Ah, the dreaded bad review. Even the most talented and successful songwriters often question themselves after reading a negative write-up about their music, but negative reviews are especially potent when they’re aimed at new and up-and-coming bands. No matter who you are and what kind of music you make, bad reviews and harsh opinions about what you’re doing are an inevitability, and crafting your music a specific way to please critics will only make your music worse. So, what do you do when a bad review comes along?
Critic vs. creator
First, let’s talk a little bit about songwriting and music criticism, two related worlds that couldn’t be more different. Folks in the songwriting camp leverage their emotional vulnerability, life perspectives, skills, and talents to create music. The job of the music critic is to sample, digest, and interpret music in a way that lets the public know if what they’re hearing is worth listening to or not. Obviously, the songwriter has worlds more to lose than the music critic when it comes to the work they produce, but that’s the name of the game. And every time you submit your music to a blog or publication, you run the risk of bad things being said about the music you’ve worked so hard to create.
The distinction between critic and creator is an important one to make here because while solid music criticism isn’t easy, it doesn’t require bravery. Creating something honest and putting it out into the world for everyone to hear does. Writing up a thoughtful critique of someone’s music takes work, but it’s nothing like the process of creating something out of thin air and sharing it with people. So when you get bad reviews––make music long enough and you’ll get them eventually, trust me––just remember who has their skin in the game and who is commenting on the sidelines.
Get the most out of your bad review
As much as songwriters hate to admit it, sometimes bad reviews of our music hold some truth. Whether it’s because the music we’ve made wasn’t particularly inspired or that we’re just not meeting our full musical potential, sometimes the best way to handle a bad review is to listen and try a different approach in the future. However, this only applies if the criticism is thoughtful. Don’t equate a mean Youtube comment with an honest, poignant review.
It’s just one opinion
While a bad review can really sting, it’s just one person’s opinion and it shouldn’t completely define you or the music you make. Whether you can get some good out of it or not, one review shouldn’t be something that completely derails you as a writer and creator. If you find yourself paralyzed by one bad review, you might have bigger problems than reviews. If your music is really written for an audience of listeners and fans, what they think should mean much more than what any music critic has to say.
Patrick McGuire is a musician, writer, and educator currently residing in the great city of Philadelphia. He creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.