Mix critique will help you make better-informed decisions with your music. Learn how to ask for feedback on your mix and apply it to improve your music.
Access to feedback is a vital part of progression in any field. In school or the workplace, we need to know what we’re doing wrong so that we don’t make the same mistakes again, and we need to know what we’re doing right so that we can build on our strengths. Feedback is as important in the world of music production and mixing as it is anywhere else, and one of the fastest ways we can improve is by seeking feedback on our tracks.
It can be difficult to listen to our own productions with a critical ear. When you have spent a great deal of time working on a track, it is not easy to achieve the necessary critical distance that allows you to spot problems or mistakes. Someone with no emotional investment in a track should be able to analyse it objectively; if you spent all week crafting a specific guitar sound, you are probably going to want to hear it in the final mix – and if it actually doesn’t sound very good, you might just need someone else to tell you to take it out.
You can seek out different types of feedback (technical, creative), and you can seek out feedback at different points in the production process. Consider which type of feedback will work best for you and will have the most positive impact on your work.
Technical feedback can help us to rectify problems in our mixes. Perhaps your listening environment is less than perfect, and your mix is therefore too boomy or too harsh. Somebody else listening on a different system may be able to help you correct these problems. We can also receive technical feedback on mic choice and placements, EQ decisions and audio editing.
Creative feedback can help us to make our music more artistically or emotionally satisfying. This is the kind of feedback that a producer would often give a band in the studio. Perhaps the arrangement of your song could be tighter, or your chorus could do with a counter melody. Perhaps the second verse needs more musical development, or the vocal could be delivered in a different way.
Asking for feedback early in the creative process can be difficult, as allowing people to hear our unfinished work can leave us feeling exposed. However, we also stand to benefit the most from feedback given early, as we are freer to implement changes. Of course, if you are looking primarily for technical feedback, then sharing a mix that is nearly complete can still be very beneficial. Even sharing completed work can be useful as we can implement any feedback in future tracks.
There are many places we can ask for feedback. We can ask friends and family for their thoughts on our music. They may not be able to provide us with technical feedback, but they will certainly have an emotional response to our music. Most of our audiences will not have musical training, so getting feedback from non-musicians can be worthwhile.
Of course, feedback from experienced practitioners is even more valuable. One of the reasons people are willing to pay high university fees is that we learn faster when under the guidance of experts.
SoundGym recognises the important role that feedback plays in the creative process and has dedicated spaces for you to upload mixes. These spaces enable you to get feedback from our community; one space that is particularly worth investigating is the mixdown training room. There, the community provide weekly sets of stems and encourage you to have a go at mixing them. You can then upload the results, explaining any problems you may have encountered, and you will receive feedback from the wider community.
Responding to feedback can be difficult as sometimes we are told things that we don’t want to hear. It can be dispiriting to receive negative feedback after working incredibly hard on a project. However, it is important always to try and receive feedback with an open mind. Try to emotionally distance yourself from your music for a moment – could making the proposed changes, no matter how drastic, actually improve your work? If so, then do your best to implement them.
That said, not everybody will like your music, no matter how good you are. Sometimes you will receive creative feedback that you just disagree with and which does not fit with your creative vision. In these cases, you sometimes need to just stick to your guns and believe in the choices that you have made – history is littered with bands that received extraordinarily negative critical feedback but went on to become hugely influential; the Velvet Underground, for example, or Black Sabbath.
This is all about improving what you do. Yes, you should always critically evaluate your own work, and you should be constantly aiming to learn and use new techniques. But you will sharpen your new skills much more quickly when you are able to lean on the knowledge and experience of others. So try to be brave enough to share your incomplete work – it really is the fastest way to improve.
Audio Ear Training for Music Producers and Sound Engineers