I spoke today with the lovely and talented Amy Snively, as I am helping her set up a phone patch similar to the one I blogged about recently.
During our conversation I mentioned that I was preparing to cut a demo reel with a copywriter and producer and she offered me a ton of great advice and feedback, which I have communicated the relevant bits to the copywriter who’s working on my demo reel scripts. It’s wonderful to get good feedback from people who know what they’re talking about- and by “good” I mean “honest”. I can hear what I want to hear from anyone, but it’s important to hear what I need to hear.
Feedback- The Breakfast of Champions.
Feedback- The Good Kind
As actors, it’s crucial that we get feedback on our performance and skills. This is one of the ways in which we improve, and one of the best places to get feedback is from your peers. In fact, allow me to go one step further and say that it’s not one of the best places, it’s the best place to get it.
However, something I’ve noticed in my journey through this strange world of voice acting is that there are a lot of people who can’t take feedback or constructive criticism well- or at all! No, I haven’t been snarked at by someone for criticizing them, this is something I’ve observed with other novice VOs who ask for a critique of something, and then argue with the criticism, or think people are being rude, or what have you.
Protip: don’t ask for feedback if you’re just going to ignore it or worse, reject it.
What are you prepared to learn?
Part of improving any craft, and especially one as subjective as acting- and make no mistake, voice actors are actors first, voices second- is being able to accept and incorporate feedback gracefully and willingly. Not all feedback is correct, and not all feedback is actionable. Your job as an actor is to determine what you should take up and what you should discard.
No matter what, though- always accept it with grace and aplomb. Thank the person, ask them to clarify if necessary but don’t reject it out of hand. You don’t have to agree with someone’s feedback, but you should always be open to it. Never argue that someone’s critique of your work is wrong; subjective opinion is never wrong, it’s just a subjective opinion. If someone takes the time to provide honest feedback, thank them for their time- even if they were negative (especially if they were negative).
Corey’s Rules of Requesting Feedback
1. Ask Nicely.You would be amazed at how far people will go to help you out if you’re nice to them. Do what your parents taught you- say “please” and “thank you”. Recognize that when you’re asking for criticism you’re essentially asking professionals to take time they could be using to get paid to help you out. You’re not entitled to feedback, unless you’re paying someone for it like a voice coach, and even then you should be polite.
2. Make it Easy (or: Don’t Make it Hard). If you want people to listen to your demo, give them a link to it or in some way make it as simple as possible to hear it. Don’t link them to another page they have to click through. Make it as dirt-simple as it can be. Save people time and effort and they’ll be happier with you, and they’ll be more likely to help you out.
3. Be Specific. If you want someone to listen to a couple of recordings to compare the quality of two mics, tell them that so they don’t listen to it and give you feedback about how you read the copy. Tell people what you’re soliciting feedback for so they can help you out (see rule #2!).
4. Be Patient. Nobody’s going to just drop everything they’re doing and rush to listen to your recording within 5 minutes of you posting it or if you handed them a CD/flash drive they’re not going to rush back to their system so they can play it right then and there. Give folks a chance to find some time to sit down and check out what you’re asking them to look at.
Corey’s Rules for Receiving Feedback
When you get feedback from someone, keep these in mind.
1. Be Open. If you don’t want to hear the answer, don’t ask the question. Be prepared to hear things you don’t want to, and be prepared to take action on them.
2. Be Objective. Don’t be emotional. You’re trying to improve your craft here, and feedback should be taken in that context. If someone critiques your work in a negative manner, remember that they’re critiquing the work, not you. You can make improvements to the work, which is why you wanted the critiques.
3. Listen, listen, listen. Read it twice. Hear what you’re being told, and really parse it. If someone mixes both positive and negative in a critique, listen to both.
Corey’s Questions for Receiving Feedback
When you ask for someone to give you their opinion, it would behoove you to listen to that opinion. What you do then is up to you, but ask yourself these questions when someone offers you a critique.
1. Is it Constructive?. Constructive criticism is meant to help you, even if it’s not positive. If someone says “That sucks!” and nothing more, it’s not terribly constructive. If you hear “That sucks- you need to change X, Y and Z”, then hey- it’s not positive, but it’s constructive. You can take up the criticism and do something with it, which leads us to…
2. Is it Actionable? Criticism is great, but only if you can actually do something with it. If someone criticizes your work in a way that you can’t take concrete action to address, ask them to clarify. As above, if someone said “That sucked, you need to change X”, but doesn’t say how, then you’ve got constructive but not actionable, criticism. Ask the person to clarify it into something actionable. What can you do to address the issue?
3. Is it Correct? This is a tough one. Just because someone offers you a piece of criticism that’s constructive and actionable doesn’t mean you should take it up. Neither should you ignore it. This is where the Be Objective rule comes into play. Is the person’s criticism accurate? Should you take it up? Only you can answer this question, but I strongly urge you to take relative experience and any other factors into account, but leave your emotional investment out of it as much as you can.
Walking the Talk
I did some demos once. I self-produced them, believing I had the skill to do it correctly. I was wrong, and I was told so by some very kind people including the aforementioned Amy and Scott Pollak, who told me in no uncertain terms that the quality of my work on them was subpar.
Was I happy to hear that? Of course not. Did I let it ruin my day? Again, of course not. I’m not some übermensch with no emotional investment in what I do and it took me a bloody week to put those things together. It wasn’t pleasant to hear that they were, essentially, crap. But it was the truth. Facts don’t give a damn about our feelings.
Armed with what I knew and had learned, I pulled my demos and went back to the books, so to speak. I’ve since been training, learning, reading and talking with voice actors of every stripe. The experience was valuable because it’s important to be able to make mistakes, learn from them and move on. I didn’t take it personally, because that would do me no good.
Requirement #1: Thick Skin
If you want to be a successful voice artist, the first thing you have to do is toughen up that hide. Rejection, criticism and lots of competition make it a brutal business if you’re not able to rise above the fact that quite often for whatever reason you simply won’t be chosen.
Asking for and receiving feedback is critical to anyone’s success as a voice actor. Being able to process and take that feedback in and do something with it is even more critical.