Some thoughts on sharing and constructive feedback

I wanted to come up with some guidelines to support us all to give each other constructive feedback in a positive way. I hope this will encourage people to share their practice exercises and what they are working on, even if they think their work is not perfect or finished. One really great aspect of IRL workshops is peer sharing - people chatting with their neighbour, solving problems together, and building each other’s confidence. This is a tricky thing to get right online but let’s try! (Plus me and @yaxu just really want to hear what everyone is working on :grinning:)

The internet can be a scary place, particularly when it’s populated with strangers, so let’s agree ways of interacting that are supportive and encouraging and create an environment where people feel comfortable sharing :relaxed: I think there are a three things to bear in mind that can help us with that:

  1. The Code of Conduct

Please remember firstly that all communication in this forum is subject to the Tidal Club code of conduct. If you’re not sure why we need a code of conduct then I recommend you do some reading around that (this article on codes of conduct at conferences is a good starting point). If you have any questions about the code of conduct, or if someone is behaving in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, please contact me or @yaxu in the first instance.

  1. The Curse of Knowledge

The curse of knowledge basically states that the more you know about something, the harder it is to understand what is not obvious to a beginner.

I think this applies here in a couple of ways. Firstly, while this is a course designed to work for total beginners, there are a lot of more experienced Tidal users here too. This can feel intimidating for those who are just starting out, since it can feel like you are not always getting something that seems obvious to everyone else.

Reflecting on my own experiences as a beginner learning Tidal there was SO MUCH that was completely impenetrable to me, particularly as I don’t have a background in computer science. BUT ultimately that didn’t stop me using Tidal and making music and playing shows, so it shouldn’t stop you either, even if you don’t completely understand things yet (... or even if you never completely understand).

(Having said all that - if you are interested in learning more about Haskell and functional programming, Learn You a Haskell for Great Good by Miran Lipovača is a great resource!)

Secondly, for those of us who are a bit more experienced - when you are helping someone else, or commenting on someone’s work, please be mindful of the different experience levels and backgrounds of the people here. While a concept may seem obvious to you, you could be speaking to someone who has never encountered that idea before.

  1. Quality vs Energy

Last year I read this great article on the White Pube about a workshop led by Thomas Hirschhorn on how to critique other people’s art. I really recommend you read the whole thing if you get a chance, but the main points that stood out to me and that I’d like to share are:

Quality is an inherently exclusive concept - if some things have quality, then others by definition don’t. It’s as much about what’s not accepted than what is. The problem is - who decides what ‘quality’ means?

Energy on the other hand is “much more unstable and open... Art made by you in your bedroom might not have quality because it hasn’t been validated by the powers that be, but it could hold great energy to someone - it could make them cry or laugh, it could ~move~ them.”

So thinking about these contrasting ideas of quality and energy, I would like you to think about other people’s work less in terms of ‘quality’ (e.g. how well written the code is, how hi-fi a recording is, etc) and more about ‘energy’ (e.g. how something makes you feel or what it reminds you of). This makes your comments then become about your personal response to a piece of music, rather than about any attack on the person who made it (it’s easy for comments to come across this way even if you don’t intend them to)

I think this is something that art students and art schools do the whole time, but I haven’t been to art school so I don’t know. But something I do know is that it’s important to understand how to respond with compassion so that people can feel comfortable to share their work.

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Thanks a lot for this @heavy.lifting !

I've always struggled with both giving and receiving feedback for music, I think it's just really difficult to do in a useful way, but this helps a lot, especially the idea of 'quality vs energy'.

I enjoy both giving and receiving feedback for written work, including through anonymous peer review. It can feel like a nice collaboration to make things better. But it feels totally different for live performance or recordings.

On the receiving end, it can be really difficult too. When I'm really happy with something, it can feel like I've made something perfect for me. That's the gift of a musician in a way - you can make whatever music you want. Once I'm thinking about what someone else thinks, that just feels like a huge distraction and can just stop me making anything at all. So, any tips for receiving criticism? What questions to ask people for useful feedback? How to bridge the gap between your world, which might be the result of jumping down a deep rabbit hole into polyrhythm or distorted gabber kick patterns, to the world of the listener, who is probably hearing the end result of a long journey, out of context?

I think that would also help me give criticism. I generally just don't say anything because what I have to say is so surface-level.. It takes a long time to really get to know a piece of recorded music, and my thoughts about it generally aren't easily expressible in words.. But perhaps thinking about energy as you say, about how things make you feel, what other things it connects with, is just a skill for listening and introspecting that comes through practice, and is something we can work on in this new community..

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Thank you so much for this. I'm going to adapt this idea in a lot of my work; it resonates strongly.

I struggle a great deal with providing feedback, especially since we learn from observing others, and the criticism I have received in reference to my own work has tended to be largely of the qualitative, non-constructive type in the past. I was unfamiliar with this concept of quality/energy. I plan on taking it to heart.

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This is a very interesting discussion, thanks for opening these questions.

At our institution, we have often found it useful to invite the artist (musician/composer/performer/whatever) what kind of feedback they want to hear. This is inspired both by Liz Lerman's Critical Response Process – particularly her 'Step 2', 'Artist as Questioner' – and ideas drawn from the practice of NVC ('Non-violent Communication').

So, for instance, as part of sharing a piece of work I could say whether I want feedback about my coding style, or musical structure, or both, or something else. Or, before offering a comment, I can ask the person if they want to hear feedback or not.

(Sorry, there is a paradox here, of course, as I'm offering a comment on Lucy's post without asking first! I've decided to go ahead anyway, hoping to addressing the 'energy' of this discussion in a positive way.)

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Ah yes I was on the receiving end of a critical response process. It was nice because it was well structured and with a clear goal, being "designed to leave the maker eager and motivated to get back to work". You do need clear questions - I didn't really so I didn't get loads out of it at the time.

I think it's a great idea to focus on "artist as a questioner". I already felt commenting on the 'challenge' thread earlier that I wasn't sure whether the recipient actually wanted feedback.. Sometimes it's nice to just share something, for what it is..

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Hey @tedthetrumpet - this is a great perspective, thanks for sharing. I did invite responses over in the other thread, should have made that clearer here too!

Absolutely sometimes we just don't want feedback, we just want to share, so perhaps we should work that into the guidance.

I think asking the artist to let us know if and what kind of feedback they want encourages critical reflection too, which can be hard. Maybe we don't actually want to get any better or we are happy where we are?! Or maybe we just need a bit of a push (I know I definitely need a push now and then, but I don't always realise it until afterwards).

The other thing to consider too, is that feedback can be rejected - we don't have to accept the comments we receive.

I'm going to read and digest that link you shared. Thank you again for your thoughts - this is something I'm feeling my way through, so I really appreciate the input :grinning:

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Thanks for the thoughts here. What was said here resonated with a lot of past experiences, and even IRL it's sometimes a horrible feeling to get resentful or disenchanted criticisms. I totally missed out on what seems to be the core content of this thread when posting my sounds, so it might looks like I don't want any, which isn't the case.

So, should it be / is it a general future guideline, when posting any type of content here, to specify what kind of feedback each of us would like to get?

It might be difficult to give the same kind of constructive feedback to everyone. Quality/energy made me wonder if on the receiver end, people might feel that a criticism is itself qualitative/energetic. I mean is a criticism providing references / content / perspectives (kind of objective), or is it descriptive / detailed about how a person feels when listening (kind of subjective).

Getting the human warmth of IRL communication online is really difficult, too... Any pointers to how to gain more self-consciousness on how one "feels like from the outside" via words..?

Such a complex subject, I'm glad for the sources and ideas shared @heavy.lifting I've been thinking about this stuff lately because I'm getting involved in a "music technology" publication at my university. Given the intent is to nourish the crossing of research lines and collaboration I'm interested in methodologies and communitation strategies. Another approach to be considered is the "principle of charity" which for me can be interpreted as taking other people's arguments as coming from somewhere meaningful.

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