Recently I was interviewed by Levi Whalen for his new podcast “The Dance Music Makers Podcast.”
We had an awesome discussion in which we went deep into topics like workflow, creativity, and also how to effectively get feedback from people.
It’s important to talk about because most people go about getting feedback the wrong way. They either take the “spray ’n’ pray” approach – hoping that if they just post a link to their track in enough places, someone will surely respond – or they simply ask for it in the in a non-respectful manner.
In this post, I’m going to give you 5 actionable tips for getting feedback on your music. Before that though, we’re going to look at why feedback is so important, why building your network is the foundation for receiving helpful feedback, and why you should offer value before anything else.
Why feedback is important
I hope that most of you reading this already realise how important feedback is to an electronic music producer, but I’m sure some of you are under the impression that feedback doesn’t really matter that much, and that you can go it alone. Well, you can’t, and here’s why…
The first reason feedback is important is that it’s hard to listen to your own music objectively. You spend countless hours on a song, often listening to the same section over and over again. You become biased toward it in one way or another – maybe you think that the low-end sounds great, or that the melody is absolutely killer. Or maybe you’ve grown to hate a certain idea in your song that everyone else thinks is great.
When you ask someone for feedback on your track, you’re asking them to listen to something they’ve never heard before. You’re asking them for their first impression. You can’t get true objective feedback from someone, because they have their own preferences and tastes, but you can get close enough.
It can fix key mix problems
For the past few months, I’ve been living in Melbourne. I haven’t had access to my normal studio gear, which means I’ve been mixing down my productions with headphones.
Working solely on headphones has its issues, so I’ve been asking for feedback on my mixes from people who have monitors and can spot key problems in the mix. Does the low-end sound alright? Is the mix too wide?
Ask for feedback from people who have different setups – get feedback from people who have well-treated studios or access to a club sound system.
It gives you new ideas
A lot of feedback is solution-based, and that’s how people view it. You want to know what’s wrong with your track, after all. However, feedback can also present new ideas.
You might ask someone for feedback on your mix, and they tell you that a certain motif or sound would work here or there, and so forth. Feedback can be used to not just solve problems in your track, but also to enhance it.
It shows you what you need to learn/practice
When you’re consistently receiving feedback, you’ll start to notice recurring issues. These are your weak points.
Let’s say you ask for feedback on one song and the person responds with “I like it. It’s a good track, but the melody doesn’t really work with the underlying chord progression.”
So you go and fix it, and then you work on another track and ask someone else for feedback. They respond with something similar, “Love the arrangement, love the mix, but you’ve got a few notes out of key that are really off-putting.”
Clearly there’s a recurring issue here – you don’t know your music theory, so you should invest more time and effort into studying it.
Build your network
Regardless of whether you want to build a career out of music production or not, growing your network and building relationships with other artists and producers is paramount.
The producer who’s well connected will collaborate more often, get offered more remix opportunities, play gigs more frequently, and receive more helpful feedback than the producer who has no network.
Because I want to stay on topic, I’m not going to tell you how to build your network in this post. But if you’re interested in learning more, here are two links that may help:
In his acclaimed book Influence, Robert Cialdini writes about the rule of reciprocation, which basically states that we have a deeply ingrained inclination to pay people back if they’ve helped us out.
How does this apply to feedback? Well, by offering value to people before asking them for something, you’re more likely to get a response. If you offer value to an artist in one way or another, then later on ask them for feedback, they’ll feel compelled to give you some.
But Sam, I don’t have anything to offer!
You don’t need experience to offer value. If you want to receive feedback from someone you respect and admire, then do the following:
- Follow them on all social media platforms
- Like, share, and retweet their posts as much as possible
- Comment on their posts as much as possible
Do this for a month or so, and then pop the question. Assuming they’re not “Calvin Harris level,” they’ll have seen you around and will be more than willing to give you feedback having received value from you.
#1 – Simply ask
The first and most obvious way to gather feedback is to simply ask people. There’s no particular strategy here (though you should be offering value beforehand), it’s just a simple request.
However, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
When someone emails me or messages me asking for general feedback, it can be quite overwhelming. Often there’s a lot going on in a song that needs fixing or improving, and so to give general, non-specific feedback, it takes several listens to identify and note down the improvements that could be made. This takes a lot of time.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with asking for general feedback, but you’ll often find that if you ask for more specific feedback on one area of your track – say the mix down – then you’ll get more in-depth, specific advice in return.
Asking for feedback is not a matter of sending a message to someone saying “check out my soundcloud bruh.”
You need to act professionally and ask nicely, but also be concise. Here’s a template you can use:
Hi [real name or artist name]
I just wanted to say – I came across you a few months back and have been absolutely obsessed with your music ever since. Thank you for doing what you do.
I’ve just put out a track on Soundcloud for free download and I was wondering if you could take a listen and give me some feedback on the [mix/composition/arrangement]?
If you’re too busy, that’s not a problem. Keep releasing great music!
It’s simple, doesn’t take long to read, and it’s specific. You don’t need to be overly formal – we’re music producers, not lawyers.
Don’t deflect any feedback
A great way to never receive feedback from a person ever again is to deflect any criticisms that they make. For instance, if you ask for feedback from someone and they tell you that your mix is “quite muddy,” and you respond with “yeah.. well, I knew that! It’s not mixed down yet…. so….” Then the person who gave you feedback is going to sigh, take one more look at what you just responded with, and then completely forget about you.
You will receive some feedback that you absolutely disagree with. Sometimes, that feedback will be justified and you won’t like it because it stings emotionally, and other times that feedback won’t be justified. Whatever the case, it’s best to be grateful for it and take action on the things you agree with. Under no circumstance should you engage in debate with the person giving you feedback, they’re trying to help you!
#2 – Do a feedback “trade”
A feedback trade is where you ask someone for feedback on your track while offering to give feedback on one of theirs.
This only works with people at the same skill level as you. Don’t try and attempt it with producers that are significantly more experienced than you, because it’s not really a “trade” in that case. What you can offer them is far less what they can offer you.
The major benefit to a feedback trade is that you often get more in-depth feedback because the other person isn’t giving feedback purely as a favour. Another benefit is that it can be a good way to receive regular feedback if you and the other person get along well.
#3 – Use forums & Facebook groups
I’m not a huge fan of forums and feedback-driven Facebook groups. They typically devolve into a spam-fest. But some of them can be valuable.
What you’ll find on forums is that there’s a skewed ratio between the those asking for feedback and those actually giving it. From what I’ve seen, it’s around 5:1 (5 people asking for feedback and 1 person actually giving it). This means, again, that you have to offer value by giving feedback where you can before asking for it.
#4 – Create your own closed feedback group
Feedback is most powerful when it comes from more than one person. One way to get solid feedback time and time again is to create your own closed feedback group, inviting a few other producers who you know well.
Keep this group under 10 people, and make sure that everyone who joins understands the commitment and the rules. One of the rules might be that everyone has to give feedback when someone posts a link. Another rule might be that you can only post one track per month or per fortnight. You get the idea.
#5 – Pay for it
Yes, paying for feedback can be worth it. It’s not the first thing that comes to mind, but paid feedback is generally far more comprehensive and in-depth than feedback you’d receive otherwise for one main reason – you’re offering compensation for people’s time.
Giving in-depth feedback takes a long time. The last time I charged for feedback, I spent a good 30 minutes listening to the track and writing up the feedback.
I highly recommend checking out Audiu (I’m not affiliated with them), a place where you can receive feedback from professionals in exchange for a reasonable fee.
By now, you should know how important feedback is, and you should also know where to find it. Again, it comes down to offering value, building your network, and asking properly.
No more excuses.
What tip would you add to this list? What do you look for when asking for feedback? Leave a comment below with your answers.