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The Unsung Hero of the Audio World::Criticism

For most of us, the word “criticism” often holds a negative connotation, particularly in the ever-changing world of subjective audio art. Let’s face it, the saying “one man’s junk is another man’s treasure” can easily be translated into this field of innumerable preferences and diverse styles. Sure, there are experts but for the most part, popularity, fame, and money cannot draw an ultimate bottom line for us. Hollywood proves that over and over by muddying the lines between skill, talent, and a really great PR agency.

So how does one go about finding and judging criticism from both personal and broad perspectives? I’m particularly interested in addressing those of us who are brand new to the audio world with very little contacts and minimal experience.

It’s important to start out by asking ourselves: Why is this necessary and how does it help me attain a particular goal? We should prepare ourselves that not if but when we receive criticism, it truly will help us attain our professional objectives. This may help soothe the screeching noise of criticism. Having a slow attack and release toward even the harshest of criticism will only smooth the journey. (Cannot be held responsible for cheesy use of audio terms.) 🙂

Now that we’re grounded in the reality of being open to receiving reviews: How does one go about soliciting comments? The best place is to start with the people who want to see you succeed. But don’t stop there! As encouraging as that audience is, most likely they are hearing with a skewed affection. Keep them in your back pocket for rainy days and seasons of encouragement. For those of us with a meager Rolodex, try reaching out to accessible artists/engineers whose sounds you already admire. The best places, I’ve found so far, are SoundCloud, blogs (big plug for Neil!,) and Facebook groups. Make sure, though, you have some kind of filter for posting. Research the contact as much as you can before private communication. Some will be offended. That’s OK, move on. Some will be receptive. Those are the ones you’ll end up following their career, anyway.

Remember to ask.. and then be patient–seems too basic; almost kindergarten-ish. But sometimes in our flurry to learn a vast subculture, we often forget the fundamentals of communication: asking direct, gracious questions.. and being humble to wait. Many times, it takes a more experienced professional to really give a listen to your material—and remember, they have lives and businesses too. Trust me, you want them to take their time.

Also, the posting and thread comment world is often available with little effort. You can read comments in Facebook groups, Twitter feeds, and audio magazines regarding sounds, samples, and tracks that are already posted. Recognizing it’s not specific to your material, it might be the best way to ease into the murky, yet rewarding world of audio criticism. There are websites (Tuts+ is one) and Facebook groups that even solicit music for feedback.

When it comes to giving analysis, as a newbie, I prefer to hold off. I’m just learning what good sound is beyond personal tastes and comfort level. If you insist on giving feedback, try and remember how it feels to receive criticism and write from that perspective. My personal suggestion is never give feedback when having just received a hard review. It rarely results in unbiased comments.

Finally, and really the crux of the matter, is the actual feedback or analysis of your projects. I believe finding consistent feedback is key. I have to admit, I’ve got an ideal situation in place. A professional audio engineer whose work I greatly admire has helped me tremendously. So I offer to you my experience with him. Finding a skilled craftsman who is both encouraging without flattery, yet direct in suggestions, and knowledge is a treasure in this arena; a healthy sense of humor doesn’t hurt either. This, to me, is the best way to judge if someone is level-headed, sensible, and qualified to help.

Just to recap: don’t judge by how criticism feels but trust that feedback will always be useful; sometimes immediately–sometimes it takes a while. I’m amazed at how much both encouraging and harsh criticism have helped me as I recall those words.

This is not meant to be an exhaustive list but only serves as a jumping off point for you. Are there criticism “songs” you’ve experienced that might be helpful to us all? Please write in the comment section below! Would love to hear from you. 🙂

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Kim Noble is a Connecticut suburban housewife and mother by day; and recording enthusiast and Christian artist by night. She is involved in two projects: one is a homegrown mixing venture called Farms and Fields {www.facebook.com/farmsandfieldsmusic} and the other is a professional singing collaboration titled Kim Noble Music {www.kimnoblemusic.com}. Please feel free to privately e-mail [her] at:farmsandfields@gmail.com. [She] would appreciate the interaction!

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