Ethics of product reviews/criticisms

December 13, 2018, 8:18 PM · Hello! As some of you may know, I'm working on a violin documentary project on technique, pedagogy, health, etc.

The idea is to travel the world and interview orchestral musicians, soloists, pedagogues, etc.. and have them talk about their beliefs on various violin related topics. In recent months, Laurie has been posting surveys on questions I plan to ask, so it was rather fascinating to see her asking the same questions.

Anyway, one issue came up that is bothering me. Of course, when you're going to interview a lot of violinists, you are going to have a lot of different answers, some will be controversial or contradict what another person says.

That is no problem; in fact , that is why i want to do this: to give everyone a chance to explain and/or show what they mean

My issue then is that I also want to bring up opposite view points. Let me give you an example: some teachers say that the bow hair shoul be flat all the time (I can name famous pedagogues but I won't), others say it should be tilted, and others say other things.

Is it a bad idea to ask them what they think of what someone else says (without ever bringing up names)? Again the point of this is to have a discussion going on and to get the clearest answers possible.

Another issue is regarding set up and accessories. As part of my proiject, I bought a lot of popular accessories and I get certain people to try them out. In some cases, some people had harsh things to say about certain accessories. I paid for all of these out of my own pocket so I don't owe any one any stellar reviews, but is it fair to include critcisms of people's works. Again , I wouldn't allow free bashing: if someone had negative things to say, they have to say it respectfully and they have to explain very clearly why they think that way. But should this be included in my videos?

It's a bit of tricky situation, because if I censor them, then basically , we are censoring healthy and respectful discussions, but then if I include it, I don't want to hurt any company's business.

In my interviews with musicians, I always try to raise the point that even though an accessory may not be right for them, it can certainly be right for others.

What are your thoughts? thanks!

Replies (18)

Edited: December 13, 2018, 9:22 PM · Of course it should be in your videos!

The risk you take by releasing a documentary is that the information presented in said documentary might affect things. This is good and ok. I would just make sure there are no unfortunate legal traps you can fall into.

(More personally: I, for one, would not be interested in a documentary—a work that is supposed to accurately portray something—that was altered in order to protect someone's brand from potential harm.)

Edited: December 14, 2018, 1:28 AM · Thanks for your input. I wanted say that I wouldn't alter anything but I just was thinking of not mentioning names/brands (I definitely would like to avoid mentioning names if possible). Things get tricky when people start criticizing other people's ideas, and some people's ideas are extremely popular and being commercialized and sold all over the world, and here comes someone who refutes the ideas. I certainly want to get a discussion going because it 's very healthy and beneficial for the progress of the art.

Getting to the truth can be very political and I want to avoid this kind of stuff as much as possible. I'm really trying to be as fair and neutral as possible , but this is very difficult in a world where experts are saying things that are in complete opposition.

December 14, 2018, 1:36 AM · The issue is that sometimes there is an assumption that there is "one right away" to do things. In something as complicated as playing an instrument, there are generally many ways to achieve a particular goal as there are teachers to teach it!

I think what can be very valuable is to see all these different perspectives, and be able to learn about alternative approaches, experiment, and see what works and what doesn't, situational for each player.

Edited: December 14, 2018, 3:03 AM · Get legal advice. Although I can't claim any knowledge, I suspect that, whereas if you were to say in public "Brand X is rubbish", that only counts as hearsay and is not libellous, once you publish, it's a different matter. And a documentary constitutes publication. Having said that, where does it leave Amazon reviews? Where does it leave forum discussions? I don't know. Get legal advice.
December 14, 2018, 4:23 AM · You can always fade in/out the aggressive bits and include your polite version in the voice "off" commentary. But every idea should be included.
December 14, 2018, 5:50 AM · Denis, you begin by saying:
"The idea is to travel the world and interview orchestral musicians, soloists, pedagogues, etc.. and
have them talk about their beliefs on various violin related topics."

In the TV and film world I worked in for decades, the question of "where is the financing for the project coming from" was always intrinsically connected to the ethics question. Commercial sponsorship is trickier to navigate than grants or subsidies from quasi-public institutions.

If your end product is a documentary (and not a compendium of comparative subchapters on Youtube) you will be telling a compelling story with a premice. You have "X" minutes to tell thats story. Both of these elements imply choices by the filmmaker.

A third - and central thought to any film project - would be, "who's your audience... and what are your realistic options for getting your documentary seen." That loops back to the question of financing.

Edited: December 14, 2018, 12:49 PM · Hello Holly, as I mentioned I purchase everything that I will include in my project, so there is no outsifde financing. I avoid any kind of sponsorship that would get in the way of being neutral and accurate.

So far nothing aggressive has been said but points have been refuted, I had one person try an accessory, and he said that certain aspects weren’t good and that it wouldn’t work with the average person. Before he said all those things, i briefly mentioned the name of the brand, and i’m wondering if i should just remove me referencing the brand.

In another instance, someone reference a popular method book where the author explained a technique. The violinist refuted this point by saying that the author is a fantastic violinist but when he performs he does not do what he explained in the book. I edited it out the name in this one so now you only hear “there ‘s a popular book out there [name removed] where the author says blablabla”

The documentary is self-published on my site and target audience is violinists of any kind but mainly serious students.

Adrian, that’s what I was thinking too .

December 14, 2018, 12:10 PM · That clarifies your options a lot, Denis.
- You're not beholden to anyone for financing.
- You have virtually unlimited time and space on your own website to tell your story or stories.
- You know your who your audience will be.

So now I'll take off my old producer hat and just be an audience member: I'd be most interested in diverse, even conflicting, opinions, on the subjects you cover. What your interviewees like and dislike is only truly interesting if I know WHO they are and WHAT exactly they like or dislike. This is especially true since your distribution will be via your website. That makes it easy for us audience members to go get further information about the WHOs and the WHATs.

To address your two examples, above:

So there's an accessory out there that some (maybe famous) person thinks won't work for most average violinists. Either everyone agrees and then there's not much of a story to tell. Or, if at least one interesting person disagrees and finds the product terrific... even central to their success... then you've got me hooked because I want to know WHY.

On the fantastic violinist who doesn't practice what they preach, you can make it a "know the rules so you can break the rules with panache" story. A common journalistic reflex is to get in touch with the fantastic violinist and hear what they have to say about the apparent contradiction. Well, that's assuming that the author is a living contemporary.

To sum it up, good stories are build around good characters with specific quirks. They get confronted with specific challenges in defined circumstances. Sure, go check with a lawyer ... and then get comfortable uncovering those contradictions and opposing opinions. No specifics, no story.

Edited: December 14, 2018, 1:07 PM · Thanks! Curious to hear other people's thoughts, I'm thinking it's just best to avoid names and brands.

I suppose here in a public forum i can make a statement like "Kun shoulder rests wont' work for the average person". It'll probably spark some sort of debate and Kun probably wouldn't care, but I 'm just wondering how Kun would respond if I released this statement in a commercial product that is sold on my site. Obviously, I will have the standard disclaimer about the views of my interviewees not being necessarily the views that i hold etc.. Kun is a fairly big brand that probably wouldn't care, but there are smaller manufacturers out there, and i don't want to influence their business in a negative way... By the way have you guys noticed that many official reviews out there are quite positive?

Furthermore, as I've said I wouldn't allow free bashing or anything. If anyone has anything to say, they have to be able to specifically explain why they think what they think.

The logistics of my project is not easy, as it involves a lot of international travel, and im sure i will learn quite a lot as i interview each musician, and it will bring up points that i would like to bring up. In an ideal world, I could fly back to another country to reinterview an artist with new info that i picked up along the way, but it's not possible, so i have to be efficient with the time i have with each musician.

One famous pedagogue says that the bow hair should always be tilted, another well known pedagogue says that the bow hair should always be flat. I would like to hear why they believe what they believe, and have them demonstrate it, and I would also like to hear their thoughts on opposing views (without saying "so and so said this" )

There is also one last thing: where I live, there is one expert that I plan to interview, and since he lives not too far from me, I can interview him as many times as I want. I will interview him last but that can make me look biased in that I give him the most time to respond to what everyone else said. I really don't want to give that impression but it's just so convenient to have him around.

December 14, 2018, 1:17 PM · Here's one scenario .

For my project, one of the topics I want to research is set-up and how much violinists have investigated this topic for themselves or for their students. I have acquired a collection of "popular" accessories. Chin rests, shoulder rests, etc... Again, no freebies, I purchased everything on my own.

I took a young man with set up problems to see a local expert on violin health. He builds custom chinrests, The young man in question has an extremely long neck, so I gave him the tallest chinrest in my collection. Even with the very tall chinrest, the young man had to put three extra cushions on his shoulder rest to fill the gap. He says it's a much better set up than what he used to have and has been playing this way for a few months.

I recently took him to see the local expert and he pretty much said that the chinrest wasn't that great and wouldn't work for most people. He does explain in detail why he says that, and the young man agreed with his assessment: while it's a much better set up than what he had before, it still wasn't ideal for the same reasons the expert mentioned.

So during the session, the expert had the young man try many custom made chinrests.

What do you guys think of this scenario? I've filmed everything , and while I won't use this footage for my official project, I will probably upload it on youtube to show people some of the topics that I will be covering.

I mentioned the brand name of the chinrest. My question is : should i remove the reference to the brand name?

December 14, 2018, 9:07 PM · To me there is nothing to fear if you stick to the facts and avoid individual opinions. When an opinion is voiced, dig out the facts that led to the opinion. For e.g. An accessory may be quality made or not, my be effective or not, may be popular or not, but never say that it's either bad or good. Bad and good is relative and subjective.
Edited: December 14, 2018, 9:44 PM · Question: When a violinist of some reputation makes a statement about technique won't she/he WANT to have their name attached to it? What makes you so sure everybody will have a problem with their names being named?

I also think it is more interesting to know that a specific violinist thinks X than knowing that some anonymous famous soloist thinks X--at least so long as you are familiar with the person.

You'll have to do what you have to do to obey the law. But so long as you suppress personal attacks, mean spirited jokes and other inappropriate statements I see nothing wrong with naming people and brands.

Edited: December 14, 2018, 10:08 PM · Hello folks. As always. Thanks for the input thus far.

True, perhaps I'm the one being paranoid. It's not even anythinng to do with the legal issues, but I just don't want to indirectly affect a brand's popularity or a violinist's reputation.

I'll give on example here, and I think Prof Sassmannhaus is too busy to care:

watch the video below where Prof Sassmannshaus uses a very flawed principle to determine whether one needs a shoulder rest or not. The video has 50,000 views and he is fairly well known.

The way he speaks makes him sound very convincing to people who don't know better, but I think people who know a lot about set up would have a lot to say about it.

In fact I don't even have to because someone already commented the following in the comments section:

"Not Really
4 years ago
This is a non-instruction. A message with no real distinction. In order to look open minded Mr. Sassmanshaus uses the old long neck v. short neck ploy. The basic premise is that one should hold the violin with the neck, period. This is a flawed first principle. Notice that none of the players in the subsequent video play without a shoulder rest. It would seem that God no longer makes short necks!?"

Ok the youtube commenter doesn't go on to explain why it's a flawed principle, but some of the people i've interviewed have without resorting to insults of course.

December 14, 2018, 11:36 PM · I agree that the video is not first class. The most glaring error though is that the visual indication of the distance from the chin to the collarbone is nowhere near the collarbone. Also his advice sounds somewhat inconsistent: If you want to hold the violin by putting your chin on the chin rest, i.e. between shoulder and chin (not with the neck, he never says that!) it seems illogic to then bring the collar bone into the discussion.

I do not think that the principle (if "principle" is not already too strong a word) is self evidently flawed (it is misrepresented by the commenter you quote). My first teacher shared it for example (she was a student of Hans Heinz Schneeberger--if anybody still remembers him). You may disagree with him and many others will too. But I was taught along those lines and while I am just a lowly amateur I am not enough of a failure to prove there was something wrong with it. Plus: Overall I think Sassannshaus comes across as rather broad minded and not terribly dogmatic--unlike the commenter.

It seems to me you express a desire to be a neutral reporter, so I am a bit surprised that you then take position against this video.

However that may be, Sassmannshaus wouldn't object to being named. He posted the video under his name after all.

Edited: December 15, 2018, 1:15 AM · I'll say that I'm only as neutral in the sense that I'll give everyone equal opportunities to explain their point of view, and I personally will keep my comments (if any) to a minimum, but you can never expect true neutrality, we all have opinions, but sometimes certain things are facts.

For instance, there used to be a popular thing on social media where people were asking the answer to an equation along the liens of 2+(3x5). There can be only one correct answer : 17, but people would answer 25, and people would rationalize the answer in a very well written way. Would it be biased to say that I side with the people who say 17 is the right answer no matter how well the other camp rationalizes their answer?

Many people I have interviewed have refuted Sassmannshaus' claims, namely people who play very well without shoulder rest. Nonetheless , like I said, I 'm hoping to interview as many teachers as possible to get as wide variety of answers as possible

Some people I interviewed warned me though that I would get a lot of "wrong" information .

As for Sassmanshaus' statement, based on what I've researched, I 'll definitely say that he's not 100% wrong. However his statement is only true for people who have very short necks (and other characteristics) so his teaching will certainly apply to a number of people. But the video gives the impression that it is a universal rule. Where it is flawed is the belief that one should always be held without support from the left hand. Yes, some people certainly believe that, but most of those people are people who learned to play with SR. Certain people who play without SR may also believe it because they have short necks and a perfectyl shaped chin, but the vast majority of non-SR people I've met would tell me that they definitely supported the instrument with the left hand.

Edited: December 15, 2018, 1:36 AM · "people were asking the answer to an equation along the lines of 2+(3x5). There can be only one correct answer : 17, but people would answer 25, and people would rationalize the answer in a very well written way."

Hmmm. The question is, what is 3x5+2? How you solve it depends on whether you multiply 3 and 5 first or whether you add 5 and 2 first. The ambiguity is resolved by having a rule that multiplication takes precedence. You are taught this at school, but (sensibly) no-one ever uses it, because it is so easy to make a mistake, and a long chain is visually horrible and unclear, so parentheses and brackets are preferred. That means that after a while the rules are hard to remember through disuse.

Edited: December 15, 2018, 1:34 AM · Sassmannshaus seems undogmatic to me. "may not be necessary" not "isn't necessary"; "some" not "all"; "is advisable" not "is mandatory"; "becomes difficult" not "is difficult"; "can lead to" not "causes" or "leads to". "if you find a solution that works for your body, use it". And that in his second language. It's not so bad.

I've noticed this in conversations with my family in their first language: people don't like to process. They have to be told what to think.
"I might go out"; "you said you were going out"; "no I didn't."
"if it's raining I'll take an umbrella" "you said you were taking an umbrella" "I said IF it's raining".
I may throw this book away. Why did you throw it away?
You said you were going to throw it away. No I didn't.

And people can't understand why media and politics are screwed up.

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