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Finding honest feedback / your ear for quality

Discussion in 'Ask Justin Meldal-Johnsen' started by k2aggie07, Sep 19, 2013.

  1. k2aggie07


    Jul 6, 2011
    Houston, TX
    Hey Justin, kind of looking for advice / guidance.

    To make it a short story, I met a guy who has hundreds of songs worth of half finished music and he asked me to help him finish some. I have no "professional" music experience other than 7 or 8 gigs in a cover band, nothing other than I love rock music and (like most) I think I have a good ear for what makes music sound good.

    We've recorded some stuff, with me playing "producer" (as in, try this drum beat because I don't like that one) and helping him finish songs... writing bridges, bass lines, restructuring, trying to help him finish. The sound quality is not great. But then he asks me if it's any good. I don't know if it's good - I think it's good, but I'm biased because it is what I asked for.

    So I guess I have two questions.

    1. As a musician, but a hobbyist with no contacts, how would you suggest finding honest feedback? Someone that will tell you good or bad about a song...but that also will be right? Especially "yeah this is good" vs "this is bland or derivative".

    2. For you, how do you select things you want to produce? When you hear something what really grabs you and separates one band from the noise of all the rest?
  2. jmjbassplayer

    jmjbassplayer Justin Meldal-Johnsen

    Mar 25, 2005
    Hi there,

    1. Honest feedback. Is there such a thing? Everybody has an agenda, don't they? But the key is: who has the most transparent agenda possible and/or emotional involvement when commenting. That's important. Perhaps a good A&R person who you're friends with, rather than soliciting. Or a manager, or another producer. I don't really know how to answer your question very well, it's hard. Just keep searching for feedback until you find some that you know instinctually is honest and relatively pure.

    Or, better yet: If you make truly good music with relentless integrity, strong ideas, and is minimally derivative, that's really the only recipe. You don't need anyone's opinion if all those factors are in play. I guess it's when you don't know that those factors are in play, that's when you need strong opinions.

    I have an old friend who has a band that sucks. They sound like the worst of the '90's, with an image to match. But he endlessly promotes them to me and others, it's all over FB, and I believe he thinks that they are still destined for greatness. The day he actually asks me for an opinion about his band, I'm going so say something very direct about it. This is not very subjective, this is pretty obvious, by the way. But, how would I do it? Well, with kindness, of course. But also with thoughtful intent. Is it my place to say something in the meanwhile that is unsolicited? No. But if asked, he'll get the "whole enchilada". :) Not to make him feel bad. But to be real.

    I deal with people all the time who ask me why it is that it's so hard to make it, or what they are missing, or why they've spent 20 years doing songwriting seminars, paying "successful" producers to demo their tracks, showcasing, hiring "pro" players, etc. You get into all kinds of things with them about how they are promoting themselves, the quality of their demos, their social media profile, etc. etc. ad nauseam. You know what? It's really hard to tell people sometimes that their music is utterly irrelevant, embarrassingly passe, or just plain bad. But sometimes, that's all there is left.

    A bit of a digression, I know. Just ruminating/ranting/whatever.

    2) It has to be a strong idea. It has to have a sense of self. Relevant to at least some part of the zeitgeist, without pandering to a trend. That's about all I can say. Really really good songs, obviously.

  3. k2aggie07


    Jul 6, 2011
    Houston, TX
    Thanks for the thoughtful response. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer so many questions on here -- it is really refreshing and I get a lot out of your perspective.

    The hard part for many of us, and by us I mean hobby or new (to the scene) musicians, is that the line between irrelevant or passe and fresh or original can be hard to distinguish. And unless you have an "in" it can be (hell, it is!) hard to find the people who can honestly tell you "no -- this is not good".

    As an engineer (my day job) I got this repeatedly in college, and even more so when I started my career: "No, this is not good, here's why, go try again" -- sometimes in really harsh terms. It was hard to take at times but it made me better, and it was necessary for my development. But it came from experienced people in my industry that I was learning from and being mentored by, so it was "valid" and acceptable. I guess I just have a hard time finding people who play a similar role in my music.

    Thanks a lot for your time, your rant was great.

    Read a review of the show last night that was pretty glowing and said that a certain Zelly Meldal-Johnson stole the show. I bet that was a blast!
  4. maxiegrant

    maxiegrant Bassist in Transition

    Nov 26, 2007
    Sellersburg, IN
    Honestly, those are all subjective opinions. I do not ask for reviews, I don't want a critical examination of my work, if you like it that is good. If you don't, sitting there telling me what I'm doing wrong is pointless. I do my thing for a reason, and I spend a lot of time on it. I see most peoples' criticism as a waste of my time, since if you don't like it making up some logical excuse for not liking it is idiotic.

    I'm also a degreed critic, in that I took my Bachelor of Arts in English Lit, and specifically what they taught me was how to write critical essays on literary works. For me, "criticism" isn't fault-finding but a search for meaning, so when I see someone doing it ham-fistedly with all of their personal prejudices and desires on display, rather than their impression of the actual work, I just get irritated. Criticism takes some training and practice, so I guess I just don't have time for dilletantes and wanna-be critics.

    Please yourself first, and worry about what other people think later. You will not get any useful ideas out of non-artists except bland, mundane complaints that you don't sound like their favorite brand.

    But if you're doing what you're doing with enthusiasm and conviction, you will attract fans I assure you.
  5. maxiegrant

    maxiegrant Bassist in Transition

    Nov 26, 2007
    Sellersburg, IN
    This is exactly what I'm talking about. I'll listen to another artist. I will not listen to some random drunk at the bar.

    My old guitarist started this really ****** habit of soliciting audience reviews, which I had zero interest in and for a good reason. His solicited reviews were ignorant and pointless. One complained that our drummer "lost energy" which was not quantified, and usually commented on the sound production, or lack thereof. When I replied that the sound board in question had been attended to by the ****ing waiter at his favorite watering hole (meaning, for about 20 seconds at the start of the show and then never again), I got all kinds of criticism that that wasn't the issue.

    So, if you're looking for constructive feedback, ask a person who has a demonstrated body of work. Someone who can actually give you advice rather than a shoot-from-the-hip opinion.
  6. Some good points here. I would suggest finding someone you respect very well, to give you the feedback. For me, I take critical opinions better from people who I asteem than others. A teacher is a good resource. You could also post a link on TB and would probably get some honest feedback from people you don't come across in your daily life.
  7. k2aggie07


    Jul 6, 2011
    Houston, TX
    Exactly -- but people with demonstrated bodies of work are hard to come by and live behind firewalls.

    Which is why it is such a treat and privilege to have JMJ "open to the public" for stuff like this.

    I also get the whole "do what you like and f--- the haters" mentality, and maybe I should have more of that feeling, but validation is really, really nice. Validation from peers, not just bar people -- jeez, I feel pretentious just writing that -- is even nicer.