Acting on Song Fight feedback

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Acting on Song Fight feedback

Post by Geech » Thu Jun 13, 2019 6:34 pm

I started working with BSS and doing my own submissions only this year. In that short amount of time I have noticed themes in feedback I have received. Some of it I agree with and want to act on and some of it, well, the constructive feedback anyways... even if I agree with it, I may actually consider a feature and not a bug.

So, I'm curious - what feedback have you received that you acted on and what have you chosen not to?

What have you worked on improving most since you started getting feedback?
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Re: Acting on Song Fight feedback

Post by Lunkhead » Thu Jun 13, 2019 9:52 pm

Ooh, good topic. I remember way back when I got started I think there was even more feedback then and it was even more direct, often harsh. It was also harder to find feedback, it was harder just to produce music on computers, etc. So long ago!

Initially I was aiming to work on songwriting, singing, and production. Production wise, I got a lot of feedback about basic technical stuff and I tried to act on most of that as quickly as I could. Stuff like recording my acoustic with a mic instead of direct out of its built-in electronics. Getting a condenser mic for acoustic guitar and vocals. Using a pop screen. Basic EQ-ing and mixing tips, etc. For drums, I was programming them in MIDI using the General MIDI drum kits on my Roland X5 keyboard, and I got a LOT of negative feedback about the both the programming and the samples. I didn't really have access to a real kit, nor the ability to play one, nor the ability to record and mix one, etc. So I tried to learn to program drums more realistically and get better drum samples in increments. (First thing that helped me with that was that one of my college friends gave me a CD-R of samples that his friend TW Walsh had made of himself playing the individual drums from his own kit and home recording setup.) I think I have come a long way there, as have the tools of the trade, and I think I can crank out reasonably decent sounding stuff very quickly.

Singing wise, that's been a long slow journey where I think I've made some good progress. The two big issues for me have been pitch and emoting. I didn't have access to auto tune for several years in, so I worked some on singing in tune better, using guide instrument tracks to help when recording. Since I got access to auto tuning tools though I've probably made a lot more progress learning how to fix vocal pitch in post than actually learning to sing on pitch more. It just took less time and effort to learn and more immediately produced better results. :/ I've worked on singing with more oomph and emotion but I still get comments that I need to sing out or that I sound "laid back" when that's not my intention, so that's an ongoing process.

Songwriting wise, I think I've gotten and tried to take feedback that's more around the more technical aspects, like structure, pacing, arrangement, phrasing, dynamics. It seems like it's kind of hard to give specific songwriting feedback, about what people are writing about, or the way they word things, the imagery and references they use if any etc.

Also I feel like a lot of us are just kind of doing our thing, and feedback isn't going to and maybe shouldn't change that. Some people work on getting better at doing their thing. But that's not really going to change whether other people like it or not very much, I would guess.
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Re: Acting on Song Fight feedback

Post by jb » Thu Jun 13, 2019 10:32 pm

For me, feedback:
  • Confirms intention ("Did the listeners get X aspect of my song?")
  • Answers questions ("Is my intro too long?")
  • Reveals the unknown ("Oh, I didn't even think of that!")
It doesn't usually provide any specific instruction tho. Tips and tricks do that, but they're never part of feedback, they're always on some other thread.

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Re: Acting on Song Fight feedback

Post by jast » Fri Jun 14, 2019 4:26 am

I just went through my complete review history to answer this question properly.

One thing I consistently got comments on was the vocals, naturally. I addressed this by taking up singing lessons in 2009 - and I'm still at it. I keep making progress, too. Singing is surprisingly difficult to do properly. I got a lot of "advice" which wasn't really in any way helpful, in fact - but that's just because it's extremely difficult to give good advice in this area. :)

Another thing that got comments occasionally was my drum sequencing - I didn't have proper samples nor any idea what I was doing at the start. At some point I "addressed" this by getting myself a virtual drummer type plug-in... and while that's kind of the easy way out, it also taught me a lot about drums, so I like to think I could do a better job now if I were to actually sequence something manually.

More generally, I like to think that I songified a few ideas that people actually liked, though of course some songs were received less enthusiastically. While this kind of feedback, in the long term, is quite valuable, it never influenced me to make any immediate changes (nor should it, in my opinion). One example of that is that I made quite a few songs that poked fun at characters (usually narrating the song) or attitudes but didn't really do a great job, ending up a little too "holier-than-thou" - and frequently people wouldn't even notice that I wasn't playing it straight. So over time I ended up getting less interested in actually writing out these kinds of ideas. My last SF submission that went in this general direction was "Battle Cry" where someone complains about how much of a cliché christmas has become, but the poking fun aspect was really almost subliminal and I think this kind of worked as a straightforward song, too - and I really do feel quite negatively about christmas in the build-up phase.

If there's feedback I ignored completely (other than comments based on stylistic preferences), it was because I didn't know how to address it, or didn't even think that I could.

Oh, and there was this one review about "teutonic gloominess" that I still don't know what to do with. :D
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Re: Acting on Song Fight feedback

Post by vowlvom » Fri Jun 14, 2019 6:49 am

This is definitely an interesting question. Music is so subjective that I've often found the idea of constructive criticism in this area to be quite tricky - I think I generally try to phrase my own reviews / comments in a kind of "I liked these things but not these things and that is why this one did or didn't work for me overall" rather than "I'd like this more if you did X and Y" as a result, because who am I to say what somebody else's song should sound like? But maybe that isn't particularly helpful if people less stubborn than me are actually looking for feedback that will help them improve / reach a wider audience.

Looking back over comments on my songs, a lot of the comments take a similar approach - there are a lot of "I liked this particular thing" comments (which I guess I could take as a suggestion to do that thing more?) and the only real recurring suggestion that I get is "you should tune your vocals more" which is a fair criticism but I'm also not really comfortable with the idea that everyone should do it; I tend to prefer songs with a few rough edges most of the time and I'm much more interested to hear an interesting / energetic / emotional vocal performance than a pitch-perfect one, on the whole.

So I guess I'd generally say that while I'm always happy to receive any kind of constructive comments on my Song Fight entries, I haven't really made any changes based on them. Although I did definitely once use more fake brass in a song after a few people said they didn't like it in an earlier one, haha. Nur Ein is a different beast though, and the fact that much of the feedback is coming from the people who decide whether a contestant stays in the competition has made me (last year) or us (this year) deliberately make a few changes, most notably sticking to uptempo songs because this year's judges voiced a preference for higher tempos, or a "need for speed", if you will.

Not sure if this counts as a closely-related enough question for this thread, but do people generally find that their favourites of their own songs are the ones that perform best in the voting? Because there generally doesn't seem to be much correlation for me (if I listed my top five of my own solo entries, it wouldn't contain any of my three winners) - I feel like this is kinda related, would attempting to address people's critiques directly lead to more votes? And / or would it result in changes that would make me like my own songs more, or less?
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Re: Acting on Song Fight feedback

Post by jb » Fri Jun 14, 2019 8:09 am

You asked a lot of interesting questions, and I have commentary on them. So here's some responses from my POV, for whatever it's worth.
vowlvom wrote:
Fri Jun 14, 2019 6:49 am
I think I generally try to phrase my own reviews / comments in a kind of "I liked these things but not these things
I find that kind of thing useful, because I construct songs and for each part I know what I'm trying to achieve. So if you say you didn't like something, I know I missed my own internal mark, depending on my esteem for your ears. If you say you liked something, I would like to know why, because it's either because of something I intentionally did or because of something I unintentionally did-- if it was unintentional and you liked it, I want to add that to my intentional toolkit.
Looking back over comments on my songs, a lot of the comments take a similar approach - there are a lot of "I liked this particular thing" comments (which I guess I could take as a suggestion to do that thing more?) and the only real recurring suggestion that I get is "you should tune your vocals more" which is a fair criticism but I'm also not really comfortable with the idea that everyone should do it; I tend to prefer songs with a few rough edges most of the time and I'm much more interested to hear an interesting / energetic / emotional vocal performance than a pitch-perfect one, on the whole.
Since you don't like vocals to be very precise all the time, it seems to me like your takeaway it/when people complain about the tuning of your vocals is that you didn't achieve the goal of recording a performance interesting/energetic/emotional enough for them to overlook the intonation. It's easy to forgive a boring vocal line if it's in tune- you don't get points for it, but you don't get negative points for it either. If it were me I'd try to figure out why I didn't make people feel it sufficiently. That was the gist of my comment to Dimetrodon on their "Freak Flag" entry-- it would have been more effective screamed.

What I don't think is good, when it happens (and people have done it here lots of times) is when they get criticized for shitty work and their response is "Well I like it that way" but they're just being defensive. It's like on the cooking competition show "Chopped" when the judge say "it's too spicy" because the chef dropped a whole ghost pepper in their goulash and the contestant doesn't just say "I know, sorry" but rather "I like it that way". It's even worse if it's unsalted and they say they like THAT. I digress. If I know why it didn't score emotionally, I can work harder to intentionally achieve the effect I want-- or practice until it's second nature and that effect just happens because I've intenralized it.
So I guess I'd generally say that while I'm always happy to receive any kind of constructive comments on my Song Fight entries, I haven't really made any changes based on them. Although I did definitely once use more fake brass in a song after a few people said they didn't like it in an earlier one, haha.
Spite is a useful creative tool.
Not sure if this counts as a closely-related enough question for this thread, but do people generally find that their favourites of their own songs are the ones that perform best in the voting? Because there generally doesn't seem to be much correlation for me (if I listed my top five of my own solo entries, it wouldn't contain any of my three winners) -
No because my favorite entries were in really strong weeks where I lost, or weeks when someone with fans entered so their fandom won even though their song wasn't great. There are too many reasons for winning to judge your song's merits on whether it won or not. People really don't vote for person-with-a-guitar songs, for example, so to win with one you have to intentionally push their buttons with either humor or pathos. A straight up nice PWaGs has no chance unless the field is suuuuuuper weak.
I feel like this is kinda related, would attempting to address people's critiques directly lead to more votes? And / or would it result in changes that would make me like my own songs more, or less?
If achieving the goals of your songwriting and producing makes you write and produce better songs-- that more closely adhere to your ideals-- that will lead to more votes. Unless your goals are whatever Lightning Ear Fart was trying to achieve.
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Re: Acting on Song Fight feedback

Post by vowlvom » Fri Jun 14, 2019 8:31 am

Well, now I'm hungry for excessively spicy goulash. Thanks, jb.

Those are some good points, well made. And this thread has also made me think more about the kind of feedback I offer. I've been making a point of commenting on every fight / Nur Ein round etc. since I got involved with SF, and I will continue to do so as often as I can, but I don't think my comments generally go particularly deep - we have a few commenters here who are excellent at really getting to the heart of a song and finding interesting things that really do make me think "I wish I'd tried that" or "I deeply regret trying that", haha. So shout-out to the Jerks, Micah and owl who all do this on a regular basis, and I hope I can keep improving my feedback!
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Re: Acting on Song Fight feedback

Post by owl » Fri Jun 14, 2019 2:37 pm

Novel incoming: I think it's been really interesting for me seeing what people enjoy about songs and how they think about them, not just taking into account the feedback on my own songs, but the discussion of other people's songs and what listeners do or don't like about them. Particularly hearing critiques of certain aspects of production, and hearing input on instruments I don't play, and hence have a less critical ear for, like drums and bass.

I tend to be more or less happy with hearing songs that sound like they were recorded in a trash can filled with mud as long as I think they have "good bones" and are reasonably well performed and I can hear what's going on, but reading comments like Leaf's detailed notes on panning/reverb decisions on the drums on Paco's last submission gives me a new perspective on the types of things jumping out at other people when they listen to a mix, and I think that's valuable and fascinating.

I think most people submitting here probably have enough of a developed ear and sense of themselves as a musician to know which comments to keep and which ones to disregard, although I could be wrong? Like--what's your end goal? Who are you trying to please? What are you trying to get out of the critiques? I think jb's spot on with the "confirm or deny if you've gotten to your goals" analysis. If you want to win the Song Fight, sure, you can take frequent voters' opinions and preferences into account, but if you just want to make songs you like, then do your own thing and take or leave the feedback as it comes.

My #1 takeaway: from real-life experience as well--it's never easy to hear someone say they hate your song or they think you're awful at XYZ (I had so much anxiety the first time the Jerks covered one of my songs on the podcast, it's really hard to hear people talking about your music with actual out-loud words!), but it's always helpful for me to take a step back and think about the various critiques and opinions people have about bands and songs I think are amazing, or classic songs "everyone" loves (spoiler, everyone doesn't) and realize that ultimately you can go too far with feedback and end up making songs that are no longer for you, but for what you think other people might like, but you'll never end up making everyone happy in the end, so you may as well just make yourself happy.

Also I think we got into this in that judging thread a bit already, but "song fight" and "production fight" and "performance fight" all get lumped together into one bucket, one vote, but for feedback it's more useful to separate them out.

Songwriting:

In a lot of ways, with regards to songwriting, nobody's opinion is really any more or less valid than yours in the end, unless I guess you're out to make it big commercially, or you're in a situation like Nur Ein where you're being judged by a very specific set of people and you have to try and take their preferences into account. But if you already have a sense that, like, a phrase in a song sounds awkward or is hard to sing, but you're not quite sure why, or your song feels like it's too long but you're not sure what to cut, the type of feedback people give in Song Fight can be super helpful in identifying the problem areas.

Production:

In terms of production, it's a lot easier to come up with stuff that people objectively agree on with regards to levels, best practices, etc. but of course there are all kinds of personal taste issues and preferences at play here as well (and genre biases and standards...) --but it's a lot easier to say "don't make the hi-hat the loudest instrument in the mix" or "all your vocals are clipping" and be "correct" about it than things like "that chord progression is weird" or "don't rhyme 'love' and 'dove' because it's boring." Aside from some of that low-hanging fruit, though, obviously production and arrangement decisions are generally super subjective and genre-specific as well. How loud should those vocals be, is that synth patch too cheesy, is that guitar tone grating?

Performance:

It's useful to hear if people notice your performance is off, and to what degree, so you have a chance to examine it yourself, but it's also a question of whether you have the skills to pull it off correctly. It's illuminating just to hear yourself recorded--especially vocals, they sound so different outside your head--and good to know what people are perceiving as issues. But this is also often kind of flawed and subjective. I thought the verse vocal timing on Not Blue Dolphins' last submission was fine and an artistic decision, but it was pitchy; several people said the timing was off but didn't mention it being off key. Is one of us right, both of us, neither?

---

I'm personally more interested in the writing and arrangement aspects than the production aspects of music, so I'm more interested in hearing people's comments about the former (although I'm trying to slowly learn more about the latter). But I'm actually more likely to ignore it because I usually already have a strong sense of what I want to do lyrically, melodically, and so son. In terms of feedback I've tried to work on improving, it's really more of those areas where I don't care that much about them but I know others do, so I'm trying to develop a more critical ear and try to fix things where I've been sloppy about them... like oh yeah, I'm not playing a live show, I guess I could turn on that quantize button or go back and edit the MIDI when I'm playing a bunch of fast synth parts and things would sound substantially cleaner? OK I guess I could pan some stuff or add some compression? I have a long way to go but I'm trying to practice at least thinking about this stuff instead of just barfing out a song into my DAW as fast as possible and throwing it out into the world, which is my habit from FAWM, where I generally never spend more than 2 days working on a song.

I find it's also very helpful to write reviews so I can think critically and specifically about things I do and don't like about a song, and things I can take away from that for my own purposes. I think in listening, there's a lot of "gut reaction followed by justification of that gut reaction"... I always feel bad when I write "this song just didn't grab me" or "I just didn't like it" because that's really not useful or actionable feedback, I'm always happier if I can actually articulate something specific about my reaction that will be constructive to the songwriter, but sometimes when it comes down to it, there's nothing "wrong" with a song and all I can give is my gut reaction. I'm not an ultra-prolific reviewer even though I'll usually listen to all the songs and form opinions pretty quickly, because I want to take time to think about and articulate some of those specific aspects if possible instead of just writing basically "ME LIKE" or "U SUCK."

@Geech if you feel like sharing it, I'm curious to hear what feedback you are thinking about and interested in acting on, and what you are considering "feature, not a bug" criticisms.
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Re: Acting on Song Fight feedback

Post by Pigfarmer Jr » Sat Jun 15, 2019 2:16 pm

I've improved my vocal phrasing thanks mainly to Ryan's critiques in the Two Jerks review cast. I still dash one out, sometimes and it isn't something I hear as a negative as much as I should. But I definitely pay more attention to it now than I ever did before. (So, thank you, Ryan.)

I've been very disappointed to hear when things come across as "preachy" or in an unintended manner. But that's super awesome, really good feedback to get. If I'm going for one thing and it's not coming across then that's a very, very important thing to know. The most important, probably. And once you get the reputation for something it's pretty hard to overcome it. It's the default assumption instead of a benefit of the doubt. But then that's what happens when you have a pretty small community sharing like we do.
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Re: Acting on Song Fight feedback

Post by Caravan Ray » Sun Jun 16, 2019 6:15 am

Songfight feedback is invaluable.

The only feedback that I think that made me "act" directly was the first I ever got in my first entry way back 15 years ago - when Richard Wreckdom wrote something along the lines of ..."whatever it is inside you that makes you want to make music - find it and stab it and kill it.."

That has stuck with me forever. My first entry was shit. If you want to be taken seriously - don't post shit. 15 year later - but I don't think Im shit anymore (some may still disagree) . And I will always thank Richard Wreckdom for that.

If Pepper Jane is out there reading this - she may recall I recommended Songfight to her. She told me (paraphrased) "people tell me I'm good - but I d'ont think I get honest feedback...I told her "your cover version of 4 Non Blondes makes me want to vomit - go and join Songfight"
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Re: Acting on Song Fight feedback

Post by Caravan Ray » Sun Jun 16, 2019 6:23 am

But, back to the question of "Acting on Feedback" - yes, you must do it - BUT GIVE IT TIME.

Every song I have ever posted to songfight has been the best song ever written...that week.

A few weeks later there are ...WTF was that?!?!?


Caravan Ray has over 70 entries...many more under other names...I am a middle aged man approaching my dotage..I can only remember about 10% of them.

I LOVE that I can go to Songfight and find my old songs and find old reviews of those old songs that I had forgotten about. It is possibly the best thing ever - besides beef vindaloo with mango chutney.
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Re: Acting on Song Fight feedback

Post by Caravan Ray » Sun Jun 16, 2019 6:29 am

And just to make this relevant to the thread - I like to re-record what I consider my favourite songs and publish them on Spotify etc. The past reviews on Songfight from when I originally wrote those songs is an invaluable resource.

Good / bad reviews do not impact I what I may think is a good song. It is my song. I decide what is good or bad. But good reviews for some thing that just dashed off in 5 minutes and thought was crap - will make me re-look at that .
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Re: Acting on Song Fight feedback

Post by Caravan Ray » Sun Jun 16, 2019 6:45 am

Geech wrote:
Thu Jun 13, 2019 6:34 pm
I started working with BSS and doing my own submissions only this year. In that short amount of time I have noticed themes in feedback I have received. Some of it I agree with and want to act on and some of it, well, the constructive feedback anyways... even if I agree with it, I may actually consider a feature and not a bug.

So, I'm curious - what feedback have you received that you acted on and what have you chosen not to?

What have you worked on improving most since you started getting feedback?
It may be interesting to know what feed back you are referring to.

When people say to me "your mastering needs improvement"...I take notice because I know that too And I want to improve
When they say "your songs are full of obscure Australian political references we dont understand"...I take less notice because I do that on purpose.
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Re: Acting on Song Fight feedback

Post by Geech » Sun Jun 16, 2019 4:56 pm

There are some really thorough and thoughtful responses here. Thanks, everyone, for contributing. Fundamentally, it gets to the heart of what Song Fight is about, at least for me. I was working on a song for Freak Flag and decided to let it go - I felt what I had put together was pretty basic and I needed more time, time I didn’t really have, to realize it as fully as I wanted to. I wanted to step up my game with regards to some things that I have wanted to improve since getting feedback here, which has been mostly about variety - adding it to a vocal melody, adding it more to the overall composition, etc. Then I started questioning what I was doing, like “Do I want to change this piece because of something some people on the internet have said? I like simple songs.... Who the fuck cares?" In the end, I didn’t think that it was my best work, I wasn’t that proud of it and I decided to shelve it. I didn’t think it would do that well in terms of votes and I already saw the same feedback coming, much of it in the vein of what I got for Hope Against Hope. I still think that this was the right choice. In the end, my contribution to SF was to start this thread instead.

SF is so different from my experiences releasing music before. To me, the detailed immediate feedback is the most valuable part of the experience, but then I got to thinking - to what end? What do I want to do with this feedback? I’ve decided that I want to act on the feedback that conforms with my overall ideal of what I want my music to be. I want to grow as a musician and as an artist in that way. The rest be damned.
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Re: Acting on Song Fight feedback

Post by Caravan Ray » Mon Jun 17, 2019 2:24 am

I also work on what I call the “10% rule”. More for live performance - but can apply to songfight too. Basically - people have different tastes. Not everyone will like you, or even be interested in you or music or whatever.

I often play in pubs. If I play in front of 100 people - I expect most are just in the pub for a drink. They didn’t come to see me. If I can get 10 of them so interested in what I am doing that they react with me by chatting at the bar, saying they like my songs etc - I consider that a win. My music isn’t for everyone - and 10 % of genuine positive reaction tells me I’m on the right track.
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