Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Sara and Sony - A Story about Constructive Feedback

Here's a short story about constructive feedback.  Some of it I know to be true, and some of it I'm guessing at.  I'll let you know where the facts end and my opinions begin...

Sara Bareilles' biggest hit on her Little Voice album was "Love Song".  As she tells it, the record company said she needed an up-beat love song on her album to be marketable.  She didn't agree, she wasn't happy with the feedback, but she wrote a song anyway and it was the album's first release.    

If you're familiar with "Love Song", you know it's actually an anti-love song whose lyrics are cleverly written to sound like a message to a significant other.  But they're not.  She wrote it for the record label...literally. 

"I'm not gonna write you a love song, 'cause you asked for it, 'cause you need one, you see.  I'm not gonna write you a love song 'cause you tell me it's make or breakin' this.  If you're on your way, I'm not gonna write you to stay. "  It's up-beat, catchy, and it was a huge hit.

I just saw Sara on the Today Show yesterday, and apparently the first release from her new album, "King of Anything", resulted from yet another unsettling discussion with her record label. "I guess we have issues", she said.  Based on the lyrics, it sounds like they were giving her feedback again. 

"Who cares if you disagree, you are not me, who made you King of Anything.  So you dare tell me who to be, who died and made you King of Anything."  It's already ruling the airwaves.

Here's where the facts end and my thoughts and speculations begin. 

Sara and Sony Records seem to me to be a perfect example of a successful outcome to the constructive feedback process. 

Let's reset this for the corporate environment (not really a stretch, though is it, to call a major record company "corporate").  First, you have a smart, talented "employee" in Sara.  She has a unique sound, her lyrics are intelligent and relevant, and she's got personality.  Second, you have Sony's management who understand the customer base and market demand.  Management sees the potential in Sara, likes her work, but sees the need for a revision in order to best position her as a new artist.  

Enter the constructive feedback.  Management tells Sara that their strategy is to led off the album's release with a catchy pop love song to ensure air play and gain momentum.  Here's the rub - she hasn't written a catchy love song for this album.  Sara wants to release her album as is and does not welcome this message.  How does writing a song that's just like everything else on the airwaves show off her talents as a distinctively new artist?     

And then the magic happens.  Sara listens to the feedback, and writes a "love song" while still maintaining her voice and demonstrating the talent that sets her apart.  The song has witty lyrics with tongue-in-cheek humor, and the sound is uniquely her own.  And even more amazing, after listening to the song, lyrics and all, management goes with it.   

Think about that for just a minute.  If you asked an employee for a deliverable, and what you got back was a result that was right on the money, delivered with a smile, but accompanied by a message that everyone would hear about how they were forced into doing the project against their will, would you still stamp it with your approval? 

I say kudos to Sara for being open to the feedback (at least twice at this point), and finding a way to deliver while still maintaining her voice.  And, kudos to Sony Records for recognizing a good thing when they hear it, and having the humility to roll with the punches.  

Seems to me they've got a good thing going here.  Keep up the constructive feedback!

No comments:

Post a Comment