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May 3, 2018

Whiskey and History - NSAI feedback.

OK, so I joined the Nashville Songwriters Association. It seemed a logical step if I want to be serious about developing my chops as a songwriter. I love the Australian Songwriters Association and will keep being involved locally when I can, but they don't really help me much when it comes to developing as a songwriter in Brisbane. I need more.

I heard about how wonderful NSAI is from some people at the Australian Songwriters Conference in 2016. Having experienced some serious critique and the opportunity to pitch my songs to real publishers and receive real feedback, I have been wanting to know more for a while. I was also encouraged by placing in the Top 10 Folk/Acoustic songs at the Australian Songwriting Awards last year ... that was kinda cool.

So, the NSAI offers members 12 critiques from professional writers per year as part of membership, and I really wanted to find out where my songs stand. This is, of course, part of the Tetrafasi process: do a rough cut, get feedback, improve for the next cut. Given that Alive and Alone is as far as I've gotten in that, it seemed appropriate to seek professional help.

I thought about what I regard as my strongest songs, and deliberately wanted to know where they stood in terms of persuading another performer to cut them. I'm confortable with them as my own songs with me as the artist - that's not much of a test. I thought Whiskey and History was probably my most saleable song, so it went first. I deliberately asked for feedback on the basis of that someone else might record it NOT as a good song for me. I put it in the Country category (not sure what difference that makes) because I'm not sure which of Rock/Roots/Country influences dominates more in my head. Here's the version I uploaded to them as an MP3 - straight off Alive and Alone:

Here's the feedback I received by email within a few days:


Song Title - Whiskey and History

Evaluators Comments -

EVALUATORS OPENING: Hello, its Evaluator # XXXXX and thank you for having
NSAI and myself be a small part of your writing and career. Please
understand that what I am about to lay out are merely suggestions to help
improve your writing and make your song and your future songs as strong as
they can possibly be to compete in todays competitive market. Lets get

FORM/STRUCTURE: Always have short turns in between CH1 and V2. No need for
that musical space. It only stalls the songs momentum. Also I think its
overkill having a bridge and yet another verse. I would have one or the
other but not both.

TITLE/HOOK: The title is cool and its prominently displayed in the song which
is nice to see.

LYRIC: A few observations here. Overall the lyric is very vague in nature.
I really don't know what is going on nor where he is. Two lines that are
confusing are actually Lines 1 & 2 of the chorus. When you say GOT MY
whiskey and history and then say BRING ME etc etc, Im not getting it. If you
already HAVE it why would you be asking for it?? Furthermore, who are you
then singing that to?? Try and be a little less vague and more clear there.
Also I would be careful with lines like THE ROAD IS MY HOME. No major label
artist would promote drinking and driving. Also Im not understanding the
bridge. Not only do I not know what the front half of Line 1 means, Im not
understanding the latter half of Line 2 relative to the title and what
appears to be the main point of the idea. Lastly, what does the HISTORY part
of the title mean to the song?? Not really seeing that setup in the verses at
all. What history?? Make sure you are supporting the title.

MELODY/METER: Its an average melody as far as melodies go. Try and think
outside the box a bit with your melody. Todays melodies are fresh and killer
and instantly memorable. Dig a little deeper there. Think about hitting
some higher notes and changing up the phrasing here and there. Anything to
make it stand out!!

OVERALL THEME/IDEA: I think the idea is confusing and needs further

CLOSING COMMENTS: Overall try and be less vague. Thats my best advice. I
hope you find this helpful and I wish you the best with your writing.


WOW! Cool feedback - what to make of that? It's quite confronting, I admit, to NOT be told that this song is awesome and should be pitched to XXX right now! That's what I was hoping for (but not seriously expecting - it still stings a little).

Having had my expectations carpeted by Jason Blume at a workshop a few years ago, I was actually expecting something like this. But the detail in the critique is very cool - so many specifics to work on! Let's go through it point-by point:

1) Form/structure. I can live with this - I have changed the gap between chorus and verse when I play it live for this reason myself. Think I'll stick with it as is ... maybe cut down ... until I'm ready to record a version to pitch to someone (or a radio single). Don't agree about the bridge + third verse, tho. In my head both are an important part of the narrative (see below).

2) I actually wanted to lyric to be vague. I wanted to paint a picture without too much detail in the hope that people would fill in their own details. That's what especially U2 and Coldplay do really well. Guess it's not cool in Nashville - country songs are famous for being much more of a literal story - have to wonder whether it might have gotten a different evaluation in a different genre. Will re-work and try to make it clearer (see below).

3) The GOT MY/BRING ME thing is a good pickup. In my head it's perfectly clear, and this reviewer is obviously taking VERY literal approach to the lyric ... but I was told years ago by Bill Pere that that's the difference between my personality type (INTJ) and the rest of the world. I see things figuratively and big-picture, which often does NOT translate to others. Important feedback and easy to fix!

4) The drinking while on the road thing is ... WOW ... NOT what I intended. Important pickup! I guess this is what happens when you mix a metaphorical road with a literal whiskey. WHOOPS! Easy fix, tho ...

5) OK, so clearly this reviewer is not a whiskey drinker and has never encountered Celtic drinking culture. Clearly, if I want to reach the same market as the reviewer inhabits (ie most of the world) then this must change. I'll have a think about this one - perhaps I'll do a Celtic version and another version for the rest of the world ...

6) The history observation is interesting because in my mind I know exactly what I'm TRYING to say - the song is a narrative about making mistakes and moving on while feeling sorry for myself - drowning the history in whiskey to forget it. Clearly - see point 2 above - it's not working. Back to the drawing board on that one!

7) Melody - this is mildly annoying because I kinda didn't want this one to have a standout melody - it's meant to be personal and introspective - accessible. But I take the point - it needs to be memorable! Will see what I can come up with.

The rest makes sense in light of the above. Great feedback, thank you NSAI. Tempted to ask for an evaluation in a different genre and see whether it comes back different. Even though I now don't think anyone else would be interested in recording this song, I will re-write because I think this makes it a stronger song anyways ... watch this space!

What do you think? Is this feedback spot on or way off? How would you respond?

Let us know in the comments below ...

Posted by Huge at May 3, 2018 8:17 PM

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