Monday, December 3, 2012

Giving and getting feedback (or Carnegie 101)

In my professional career (IT - don't ask!), I've had years of professional development courses, management courses and coaching on getting and giving feedback which I occasionally apply to home, family and hobbies. This might not be a good thing, but when you are hit over the head again and again with ideas or concepts, sort of like a cult, it affects you.

One interesting point for amateur musicians is why do it at all? Of course, in an amateur case, music is not a livelihood - it isn't putting food on the table and it isn't in life changing terms, essential. So why does it matter so much to me? Tons of psychological reasons, no doubt, but it is a fact that I publish what I create and look forward diligently to feedback of almost any kind. At some level, for me, it matters!

I can at some level accept that music makes my life better and is also a healthy escape when life or life experiences are um...less than optimal. So again, I produce this "stuff" and publish it with no other expectations of renumeration.

One very nice thing about publishing musical works - finished or unfinished, good or bad, is that you will inevitably get feedback from other musicians. I think this is what I enjoy most about my "hobby".

If you do publish something to Soundcloud, or MacJams or iCompositions (or someplace else), you will hopefully see some form of feedback based on what you submitted.

Many of the listens and feedback that you receive will work best on a quid-pro-quo basis (i.e. I listen to you, please listen to mine) and if you contribute your own opinions to other works, you will have a much more positive experience.

The types of listeners will vary and I can't stress enough that even if all someone does is click onto your  profile, you are winning in a big way. Out of thousands or millions of possibilities, someone has stumbled onto you!

So every touch is valuable to me, but I do tend to value some listens more than others. Here is my take on what happens with my own amateurish compositions:

The "Pings" on your submissions - These are folks that clicked on your song in MacJams or Soundcloud and decided whether or not to listen to it. You win in that at least you caught their attention! If they don't actually listen, at least you managed to catch their attention with the song title, song art or something.

Speed listeners - This is a bit more subtle in that you will get feedback (often positive) on your submission and the user will comment on your songs (quite possibly, 5 - 10 of them) all within a 2 minute window (soundcloud, for example, will actually timestamp when someone comments or likes something) which is remarkable when your average song length is 4 minutes! Be grateful that you got the attention at all, but this is definitely an attempt at quid-pro-quo and don't feel obliged to listen to their 20 minute opuses based on their 10 comments all within a minute. Seriously, if you don't have the time to listen to my stuff, its ok! Really! But lets not pretend :)

Speed and Scatter listeners - There are other folks who will comment on many songs within minutes of each other. To be quite honest here: If someone is truly listening to your work and assessing it, it will probably take at least the play time of your piece for them to come to a critical conclusion. If you see on soundcloud or anywhere else that users comment on 20 pieces in 2 minutes - um...its great to get the feedback, but it isn't really valuable (see previous comments on "pretending").

Pure Quid-pro-Quo - This isn't really a hard rule, but I would say this is the norm for amateur musicians and it is terrific. Groups of amateurs wanting to perfect their craft will comment on each others' pieces with the hope that the recipient will reciprocate. This is honest, worthwhile and will certainly drive more traffic to your own submissions if you listen in turn and comment. Now the egoist in me wants music lovers to flock to me for some bizarre reason, but the norm is that other musicians are more likely to take the time when I take the time to comment on their work.

Serendipity - Some folks just seem to listen to amateur music even when they don't produce their own and they like to comment. This is RARE! If you are this lucky, its really good feedback to get. Some music lover stumbled upon you and liked something - or hated something! I once had someone pour out negative feedback on something I published only to later delete their comment. I was able to privately ask what happened and they responded that they had remorse about their comments (which were very direct and critical). I responded that honest feedback was the best kind and learned a bit more about what they didn't like about my piece which ultimately caused me to rethink some of what I do. Its important not to freak out about critical feedback but to balance it with any other feedback you get.

If you accept the many forms of feedback you get in the categories above, or other categories, you will undoubtedly get better at what you do. The truly honest feedback from non-musicians, when you get it, might prove the most valuable. Other musicians do tend to be overly positive in their comments which is fine, but doesn't challenge you to improve.

I can't stress enough that you should not snap back at critical comments or get into long arguments if you really want to get better at what you do. On occasion you might run into someone irrational who hates your "stuff". That's fine - they will tire of trolling or if they keep doing it, there is some undocumented fascination that you seem to provide them which is art in itself!

So anyone who takes the time in any fashion to click on my own submissions or works - Thank you!

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