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Find me! Call DAP at 214.350.7678 or email rene@dallasaudiopost.com. Also check out echocollectivefx.com for custom sfx, and tonebenders.net for my podcast.

Monday, February 28

communicating in creative contexts-pt 2

In part 1 of this series I laid out a few factors that can cause problems when clients communicate with audio people about their needs. Here in part 2 I'd like to address a specific example:

When the client asks for something that you belive he or she will not like.

I'll begin here by saying that most of what I'll be talking about is less listening to what your client is telling you and more interpreting what your client is telling you.

My baseline premise here is that your client is going to be more tuned-in to the overall creative context of the thing that you are working on, and that you're being brought into the process at some point after it has already been set in motion. This premise can fit whether you're doing sound design for a film or VO recording for a radio spot, but it's an important starting point because it forces us to realize a simple thing - the client knows what he wants better than we do - especially initially.

Now, even though the client knows what he wants and we know what we think he wants there are times when communication requires interpretation.

This is because clients will at times use certain vocabulary and concepts that can lead you astray if you're not seeking out the meanings that motivate the words. Also not all clients use confusing vocabulary, and some clients only confuse certain things so working knowledge of the relationships is very important. In addition, some clients like to manage creative concepts tightly, while others will trust us to make the best creative decisions we can, so interpreting direction can get very tricky very quickly depending on the context of the relationship.


An example - I recently did a sound design project for a major convention that had a fair amount of thick low end impacts among other things that were going on. It was pretty dense, but I was happy with where I was at.

After review the client asked for more low end throughout.

Now, many clients ask for "low end" or "bass" when they really mean they want other things. "More low end" can mean some or all of the following:

- more low end
- less low end
- more midrange
- more high end
- more compression
- more distortion
- fewer elements
- I'm listening on laptop speakers
- I'm listening on my iphone speaker
- I don't know what I want to hear yet

That specific request almost always invites follow up questions from me, not only because I like low end and sometimes have to restrain myself anyway, but also because of how often that request is a red flag for something else being the problem that the client is hearing.

In this case my response was "there's already quite a bit of low end in there. We have to be careful not to lose impact on the big moments by oversaturating the low end."

My client then repsoned "well, what I really need is a big long drone for about 30 seconds before the big reveal. Don't mess with the rest if you think it'll hurt it."

With one simple prod my client was able to focus his request and I was able to give him exactly what he wanted on the next iteration. If I had just rolled my eyes and said "OK" we would have gotten nowhere.
So with a good outcome fresh in our minds, lets look at strategy for dealing with troublesome requests:

1 - Ask followup questions

sometimes clients will give specific direction that can be interpreted in a number of different ways, or that on its face sounds like it will do more harm than good. Dont shrug your shoulders and do it, get further inside of the client's head.

2 - continue to talk specifics

If your client's request doesn't exactly add up, start offering specific alternatives. Talking in generalities is really only useful if you're completely lost. Discuss your opinion of the specific options that can help the client get to where he wants to go, and offer things that you think will get you moving in the right direction. If you start veering out into the wilderness your client will let you know pretty quickly and you can adjust course. Remeber that your client is more tuned in to the context of the project than you are. They have been living with it for a longer period of time.

3 - Don't correct language without a specific reason.

If your client is says he's hearing a "tempo change" when the tempo is constant but the instrumentation changed, then just make whatever adjustment she's asking for and leave it at that. You know what they're asking for, so don't bother spending time and brainspace discussing language - just do what they're asking.

4 - communicate technical things with simple language

I'm a big fan of simplifying language in general. Jargon is for keeping people out, common speech is for letting them in. Don't fear letting your clients into your thought processes and techniques. They're smart enough to get it, and they appreciate knowing what you're thinking. There are simple ways to describe every single thing we do, so just speak in English and not AudioJargonEese and you'll be fine. Discussing technique and methodology has often moved me quickly into where my client needs me to be or otherwise moved clients towards something that can be accomplished within their timeline and budget.

5 - prepare alt versions

If time permits, go ahead and prepare alt versions to present to the client. Always include what you believe to be the best alternative, but also allow yourself to fully indulge the client's musings as well. Sometimes they'll recognize pretty quickly that the idea isn't working, sometimes it will work and you can be the hero while hiding your surprise, and sometimes it will just move the both of you in a more productive direction. Gauge your client's imagination before going down this path. Some clients understand when they're not hearing the big picture which allows you to mockup several options quickly. Others don't have this perspective and need to be presented to in full context, which limits the number of alts you'll be able to do.


So there's a couple of nuggets from me to you. Our clients know what they want, we just have to figure out how to get inside of their heads and pull that knowledge out.

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