Giving effective and constructive feedback is hard without sounding pompous or prescriptive. These are often cherished and vulnerable pieces of someone’s work that you are tasked with critiquing and helping them while reinforcing their work is extremely important. Nobody gets across the finish line alone, use these tips to help fellow creatives get there.
Remember there are real people being the art
Remind yourself that these are people you’re critiquing, not just their work. Artists are offering a piece of them during the songwriting process and are in a very vulnerable and often uncomfortable situation. Treat your feedback as such.
Take a minute to gather your initial thoughts
Is this a critique or just criticism? Are you critiquing the song or the person? Your initial reaction to a song is important, it’ll often be what gets other people to listen to it instead of hitting “next”. Take a minute to make sure your initial reaction is communicated in clear and respectful words.
Be specific, not prescriptive
Having specific feedback is much more helpful than a vague “I don’t like this” or “I would change that”. Offer areas you’d rethink or rework and offer a path to a solution. Try to guide and lead to an end goal with your feedback.
Revert back to a goal
Does the artist have a goal with this piece? Do they have someone they’re drawing inspiration from? If you know the goal they’re trying to reach, you may be able to pick an easier path they can take to get there.
Avoid your personal tastes
Everyone has different moods, themes, and inspiration that they draw from to create. Your all-time playlist is different than everyone you’ll ever meet, try not to let your personal biases towards a particular type of art get in the way of providing great feedback to an artist.
Be respectful of the artist’s journey
Often, you are giving feedback on something that is yet to be complete. The artist may have just started their song or are close to finishing it and just need a final push. Keep your feedback positive. It doesn’t matter where they are in their journey, so long as you’re pushing them in the right direction.
Keep talent out of it
Some artists may be new to their craft, they should be praised for putting themselves out there while they’re so early in the process. No one’s perfect, some productive feedback from you may be just what they need to continue to practice and get better.
Give feedback with questions
Feedback is a two-way street. Try not to give one-way feedback, but open a conversation instead. Ask questions to uncover what their thinking was behind a particular decision. Where do they want the song to go? What feel are they trying to achieve? Uncovering the answer to these may change your feedback quite a bit.
Praise with positive feedback, push with constructive feedback
Explain what you like and ask what you want to know more information about. Offering praise to someone’s very personal work is a surefire way to get them to open up more about their art. Once you’ve both opened up you can get into things you would change if it was your piece.
Give actionable feedback
“I didn’t like this part” isn’t good feedback. “I would change the melody here to something more upbeat and simple” is better feedback that can be put into action quickly. Your feedback should be insightful and actionable. Try to offer useful advice and explain your thinking behind the advice, it may help frame the feedback a bit better for the recipient.
Give reference tracks you’re giving advice from. Try linking to resources you’re talking about and new artists to help guide the person you’re giving advice to. Giving direct artists to listen to or resources to follow up on can be much more concrete and validated than a one-off comment about their piece.
Giving constructive feedback can be hard. Above all, embrace and embody the power of a positive environment, it can go a long way to help an artist in their journey. Little improvements have a way of compounding over time, consider using some of the techniques in this article to add a little improvement to a deserving artist.
There are nearly infinite ways to jumpstart your creative process and the best one is the one that works for you. Try some of these