The Importance of Accountability In the Creative Process.

This came up the yesterday in a couple of discussions on, the idea that random things can often provide the impetus to think about what we do in a more focused way. Particularly in this post by Mike, which this post is basically a very long response to…

One example of this random accountability was the way that record companies – even if their input was unhelpful – provided a degree of focus to the creative process that disappears if you’re not answerable to anyone.

The same goes for the cost of releasing music – if you’re spending £2000 on putting a CD out, that provides a certain level of clarity in making sure that what you’re putting out is worth that much to you! Is it the best you can do? It’d had better be, cos you’re two grand in the hole if it turns out it’s crap and no-one wants it. At least if it’s the best you can do and it doesn’t sell, you’ve still got a thousand presents you can give away that you’re deeply proud of.

Some people have the motivation and focus to be able to apply those kind of criteria to their creative process without the help of a mediator or the risk of financial ruin.

For the rest of us, we’re in a quandary – how do we put back that useful inspiration that pushes us to the next level, and after that, how do we build structures that are even more helpful, rather than just being accidentally helpful because some record company schlub who knows eff-all about what we’re trying to is breathing down our necks?

One possibility is the idea of Creative Accountability Collectives. These could work online, or in person. They could be geographically defined, or genre-specific. They could be totally democratic, or could function as a series of overlapping ‘councils of reference’ for the individual artists.

I have a range of people that I send works in progress to, who have over the years earned the right to have an opinion worth listening to about what I do by demonstrating that they get what I’m trying to do and what I’m capable of.

For my last solo album, Behind Every Word, I had my friend Sue who’d just moved to New York act as remote producer. Much of her input consisted of emails and chat mesasges saying “great idea, however, you can play it better than that, so do it again, you loser” Almost invariably. She was right. She provided encouragement, support, advice, and the right kind of critique that meant that Behind Every Word was a much better record that it would’ve been if I’d just locked myself away and released whatever I happened to record in that time. (Sue’s now working as a jazz producer in the states, so the experience is one that obviously worked well for her too 🙂 )

It’s a lot to ask of someone to get them to do that for you, so forming mini-collectives that do that kind of support work for eachother seems like a smart way to go.

However, the tricky bit would be defining the terms of the relationships involved – cutting words, quickly spoken, can be really damaging, so as well as choosing carefully who we allow into our collective, we should, I suggest, also have a ‘terms of engagement’ document.

So that, dear commenters, is where you come in. What kind of things would expect from someone who was invited in to help you up your game, to get the best out of a particular project. And what kind of support would be be able to give?

The floor is yours…

2 Replies to “The Importance of Accountability In the Creative Process.”

  1. Great post Steve and one which I think deserves greater consideration in terms of formalising possible terms for engagement.

    Of course the notion of peer review is something that has guided academic production for centuries. Journal articles are sent to a review panel of two or more people with the identification of the author concealed. Further the journal article author receives feedback from these reviewers without their identity being revealed. This ‘double blind peer review’ process enables academics to respond to one another in a manner which is designed to be objective. And because the journal acts as the intermediary between reviewers and journal authors, disputes are less likely to arise.

    Of course in reality, the process is not quite so effective as academics would like to believe. Given the requirement for academics to stay up-to-date with research in their area of expertise, it’s often simple to identify the author of any article you review, regardless of whether the author’s name appears under the article title. Writing style, political positioning, neologisms and – most of common of all – self-references to other publications in footnotes make it ridiculously easy to determine the identity of any submission to an academic publication. So this removes a degree of the objectivity, and in many cases, authors can identify the reviewer of their works by the nature of feedback provided.

    So as an attempt at objectivity, it’s more serendipitously successful than effective.

    Perhaps then, a collective of identified peers which keep an eye on the work of an author/artist would be a successful alternative? But if this is so, I’d suggest that the feedback and support they should give be agreed and delivered collectively, and that time should be allocated to explore changes/recommendations for a work.

    Personally, I’m happy to work as an identified editor/reviewer of others’ works, and while I can be a brutal editor, I find that it can be effective discussing works one-on-one with an artist, and making it clear that any suggestions I have are merely that – suggestions. The work belongs to the author/artist, after all.

    But I can see that collective review panels could be both more objective and perhaps more supportive environments for creative production. You’d just need to avoid the tendency to turn a collective reviewing experience into a committee.

  2. I think the key is trust. You ask people whose opinion you trust. You trust them to be honest in their feedback. They tell you what they think trusting that you won’t take it the wrong way. My most honest critic is my wife. She knows me. She knows that she can tell me if it’s good or bad without me taking offense. She knows HOW to tell me what’s good or bad. I know that I should take her opinion seriously – she has a music degree after all and I’m just a statistician. Experience tells me that her comments are usually correct (watch me being diplomatic here!). It’s THAT kind of relationship that leads to good, constructive criticism. As opposed to the YouTube criticism that seems to be readily available… 😉

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