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As musicians, we all have been asked to give feedback on our fellow musicians’ works-in-progress, finished music production, or musical idea. Likewise, we seek feedback from others to get a fresh perspective on our work.
In this article, I lay out five points to help you become better at forming constructive criticisms — of others’ work, and your own.
1. Be focused.
When giving feedback, avoid being too general. Being vague with your critique doesn’t help anyone. Instead, pick particular elements to critique. Below are some musical elements that you can look out for. (If you’d like to learn more about these elements, I’ve written an article on how you can analyze other people’s music in three easy steps.)
- Form: Could you understand the different sections of the song? If not, what could help make it better?
- Harmony: How does the progression feel and contribute to the overall narrative of the song? Are the chords helping with getting the lyrical meaning or melody across with impact? Are there one or two chords that could be changed to create tension and resolution in the piece?
- Dynamics: How does the music flow from the start to the finish? Is there a nice flow to it? How could this be improved? Are there some instruments or mixing techniques that could help with improving the ebb and flow of the song?
- Melody: This is probably the most important part of a song. Is the melody interesting and pleasant? Does it keep you engaged throughout the song? Does it feel weird or forced at certain moments in the song?
2. Be quick.
Though the common adage says that “slow and steady wins the race,” I argue the opposite is true in giving feedback on music. Listening to music is an emotional experience, and we react to music viscerally. So listen to your gut reactions and don’t dwell too long on formulating a piece of feedback. Take note of all of the feedback you have when you first hear a track, and go back to take a listen for a second time just to confirm your observations.
3. Be unbiased.
Music is extremely subjective and we all have our personal preferences on the genres and styles that we like and dislike. If you think that your feedback is coming out of a certain bias, make sure you communicate that to the producer so he/she knows where you are coming from. Try not to mix general, healthy industry practices and biased opinions together.
4. Don’t overwhelm.
A full page of feedback sometimes isn’t really useful for bedroom producers like you and me. Even professionals do not have all the time to look through a full list of feedback. Limit yourself by prioritizing critiques that will be most helpful. I recommend focusing on the big issues you hear in the song, since sometimes solving the bigger issues will also solve the smaller, less pressing problems.
5. Don’t just criticize!
Your critiques are only helpful feedback if they’re actionable. So if you don’t like something, don’t just say, “I don’t like it” and call it a day. Make a concrete recommendation for how to improve it!
Some hypothetical examples are:
- “Great job with the tone of the bass and how it sits in the mix! You could try changing the bass rhythm pattern in the chorus a bit more to create some variation and to lock in better with the drums.”
- “I see that you are trying to create a sidechain pumping effect during the chorus, and although it sounds pretty good now, I think it would be even better if you reduce the intensity of the pump by easing the compressor threshold.”
- “As a big hard rock fan, I love the way you processed the guitars in the mix. My only concern is that the guitars are overpowering the vocals in the chorus. Try dropping the volume a couple of dBs to see if the vocals sit better.”
Where to start…
If you are looking to practice your constructive criticism skills, a great place to start is with our friends over in the Splice Community where thousands of producers are posting their works-in-progress each day. Take a listen to some of the works and leave a comment or private message with your constructive feedback.
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