Feedback and critique

FEEDBACK AND CRITIQUE

Feedback - information about reactions to a product, a person's performance of a task, etc. which is used as a basis for improvement.

Critique - 1. a detailed analysis and assessment of something, 2. a criticism or critical comment on a subject.

Feedback and critique are both very important to your progression as a musician. Without these two things, you will find it difficult to know what level you are at, what people think of your work, and how to proceed. You won’t know if you are doing something terribly wrong (or right!) without a point of reference, and the opinion of your potential audience.

Feedback.

When you are starting out as a musician, or just doing it as a hobby, you should be looking for feedback. You should be asking people how you sound, what they think of your skill level, if they like your song, and what they think you could do to improve: which can be a difficult situation to put yourself in!

The first thing you should do is find an authority on what it is that you are doing, and ask them to provide feedback.

Whether this is feedback of a performance or a recording, or both, is up to you. The easiest way to get feedback these days is to record a video of yourself playing, using the camera on your phone, tablet or computer. Once you have a video you are pleased with, you can upload it and send it to whoever has agreed to provide the feedback. 

YouTube can be a great forum for feedback from your potential audience, but it can be unnecessarily harsh and exposes you to feedback from people who may not be qualified to give it. Many of the random people commenting on your video might just be passing music casuals and have no real knowledge or useful advice to offer. ’That’s great’ or ‘you’re amazing’ might be nice to hear, but neither comments are actually telling you anything.  

What you’re looking for is specific comments on your music and, if necessary, advice on how to improve.

An authority to provide feedback can be difficult to find as an up and coming artist, which is exactly why I do what I do. I will give you honest, constructive feedback on your skill, your sound and your music. Just ask!

Other than getting in touch with me, the only real advice I can give for finding someone else is to ask. Simply ask. When you’re looking for feedback the person who provides it doesn’t have to be a professional musician; they just have to know about, and have experience with music. Ask your music teacher at school, the owner of the local record shop, a local gig promoter, your dad’s mate who tours in a band, the sound engineer at the local open mic night. Anyone who you think will have a valuable opinion and be able to give honest feedback.  

You need to make sure the person you are asking understands you want feedback BEFORE you play for them or show them your video. There’s no use in sending it and then asking for comments, you’re only going to get vague compliments or get brushed off.

Let’s say you’re showing a video of you playing the bass guitar to your dad’s friend Dave, who is a drummer in a touring band. You say “Hi Dave, I’m looking for honest feedback on my music, so I can learn where my weaknesses are in order to improve. Can you please watch my video and tell me what you think?” Dave will say “No, you’re the worst, give up bass now”.  

I’m joking. Dave would never say that. We love Dave. He’s going to listen, tell you how good you sound, then draw from his vast experience to offer a few tips on how you might improve. Success! 

Critique.

A critique is a more serious type of feedback that focuses on every minute detail of your music, from your skill and presentation to your songwriting. People who are looking to become professionals need to receive critique in order to progress further than the average musician.  

Critique can be blunt and without compliments, so you need to learn to take criticism as it’s intended: for improvement. A good critique can work wonders. 

Remember that criticism is not intended to be hurtful or mean spirited. It is a blatantly honest, impartial analysis, and the fact is that you can always improve! There is always something you could be doing better, which is why you sought out criticism in the first place; to know exactly where to make that improvement.

In fact, the first person you should seek critique from is yourself. Watch your own video! You will usually be your own harshest critic and seeing yourself perform can quickly highlight a few things you don’t like. Before you seek out professionals you should be 100% happy with what you show them, I guarantee the first comment they have will be about the aspect you know is your weakest. If they are just telling you what you already know, what’s the point?

Let’s say you’ve composed some atmospheric electronica using virtual instruments and music software. You would be looking for critique from professionals who know about atmospheric electronica, digital composition, sound design, music production and songwriting. These people would provide you with detailed comments on the areas you could improve, as well as aspects they like. This is invaluable! It’s real-life direction!

You will always see progress and positive results in your work after a critique.

To complete the honours year for my degree, I had to present my year's worth of work to a room full of experts to critique on multiple occasions. I even had to send it overseas to be critiqued by more authorities, to make sure the local authorities were authoritative enough. It was nerve-wracking and some of the comments were brutal, but my work became exponentially better after my weaknesses had been highlighted. The sessions gave me focus and helped me achieve a top grade.

If someone agrees to critique your work, you should be thankful they are willing to do so, and happy to take on board any comments they might have. Take the critique you receive seriously. It’s advice based on experience and expertise that you might not have. You’ll never be able to hear yourself the way others hear you.

View critique as a positive activity, accept the information as a challenge.

Be humble, honest with your intentions and thankful. Feedback and critique will highlight your strengths and weaknesses. If you can focus on balancing these two elements, your music, your playing and your composition will always improve.