Sunday, March 28, 2010

Reviews and Expectations

I would take a moment to talk about my reviews and expectations. I do this, not in frustration, but rather to help clarify what this blog is about and what critical analysis is of form.
First, I would like to thank all of those people who have joined as followers, and the many more who follow through the RSS feed. I did not realize there was as much interest in reviewing Audio Drama as there is. That gives me great hope for this form of plays, and bodes well for the future!

For a while now (usually after bad reviews) I get messages from creators, co-creators, and friends of the company/shows I've reviewed often times angry that I've given a review; sometimes questioning my own credentials to make such a review.
Frankly, these kinds of responses confuse me more than they strike a point with me.

I have not attempted to present myself as anything but an interested and enthusiastic listener of audio drama. I've listened to shows for decades and feel I have a good idea of what works and what does not. There are some audio drama companies out there I can say for certain do neither. They have little understanding of the scope of audio drama through the years, nor have they really considered exactly what works and what doesn't in an audio drama. So, making audio drama does not make you a specialist in good audio drama by default.

The argument seems to go however, that I have no right to review something when I have not seen how many hours go into the process of making the product.
Again, my confusion. Does one audio drama automatically sound better because it has taken longer to produce than another? I would argue that some people who struggle with the skills could take much longer than someone who is an expert at the field. There is no guarantee that length of time working on an audio drama makes it better.

Finally, people have asked me to take into account the inexperience of a company. What defines inexperience? Length of time in the field? Amount produced? I've heard companies that have been on and off making audio dramas for five years and have not improved their sound. And I've heard people who produce new shows only once in a blue moon but are excellent. So experience is a hard thing to judge. It requires an intimate knowledge of all the people behind the wheel, and not something I have the resources to do.

In the end, there is only one thing, and one thing alone I can judge- The Product.
If your final product misses the mark in one way or another, an honest reviewer must report it as so, and explain where and why it does so.
A good reviewer is not there to write, "The get a 100% for effort" because frankly they don't know how much effort went into the play, nor should they. Their job is to simply listen to the product with integrity and give their best critical response to that product.
I've discovered that there are all kinds of purposes and roles for audio drama. Here are some:
Those Who Make Audio Drama for the Fun of It- Best of luck to you. My reviews should not and will not matter. If audience development is not your goal then focus on having fun and ignoring reviewers.
Those Who Make Audio Drama for the Audience- Then this blog is of central importance to you. While I'm not in any way the definitive voice for audio drama listeners. I am a voice. There's not a lot of us out there (Thanks to Dex for making me aware of his site The Listening Post please go there and read) and every bit of critical feedback for you will help on your quest for a larger audience.
Those Who Make Audio Drama to Hone Their Skills- I hope this blog will provide you with some information and critical knowledge on how you can improve. You will have to be the judge of that in the end.

So, please, before you ask me to "take into consideration" something about a review remember that while I am interested in all kinds of background information, my job is to inform the listener as to the products of audio drama out there. If I don't give them an idea of what to expect when they listen, they have every right to call me out for not being honest enough. In the end, it is the product that matters. The good news is, I'll keep listening to new products that people send me, and if they are good, I'll post about them as such.

But getting good is not a final destination either. Even big names like Joss Whedon let some turds out once in a while. No one can strike gold with every shovel full. Good innovators will fail more often than they succeed, because they take chances. Blaming your audience for their honest feedback is like claiming the dog farted while eating at the table. Either you take your lumps and move on, or you ignore what is written and you go on.
The suggestion that I should stop bad reviews because it might drive people to stop making audio drama is something I simply will not own. Anyone who puts anything out for public consumption and thinks they will not receive any bad reviews for their work, no matter how beloved it is says far more about those producers of audio dramas, than the reviewers.

Whenever I write a review, I put myself in the perspective of someone who has never heard audio drama before or has a poor understanding of what's available. My writing is for the listener and not for the audio drama producer.
That being written, I have one last urging for that audio producer, writer, director, actor. Take what points I make that are true. Take what points you think are unwarranted  and ignore them.

And keep writing. I do enjoy comments even negative ones. But as I've pointed out in earlier comments, for all those who think I need to be more positive, notice how many responses I've gotten to negative reviews, how few I've gotten to positive, and the complete absence of comments to those posts I make about the pieces that make good audio drama.
Maybe the proof is in the pudding itself and the expectations you set.

11 comments:

  1. Just to break the pattern, I will make a comment. Having been involved in theatre for many many years, I know what it means to get reviewed. I think I know how to handle a script and what works/doesn't work in dialogue.

    When something is glowing and back-patting, everyone is joyful. When something is not quite so, then things heat up. I, personally, think that a good, honest review is very worthwhile. It helps me grow. I know I am not a good actor (my University instructor said to me, "Jim, you'll never be an actor, but I'll always remember the hat" (another story- ask me if you want to know what it is). I went on to act in a whole bunch of plays for little theatre in the following twn years. I didn't let it stop me. I improved (I think- but the review for my role as Gandalf in the musical "The Hobbit" was much LESS than encouraging- but I was only doing what the director told me to do). ("Wooden" comes to mind). But I digress.

    If anything is said about my productions, I relish the feedback. I know that I can't be 100%, but I care enough to want to ge close to it. But then again, not many people comment on the things, so I can't judge. I just say, to emphasise a point made by James, that if it's good or passable, people enjoy it, then nothing is said. or not much. But, if I put out a piece of audio crap, I want to hear about it and what made it so. So I can avoid that mistake and get better.

    I think that, well, for the companies I 'work' for anyway, audience is a major factor, and that fact that we enjoy what we are doing enough to KEEP doing it, is a bonus, and if we put out bad shows, then somebody needs to tell us, because we all think our own products are the best, and cannot look at it objectively.

    I hope some of that made sense. I think, in a nutshell, keep doing what you are doing, we will do the same, and we bothe should grow through the experience.

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  2. I couldn't have said it better Mr. Smagata. Thanks so very much for putting it well.

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  3. I agree with just about everything you said in the post, and if someone is telling you that you don't have a right to critique because a critique doesn't take as long as producing a show, then I think they're out of line.

    But the bottom line (for me, anyway) is that your review of Pendant was a poor review not because you rated us poorly but because your review was poorly researched and poorly put together.

    You may have spent quite a lot of time on it (I'm not suggesting you didn't, merely that I don't have that information), but as you yourself said in your post:

    "There is no guarantee that length of time working on an audio drama makes it better."

    The same goes for reviews. however much time you put into it, it clearly wasn't enough time to form any sort of accurate opinion about the company as a whole. And again that's not due to your ratings (good or bad), but due to the multitude of factual inaccuracies in the review which point to someone who clearly hasn't done enough research.

    You might be better served by reviewing a company's shows individually first, and then after that forming one cohesive review of the company as a whole.

    You can write a review saying "NBC has a lot of room for improvement", but if you only watched one episode of "The Apprentice", one episode of "The Office" and one episode of Brian Williams on NBC nightly news, you hardly have a good view of what the network is putting out.

    And that makes your review completely not constructive and almost meaningless. How can I properly consider your words about a possible mishandling of the introduction of a character if you're not even aware of the nature of the show or who writes it? That's not helpful.


    "If your final product misses the mark in one way or another, an honest reviewer must report it as so, and explain where and why it does so."

    That's exactly what I've tried to do here, because I feel like you're failing a bit at true critical analysis, at least in the Pendant review. I don't know the facts of the other companies so I don't know if you've gotten things wrong there, too, but now I have to wonder and you can see how that does your reviews a disservice.


    "But as I've pointed out in earlier comments, for all those who think I need to be more positive, notice how many responses I've gotten to negative reviews, how few I've gotten to positive, and the complete absence of comments to those posts I make about the pieces that make good audio drama."

    That's universal, I wouldn't read too much into it.

    Do something people don't like, you'll hear from them. Do something they love and they have nothing to say.

    How many times at a restaurant have you sent your compliments to the head chef after a great meal? Probably not nearly as many times as you've sent something back for being disgusting, undercooked, etc.

    It stinks, but that's the nature of the beast. :)

    Anyway, bottom line is what you're doing is a good thing. But I do think you have room to improve (like we all do). With a little more work I think your reviews could be really beneficial.

    Just my $0.04 worth, though. Take what you agree with, leave that which you don't, and let me know if I've got my facts wrong. That's what I'd do. ;)

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  4. Thank you Mr. Bridges. You make a fair series of points and I will take them under consideration.
    You do have a great deal of content in Pendant to go through, and I fear any kind of overview of any company with such a large library would always come across at best more a sketching than in any detail.
    I have considered doing simply series and not doing a broad swath of companies, but I think that would also do a disservice to the listener who is mostly looking for "tone" and "genre" and basic level of competanace as a guidepost.
    Please do not think that I listened to a single episode to make my review however.
    I attemptede to take a listen to a number of shows. Batman, Superman, Supergirl, the entire Indiana Jones (As I am a fan of Indy and it was a shorter series), The Kingery, Dixie, and several Seminar episodes).
    While, once again, this does not in any form give but a wide brush stroke (as mentioned before in this post (http://audiodramareview.blogspot.com/2010/03/one-brush.html) it is intended for a first pass alone.
    I will take more time and at least listen to a dozen or so of each episodes in the future before tackling a series, I pledge.
    Warmly,
    ~J. Snowe

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  5. "The internet despises mediocrity," is the truism I think that applies here. If something is really good, or really bad, people will talk about it, but otherwise- crickets.

    Not to say your work is mediocre, in fact I'm rather enjoying reading it so far. You clearly have the voice of experience, and are working from a fairly well thought-out perspective.

    Keep at it!
    Rob

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  6. I love reading your reviews...so keep on keeping on.
    Your reviews do seem well thought out, unbiased and also do seem to come from a knowledgeable perspective. It wouldn't make any sense if they were all laden with nothing but praise. They wouldn't be true reviews.
    Of course, that's not to say that I always agree.
    Pendant still remains one of my favorite audio sites..and I will still await pensively for the breath of life from Darker Projects.
    But overall, they do seem fair.
    And you may have persuaded me to try some new projects...such as "The Paranormalists"...or some of the fan fic at "Broken Sea"..
    If I could only find more hours in the day to listen....

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  7. I completely agree with your post and so far your reviews of the productions that I am familiar with have been spot on ... yes, even including Pendant Productions, which I sampled a fair amount of before drawing the same conclusions that you did. I am especially delighted that you included The Paranormalists which I greatly enjoyed and had forgotten about. Time for a relistening I think.

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  8. I completely agree with your post and so far your reviews of the productions that I am familiar with have been spot on ... yes, even including Pendant Productions, which I sampled a fair amount of before drawing the same conclusions that you did. I am especially delighted that you included The Paranormalists which I greatly enjoyed and had forgotten about. Time for a relistening I think.

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  9. Thank you very much for your kind praise Julie/heforgottenclassics. I do appreciate them. And it was a lot of fun for me to go back to the Paranormalists again and listen to both series at once.
    Thank you too RedW. I enjoy your comments. That's one thing that is not highlighted in my reviews. While I may have difficulty with the products that are produced, and the quality may suffer, it does not mean I will not continue to enjoy them because I am a hard core audio drama listener. The reviews however, have to be leveled at the average listener so they know what they're up against :)
    I had not heard that saying before Mr. Paterson. But it certainly does ring true. I will remember that for the future.
    Warmly to All,
    ~J. Snowe

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  10. As much as I'm dreading reviews of shows that I'm a part of, it's just a review. I've agreed with some of what you think and disagreed with some, which happens as a review is always subjective no matter how clinical a reviewer tries to be. Hell, there's at least one instance that I think you were too soft on something!

    So yeah, dreading and looking forward to as I don't get all that much feedback anyway so if I crop up its nice even if it is negative. Remember that some people aren't pro's or able to take that kind of criticism so don't be too harsh on the enthusiastic amateurs. They'll never be involved in the real business so won't have to face it again and it takes a tough skin (I've seen people spak out at a pro audition because they didn't think they had a fair chance, they won't be going anywhere)

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  11. Thank-you for your comments Macgyver. As you point out, this is a review. While I try to make the reviews about the technical aspects of the productions and not my personal "flavor", no reviewer can provide anything unbiased. There is no such thing as an unbiased review. We're all biased towards living creatures for example, as we are one of them.
    However, I always have heard, "Life is for the bold" and I believe it to be true. Simply because someone does volunteer work in a hospital for example, does not mean you expect it to be shoddy. So I feel I'm doing a public service to remind folks that their works are being heard by others. Should this not be something people want, there are always private parties in which their works can be heard and not in such a public venue such as the Internet.
    I must go on the assumption, that to place their works on the Internet they are in some way intending for people other than those who know them intimately to hear.
    That being the case, I find the idea, understanding this unspoken contract, that my little blogspot blog, of which they are not contractually obliged to believe or even read, would drive them from producing more audio drama.
    I think some folks attribute far more power to a blog, than I do.
    In my wildest dreams, I have only sought for this blog to inform and maybe inspire to improve.
    To destroy the efforts of an audio drama production team with the clicking of a post is beyond my pay grade. And something that strictly rests in the hands of its creators.
    Warmly,
    ~J. Snowe

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