criticism, feedback, reflection

There are at least three essential components in a song-circle that will generate fresh songs for your local church community – people, deadlines, and a critique. You can check out some of the previous posts on the topic HERE. This week we will look at the critique.

As creative people, most of us would rather avoid any form of critique or constructive review. We are all so danged insecure! Think your not? Go ahead, sing one of your songs for a few people and invite their honest opinion. You may have just felt yourself swallow hard.

Even though the thought makes us shutter, a system of honest critique is absolutely essential. It has been my experience that church is the one place on the planet where people regularly talk about how great truly awful things are. I know this to be true because people have come and complimented me on songs that were, at best, underwhelming.

The truth is that very few of us are all that self-aware, about anything. Our insecurities and fears have either beat us into shaking submission or have puffed us up with delusions of grandeur – though, most of us are a complicated mixture of both, and like kites, are being blown by every kind of wind.

The #1 job of the person who is leading the group is to make this process a good balance of safety and honesty, to withhold either is to rob each person present of the opportunity to grow, the chance to become a more refined, nuanced writer. That said, people will get their feelings hurt. That’s o.k., people need pastoring. People need someone to speak encouragement to their fears. Other people need someone to punch their jerkiness in the face – that’s pastoral too.

One way to balance safety and honesty is to impose a 3 to 1 rule, meaning three positive compliments to one constructive, critical comment. It’s also important to try and get everyone to comment, in this fashion, on everyone else’s song – that increases the feedback on each song, which is always really helpful, AND it causes everyone to listen and comment with grace knowing that they will also be on the receiving end!

Another facet to the 3 to 1 rule is the emphasis on the good. Oddly enough, most of us are just as blind to the strengths in our songwriting as we are the deficiencies. We need to know when the melody soars. We need to know when the song concept is genius. We need to know what’s good. This practice is for the people offering critique as much as it is for the person receiving. Our culture is drunk with biting criticism and negativity. We are all well trained experts in what “sucks”, to the point that we have often times become blind to the greatness in the people all around us. All of our constructive, shaping words must be applied to a strong frame of encouragement.

At the same time, our songs need careful and gentle criticism. If the verse melody is lifeless, or the second line of the first verse is a tired cliche, we need to know. Often, the difference between a good song and a great song are the simple tweaks that emerge from an honest evaluation.

Ira Glass, of This American Life, points out that when a person begins creative endeavors, their “taste” will be better than their abilities. I know nothing that helps close this gap like a song-circle where a person can get honest, encouragement leaning feedback.