Bob Baker's Indie Music Promotion Blog

Music marketing ideas for DIY artists, managers, promoters and music biz pros

March 25, 2009

Criticism & Bad Reviews: How to Deal With Rejection

I got an email from a musician who was torn up over a bad media review he got because of a recent show that was plagued with technical difficulties beyond his control.

He was obviously upset about what this critic had written, but it was also clear that he is often tortured anytime someone is critical of his work.

Luckily, I got over the "what people think of me" curse many years ago. But this email served to remind me that many creative people are operating with ultra sensitive natures and fragile egos.

I am writing an article on how to deal with rejection and overcome this unproductive reaction to other people's opinions. I plan to post it here soon ...

But I want your help!

Give me your thoughts on criticism, bad reviews, and how you deal with personal and creative rejection.

How have you overcome this stinging sensitivity? What have you done to break free?

Post your comments below. I'll use some of the best comments and attribute whoever I quote.

Thanks for your help!

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posted by Bob Baker @ 10:24 AM   47 comments


At Mar 25, 2009, 11:32:00 AM, Blogger Stephen Lee Canner said...

I just long ago realized that everyone is not going to like you, I just focus on that small percentage of the universe that get what we (The Victor Mourning) do, or might at least be a receptive audience. Reviewers have biases, agendas, and bad days and that's part of the reality of this business. If you can't take criticism you should hang up your guitar and become a critic yourself. And anyone that sees reviews as the reality is missing the point. How do your fans react at shows? What do people say to you afterwards? Do they buy merch? This stuff tells you how you're doing, not the opinion of a semi-employed writer at some Midwestern alternative weekly.

At Mar 25, 2009, 11:48:00 AM, Anonymous MADE said...

Excellent issue Bob. It's something that everyone has had to deal with at some point. I'm a writer, so I get criticized for things I say all the time. I think that the secret to dealing with criticism is to develop emotional armor. You don't do it with positive thinking. I think the only way to do it is to have laser-like focus on a goal, and act on it every single day. When you're extremely focused on something, you don't have time to worry about what people are saying about you. Criticism beads off of you like water on a duck. Musicians, writers and artists are naturally introspective, but it kills your ego if you're too introspective. Constant action towards a goal is the key. -Mika Schiller

At Mar 25, 2009, 11:51:00 AM, Anonymous Kurt Scobie said...

You just have to keep playing. Keep practicing. Keep performing. Because 1) persevering through the criticism makes you tougher. You MUST have thick skin in the music biz. 2) What if you really aren't that... well... good? If you are serious about music, then keep at it. EVERYONE in the Entertainment field faces rejection. This industry (like any entrepreneurial endeavor) is about longevity and perseverance.

People will always have something to say. And sometimes it is your biggest fans that pick apart your music. Don't take it personally, but fix it if it needs fixed. Learn. Grow. Focus.

"Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal." - Henry Ford

At Mar 25, 2009, 11:53:00 AM, Anonymous Daniel Klein said...

I recall an audition I had in Germany for an agent ( i sing opera): she was not impressed to say the least, a week after the audition I received a 3 page letter from her explaining how i was completely unworthy of everything, what a mess my voice was, how everything i sang was completely wrong, how i had no sense of professionalism nor sense of music... it went on and on, it was my first real hate letter.

There was of course the part of me that wanted to believe everything she wrote and think I was this horrible, but then the other part of me, as I read it over and over, I began to think, this wasn't about me as much as it was about her.

Reviewers, audience members, anyone at all who is not up there doing it really should not be listened to by performers. Anything that we do is an act of defiance and an act of destruction. If you are playing music, you are destroying the silence and willing your notes and your music into that void and into the ears and minds of everyone within earshot. If you aren't pissing some of the people off, you probably are not doing it right and you should look at it that way.

Any great artist in what ever field that they choose will have detractors. Think of it instead as a sign that you must be doing something right. If there are people who feel strongly enough about what you are doing to tell you how horribly wrong, there must be some people out there who will feel just as strongly that you are doing it horribly right.

At Mar 25, 2009, 12:39:00 PM, Anonymous KleerStreem Entertainment said...

Glad you are writing about criticism & bad reviews.

Unfavorable reviews & criticism should never be viewed with anger or hurt.

Even if you have a regular job you will experience criticism when your employer gives you your annual performance review.

First off we recommend all artist get the chips off your shoulders....if you don't someone will surly knock them off, whether or not you like it.

In music, you will never please everyone all the time. Criticism & Bad Reviews as well as positive comments & good reviews are part of the music business.

We train artist to accept what we call:

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

Learn to turn The Bad & The Ugly into positives by continuous daily improvements.

Summary: Learn to accept Criticism & Bad Reviews as 'stepping stones' to becoming better. Instead of being upset or hating someone, contact them & thank them for their article(s). Get them on your side & ask them if they have any suggestions on how you or your band can improve because you know continuous improvement is a never-ending process.

This is the time to turn a negative into a positive & possible win over a critic. Learn what "Pushing the Envelope" is all about. Realize, even the well know stars get criticized, as evidenced by The Boss being criticize for his Superbowl Show.

Embrace and accept all negative information as ways to make your act better. But, when the day is done, most artist will realize they have many more positive supporters than negative supporters. No artist has 100% approval from everyone. And above all embrace everything with a smile.....cause you never know who is watching or listening.


At Mar 25, 2009, 12:41:00 PM, Anonymous Steven Cravis said...

Thanks for this article, Bob!

I look at it like this; The world is full of opinions. Half of all people who hear my music are going to like it and half will not.
Half of the whole world is a lot of people, so I just keep on looking at this like a numbers game of getting my music out to as much of the world as possible.

As long as I feel great listening back to my recording, I will put it out there, and I don't care if there are, were, or will be any bad reviews of my music. I wouldn't take it personally. My goal is always to stay creative and get my music out there.

At Mar 25, 2009, 12:47:00 PM, Anonymous Leah Whitehorse said...

I remember a few years ago someone gave me a horrible review for a cd I had made. I felt terrible but then I took out the emails from all the people who had loved my music and taken the time to tell me how different songs affected them. It's always good to remember you can't please all of the people all of the time! All you can do is follow your heart and be true to yourself and your music.
That said, embedded within the harsh review was a nugget of constructive criticism that (once my pride had managed to get up of the floor) I accepted and was able to make use of.
I think most importantly you have to have real faith in what you are doing but with the wisdom to know when something is not working or needs to be developed. Self-belief goes a long way towards dealing with criticism.

At Mar 25, 2009, 12:48:00 PM, Blogger Daniel Nathan said...

Editors are paid to have an opinion, so expect it to be strong. When testing anything, the more people you test, the better. Don't be shy about tossing a song out. Keep testing different material until you find what hits. Then take it to the bank.

At Mar 25, 2009, 12:48:00 PM, Blogger Doctor Oakroot said...

"He was obviously upset about what this critic had written, but it was also clear that he is often tortured anytime someone is critical of his work."

Ha! That describes me perfectly. I also get pretty angry.

I know better and I try to take a deep breath and move on.

Mostly, I scan reviews for great quotes to use for promo and try to ignore everything else.

At Mar 25, 2009, 12:57:00 PM, Blogger Nicholas Howard said...

Bad reviews should be chalked off to the fact that "NOT EVERYONE IS GOING TO LIKE YOU". It's a tough thing for most people, let alone artists, to wrap their head around. We as humans, can't always look at our own lives/art as objectively as we look at others, and in that, tend to forget that other people, in turn, look at our work with the same objectivity that they lack in looking at their own. Point is, everyone has an opinion, just like everyone has a brain, and they are going to voice that opinion in whatever way they deem fit, hence leaving it out of your control and and hopefully as meaningless as your opinion of their opinion.


Criticism, on the other hand, is a wonderful thing. Criticism in its most constructive form will help you GROW if you can get away from your ego for 5 seconds. I personally welcome criticism from people of valued opinion, whether they like me or not, because if they touch on something that I know of my own work that I'm proud of then I can reinforce that pat on the back I gave myself, or make sure I put an extra years worth of practice into making that shaky portion of the performance that was touched on into a pat on the back for next time.

The point of criticism is growth, and only people who THINK that they are the greatest in the world and don't need to grow, will be hurt by some other persons criticism. Ohhh the irony!

Thanks for the post Bob!!

Nicholas Howard
Belief & Hustle Records

At Mar 25, 2009, 1:00:00 PM, Blogger KleerStreem Entertainment said...

From the Toltec Religion.

This is one of my favorites on handling criticism & Bad Reviews:

"Don’t Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering"

How about printing this one out and placing it some place visibile each day?


At Mar 25, 2009, 1:03:00 PM, Anonymous Ross Hamil said...

I think the bottom line is: YOU CAN'T BE ALL THINGS TO ALL PEOPLE.
That being said, this is a very subjective issue. The worst case scenario is that the critique is accurate and the artist is not very good. But, I don't think that is often the case because the artist would have had to proven their worth for a critic to show up and write a review.
You ultimately have to consider the source. For example, we have a club booker in our home town that we got cross-ways with over being burned four times in a row (long story) and she has done her best to smear our name as a band even though she messed up every time. Although, she has made it a priority to blackball us, we are getting more shows than before and we've ended up booking around her through the owner of the club.
I know it was a long winded point, but, you've got to consider the source.
If you are a good musician with a good product, then negative reviews don't go very far.
I look at it a lot like movies, I never trust a movie critic anymore.
So, take it with a grain of salt and continue working on ways to improve what you're doing (because there's always room for it).

At Mar 25, 2009, 1:30:00 PM, Anonymous Jerret Hammons said...

Often times, I find, it isn't that the review was bad, but you are improperly marketing yourself. For instance, if you do folk music and a punk fan watches you, you are going to get a bad review or critique. The goal isn't mass targeting and winning everyone over. The goal is to ultra-niche yourself and cater only to those people. This takes a bit of creativity and thick skin. Try it and I guarantee you will love the result.

At Mar 25, 2009, 1:36:00 PM, Anonymous Derek Irving said...

I recently had two record companies turn me down. They started interested but ended up not seeing a fit in the end. However luckily we had a 3rd record company in our back pocket as our fail safe option. Now, what I do is look at reasons why I was turned down, decide if their comments can add value to me and use them accordingly. Sometimes things happen for a reason. In the end I'm going to be on a label which allows more freedom, has a better fan base to match our sound and allows me opportunities to do more of a DIY (decide it yourself) role - meaning I can market, promote, master, write, etc giving me more diversification in the future to increase my income and worth in the industry. Additionally while those two labels turned me down, I still have a line of communication with them to bounce questions off of , request them to listen to my songs, ask if they know anyone who can help, etc – while they are *not* my record company they are a business/networking resource.

At Mar 25, 2009, 1:43:00 PM, Anonymous Marja Ernst said...

In my opinion creating music is a very personal thing. It requires a tremendous amount of soul and emotion. People want to hear emotion in music, and come to hear more than just the notes. They want to hear deep feeling, and emotional connection in the music. Unfortunately, as an artist, giving this emotional experience often means opening up one’s own soul, and thus leaving oneself quite vulnerable. At this point, when someone criticises the music, it feels like they are not criticising just the music but the artist himself. This is especially true for singers whose instrument is, in fact, a part of their body (how would you like it if someone told you that you looked fat or had a big nose?). Most musicians have a difficult time dealing with this issue, especially as creative types tend to have higher strung temperaments than most.
As a singer, I deal with it by creating a stage persona. It is a slightly exaggerated portion of a part of me, but still taps into my emotions and manages to convey deep feeling. At this point, though criticism still stings somewhat, I have built up enough emotional armour to deal with it (but then again, I’ve never had one of those high strung artistic temperaments either). I also realise that everyone has different likes and dislikes. I don’t expect that everyone will like my music, and still feel touched when they do.

At Mar 25, 2009, 1:54:00 PM, Blogger Bud said...

The above is all outstanding advice and there's little I could add. I'd just say that before I was a performer I was a classroom teacher. One thing that is obvious in both professions that in every crowd, somebody will love you and somebody won't, to put it mildly. With critics, it's always about them, not you. The best way to deal with the ego of others is to not employ your own. We are just vessels through which the muse flows. If we try to own the art as if we actually created it, we set ourselves up for more disappointment.

At Mar 25, 2009, 2:01:00 PM, Anonymous Nik Payton said...

An interesting topic and one not often touched upon in public. I think we all need to be open to reviews and critiques and that's not always easy. I know as a jazz musician we really open up on stage and showing that much of yourself, allowing that level of intimacy is hard - and when someone criticizes that, it IS personal. I've been very lucky in that I've had far more positive reviews than negative in my career. However at the beginning I took all the bad ones to heart and ignored the good. It took me a while to work out the difference between a 'good' bad review and a 'bad' bad review. The 'good' ones were written thoughtfully and intelligently and by people who knew what they were talking about. As such, those reviews actually helped me develop certain areas of my playing. The 'bad' bad reviews were just personal attacks by uneducated listeners (a rock journalist at a jazz concert etc etc). We need to be thick skinned in this business, without a doubt, but we also need to be open to the fact that we can always improve. Finding the balance is key. Bear in mind that if your audience really dug the show and only the reviewer didn't, well maybe he just wasn't getting it that night. You will know, deep down, whether the reviewer has a point. It's a truth we can't run from and sometimes need to face, however painful. But by facing it and accepting it we work through it to become better musicians and better people.

At Mar 25, 2009, 2:06:00 PM, Blogger luiser said...

This is what I remember when having to deal with criticism and bad reviews:

1. Art is communication, and good communication demands tolerance toward disagreement.

2. Any feedback is a sign of my art being effective and should be appreciated.

3. Believing my art is perfect is arrogant and does not leave room for improvement. To create better works, I need self-evaluation and input from others who may be more objective. My audience has the right to demand the best I can give.

4. Fans may criticize. Critics and reviewers may become fans. Expecting to find 100% flattering fans is unrealistic.

5. Bad reviews based on discrimination and offensive remarks are self-destructive. They're irrelevant and may bring stronger support from others.

6. I feel great about what I do and that's what matters.

Something off topic: Bob, I've learned a lot from your writings. You're giving good things to many, and that can only bring good things back to you. Thank you so much. Greetings from Venezuela.

At Mar 25, 2009, 2:30:00 PM, Blogger GregTamblyn said...

My first album (a cassette) was reviewed locally and panned by the critic, who said something like therapy and music don't mix.

But the album was put together primarily for an audience interested in personal growth, healing, wellness, making progress in their lives.

That album has now sold in the tens of thousands, and has gotten me a TON of gigs. One of the songs has won a songwriting award.

So to paraphrase Hunter Thompson, music critics live in a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs.

Ignore 'em!


At Mar 25, 2009, 2:30:00 PM, Blogger Tomwiener said...

I find it hard to understand critics. I know its their job to give a review of what they saw, but bad reviews are so hard to read. Sure it might have been a bad show, but I would like to see THEM put on a show. It takes guts to go up on stage and try to entertain a crowd. Chances are, you weren't even the target audience. Rather than rip into the person the entire time, talk about the things you liked, OR what they could work on to "please" you next time.

At Mar 25, 2009, 2:31:00 PM, Anonymous Jennifer Grassman said...

I recently got a very scathing email from someone who made very malicious and untrue accusations about my personal character and questioned the validity of some artistic projects I am currently involved in. The author also CCed the email to a number of my comrades and friends in the local music industry (people who I’m trying to impress), thus very vindictively slandering me. I was mortified to say the least, and very badly hurt. Afterwards, I was despondent for a whole week, trying to understand why someone could think such mean thoughts about me, or do such a rotten thing! I was also plagued with wondering whether anyone else would believe it, or think less of me.

Eventually I came to grips with the fact that the author of the email was the one with the problem, and not me at all. My hope is that anyone else who received the email will see through the lies and visceral spite exhibited in it.

Criticism, whether true or untrue, can be very hurtful, but especially hurtful are malicious attacks and verbal back-stabbings. We as musicians have to acknowledge that what we do is to create art. It’s often controversial, can inspire jealousy among other (less mature) artists, and may offend some narrow-minded people. In addition, art is not an exact science or a pop quiz that can be meticulously graded based on established or immovable facts.

If someone gives you a bad review because they don't like your style, then you have to wonder, why were they listening to your music in the first place? I have to tell you, whenever I read a negative review in the paper, my sympathies are usually 100% with the artist, and I often question the motives of the reviewing author. What’s the point of trashing someone’s work?

For example, anyone who hates Sarah McLachlan's music, will probably not like Jennifer Grassman's music (me!). Anyone who hates jazz, will not like Pamela York's music, and anyone who hates Tori Amos' music will not like Terami Hirsch's music. So they shouldn’t listen to it or write about it!

These are stylistic opinions that should not be made into a big to-do, especially if you're the artist on the receiving end of a bad review.

There will always be some people who love your music, and some people who can’t stand it (hopefully less of the latter). Think of your music like food. Some people love broccoli and eat it by the head. Others gag when they so much as smell it. But that’s not the broccoli’s fault! It is what it is - broccoli! Just so, your music is what it is, and you are what you are, and just because one person can see it and another person can’t, it doesn’t make you or your music at fault in the least.

Heaping Burning Coals: Whenever someone gives you a bad review, send them a friendly card thanking them for helping you get the word out about your music, and apologize for whatever it was they were complaining about (assuming it was something remotely legit). This will make them feel guilty and disgusting, and the next time you send them a press release or concert announcement, there’s a remote chance that they may run it out of sheer remorse. It will also make them think twice before smearing someone again!

At Mar 25, 2009, 2:40:00 PM, Anonymous Matty Zmigrodski said...

A good friend of mine and band mate is finally getting enough courage to put out his own record. He is fearful just like the rest of us if its gonna be any good will anyone listen to it. Who will care about it? Everything we all go through trying to be an aspiring artist.

Dealing with rejection is all part of the biz. My advice to him is to let yourself get beat up a couple of times. Let the critics smack you around real good for when the dust settles and you brush your self off and get really mad you and you alone will allow yourself to feel success. Whatever that success maybe to you. Look inward before you ever look outward.

At Mar 25, 2009, 2:43:00 PM, Anonymous Nancy Krebs said...

I totally agree with Stephen's comment. Even if you are on your game, and really cookin', someone is not going to appreciate what you do--whether it's acting, singing, writing, playing an instrument--you name it. I've learned over the years, that when I do my best, the majority of those listening will enjoy it; some lives will even be transformed, others will be left cold--and I can't control those reactions. I can only control how and what I'm presenting. When we focus on the task at hand, rather than the possible reactions, we can be much less worried about how we are going to be perceived, and more at peace with the results!

At Mar 25, 2009, 5:59:00 PM, Anonymous Macdara Smith said...

Whenever I get bad criticism I sit down and write a letter to the person. I address it to them personally. You shouldn't send the letter, just sit down and write it. It is very cathartic and it also gets you out of the 'victim'mode. It allows you to get all the stuff out on paper.

Another important part of this method is that you are actually creating something, rather than feeling sorry for yourself.

Finally, what really comes through in so many of the posts here; you cannot please everyone.
Forget about music, how would you feel on a personal level about somebody who wanted to please everybody? I'd say you'd feel they were pretty superficial! And yet so many of us wish for everyone, absolutely everyone, to like our music (I know I do!). Which when you think about it is just not possible.

What can also be a great experience is to get booed off a stage. It's funny!

Just love yourself, no matter what, you're great!

Thanks Mr Baker for all the ideas!

At Mar 25, 2009, 6:05:00 PM, Anonymous Hunter said...

Connor Oberst said it best in the song, "Let's Not Shit Ourselves (To Love and To Be Loved."

"I do not read the reviews, no I am not singing for you."

Of course as a struggling musician you're going to read reviews and be concerned with what people are saying about you, as you should, but it's also important to remember that you're not playing music for the critics, you're playing music for yourself and your fans.

At Mar 25, 2009, 9:37:00 PM, Anonymous Natalie Gelman said...

Maybe I just think it because I am a young artist but just when I seem to be over criticism it comes round to bite me in the back.

Something I heard once that does renew my sense of hope or purpose in music in situations like that is that its actually a great thing to elicit a strong reaction from someone. You have to have people that hate what you do - or even hate you, because the things that caused those people to feel so strongly against you will cause others to love and support you and your music.

I do agree with people that commented about how sometimes its just about jealousy as well.

Curious to see what you come up with Bob!

At Mar 26, 2009, 8:27:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bob -

Glad to see you are writing about this. A tough topic.

I get paid to write stuff, which I never dreamed would happen. After several years of creating stuff for others to read, I have developed a level of emotional distance between me and what I create.

This distance was not created out of virtue. It was a natural consequence of writing a bunch of stuff that others can read.

To quote Jeff Tweedy's "What Light":
And if the whole world’s singing your songs
And all of your paintings have been hung
Just remember what was yours is everyone’s from now on

Once you put something out there, it is not yours anymore. That is the beauty and the tragedy of it. So, let it go. This has helped me to not be critical of those that are critical of me.

You make music or write or paint because you can't NOT do it (that's a purposeful double negative). If you find yourself doing it for others approval or satisfaction, then quit.

Most good artists, parents, business people and musicians suck for a long, long time before they do anything worthwhile. Refined people are boring. Push yourself because you have to. Because you have something to say.

At Mar 26, 2009, 10:00:00 AM, Blogger hairylarry said...


The worst part about being thin skinned to criticism is that it will affect your business and your success. Follow up is everything yet many musicians don't follow up because they take the lack of immediate excitement as rejection and they don't want to be rejected again.

I wear many hats when I play. Depending on what song I'm singing I change hats. When you're doing business you have to change hats too. Adopt an agent persona where you aren't booking yourself but you're booking an act that happens to be yourself. Make the followup calls as if you were working for somebody else. Don't take someone asking you to call back personally. Instead just put it on your todo list and call back later.

I know how hard this is because I'm writing this post instead of making a few follow up calls myself.


Hairy Larry

At Mar 26, 2009, 11:21:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Constructive criticism is a good thing, yet what I hear some (including loved ones) say is that if the masses will not embrace my (or others) work, and if it does not fit a certain criteria in their mind it is not worth writing or creating.

I happen to be a very resilient person, but what if I allowed doubt to settle in? Will this CD top the billboard charts? Is this Oscar or Grammy material? These are great dreams, goals in which I aspire too, yet they should not come into play when composing material.

I completed my debut album because I would no longer allow the shackles of perfection to cripple me.

What I long to receive from family, best friends and music coaches is acceptance and encouragement to create and press onward, I don‘t expect this from the professional critics (everyone is a critic). Bob Baker of The Buzz Factor is an encourager and that is priceless!

I do the very best work I can do with the knowledge and materials I have, continually honing my craft, aiming for greatness and enjoy my creation unto the Lord. I believe if I love my work there will be people out there who also will love it too, perhaps only a niche audience, yet not limited.

The person who perseveres, continually works to improve, is business savvy and is therefore a good steward of their time and talents will eventually gain recognition from the world. And that is a good thing :)


At Mar 26, 2009, 12:15:00 PM, Anonymous Kate Ashby-Craft said...

There is no such thing as bad publicity so remember that if people are talking about you that's good.I've had bad reviews but I always turn them into a positive by thanking the reviewer for their feedback and telling them that I will seriously consider their suggestions even if I don't agree with what they have said.Always remember that the only people you have to please are yourself and your fans.

At Mar 26, 2009, 12:20:00 PM, Blogger markshepardsongs said...

Dealing with Criticism and Rejection for musicians, artists and other sensitive people.

Mark Shepard here from I used to really stop myself because of fear of criticism. At one point it was so bad that I totally quit performing.

Instead I started painting large acrylic canvases. It was totally refreshing to not have to “perform” a painting. It could just sit on the wall and someone could look at it or not. I didn’t have to be there. Because I wasn’t a trained artist and didn’t care in the least whether people liked it or not, I felt a new freedom that I eventually transferred to my music.

I also learned NLP (neuro linguistic programming) and now I help people with clearing their fear and anxiety as well as panic attacks, stage fright etc.

Here are a couple thoughts that I hope will help others in dealing with criticism and rejection:

I used to focus on the negative comments and blow them up to a giant I-max size screen in my mind with a huge stack of loudspeakers constantly repeating the negative comment. That made me feel really bad.

What I do now: Shrink down the critic. Make them little and even put them into childrens clothes in my mind. Pull up an I-max picture of all the people who were really loving what I did. Turn down the volume of the negative voice and turn up the applause.

Remind myself that the most successful people are the most criticized. If I am not being criticized I am not trying hard enough.

Remind myself that the critical person cared enough to share their perception and thoughts. Most critical people have a belief that they are trying to help.

Ask myself. Are there any awesome musicians whose music I don’t care for that millions of people do love? Yes. I do not care for opera. But my opinion of opera doesn’t not detract from the fact that it is a legitimate and worthy art form. So one person’s opinion of my music doesn’t mean anything other than that my work is not his or her cup of tea

I will also often chant or write out empowering why and how questions which engage your unconscious mind to find better, more empowering answers. For example: “Why does it work out better than I can possibly imagine?” Or “How can I rise up above this comment?” Or “How can I use this feedback to get better?” Or “Why do I choose to dismiss this person’s ignorant comments?”

For example a friend of mine who tends to be a little bit bossy. Recently told me she thinks I should take voice lessons. In the past I would have taken that hard and felt suddenly insecure about my singing…but I forced myself to take charge of my internal reaction:
1. I shrank her down on my internal screen to make her small and unthreatening
2. I reminded myself that she is not a musician
3. I reminded myself that she is not a singer
4. I reminded myself that she was a little pissed off at me for not paying attention to her so she was trying to hook me with a mean little “zing”.
5. I concluded that instead of listening to her uneducated opinion I could choose to focus on the fact that she really had not earned the right to give me advice on my singing. I reminded myself that I have worked on my voice for over 30 years and people continually tell me they love the way I sing.
6. I also reminded myself that I like the way I sound and I’m the strongest critic I know...
7. I also reminded myself that lots of great performers don’t have nearly the chops I have (ie Dylan, Leonard Cohen etc) Yet they are well respected as artists…
8. I also imagined how ridiculous I’d sound if I took “voice lessons”
9. I also considered that if I found the right kind of teacher who could bring out more of my natural sound and not turn me into some hideous opera singer, I would be open to learning how to protect and support my singing even more.

So with every criticism I do my best to manage my thoughts and to learn something from it even if it is only “practicing how to deal with criticism”

Ultimately we are in charge of our internal world. And dealing with criticism is more about how we interpret the situation than the criticism itself.

Mark Shepard

At Mar 26, 2009, 5:33:00 PM, Anonymous Scott Gordon said...

I remember a reviewer who derisively labeled our new progressive rock band "old, buried." (that was the trend in the 90's - to trash all that came before) Ironically I kind of treasured his nasty article because as an un-confident singer, his comparing me to my favorite singers and my original songs to my favorite groups, was actually flattering. Unfortunately, my band members (good friends, too) didn't take it that way and that's the last gig we played under that line-up, even though we had done great - the reviewer just didn't like my style.

A lot of the negative criticism out there is destructive and unwarranted and sadly, sometimes even calculated to have a bad effect. "Critics" who care and who are really ethical tend not to write anything at all if they can't dig what you're doing or you didn't have it together that night. That's the best way, because it just says "you haven't made it yet - keep working" which may be true.

Even "specific" criticisms and "suggestions" only rarely hit the mark and when they do, only rarely get appreciated and acted on by the artist. It's not a good cycle.

I may be in a minority here, but my advice is to completely ignore criticism and decide not to read or listen to reviews. If by accident you get caught up in it anyway, use your anger to sharpen your skills or to write that passionately angry hit song. If you do anything specific with what others tell you about your own creations, only strive to do more of the good they point out in it.

Otherwise there'll be no one left making art - we'll all join "them" as failed artists-turned-critics.

At Mar 27, 2009, 11:16:00 AM, Anonymous Jane said...

As a jazz vocalist who grew up in a country music dominated scene, staying positive has been a challenge from day one. I haven't had much written criticism to deal with. However, my family, for the most part, did not understand jazz and the town elders advised me to "stick with what you know." Teaching was just about the only thing women from small southern towns could acceptably do back in the 60s when I began.

I started out singing with my college big band which was a very positive experience. Without that supportive beginning, I might not have continued. However, when I went out as a single artist, there were nights when I was trying to entertain in a smoke filled lounge at the local Holiday Inn. I knew I wasn't what they expected or appreciated. Those nights were very hard. Thankfully, those gigs were only occasional. Nonetheless, Jazz was not the norm where I grew up and where I started out performing.

The rejection was difficult, but I soon discovered that I was happier singing than not singing. And when I could find that ONE person who DID like what I was doing and was paying attention to every song, which was more often than one might think, that was enough to keep me hanging in there.

I agree with others on this post that self belief is essential. Somehow I had to know inside myself that what I was doing was legitimate, and I always kept that belief. Rather than giving in to the negatives I encountered, I always gaged my progress against the known singers in my genre. That helped.

I also had two thoughts that kept me centered. I realized that even if Miles Davis himself had shown up to play on some of my gigs, he wouldn't have been appreciated either. His charisma would have been viewed as weird and his idiosyncracies, like playing into the wall, would have further turned off the "Holiday Inn crowd" expecting a Merle Haggard wanna-be.

Also, this thought has been a big help. A very wise man, and fellow musician, commented on the line in "New York, New York," that goes, "if you can make it there, you'll make it anywhere." His sage advice was the opposite: "If you can make it in Opp, Alabama, you can make it anywhere." This is not to disparage the good people of Opp. They have a perfect right to like any kind of music they wish. It's only to say that jazz fans there would be rarer than hen's teeth.

But somehow the humor of that line, got our band through some long nights where we knew we wouldn't find our niche people but we needed rent money.

For what it's worth, I've had to have a 9-5 job to survive, but I still sing and still sing the jazz standards. Without my music, I would have perished spiritually long ago. So I have no regrets.

At Mar 29, 2009, 5:14:00 PM, Blogger strooyaa said...

if two guys criticize me they might be right or not, if three guys criticize me they might be right or maybe not... but if there is whole bunch of people criticize me, then everything is clear!
It's impossible to have bunch of a people that all saying same thing and they are right! and I really believe in what Im doing and they cant believe that I suck as much as me and my fans believe in my music!
this is not 100% true but it's work for me... I mean i don't take so much critics but neither I sell a lot :(
after all... critics can help! few bad shows well ok, there wasn't any magic, you can find excuses just to feel better, but problem is when your image is that you suck!
how to deal with that? change name, city, country or continent :) or just stop annoying people hehe

At Mar 31, 2009, 8:06:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Something I learned from one of the top marketers: a few negative reviews mixed in with mostly positive makes the positive ones more believable and actually increases sales ironically.

Unless you're only getting negative reviews... then you should probably woodshed until you don't suck.

At Apr 6, 2009, 5:39:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for everyone's comments. I am finding them to be very helpful. I have always been able to take negative reviews with a grain of salt, but recently I came across a review that was not only negative, but came across as a serious personal attack and character assassination from a reviewer!!! It was attacking the lead singer of the band I am in, and insulting her in a way that was just mysoginistic and unbeleivable! How does on go about swallowing all of that?!!!

At Apr 10, 2009, 4:00:00 PM, Blogger Mark and Amy said...


You ask for input on how we deal with rejection.

Well I must admit that I put my heart into everything I do musically, which makes it, perhaps, most like a love affair. So when I am "rejected" by a "bad review", a "nasty comment", a "we're all booked up and have no openings," or a "we appreciate you sending it to us, but your song is not quite right for our purposes." I must admit the first thing I feel is disappointment and hurt, like when a lover leaves you. Then I get the blues, which has often led to a great song, and then I get angry, which can also lead to another fine tune.

After awhile though I remember that the song, my voice, even my fingers plucking away on my guitar are, like love, just on loan. They are my gifts to carry through this life and share with the others who wish to or may even need to share them. Then I remember the many kind folks who have come up to me after a show to say that a song of mine helped them through a time they didn't think they could get through, or the Alzheimer's patients I've seen reanimate song by song during our shows and I remember that these are the only critics that matter. As I realize this I am made calm and thankful for my life and all of it's blessings including those "rejections" that have forced me to grow and to reaffirm my faith in my own path.

It also helps to turn on the TV, the radio, or the Internet and give a listen to what the powers that be deem acceptable, even genius.

Thank you,

Mark Adams-Westin
Amy & Adams
St. Paul, MN

At Apr 16, 2009, 2:10:00 AM, Anonymous Josh said...

wowowowowow....i am pretty inspired and touched by the people's comments here :)

i'm a songwriter and recently formed a band to channel our songs to an audience...i was constantly worried abt my songs being too sucky and lousy for any1 to hear; like, i always had this thought in my head: who the hell would want to hear ur stupid songs and listen to ur lousy voice when there are others who can do it better than you?

I was always affected by that ... it really left me depressed and sometimes i'd be really moody towards my band members who honestly, didn't deserve it cuz they are the bestest friends i could ever have.

Now i know something from all of your advice: that we are just works in progress, and we should all strive to become better as musicians :D critics give opinions and advice, it's their job, so i won't take it out on them. Most of the time the problem comes from ourselves (or at least, me) when we don't know how to shut out what has been said or to improve from their comments.

With this, i've learnt a little bit, and will be confident in the material i put out from now on, cuz this is a choice i've made when i've become a songwriter. If i am going down this road, the least i can do is to be confident in myself :D thanks Bob and all of you!

At Apr 28, 2009, 9:35:00 AM, Anonymous Anthony Kammerhofer/the noeck records said...

Thank you, Bob, for again sparking a highly inspiring discussion here. To me, The Guerilla Music Marketing Handbook and all your other publications will always be a kind of 'staple diet' when it comes to facing challenging situations in marketing music.

I've been into representing a vocalist (classical music) for the past 3 years now and, being a rock musician myself, have been going through a mind-bogglingly fresh experience when we're talking rejection there. See, depending on your niche, rejection (and, often times, plain envy) comes in different shapes and sizes (and I'd call rejection and envy the 'masters of disguise'). In popular music, people usually do not refer to any 'academic' background of music education (i.e., university-level education in music), but rather concentrate on the songs and, more often than not, maybe a bit too much on the 'buzz' around the act. With a lot of opinion leaders in classical, almost everything revolves around the act's academic background and the repertoire. If they could only concentrate on the repertoire!

So, why that almost exclusive focus on the academic background? Because a lot of the people in the genre think 'academic' background equals quality mark. The point here is, however, that we're talking about a highly restricted market here, so there's a lot of competition among artists to sign with a few dependable artist managers/booking agents, get a foot in the door with those very few promoters catering for this niche, and eventually maybe sign with a label doing classical recordings. Except for those in the period-instrument niche, there is also an almost complete lack of DIY, and to the majority of artists, digital distribution etc. still is a mystery. So, if you're starting out as a classical performer, there is actually not much of a shot for you there, as acts are concentrating on slandering each other with promoters and people in the industry, or they would develop a 'hit-and-run' attitude, only ever turning up as hired guns, but never developing their own act. Adding to this, the entire niche market is heavily dependent on subsidies and donations, so the mindset is also different.

Ok, the act I'm representing does not have the cherished 'academic' background but can do 3 voice registers. You can bet that we had a hard time trying to establish the act as a semi-pro project, as I've heard other acts and self-proclaimed 'experts' say things along the lines of 'that which must not, can not be'.

What I'm trying to drive home here is that when we're talking 'rejection' I think we'd better ignore it right away. It's a fairly clever way of trying to squeeze acts out of the market. As an act you would, of course, highly welcome all and any well-founded reviews by journalists, promoters, industry people and your fans (and I think the majority of reviews are well-founded).

All the very best to you all and good luck

Publicist, booking and label partner for Wilhelm Pfeiffer/the noeck records
Anthony Kammerhofer
Vienna, Austria

At May 8, 2009, 1:43:00 AM, Blogger Alexa Weber Morales said...

I love the insight into the classical world and its obsession with academia and pedigree. The dependence on donations and grants, too, is a weird thing -- I think it spoils music somewhat when it becomes something that's "good for you" or "must be preserved." However, I won't frown on ANY way of making it as a performing artist.

I also agree with the comments that note that often vituperative reviews are more about the critic than you. I read one that really hurt, and it went on and on. However, I was able to forget about it in a day or two. I have never gone back to read it again. However, wherever possible I do try to take a nugget of useful information out of a bad review, be it written or even in person or from a musician you respect.

Sometimes, the things we do that that make some uncomfortable because they're not what they're accustomed to, are signs that we are on a path toward finding our unique artistic expression. If that's your goal, then you can use this information. If your goal is to be true to a genre or a musical technique, there's nothing wrong with that either -- and you can use those strong reactions as signs you have veered too far off the marked course.

Very helpful forum, Bob!

At Jul 13, 2009, 9:35:00 AM, Anonymous Katy said...

Wow, what a great entry! Reading all these amazing comments have helped me see different artists' viewpoints. Through them, I've been able to come to grips with the fact that there are people out there that simply revel in putting musicians down. Since I am fairly new in the music biz, it's been extremely hard for me to take all the criticism; I feel like I shouldn't be singing at all. But then I just remind myself of the people who DO listen to my music and who WANT to hear more. Truly, they are the ones who push me forward.

At Sep 17, 2009, 7:38:00 PM, Blogger Tessa said...

I'm with you, Scott Gordon - I usually try not to read reviews, but I made the mistake of doing so last night. Bad move: I got no sleep and have been really unproductive today! My whole general being was written off by the reviewer, in a couple of disparaging sentences. I was singled out for this treatment, in a band of 16 members.

Now, I'm all for turning things into positives, but I think sometimes it's right to call a bad thing a bad thing and run away from it. In my book, defaming a real live person with real live feelings, can't be justified. If it's a critique of my work, that's one thing. I can learn from that. But if it's a blanket comment, made in public, which attacks aspects of my person which are inbuilt and can't be changed, then I'm gonna get the hell out of there. This is a great blog site, thank you all. It's helped me get even clearer on my stance. Thank goodness for you all and keep doing whatever works for you to keep writing and performing! (Unless you want a break from it cos it's too scary - I think that's ok too.)

At Dec 2, 2009, 5:54:00 PM, Anonymous JohnDoe said...

As an introductory note: having detractors implies a minimum amount of success. If you only have fans, success is not there yet - carry on and find your enemies !

A real artist - whatever art are we talking about - is over-sensitive by nature. He/she creates to "outpour" what life brings him/her. You cant expect an artist to feel unmoved by criticism "thanks to Reason". A bad review is an obvious missile to its heart.
The positive thing about this is that an artist facing poor critics will act in survival mode: "you dont get it mates, Im gonna show you my secret weapons". And that gives him/her the energy to outdo him/herself.

I sent my record to venues and promoters who told me that even vacuum had more talent. I have been told that the fact that I am mixing various music styles is just to show-off that I can play all and that the approach is pointless. This pushed me to present my music to higher spheres, and have the exact same record and concept being edited and a tour sponsored. So that day I came back to these promoters to tell them, somehow, I owed them this, they're nice, but the artist heart was bursting in joyful revenge.


Somebody giving up just for critics means the critics won, means they convinced him that he is wrong, means he did not have enough argument to support his art, means he was superficial.

At Jan 3, 2010, 1:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The critic may be right, no matter how cruelly the criticisms are spoken. Either the opinions of others matter, or they do not: You can not select to only listen to the positive ones (or only to the negative ones, as some self-deprecating individuals do).

The only cure I have found is to reassess your motivations. Why are you performing? If you are an artist in order to win acclaim, approval, admiration, popularity, favorable reviews, then you can look forward to a life of pain and suffering. Even the greatest of the greatest artists had to deal with brutal criticisms.

If, instead, you are an artist out of love of the music, then you can learn to put your ego aside. You can learn from both positive and negative critiques in a detached manner, as a way to improve your art. Essentially, you then are serving something higher than yourself: the Muses. Just continue doing your art. Don't even call it "creating", or identify yourself as "an artist", all dangerous paths right back into egoism. Keep pursuing the highest ideal of your art (and you may find you adjust that ideal because of criticism, but only do so because the criticism has a valid point, not in order to be liked).

At Jan 5, 2010, 5:44:00 PM, Blogger Pyra Draculea said...

I've been fortunate enough to land at the Nimbus School of Recording Arts. Bob Ezrin is one of the partners and he was in for a couple of days in September. He talked about artists needing to get out of their own way sometimes and one of the things he said that really stuck with me was that artists need to think about if it really matters if someone doesn't like their work. Say "so what?"

Basically, if they hate your song, they can go to Hell.

Now, you can't always have that attitude, and it gets to be unanimous pay attention to the critique, but it's way better to think that way and focus on who does like your work than to freak out if someone doesn't like it because there will always be people who don't like an artist's work. Even if it's mega-popular like the Beatles, there will still be people who hate.

At Feb 10, 2010, 9:30:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For what it's worth: I am a musician and I also blog about other poeple's music so I kind of see both sides... i don't take criticism of my music at all well, it hits me in the guts and if 9/10 responses to my music are positive you can bet that the only one I'm thinking about is the negative one. It really, really hurts, even though I know rationally it's nothing to worry about.

As a writer about music I can understand why people are sometimes negative. It often makes for more entertaining copy than endless praise.... when writing about music I try my best to follow these personal rules of thumb:
1) if I don't like something, I try not to write about it at all
2) if I express an opinion I try to make it clear that this is my opinion and not fact
and 3) all art is valid, one cannot make value judgements about it (i.e. that it is 'good' or 'bad'), I can only try to communicate my own personal response to it.

At Feb 10, 2010, 10:47:00 PM, Blogger Kilissa Cissoko said...

When I was working with a folk/acoustic female duo at one point somehow our CD got into the hands of a hardcore heavy metal zine out of Boston.

I have NO idea why they bothered to print their scathing review--but boy, did they ever tear us apart! Perhaps they just savored the chance to be cruel.

We definitely laughed about it though; it was one to hang on the wall! Certainly it did not sting so badly because we were so obviously not "their genre". But it was a constructive experience for us because it gave us some perspective on any other less-than-stellar critiques we may have received. Not everybody "gets it," and it's not for everybody to "get." And that's ok.

But I also agree that taking criticism constructively - regardless of the politeness or intent of the critic - is always useful. Sometimes it's hard to get people to give objective feedback about the rough spots. Friends are usually too nice! So take it where you can get it.

As a music teacher, I strive to give corrective feedback in a way that honors the learner's feelings, and provides them with a better understanding of the benchmark.

With music or any creative endeavor, the artist needs to get to the core of what they are trying to express. We need to learn how to guide ourselves to reach our best. External critical feedback should be embraced, while also considering the source.


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