In our previous post, we talked about some ways to learn how to ask for song feedback in a way that gives you the most bang for your buck. In this post, we’ll get into how to give good feedback. Both skills are important to have if you’re going to make the most of collaborating online together!
When giving feedback, it can be tempting to listen to the song once and spout off all the things about it that you disagree with, would have done differently, or just plain don’t understand. But remember, many of these things are not up to you. You’re not the artist! If the type of kick drum chosen is not something you would have picked, don’t bring it up–unless it’s severely affecting the piece in a negative way. It’s so very easy to fall into the trap of over-correcting on creative choices the artist made.
Instead, here’s a little trick to listening critically. First, listen to the piece at least twice. The first time you’re just listening to what the song is trying to say artistically. Don’t think about technical details, just focus on the vibe, the emotion, and the statement. Take some notes–mental or on paper–about what things this song brings to mind for you. What emotions does it make you feel? Does it give you a vision in your head of a scene or a person? Note that too.
Then, listen a second time. This time you have the vibe of the song in the back of your head, and now you can listen more critically to the technical aspects of the song. Does the song flow well from an arrangement perspective, or does it jolt from part to part? I usually call this “shifting without a clutch” because sometimes it can feel jarring and like gears are grinding!
Are the various sections of the instruments well-positioned in the mix? Anything too loud, too quiet, too harsh, or too soft? Perhaps the song is still not properly mixed yet and you’ll likely need to keep this in mind as you listen. You may need to withhold feedback in this area until you’re listening to a first pass of the mix being done.
Does the song have a strong dynamic arc? Does it build up to a major climax and then let you back down? If not, does it need one? Not all songs do, and in fact, one of my favorite songs, “Waiting for the Night” by Depeche Mode, is absolutely non-climatic, and that’s exactly how it should be for that song’s vibe. But most songs do tend to need an arc and suffer when they don’t have one.
If the song has lyrics, do they tell a compelling story? Are they clever with wording, use double-entendres, or build a story in your mind instantly? Again, not all songs have (or need!) lyrics, but human story is such a powerful tool when conveying emotion, it pays to listen to this aspect and offer constructive feedback to help make the song punch even more. And for those songs and genres that typically don’t have lyrics–looking at you EDM :smirk:–it’s all the *more* important that emotions are built within the song’s dynamics and timbre. You have double-duty work here if you’re producing a song without lyrics.
Lastly, if there are any human performances, how well are they executed? Did the singer’s voice crack just a bit at that crescendo? Is the bass a little too sloppy and not locked in with the kick drum? Are those acoustic guitar strings squeaking a little too much? Sometimes a retake is needed to capture the best performances possible. In fact, the best producers working with artists in person will try all sorts of things to get the best performance out of them.
You may have noticed there are five aspects listed for consideration when listening a second time. Can you address all five of those in a single listen? I can’t. To give it really solid feedback, I’d listen once through for each of these five aspects, if they were applicable to the song. Yes, that’s up to six listens of a song to be able to offer really critical feedback!
And this gets to the crux of the issue with asking for feedback from others. It is a time commitment! Even one song, at 3 minutes long, could require almost 20 minutes of critical listening time to give truly detailed and actionable feedback. Yet it takes just a few seconds to post a link to a song and ask for feedback.
This asymmetry is what leads so many online resources to become a cesspool of “What do you think of my song?” posts with zero replies. The best resources address this in unique ways, including points, reputation, give-to-get schemes, and the like. Tonic Audio plans to address this, and allow community leads to decide.
What are communities, you ask? We’ll have an upcoming blog post describing them in detail. Stay tuned and sign up for our closed beta!