How To Handle A Bad Review

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.

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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.

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RebeccaHow To Handle A Bad Review

23 comments

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  • jasa seo - January 11, 2018 reply

    thanks for sharing

  • ScreamingCdog - January 11, 2018 reply

    Good critics should be able to separate their own personal preferences from the merits of the music. Just because of a preference for country over metal (or vice-versa) shouldn’t prevent acknowledgement of the quality of the musicianship, appropriateness of the lyrics to the genre, and production values. A critic who is incapable of objective evaluation lowers the value of the critique.

    Kevin - January 18, 2018 reply

    This is a fantastic point. A friend of mine was the reason I got into guitar. We both branched off playing two different genre’s of music. He got into Van Halen and then into metal and modern heavy rock. I stayed in blues, classic rock, etc. The band he was in was heavy and NOT my thing. That didn’t change the fact that they were really, really good. I as a musician knew, could hear, and more importantly appreciate it. I had another friend who’s husband was in a punk band back when Blink 182 was making it big. I listened to their stuff a good while after all of that and was completely blown away at how polished and clean they sounded. I don’t like punk, but they were amazing. Too bad there was already a Blink 182 or they would have had something.

    James Carbonaro - January 18, 2018 reply

    Instead of trying to sound like someone else; why not sound like yourself? Guess I’m too old and out of it to know who Blink 182 is or was. But ScreamingCdog is correct in his/her assertion that just because you personally don’t like (fill in the blank) doesn’t mean the person/people performing it aren’t any good. Way back in the disco days of the late ’70’s I would seek out and find folks who were still performing material that was popular half a decade before. My friends would claim the performers sucked because the numbers didn’t make them want to love to love you baby and boogie oogie oogie til they just couldn’t push or shake their groove thing in the bush no more. However, if history has taught us all one thing, it was that disco sucked.

    Mark - January 19, 2018 reply

    Blink 182 sounds a lot like Green Day. I’d go so far as to say that Green Day paved the way for them.

    Great article, thanks

  • peter - January 16, 2018 reply

    I think also what makes a bad review really “sting” is the emotion behind it. Sometimes you can read too much into what a person says or take it too serious. Take most reviews with a grain of salt.

  • Xan - January 17, 2018 reply

    I think that there is a reason why bad reviews “sting” so much nowadays: They can do far more damage than they used to be able to do before the internet was a thing. It is so hard nowadays for bands to rise up above the “noise” and get attention. Especially when it comes to people actually greasing their palms for the privilege. The deluge of content coming down the pike means that people more than ever before a looking for reasons to say “no”. And bad news has always travelled faster than good news.

    Even if a review is ridiculous, e.g. the reviewer is off-genre or it’s clear they have written it just to show of their writing “prowess” or to create cheap’n’dirty entertainment for their readers it will still hurt the artist it’s written about, and in more ways than just their feelings. Especially if the trolls pick up on it and re-circulate it.

    The smaller, i.e. the less exposed the artist is the more harm it will do as they will not have the advantage of that bad review swimming in a sea of other, possibly fairer reviews by other critics.

  • Chad Frey - January 17, 2018 reply

    Sometimes I get great album reviews , Sometimes I don’t. You can’t always get what you want.
    Begging for more? Critics that bore. https://youtu.be/4HmGpav7qzo

  • Bobbo - January 17, 2018 reply

    It seems to take about 20 good things said to counter 1 bad thing.

    At least in my brain.

  • Darren - January 17, 2018 reply

    For a critic to be able to criticise music fairly they must be able to appreciate all music in all it’s forms to some degree. Criticism can be hard to take but knowing your own music and it’s purpose is more important than one person’s view which may, at times, be limited.

  • Krimminall - January 17, 2018 reply

    Thank you so much, I needed to read this article. Very helpful, considering that I was one of those artists. One who wanted to please everybody, through time I learned you cannot. So I will take the criticism with a “grain of salt” from now on. Thank you again!!

  • Christopher James Wallace - January 17, 2018 reply

    Brilliant tips to get us songwriters prepared… Especially those of us who tend to take things a bit personal – It’s hard not to when you put your heart and soul into a song. As always, these blogs help us refocus. Cheers!

  • Hannah Lyndsay Lane - January 18, 2018 reply

    It’s funny. I put a fantastic song called Feel Good Vibe up for review and got loads of “I hate auto tune” so I gave it a 5.5. That’s not objective. Then the next reviewer gives it a 10 and says it’s the best thing they ever heard. Although they say it’s the correct way to critique a song, you cannot have a jazz writer or a heavy metal player or a punk rocker critique a pop song. Their bias shows. If it’s pop, it should only be reviewed by someone who listens to and buys pop. JMHO

  • Gear Driver - January 18, 2018 reply

    I’d ignore a bad review… Responding would only draw more publicity to the reviewer and if we’re not sympatico then maybe that’s a reviewer I don’t deem worthy of the tiny additional notoriety that an exchange with me might bring.. People like different music and different styles – if we didn’t then there would be one album which we’d all have and we’d be done…

  • Guy Gorman - January 18, 2018 reply

    Simple, straightforward, helpful.

  • Martin - January 18, 2018 reply

    In my case I’m my own worse critic so a bad review just validates that irrational response. I don’t bother with reviews for that reason and also because I’m not in it for the money.

  • Kodey Woodlands - January 18, 2018 reply

    For what this is worth, I enjoyed both the good comments and the bad comments relating to a review… (And did I get some bad ones!! lol.) One commenter said that my song and voice was so bad that it was the worst song and worst voice he had ever heard in his life!!! and he never wanted to hear me or that song again!! … lol .. but in the same song review where 25 people commented, I got the total opposite comment saying that the difference in the voice and the strange way the song was presented created music that was new and fresh and different, making it stand out and sound original yet retained its ability to stand with other songs. So in the one review, I got a 1 out of 10 score from one critic and a 10 out of 10 score from another critic from the same review. The very song: “ITS-YOU-THAT-I-DREAM-ABOUT” (Kodey Woodlands) has just received a “curation” and that just goes to show that all is not lost just because of a “very” bad review from one critic. As the article states, just keep writing because that is the enjoyable part of a songwriters life wether he wins or looses, and to maintain that difference and originality that one critic hated so much because the other critic loved what the other hated… Its “ART” and beauty is with the eye of the beholder! … lol … So I enjoyed both the bad and the good comments and took note of both… What a great thing that ReverbNation has done to supply 25 to 50 people to listen to your music and give feedback. Its a reality check and after we lick our wounds, we pull our guitars back out from under the bed and get cracking again! writing more songs!!! … lol … Cheers: Kodey Woodlands.

  • Josh Martinson - January 18, 2018 reply

    Whenever I get a review the following is usually the opposite of the last. So I never let a bad review stop me!

  • Josh Martinson - January 18, 2018 reply

    Critic is occurring because they want to be a part of the music.

  • James Carbonaro - January 18, 2018 reply

    One of my favorite bands, Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams, proudly read their reviews from the stage to the audience in attendance. They are most proud of the time it was said of them that they sounded like Hillbilly Pink Floyd and when they were described as the Addams Family on acid.

  • Nat Forrest - January 18, 2018 reply

    A review of your music can be helpful at times but you have to consider the source of the review and the underlying focus of the reviewer. Folks that are hired or given rights to publication of a review are individual in their thought process and coming at the review strictly according to their specific likes and dislikes for the most part. You have to also consider that they are trying to do the same thing that you are…making a name for THEMSELVES..! I know several folks that do reviews of musicians and recordings that will not publish a review if it’s going to be detrimental to the artist…but those seem to be rare in some publications. There is also the threat of a writer trying to review a genre that he or she absolutely know nothing about but their editors will publish their stuff just to get their name out there. Rolling Stone seems to have that problem along with some others.

  • Gear Driver - January 18, 2018 reply

    You guys realize how Led Zeppelin got their name, right?

  • Neal Vio - January 24, 2018 reply

    I’ve had a mix of good and really bad, really venomous reviews. You know what? They usually have no clue what they’re talking about and it’s completely meaningless. They know nothing about writing a great song, all the skills involved in writing it, the passion in the singing and playing, writing quality lyrics, recording, mixing and mastering skills that go behind it. Song contests and submitting your song for airplay, write-ups… are another avenue of rejection. All a complete waste of time, don’t get me started about that.

    Let me tell you a story. I once submitted a song for review, and I got the worst advice from everyone. I reworked the song and submitted it again. Wouldn’t you know, it scored less the second time. Just keep it the way it is! Proof that reviews are meaningless!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUFS5zgLjhU

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