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Creative Ops

Tomgirl’s Abby Diamond on how and when to communicate with your creative clients

January 31, 2023 · 5 min read

This is part of our 100 Creative Directors interview series. To return to the series homepage and browse other interviews, click here.

Abby Diamond is a hit songwriter, producer, and composer of film music. Most recently, she co-wrote the theme song “Need to Be Needed” for the #1 box office film The Invitation and “In The Clouds” for O.A.R. She has worked in house at original music production companies for fourteen years and is presently the Owner and Creative Director at Tomgirl Music+Sound.

Below is our conversation with Abby, edited for length and clarity.

There are many types of creative director — what does the role mean to you?

I own and run a company called Tomgirl Music+Sound. We do original music, sound design, voiceover recording, and mixing — we’re a full service music and sound agency. Most of my clients are creative ad agencies, though I sometimes work directly with brands like Allstate and American Express. 

Creative directing for me is defining and refining an idea. With music, people often feel embarrassed when trying to describe it in a way that they don't about more visual creative products. Everybody has eyes and some level of fluency in what they think visual work should look like — I find people have that language less with music and are often afraid of sounding “wrong” in how they describe what they’re looking for.

A significant part of creative directing for me is just making people feel comfortable enough to share their thoughts on music. I notice even the coolest creative directors, with tons of tattoos, talk really generally about music, like, “I want something with energy,” or “I want something fun and happy.” 

It’s my job to tease out what my clients actually want from me and figure out the particulars. They want happy music? Their definition of happy music is almost definitely different from mine, or from another client who might tell me they want “happy music.” So I ask them for reference songs and bring my own reference songs, and we figure out what they actually want. 

A reference isn’t always enough to figure out exactly what a client wants. You can't assume somebody loves every part of a piece they’re referencing — this goes not just for music, but for any type of client-based creative work. You have to ask questions: do you like the tempo? Do you like the instrumentation? You only like the piano line, what is it you like about it? Ask questions like this early on to ensure a smoother process later on.

From the time a client comes to you to the time you’ve delivered the final product, what are the most difficult parts of the creative process?

Where I've seen people struggle is in decision-making or wanting a "correct" answer. I feel it's my job to reassure people that the decision we are making is going to elicit the right emotion they want. At Tomgirl, we want the process to be fun, not difficult, which is why our company tagline is: “Music is hard. Working with us isn’t.”

The hardest part of the job is getting the job. Once you have the job and know what you have to do, you just do it. 

The only other part of the job that can involve a deeper level of nuance is revisions. Say you’ve already finalized a piece of music for a commercial, and then they edit the picture and your timing is now way off. You have to go back and change it — but that’s not actually hard, it’s just more time.

Abby walked us through what the creative process looks like for a music company.
Abby walked us through what the creative process looks like for a music company.

As a creative leader and business owner, how do you ensure your team is set up for success?

Clear communication is everything.

When you get an assignment from a client, when you’re managing a team — communicate clearly. When I’m working with hired composers and I need to give them notes, I write those notes in an email and immediately call them or set up a call. I never want someone to execute those revisions until we’ve talked about it. The email is important so they have a record, but maybe they misunderstand how I’ve written it or something, so we need to have a call. I want us to be in agreement now so we don’t waste time revising again later. Assumptions are the enemy of a job well done.

I pride myself on being a thorough and reliable communicator. I never leave people hanging, like if I'm waiting to hear back from my sound designer, and you’re waiting to hear the mix, I’m going to let you know I’m waiting and when you can expect to have an update. Nobody wants to be ghosted on a job and nobody wants to sit around anxiously waiting for an update that they don’t know when to expect.

This level of thorough communication is obviously one of the basic concepts of conducting business, but you'd be surprised how many people don't do it and what a difference that makes. Good communication comes back to building a feeling of security, comfort and trust — both with your clients and with your team.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received, in terms of how you operate as a creative director? Is there a piece of advice you’d want to pass down to people earlier in their careers?

It goes back to good communication: always get on a call. That’s it. It doesn’t have to be often or even more than 10 minutes — just enough so everyone understands the assignment. Make the box!

The added level of nuance is knowing when to have conversations. You have to know when the right time is to contact somebody. If you have a question on feedback for a producer and you know that she's in a shoot all day, don’t bother her. Have respect for people's time and know when to put a conversation on ice.

So, always hop on a call — except when you don’t need to.

This is part of our 100 Creative Directors interview series. To return to the series homepage and browse other interviews, click here.

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