by Paul Iwancio
Many years ago I got my first taste of the benefits of attending a songwriting
group for critiques. Those benefits included camaraderie, education,
networking, writing assignments, and better songs. After a while I had to
drop out due to family needs. In the late 1990s I went looking for that group
again and discovered they had stopped meeting. So, I took matters into my own hands and set out to start a new group. This group eventually became the Baltimore Songwriters Association and is still going strong after 18 years, although it hasn’t been under my leadership for sometime.
Perhaps you are thinking of joining or forming a songwriting group for critiques to work on your craft and network with local songwriters/musicians. If so, then I have some suggestions to create and sustain your community:
1. Make it inclusive, not a clique.
2. Have community standards to head off people problems.
3. Delegate leadership roles so no one gets burned out.
4. Meet regularly-at least once but even better twice a month
5. As part of your standards use constructive critique guidelines. The ones below were originally written by me and my fellow founder Jane Beatty. These guidelines evolved over the years to address issues as they came up.
Song Circle Guidelines
by Paul Iwancio and Jane Beatty
On giving criticism:
1) Ask questions about something before you comment on the work.
For example, "I have a question about this phrase here, what were you looking for in this image...".
2) Listen to the writer's response before you offer suggestions.
3) Do offer suggestions instead of just saying "it doesn't work".
4) NEVER slam or destroy a song. Every song is a risk and should be
treated with respect.
5) Find something positive to say either in the lyric, music or the
arrangement of the song. Everyone is at a different place and needs to
be supported. If people don't feel comfortable or supported enough to share their work, they will stop coming to our meetings.
6) If you like, you can WRITE comments and/or changes on the
distributed lyric/score sheets. However if you choose to do this, please write your NAME alongside your comments so the author can followup with you if they desire. Written comments are also useful when we run out of time for a critique.
7) We try NOT to critique the PERFORMANCE of the song as not all of us are great singers or instrumentalists-keeping our focus on the song.
On receiving criticism:
1) Listen, listen, listen! Too often, we jump to defend the song
instead of hearing another idea. If you don't want advice and aren't willing to learn, then don't come to the circle.
2) It's fine to disagree with someone (feeling he/she doesn't
understand what you wanted to do) but if you hear the same comment over and over on that particular song, listen to that. Evidently, you aren't clear enough and it needs some work.
3) If no one says anything, instead of moving on, ask a question about
something you were struggling with. This is your time and use it.
You've got other writers around you that can help and that beats being alone with your guitar/piano/voice sometimes.
4) If you don't agree with anything anybody says, then fine. Be polite
and respectful of the comments and do what you need to do, However, if you feel this way at each meeting, perhaps a circle isn't right for you at this time.
5) You may receive what seems to be an avalanche of different comments on your song. Remember, in the end, it's still your song and you can take or leave the suggestions made to change your work.
The bottom line is RESPECT. Respect for the work/writer and respect
For the listeners. The leader will keep the comments on track and moving along.
There are three MUSTS that we all agree on:
1) ALWAYs bring LYRIC SHEETS for your song. People can share several copies as opposed to only one. PLEASE bring at least 12 COPIES. (Handwritten is ok, and you can usually get 5 cent copies at
convenience stores) We can better analyze your song with lyrics to look at and it shows respect for your listeners.
2) NO APOLOGIES. We used to have a "no excuses jar" For every time someone started to apologize for their song, they had to throw in a quarter. Once a writer threw in $5 and said "It's THAT bad..." and
made us all laugh! But the point is to just do the work and not waste time on an apology. All work is in progress and we don't need to hear why something isn't right before you even play it. Let us decide what we think first.
3) Have RESPECT for others presenting, respect for everyone's time, respect for the process and the craft. Help us keep a positive, supportive atmosphere as we try to write better songs and grow our community of songwriters and musicians.
WELCOME to our group. We hope you will stay and return again.