I’ve been reading and hearing a fair amount of discussion regarding the language of music and how different people talk about music. I’ve read mostly from the musician’s perspective on this, and most seem to say the same thing: talk to us! Nothing is too weird or vague or confusing. Just say it and we’ll sort it out.
I want to start by saying that I realize, as most musicians do, that not everyone has the same vernacular that we do when talking about music and that it can be intimidating when trying to communicate to someone who is more knowledgeable. It is somewhat akin to talking to your auto mechanic when you barely know how to change the oil or going to a Superbowl party when we don’t even know which teams are playing. Both of these examples give me great pause, but I have never been ridiculed because I asked why a flag was thrown or what I could do about the check engine light. Judgement is rude and you should never really encounter it.
Our job as musicians, and my job as a composer, is to bridge the gap between “catchy” or “dark” and the musical ideas that they represent. At the very least, saying something like “I need this song to sound like the cart full of trinkets being wheeled into a state fair,” will generate a conversation. And the more we talk, the closer we can get to a quality finished product. As a composer, I welcome these conversations. I would go so far to say that we all do.
Something else where I find feedback painfully sparse is in feedback of completed works. I seldom get past a few drafts of a song because I get very little from the game design team in terms of feedback. I do the best I can to make the music both interesting and appropriate, but that is truly the game designers’ responsibility. And often times they aren’t talking. It can be even more difficult to talk to us about music after we’ve delivered a draft. We tend to be a sensitive lot, us musicians. Sometimes we do the Starbucks thing. “I’ll take a large cafe mocha with whip cream,” gets turned into “Hot Venti with whip mocha.” When we do this it’s even more technical, but we shouldn’t really ever do it. It doesn’t matter if you know what a downbeat is or a major triad or what key signature or time signature a song is in. That stuff is up to us, and for us to expect or correct feedback in these terms is only us lashing out because our sensitive feelings were hurt.
When I ask for feedback the response I get is something of this ilk, “I don’t know how to talk about music.” And my thought on this is that yes you do. Talk about how what it reminds you of, or state that you’ve never heard anything like it. Tell me it’s too fast or too high pitched. Say that it sounds like an elephant telling a joke to a parakeet. Maybe it sounds gross like a cold cup of coffee at 2 minutes and 19 seconds. Tell us the emotions is evoke, tell us that it doesn’t evoke any emotion. Just talk to us. We’ll love you for it and we’ll arrive at a better product. In my next post I’ll include three versions of a song and the feedback (in layterms) that drove me to make the changes you’ll hear.