Sunday, May 13, 2012

"Green T And The Sushi Splatters"

"That music you did sounds too yellow and habanero for my taste, we need it to be more desktop lamp with a hint of sunglasses. Oh, and we need it yesterday."

Part 1: Criticism, feedback and how to handle it in a work enviroment.

As some of you know, I am basically a composer at my work. And sound designer. You know, everything audial, basically. But today we´re talking about making music only.
So, one might assume I´ve used to get a lot of criticism, feedback and even response like written above. Even though it´s quite fucking annoying, I sometimes have to try to figure out what the respondant meant with the term "mushy" and what was he referring as "that cool funk part" in that classical orchestra- composed main title for a Starship game. Lucky for me, 99% of my workmates and people I work with are very professional people and things can usually be said that "example #2 was better tempo- wise but I loved the instrumentation on #1: could you combine these elements and we´ll call it a day?". That is also one part why I love my job- I take it as a challenge to make the best music possible and then make it even better with the help of other people.

Sometimes I think other people´s opinions and are useful as a dead horse in a whorehouse, and if they don´t get the geniousness of my art they can fuck off and die, and "what do they know about this anyway". In these cases I have to have to focuse on one certain, extremely important thing:

"Dear myself, don´t panic. Don´t even get frustrated. Even though you know this music is well- done, suits perfectly the theme and besides, you like it personally- the client doesn´t give a shit about anything else but his/ her personal taste in 75% of the cases."

Now repeat that like a mantra every time you feel frustrated. Many people listen to music they like (sic!) , and base their professional opinions on their personal tastes. Whatever happens, take it as a challenge. You just have to learn how to play games with them (pun intended).

"- But Mr. Trollhorn! What if? What if...
(lowers his voice)...if... you´re WRONG????"

Yes. Or then again, we might - as you said- be horribly wrong and wasted two weeks´ work for something that will never, EVER suit the upcoming game. Been there, done that. I´ve done some horrible misjudgements and paid the price. But those misjudgements are to make us even better. If you thought being composer is just "making good music", you´re fucked, unless you want to make it to yourself only, to be listened alone in your living room. Good music is relative: your job as a composer is to define it. For every situation there is a different music. It´s completely dependant on the fact where your music is going to be heard.

It´s theoretically extremely rare to work with people who see the bigger picture as well as you  should see it as an audio designer and a composer. Your job is to know where to put stuff, how to put stuff and why to put stuff. Every bum note, every 16th quadruple break with a tint of lemon, every drum fill- everything must.... Be. Able. To. Explain. Why. Otherwise, you are as bad as the guy who wanted your Starship game main title to sound "more Japanese because we´re trying to head more into Asia next quarter".

No, that didn´t really happen. At least for me. In my workplace, I work with very very talented and creative designers and producers, who usually have also some background in music too, in a way or another. So I kinda, even masochistically, somehow want them to iterate my stuff and we´ll see how to make it even better. But the thing is that you can draw clear paths to making music for a band, too. And in the next chapter, we´ll be talking about that.

Part 2: Criticism, feedback and how to handle it in a band enviroment.
- Constructive criticism

"Constructive criticism aims to show that the intent or purpose of something is better served by an alternative approach. In this case, making the criticism is not necessarily deemed wrong, and its purpose is respected; rather, it is claimed that the same goal could be better achieved via a different route. Constructive criticisms are often suggestions for improvement - how things could be done better or more acceptably. They draw attention to how an identified problem could be solved, or how it could be solved better." (Wikipedia).

So, from this text (click it!) you might assume that there was quite a lot of different feedback from my new song. While some people liked it, some hated it. But what annoyed me the most that I took the criticism as a personal attack concerning my style of songwriting. So, I responded that "I don´t mind if you don´t like my song but your feedback is clearly like it is because you don´t like the style and dread playing that technical shit live. But if it´s not that but instead you don´t suddenly like the usual style of the usual songwriter of the band anymore, we´re kinda fucked."

After a ton of changing emails, phonecalls and a flaming war about what the fuck is wrong with the song, me and Tundra went to my office and used re-arranged En Mäktig Här´s lyrics to demonstrate the people how the planned vocals would glue the song together in a way it is supposed to be sounding like. Tundra, who didn´t like it that much (yet he didn´t say it was bad either) said that after finally hearing it with vocals, he started to actually like it. Now, it other people still don´t like it because of bad riffs, boring melodies and something like that, I am fine with it. But at least no- one can say they don´t get it anymore.

When talking about the bigger picture, I´m pretty sure no- one would like to hear 11 Jaktens Tids and Segersångs in a row for 34 minutes and call it a day. Just like no- one would like to hear 11 Födosagans or beginnings of Dråp for that long in a row. It´s all about variety. My new song happened to be fast and bouncy, so I can understand that if people want to do albumful of mid- tempo- shit it doesn´t clearly fit the picture. What doesn´t fit into my picture, though, is that my annoyance of people just bashing my song mindlessly was considered as "you can´t take criticism". Let me tell you something: I´m the most fucking easiest guy on the planet for what it comes to the criticism- as long as it is defined and structured and it´s not about your personal preferences versus the bigger picture. As said in the first chapter, my job as a composer -both at work and WITH the band- is to think of the bigger picture. And I took that feedback as 100% of someone´s personal preferences being vomited straight into my face. That´s the difference.

When Mr. X says "your song was horrible and I hated that guitar sound", that isn´t criticism. When Mr. Z says "Yeah, I liked it" isn´t criticism either. When Mr. Y says "I found shitloads of good stuff there but personally found that one bass- part something we could change into this and that and what if we changed that drum beat into another one here and we could slow the overall tempo a bit, now it was too fast in my opinion", that is criticism.

So, at the end of the day: was my song bad? Not likely. At this point, 70% of people I have played it thought it was good or "good- ish", 20% thought it could be better and 10% hated it. Seemingly it wasn´t an instant superhit (please point me out a composer who only does superhits most of the time, hehe) but what it wasn´t bad either. Hell, I´m not stupid. I can clearly point out when a song is "good" and when it´s FUCKING WHAT OH MY GOD WHAT DID I JUST HEAR. My song was generally fast- ish, it included some Danny Elfman- styled stuff, some folk, some Psychobilly- influences and it was quite simple. I can admit it wasn´t a smashing superhit, just a regularly good song. I´ve recorded better and I´ve recorded worse.
What bugged me was that even though it wasn´t maybe that superhit, it wasn´t bad at all. But instead of getting constructive criticism how to actually make it better, I got bashing on the guitar sound, the tempo, guitar arrangements, psychobilly- influences and whining about why there was so many breaks in the song, even though I thought it was quite clear that those would had been vocal- parts. I left many parts intentionally less- polished as I thought we´d "fill the blanks" later together as a band. Last time I got feedback about "making everything too finished in advance", now I got feedback about "I don´t get this. Just what am I supposed to imagine here?".

Yes, I am whining. Fucking sue me.

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