear.
And I would bet we’ve all had discussions with each other bringing discrepancies over the same piece of music to light.
So how can we, along with so many professionals, hear the same exact sound file and react so differently to it?
MUSIC IS SUBJECTIVE!
People hear what they want to hear in music. Once the intro drops, people are already making a CHOICE to think, “this is a great song” or “this is terrible”. And whatever camp they land in is generally their OPINION of the song forever.
And I’d bet right now everyone is nodding along with me. “Yeah, you’re right Sean, music is subjective.”
BUT how quickly we forget this! Because the same music creators, who just agreed with me that music is subjective, spend countless hours trying to grasp what someone else will like or dislike. We spend so much time, and even money, getting critiques and feedback on our music (that may or may not even be helpful). We will re-work a song to death trying to help it have mass appeal. We try with all our might to dream up hooks, because we are so focused on whom our song can “grab”. Where is the acknowledgment of “subjectivity” in all of that when I just demonstrated that no one can agree on what “works”?????
Man, I’m just over it! That’s not music for me. Music cannot be a defined strategic attack on the attention of the general population. It cannot be created in a “look at me” mindset. Once the goal of music becomes focused more on grabbing “others” than creating genuine art, the process has spoiled for me.
When you sit down to write, who is it for?
Most of us, if we are being honest, are creating music for others. We are creating music for what someone’s opinion of us will hopefully become. We are creating music and living by other’s reactions to it. We are creating music in attempt to be accepted and validated by certain people. We are creating music in hopes that The Church will sing it. I’m just about over the phrase “I write songs for the church” because within that phrase implies a massive consideration for “what will be accepted by others”.
I’ve come to the freeing realization that I don’t have to create music for “others”. I don’t have to write songs for “others”.
For me, music involves two entities. God and myself. He has so graciously gifted to me a small measure of ability for it, so I surrender it back to Him. It’s that easy. On a very elementary level, there are no “others” in that equation.
And over the past few years I’ve found such value in literally removing “others” from my mindset. The music becomes more pure when it’s just you and God. The intentions stay humble when it’s just you and God. The inspiration flows much more naturally when it’s just you and God.
“Others” are a distraction. Their praise is like a sweet-smelling poisonous drink, always tempting your ever-looming pride. Their criticism is like venom coursing through your veins all day, slowly killing you from the inside.
Without distressing over “others”, I no longer have to be a slave to what other people will think or say. I don’t have to be disappointed when an artist doesn’t cut the song. I don’t have to be heart broken if churches don’t start using the song. Poison and venom aren’t on my menu anymore. As long as I am giving back my gifting to Him, I’m winning.
I want to make music that I want to worship God with… not what I hope someone else can use to worship Him with. I want to make music I want to listen to... not what I hope someone else will want to hear. I want to make music I believe in… not that I hope someone else will adopt and believe in. I want to MAKE MUSIC I LOVE… not what I hope someone else can love.
Make music you love. Create things you want to use. Create worship that you want to sing. Create music that you want to play. Only then can it be useful to someone else.
Too often we are allowing our minds to fixate on others way too soon in the process of creativity. Keep the process pure, and keep those voices out.
Am I saying ignore good songwriting sensibility in considering your audience? Or rush past wisdom being spoken into your life to better your writing? Or ignore the entire world and shut yourself in a dark room by yourself to create? Of course not. But I am saying don’t write a lyric or tailor a melody in a way that you hope to please someone else. Be your own judge and jury, because I can guarantee you can’t predict what other’s verdicts will be.
If eventually your songs are shared in a broader context, that’s fantastic, but always guard against letting that snake into your garden of creation.
Create what you feel in your heart and stop focusing on all of the “others”. Stop distressing over the broader context. It’s so tiring. The “experts” will always disagree about what works and what doesn’t, so don’t spend your life being confounded trying to please them. Trust your gut, make music from your heart, and understand your win is in surrendering yourself and your gift to God. Let the “others” worry about trying to please one another.
producer/writer, owner of Uphill Studios, produced Jamie Grace’s top 30 Christmas single “Born Tonight”, worship pastor at Mt. Paran North – Canton