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Music

Critique of "Nightmares" by Katrina Barclay

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I chose the song "Nightmares" for my January critique because I think it will illustrate a good example of the power of form, and also of the need for coloring and variance in the tone of a song. I want to thank Katrina for including lyrics, as it makes my job so much easier! I hear many songs I would love to critique, but can't make out enough of the lyric to fairly comment.

Tip: This is a critique of “Nightmares”, by Katrina Barklay. You’ll find the original workshop here.
Image: PhotoDune
Image: PhotoDune

Demo

This singer/songwriter style composition was a pleasure to listen to and is rather fresh-sounding to boot. I enjoyed the sparsity of the tracks and found that they generated a distinct tone. I do think a more dreamy, less staccato style rhythm and melody might have worked nicely with the subject matter but still found Katrina's choice interesting.

There is lots of room for the use of delay with the subject of dreams. In her defense though, the nightmares are over as of the start of the song!

I found the vocal to be crisp and in tune, as well as nicely contemporary. I do believe more variance was needed in the song's feel between sections. It is very clock-like, which is effective, but I felt it became a little monotonous after a while. Smoothing out an opposing section with more of a legato feel would have helped to color the song.


Form

Image: PhotoDune
Image: PhotoDune

The song consists of three verse sections each followed by a two line section that I will call a refrain due to the fact that it repeats for the most part. I think two consecutive verses prior to the first refrain would have worked better.

Any monotony could be alleviated by beefing up the tracks for the second pass.

I would then follow that first refrain section with an instrumental similar to the verse, and follow that with the final verse and refrain. The verses have a chorus-like characteristic, and this is why the very brief refrains are effective.

The use of dominant rhymes in the third and sixth lines of the first verse is not repeated in the second verse. Not everybody is a stickler, but I would match the sections. It makes the ear happy!

There are a lot of possibilities form-wise and, of course, I have given but one example.


Lyric

Image: PhotoDune
Image: PhotoDune

To me, the information given in the phrase "you stopped the nightmares" is the song's payoff. By revealing it immediately, the song is left with little if anywhere to go lyrically. I would give the history of the singer's plight to start off with. I think the line in question's information would work best in the refrain, paired with "now I'm dreaming away my life instead."

If these changes were implemented it would probably be best to keep the refrain consistent lyrically, perhaps tagging it only at the end of the song with a different pair of lines, if you wish.

Two lines that stuck out to me as weak were the 'skin deep' line and the 'hoax' line. Both felt to me that they were only chosen to satisfy a rhyme. Dig a bit deeper. The only other suggestion I have is this:

Make sure your story is moving forward and not just reiterating what has already been said.


Melody

This style of melody writing reminds me of one of my favorites, Suzanne Vega. My husband is fond of declaring that she once opened for him at a club near Columbia University! No envy going on there!

As I said earlier, the metering of this song is very staccato and very rigid. I very much like that for part of the song. Mellowing out the refrain and making it more melodic, and perhaps even "rangey", will provide some needed relief from the steady character of the verse.

It seems to me that the more negative information works nicely with the rigid rhythm, while the salvation part of the lyric would pair better with something more restful and positive-feeling. There is a possibility for some really excellent prosody in this song, given the subject matter! Play around with it a bit if you choose to change the lyric.


Commerciality

Image: PhotoDune
Image: PhotoDune

Lots of current female artists record songs in styles similar to this one. There is room for some amazing production work that could put the song on a whole different level too. Taylor Swift writes extremely well, and is a good one to dissect and learn from. Note the changes in mood within her songs, and the nice differentiation between sections.


Conclusion

I encourage every songwriter to strive for that section of a song that grabs you like a pit bull. It can be achieved in all styles of music. Learn to identify it as a listener.

The light, airy style popular among many female singer/songwriters does not appear to be going away, so have a go at it, and good luck with your writing! I hope my suggestions have been helpful to you. You have a good start on this song!

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