Getting Useful Feedback On Your Music
Everybody wants to get feedback on their music, especially when they’re just getting to grips with their production career.
One of the most disheartening things to get back when you send off a track is ‘not for me’. It’s vague, useless as feedback and at best shows a lack of interest.
Granted, not everybody has time to give you feedback, and you’ll probably find many people opt to write nothing at all, over a cursory ‘not for me’, assuming that lack of feedback is better than vague disinterest and an off-hand comment.
That said, any acknowledgement helps, and a noncommittal comment says more than you might imagine.
Reading a ‘not for me’ actually says to me ‘I listened, briefly, but nothing I heard prompted me to write more than an acknowledgement’ — this is perhaps evidence enough that my track isn’t bold or interesting enough. It could conversely mean that the listener didn’t give it much of a chance, or was pushed for time to digest and made some assumptions, so it does swing both ways.
What I find though is that when I do have the time and the willpower to write some more detailed feedback for people, or when I get a submission to my Fluence account (which rewards feedback through paying for my time) I find myself writing the same things over and over.
Regardless of genre, style or producer — the same things are often present (or lacking), and I felt like it might be time to explain to people where we’re all going wrong.
Not only does it save me some writing, but it can serve as a sense-check for you before you send something that you’re not finished with.
Before I go any further, this is the first issue. Sending unfinished tracks is not good form. If I’m going to check a track, I don’t really want to have to imagine what it might sound like when finished — I want to be able to enjoy it when it’s at a stage that you consider to be complete.
This is partially because I’m not keen (and don’t have time) to provide feedback at every stage of the track’s progress — but also because I don’t want this to turn into a collaboration — it’s your song, your ideas, your music — your art. If you don’t know what to do with it, I certainly don’t.
This is a common one. I often find many of the sounds used in tracks (especially from electronic producers) lack depth. There’s no detail to the sound, or there’s a distinct lack of dynamics. The culprit is sometimes poor samples, it’s sometimes stock synth patches but it’s also sometimes just a lack of processing, consideration, variety in sound or lack of sounds altogether.
When I put together my synth sounds, or my drums — I spend a good deal of time crafting each individual sound, both in isolation and alongside my other channels so that I can allow it to become my own, and not just a stock-beep with some compression.
I’m not one for needing a track to have effects all over it, but I do find that if you’re making an electronic track and you’re lacking in any sort of audio effects (we’re talking reverb, delay, panning, even EQ) then some of the atmosphere is lacking.
This partially contributes to the depth too — of course reverb adds a distance of sorts in the audio — it can create a foreground and background in the track, so I often find myself telling people that things need a bit more space, and some reverb to place them a little better in the soundscape.
If you’ve made your track and it’s got the classic 16-bar intro, 16-bar first section, 8 bar breakdown, 16 bars second section and then outro, you’re probably not putting enough consideration into the structure.
I heard an A&R guy say it best when he said he often tells musicians to “f*ck it up a bit” — don’t be afraid to try new structures, or to experiment.
Some of the nicest moments in music come from a lack of predictability. If I can tell what’s coming next, I get bored and turn it off. When it surprises me and delights me, that’s when I keep listening.
Simplicity & Clarity
As a producer, I often hear tracks which are simple in construction. It’s often possible to hear very clearly how they’ve been made. For me, this takes away some of the magic. My favourite artists and some of the most incredible tracks I can think of all share an element which is hard to pin down.
I often call it magic. It’s the situation where I can’t figure out how a sound or combination of sounds, or even an entire track has been put together. If I can’t re-create it easily, then there’s some magic in there for me — some mystery and a desire to continue listening (if for no other reason than to work it out).
I often find, the more time spent on a track, the more of this begins to present itself. Often producers will add lots of tiny elements, and the combination of all of these often merges into a “how did they do that” moment.
In a way, adding lots of elements and bringing plenty of things into the mix can be good, but also conversely, it can be simplicity that makes a track. Not simplicity in sounds used, but simplicity in the mix, in the structure and in the way the track sounds.
You can add many elements without filling up the spectrum of sound, and often that brings with it a sense of clarity.
This one might be specific to me, but I like to hear chord progressions that are pleasing yet unusual, unexpected, or resolve particularly well. A nice progression, coupled with some nice top lines can really make a track. If your chord progression is too predictable and your sounds don’t hold the track up, you’ll find there’s nothing in there to keep people (well… me) interested, nor help the track stand out.
The simplest tracks with the most beautiful chord progressions can often have a head-turning effect, since the mystery then lies in the “how did they write that progression” as opposed to the sound design.
Things guaranteed to put me off
Over-compression: If I load up the track and see the waveform is a brick. Over compressed and super loud. I’d say 90% of the time it’s hardly worth clicking play.
Most people you send music to should have good listening setups, so don’t feel you have to compress the living sh*t out of a track.
Your experience: If you tell me up front that you’ve only been producing for 3 days, that doesn’t encourage me to listen to your music. If anything it makes me think “they’ve almost certainly not spent enough time on this” — especially if you’re sending me a full album or EP. I didn’t find my “sound” and my comfort-levels with producing and releasing music until I had been producing for at least 5–6 years.
Your age: In the same way, if you tell me you’re a 12 year-old producer who just got FL studio, that’s also not very encouraging. I’ll assume you haven’t figured things out yet, and that your sound is underdeveloped. it’s an assumption, yes — but I don’t have time to give you the benefit of the doubt — why place any doubt in my mind in the first place?
Attaching your music to an email: Don’t do this. I’ll just delete it on principle. This still happens pretty much weekly. The same goes for sending a single link and no other chat via Soundcloud or Facebook.
Hyperbole: If you’ve included 20 statements from big DJs I’ll assume 2 things. 1 — Everyone else is playing this out so I don’t need to or want to. 2 — If everyone likes it it’s probably too “poppy” for me, and I’ll consider it too easy-access. Irony? Yes. Hypocrisy? Maybe. Sadly it’s the way my mind works. At least I’m giving you fair warning.
Life stories: I don’t need to read 8 paragraphs on why you started producing music at the age of 2. I just need a link to check the music, and maybe a short description. The rest is ignored anyway.
No streaming option: If I can’t check it right away without having to download and extract the music, I won’t bother. I don’t have the patience to spend more time working out how to play the music. I’ll only do that once I’ve decided if it’s for me or not. if it is — I’ll make the effort, but before that I need to listen to the track quickly and ideally be able to skip through it.
You can get loads more help on how to send your music to me and anybody else at http://howtosendmemusic.com and you can check out my own music (and even get a bunch of free stuff) from http://stillhead.com. I also have a course on SUccessful Self-releasing which you can find at http://ssr.howtoselfrelease.com.