It’s not you, it’s me.
It’s time for a divorce… from your work. If you’re a freelancing or hired audio professional, that is. Too many times I’ve seen audio professionals, as well as folks in other disciplines, grow too attached to their work. This is a dangerous thing because it causes you to lose perspective and potentially over react when criticism/feedback is delivered. This can harm the collaborative effort which is vital to projects like films, video games and other multimedia. When we compose music or produce audio for a project, it’s NOT own our audio anymore. It belongs to the project.
It’s not about our personal feelings, tastes or bias.
It’s not about our own egos.
It’s not about our own preferred work flows.
It’s only about what content/methods would best serve the product.
I picked the title carefully because divorce is, from what I’ve been told, a very hard and personal thing to go through. Likewise, having your work criticized can be very painful and difficult. It can feel personal, even when it’s not meant to be. Divorce is also the act of detaching two things that were once very close to each other. When I’m doing work for a client or for an employer, I remind myself that I’m “divorced” from the audio. I put myself in a very different mindset than when I’m working on my own projects as a hobby. This enables me to better receive feedback from management and peers as well as objectivity look at my work and see how it’s lining up with the product’s designs and goals.
It takes practice.
This is a skill that can take some time to develop. My advice is to keep a cache of personal projects on the side where you can do whatever you wish, in whatever manner you wish to help satisfy that personal creativity. This way you can keep a part of “you” in your work and not feel like a drone and also be better prepped to fall in line with what your given roles are on a work-for-hire project or employer. Please notice what I’m not saying: I’m not telling you to sell yourself 100%. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be invested in work or be passionate about it. I’m not saying to give up your personal ideals or methods. That’s not healthy and odds are not why people hired you to make audio for them. They want YOU involved! But sometimes you do have to adapt and change your approach to better serve the project. If you’ve never been through honest feedback on your work, then I’d suggest putting your work online and letting folks from the professional audio realm review it. Many folks, myself included, will listen and gladly give our input. This works great because it’s not your friends or family listening and saying “sounds great!” even if it doesn’t. This is good, honest feedback from folks that should have the ears and skillsets to be able to distinguish what’s going great in your work and what could use some improvement.
Growing a thick skin.
My first real exposure to blunt, concise feedback was at FUNimation Entertainment, where I worked as a composer/sound designer in the Special Features/DVD dept. I would create the music and sound design, as well as edit and produce dialog from the show into a trailer for anime shows and films. We’re talking top tier anime work like Dragon Ball Z, Yu Gi Oh and such. Once the audio was done, I’d have a quick review with the brand manager, head of the video editors and sometimes even a VP of the company. Feedback was sometimes as brief as a few words:
“Love it!” “Doesn’t work.” “Hate it.” “Redo it.”
Then the folks would go back to their jobs and I’d be left making any needed fixes. That kind of environment forced me to grow a thick skin quickly. And you need a thick skin to be successful in this industry. It was at this job that I started the notion that any critiques were not personal in nature and were not directed at ME. They were directed at my work and how well it lined up with the product. This helped me better process and apply the feedback. In turn, this made me much better at my job.
Take a moment.
And the next time you feel yourself getting heated or protective of your work due to some criticisms, take a deep breath. This is creative work and therefore passions can play a large factor. Take a moment before responding and remind yourself – this is no longer YOUR audio. You’ve divorced yourself from it and instead, it’s the PROJECT’S audio. Do what’s best for the project. Hopefully everyone else on the team will be like minded and focused exclusively on what’s best for the project as well. Not always the case but one can hope!
Best of luck!
Nate is an established composer/sound designer, based in Austin, TX. Aside from making various kinds of noises and music, he also teaches private lessons (saxophone and piano) and performs with live bands. On the weekends he likes to sit and watch the grass grow.