There are many ways to get an outside perspective on your music, but some points of view could be more valuable than others.
We musicians spend days locked away on our own piecing strange sounds together. By the time they’ve formed any semblance of something ‘finished’, we’re ready to stab ourselves in the ears for fear of hearing the same loop for the billionth time. Even so, you know there’s potential there – something that has kept you glued to your computer that whole time.
But does it sound any good, or have you just become attached to your new creation?
After investing much time and effort in it, it’s no wonder we eventually need to reach out to the outside or online world and get someone else’s opinion.
When I began making tunes, pretty much all of my friends hated music with a passion. I needed perspective on the tracks I’d crafted, and ideas for ways to move forward. Seeking feedback, I slowly began to cultivate a new circle of friends: other solo producers who wanted to improve. We’d swap synthesis tips, mixing techniques and clips of tracks (sometimes finished… but usually not), even pictures of some funny kittens, encouraging each other to work harder.
Criticism would always be delivered with refreshing honesty. If your latest track was terrible, you’d know about it – but you’d also know why, and how to make the next idea better as a result. Nowadays, the ubiquity and anonymity of the internet simplifies the process of getting your music out there for others to cast judgement upon. But how valuable is an anonymous source of advice to you?
Whether your feedback is coming from strangers on a forum or personal friends, you need to make sure it’s helping you improve. Don’t cling to a musical creation just because you spent ages on it; accept that you’ll make some terrible music in the early stages of your development. Just use any constructive criticism and momentum to improve that track or put together a new idea as quickly as possible.
Your own worst critic
As my production skills have slowly improved over the years, I’ve sought less and less feedback from others. If you make music, you’re likely listening to lots of music and subconsciously critiquing it.
Sonic tastes and instincts mature over time, and you develop a feel for the difference between a good and bad song. I’m not saying that external opinion becomes redundant, but you should strive to become your own harshest critic before anyone else even hears your tracks. Compare your music with the music you like. The approval of others shouldn’t outweigh the satisfaction and pride you get when a track is ‘finished’.
In layman’s terms
Nowadays, I find non-technical feedback is by far the most productive.
- Forget if the vocal is mixed well – is it actually any good?
- Does my piece work musically?
- Will this track work for a commercial?
To gauge these reactions, I’ll play unfinished projects to my friends. They’re obsessed with – but don’’t produce their own – music. In the world of listener, DAWs have hinges, and plugins go in sockets. Music software genuinely scares them.
Ignorance of the music world adds so much value to their opinions in my eyes; they’re not trying to work out how much parallel compression I’ve applied over the drum bus, or what synth I’ve used to create the bass. Instead, an energetic track will usually excite them, whereas a lacklustre effort will be greeted with a “meh”. Most listeners that need stock music aren’t that technical but will quickly let you know if an idea works in their minds, as long as you push for their honest opinion.
The curse of the loop
I began to realise that the majority of the unfinished track bounces I sent out for feedback would sit in my dedicated ‘Loops’ folder, unfinished. Listening back, many of these track sections contained some of my best ideas. Why hadn’t I completed them? It became clear that the act of exporting an unfinished project would subconsciously relegate it to the ‘unfinished’ pile in my mind, and the momentum to get it done would just evaporate.
Since that epiphany, I’ve banned myself from rendering out unfinished tracks, and I’ll only bounce an entire track down once it’s done and dusted.
Of course, a ‘finished’ track will often need revisiting. So to counteract the ‘curse of the loop’, I’ll try to make the final adjustments in as short a timeframe as possible – before the motivation to complete the track disappears, and it becomes yet another ‘loop’.
I discussed this technique a few months ago: when evaluating a nearly finished track, I’ll make notes on pen and paper as it plays; scribbling down reminders to add or change certain sections, tweak the mix here and there, turn up the bass, and so on.
Once the project’s open, I can work my way through the list, correcting each issue and ticking them off in turn. This keeps the momentum rolling, and helps things stay on track until the project is finally done. Although, to quote da Vinci: “Art is never finished, only abandoned”.