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5 Tips For When Creative Feedback Isn’t Music To Your Ears
Date 02.07 MMXVIII
By Alison Cole
Communication is at the heart of everything ... 

As an independent creative supplier I’m constantly navigating different creative cultures. Working with overstretched creative teams under tight deadlines means there’s a need to work harder to clarify the brief, keep the lines of communication open and manage my time effectively. A big part of being emotionally invested is knowing when to step back and listen to what your collaborators are really trying to say.  

Dealing with uncertainty, cultivating intention, generating results, progressing ideas whilst being emotionally connected with my work are core practices of being a music composer and sound designer. Spontaneity, experimentation, evaluating and developing concepts, and allowing the subconscious the freedom to develop independent ideas are the positive results when I’ve found the right balance. How do you nurture this most invaluable resource when you’re standing on the precipice of critical feedback that feels kind of negative!

1. Don’t react. Respond.
Being flexible and open is vital. How we
think about and reframe negative emotional situations is important and can make a stressful situation more manageable. Acknowledging that you’re stressed means less negative emotions and more resilience. Be kind to yourself.

2. Effective communication.
Getting to the nub of what the feedback actually means should be the focus. Being intuitive and responding to language is important. As a composer, naturally I think in the basic vocabulary of music ie. Genre, tempo, instruments, key, does the music track need a build up moment & talking in time code when you’re trying to decipher feedback. Sticking to the core elements of your discipline keeps the language results based, steers the intention and moves the discussion forward. Creative feedback’s goal and sole purpose is to progress the work to a place where the whole team is happy. The only wrong question is the one you don’t ask.  

3. Take notes and listen with the intent to understand

Make a plan and write it down. What do you need to get your work to the right place and on brief. Stick to the plan. Manage your time. Getting stuck on a particular part of the brief can be a major distraction and can end up wasting valuable time. Did I mention make a plan …

4. ’Creativity is intelligence having fun’ (Einstein)

It doesn’t feel that fun when your client’s not happy about that one sad minor chord surrounded by happy major chords and it needs to be changed, minutes before a deadline.
Even under time constraints, step away. It works. Try to relax. Go and have a laugh and give your brain some space to work on a problem unconsciously. If you want to generate new ideas you need to feel motivated and have positive energy. Being mindful works.

Never take any of it personally
Be aware that some people can feel stressed and anxious talking about a subject and using vocabulary they don’t feel expert in. Seeing feedback as one more point of data to assimilate and analyse allows you the space to make better decisions so it doesn’t become emotional.
Leave emotional reactions for your personal passion projects that feed your creativity, hone your instincts and give you back some creative space and freedom. What we do as professional creatives can sometimes be prescriptive and we’re constantly on someone else’s clock. Managing your own emotions and responses can mean a situation doesn’t become personal and overwhelming.  

I’ve been working as a professional composer and sound-designer since 2003 and there have been quite a few white-knuckle rides. Some have a slapstick quality to the memory and some have a demented psychological thriller quality. I have notebooks. I’ve got the evidence! But I really love what I do and I’m passionate. Leaning how to take care and nurture my creative instincts has made me a better composer and a much better communicator.

Some tips for giving effective feedback:
Pixar's 7 Essential Steps to Giving Creative Feedback