A Guide to Constructive Feedback

Posted by James Cullen on

Making music is, by its very nature, something that doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Even the most isolated of bedroom producers will still receive feedback on their music, whether they seek it out or not. If you’re lucky enough to have a group of friends who also produce music, or a similar peer group, the resource there of people able and willing to give feedback is an invaluable one. 


Feedback is so important when you’re making music because when it comes from a source that you trust, it can help you apply thought processes and ideas to your production that you wouldn’t have been able to think of on your own. I have had many a success from seeking advice from friends and fellow producers, it’s always great to have another producer’s eyes and ears on your music, picking out things you can’t and giving you a new perspective.


However, there’s an important point we need to go over here, and it’s what I’ll be discussing in this article. Being able to receive -and give- constructive feedback is a huge skill to have as a musician. Being open to feedback; putting your ego aside and acknowledging that the best form of your music may not be your sole vision for it, is a great ability to have. Being able to take on board and put into practice ideas that someone else have given you is so important.


But where does this skill start? Inevitably, it begins with knowing how to give good and constructive feedback (and no, that doesn’t mean just using the fire emoji!). Being able to isolate parts of another producer’s music that you like, and explaining why you like them is as much a part of your repertoire of skills as making your own music. Similarly, being able to sensitively and helpfully give criticism or critique of another’s work is a huge plus. 


So today I thought we would explore exactly what constitutes good feedback, and then you can bear this in mind next time you have the opportunity to give or receive some critique or compliments on your productions. To make things easier for everyone, I will write as a guide for giving feedback, but the concepts are all there so you can bear in mind when receiving feedback too!

 


The Importance of Specifics


The biggest trope you’ll see on forums or social medias is people giving really basic and surface level feedback.


“This tune is sick!”


“Fire bro!”


“This hits different dude!”


And while getting positive feedback like this is a nice little ego boost, it doesn’t actually give anything that the producer can work with. 


This is why it’s so important that any feedback given is specific. What makes the track good (or bad) ? If you want to truly help your peers, and receive that same help in return, cultivate the habit of giving specific feedback. Listen as a producer; how’s the mix, the compression, the melodies? Hone in your attention on specific elements of the track that stand out to you and try to communicate why they stand out. It doesn’t matter if it’s a positive or a negative, because ultimately you’re wanting to help someone out when you offer critique and feedback. After all, you would want the same in return wouldn’t you?


What you need to bear in mind when giving feedback is whether or not you’re imparting any useful information. Is the critique you’re giving something you would appreciate hearing about your own music? It’s important to be honest about what you think works and what doesn’t.


State Your Reasons

Going one step further than this, it’s so important to give clear reasoning on why you’ve given any feedback you have. If you’ve got good things to say about the mix, explore exactly why you think it sounds good! Or on the other hand, if there’s something you think needs improving, be sure to explain why you think it does. 


Ultimately it’s down to each individual producer to decide whether or not they take on board advice or feedback they’re given, but if you are able to provide clear reasons behind any advice you give, there’s more chance you’ll be taken seriously and your opinion will be respected.


I have friends who are fellow producers (and a few who aren’t!) who I know will give me honest feedback about my music, and I respect their opinion and know that even if they turn around and tell me they really don’t like a tune I’ve shown them, they have my best interests at heart and want me to succeed. What’s more, I pay attention to the reasons people say they like or dislike something, as it can be useful to file these things in your long term memory; noting which techniques or elements got positive feedback, and which didn’t.


Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is


So far we’ve covered how it’s important to be specific in your feedback, and to give clear reasoning on why you’ve given the feedback you have. But this point forms the pinnacle of the previous two, in that if you’re able to tell a fellow producer that you don’t think something works, and for x reason, then the final step is to say “but here is what I would do to improve it”.


This is so important, and it’s been a source of constant inspiration to me over the years. Everyone from fellow producers to even my girlfriend have been able to say how they would change a tune to work more. A key point here is to note that my girlfriend has no musical training, she’s not a producer, but what she is is part of my target audience! So she will instantly know whether a tune slaps or not, and she can often say how she would make it work better. Always think about your audience and what they want to hear, and don’t be tempted to snub the advice of certain people just because they don’t have any musical training.


If you listen to a friend’s music and their mix lacks clarity or balance, give them some tips on how to solve the issue! This is so important, and I’ve mentioned this concept so many times before, but it is so valuable getting another producer’s take on your own productions and how they would do things differently. You may not always agree with the feedback you receive, and that’s your prerogative, but sometimes you may stumble upon a hidden gem of wisdom, so be open to hearing how someone else would handle your ideas!


Letting go of Ego

Unfortunately, with any art form there usually comes a lot of ego, and while ego has its place in music, there comes a time when you need to know how to let go of yours and be humble. This boils down to the importance of honesty.


If you’re giving feedback and criticism, be honest and don’t be afraid to hurt someone’s feelings. If somebody is asking for feedback and being honest with themselves, it’s usually because they have a sincere desire to improve their production skills. Going easy on them is not going to help. So while you shouldn’t go out of your way to hurt their feelings, don’t be afraid to be honest if something isn’t up to scratch and you know how to improve it! 


Positivity, Encouragement and Politeness


It’s also super important to include positivity in your feedback. If something in someone else’s tune is really good, don’t be afraid to tell them! Tell them why something is good, be super open and clear in the good as well as the bad! 

It can’t be overstated how important it is to bear in mind that some people asking for advice, especially in online forums, can be super inexperienced. They’re obviously just looking to grow and improve their skills, and just because a concept or idea seems obvious to you doesn't mean it is going to be obvious to everyone. Remember some of us have had years of formal musical education and training, whereas others are largely self taught. Some producers online are only teenagers, so encouragement from someone far more experienced could be a big boost to their confidence, and we all know how important confidence is! 


A good point to consider is that there’s no need to be impolite. This should go without saying but I know what some of you are like! If someone’s production sucks, don’t tell them that in that way. There are ways to express that you don’t think it’s good without being rude about it! 

Know the Difference between Styles and Skills


The final thing you need to be able to bear in mind when giving and receiving feedback is that you are inevitably going to come across producers who make music in totally different styles than what you’re used to. You may even come across people who produce music in styles you actively dislike. 


If this is the case, you need to know how to give honest feedback that takes into account the different styles and the elements of production that are not dependent on style. Doesn’t matter if you’re producing country or trap music, a bad mix is a bad mix. Also knowing your internal biases is super important, because if you feel you can’t give honest and clear feedback because you can’t get past the style, then you should just avoid giving any feedback!




Closing Thoughts


As I said at the beginning of this article, feedback and critique is so important to your music production. Knowing how to give it and receive it openly and honestly is a crucial part of being a good music producer.


Hopefully this article gave you some really useful tips and advice surrounding feedback on your music, and next time you’re in a position to offer some, be sure to bear this article in mind! 


As always, thanks for checking in with us here at Top Music Arts, and don’t forget to check out the rest of our site for some really great production resources!


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