Providing artists with useful song feedback is difficult. Many people within the music community are sensitive and can be heavily influenced by the feedback they receive; for better or worse. Everyone takes positive feedback well, but the most useful type of feedback is critique. This guide will provide you with 5 tips to give better song feedback, with an emphasis on how to effectively deliver criticism.
The most important thing to remember is that song feedback is only useful if the person you’re giving it to is willing to listen. When someone trusts your judgement, they’re more likely to be receptive to what you tell them. You can build these types of relationships with other artists by properly networking in the music industry.
1. Provide a Solution to a Problem
If an artist asks you for feedback on a song and you say “It’s good,” or “I don’t like it,” you haven’t really helped them that much. What’s good? What don’t you like about it?
Focus on one thing the person asking you for feedback can work on. Identify the element of their song, that if improved, would provide the most significant overall gain. Maybe their 808 samples aren’t hitting hard enough. Try suggesting a free aggressive 808 sample pack they can use instead.
Any time you provide criticism, attempt to deliver it along with a solution. If the artist’s kick is being masked by their bass, link them to a step-by-step article on ”7 Ways to Mix Your Kick and Bass Together.”
If their arrangement is excellent, but they don’t know anything about mixing, recommend a more comprehensive solution like video courses. For absolute beginners, I usually recommend checking out “Mixing 101” by Matthew Weiss. For more advanced producers and audio engineers, a genre-specific video course like “Mixing EDM” or “Mixing Hip-Hop” may be more appropriate.
2. Give a Compliment Sandwich
How you deliver criticism is extremely important. To avoid ruining someones day and sending them into a downward spiral of self-doubt that shatters their music career, sandwich your critique between compliments. Everybody likes compliments, and everybody likes sandwiches; it’s perfect.
Let the artist know there are redeeming qualities to their song. Start by drawing attention to a positive aspect of the track, provide your critique, and then follow it up with another compliment. Criticism stings, but most people are aware that it’s an integral part of growing as an artist. Ultimately, it’s up to the artist to choose whether or not they act on your feedback.
This approach is all about saying what has to be said in the least destructive way possible. Criticism is like a baseball. Imagine throwing a baseball at someone as hard as you can; it’s going to hurt. You can just as easily toss it to them. One way or another, the other person is going up with the baseball.
3. Don’t Offer Critique Unless You’re Asked for It
Dishing out feedback to someone who isn’t ready to receive it can burn bridges; they may get offended. You don’t always need to provide critique. Sometimes just respectfully listening to an artist’s song is all that’s required; people like sharing their music.
When an artist shows you a song that is completely finished and uploaded to iTunes, Spotify, etc., they’re usually just looking for a compliment. At this point, they can’t make use of any of the critiques you may have, so pat them on the back and move on.
I’m guilty of having criticized music to an artist’s face that I thought was half finished, but that was already released online… awkward. You don’t necessarily need to apologize for your comment if you were being honest, but try to refrain from doubling down.
When someone hires me to engineer a track for them, they’re expecting feedback, so I have no problem dishing it out. I wouldn’t be doing my job well if I let them release a poor quality product. If you work as an audio engineer, you’re obligated to at least mention the issues you perceive in a client’s track, even if they disagree with you.
4. Be Honest with New Artists
“Hey bro, I’ve been producing music for a month. Check out the track I just made. I’d love some feedback on it.” 9 times out of 10, when someone hits you up with a message like this, the song is a train wreck. We’ve all experienced this, but what do you do in this situation?
New music producers develop at such a fast rate, especially when starting out, that the best thing they can do is put their head down and pump out music. It’s ok to tell someone that they’re currently experiencing a period of exponential growth and that your feedback may be more useful later on. Most people will respect the fact that you’re being real with them.
If you do want to provide new producers with assistance, helping them with song arrangement seems to have the most significant impact on the quality of their music. A rock-solid arrangement can help new artists produce mixes that are of a higher calibre without relying on mixing tools. Read “The 6 Secrets to a Clean Mix” to learn more about generating clean mixes with minimal effort.
5. Go for the Throat
I’m abhorrently blunt when providing feedback to artists I’m close with, like PRZM and Paperwings. I don’t beat around the bush and I go straight for the throat; this seems to be something highly valued by the people that can take the criticism.
If an artist trusts your judgement and you have a close relationship with them, let loose on their project. In a situation like this, feelings don’t get hurt too easily, and it’s not as important to walk on eggshells. The more faith someone has in your production abilities, the more likely they are to be receptive to your feedback.
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