Music takes on two very different identities. The first is what a song or album means to the person who created it. The second is how the world interacts with musical work. When a musician throws money, energy, time, and love into a project, it makes sense why getting negative feedback can be hard. Allowing criticism to impact who you are as a person can lead to negative consequences for you and your music. Learning to navigate and accept criticism with grace is a crucial survival skill for all serious musicians.
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that creating music is an important passion for you. For serious musicians, it often feels like the songs they create are mirror images of themselves. Holding this inaccurate belief is something that’s sure to make criticism sting far more than it has to. A bad review or a harsh comment will feel as if it’s a rejection of you as a person. Your life may be devoted to making music, but you aren’t your work. In order to do this, you must begin to separate yourself from your creations. In doing so, you’re able to view your work and the criticism it receives with more context and less subjectivity. This is a constant challenge you will face as you continue to make music.
What our music means to us personally (its first identity) is something that will never translate fully to a listener, music journalist, or A & R scout from a label. I’m not saying this to urge you to create music you think the masses will love. Instead, try to remember that it’s impossible for the world to understand the human story behind your music. When creating music, your story speaks to your deepest thoughts and motivations. It’s one that only you will know no matter how solid your artist bio is. You are not your music because once you create something new, it becomes separated from you as a creator.
We can write off all criticism as false, uninformed, or biased. We can ignore it altogether. Or, we can make an effort to approach it with discernment and let it forge us into better music makers. The truth is, music criticism is going to be around for as long as music is around. Learning to cope with it is what’s essential. But consider this if you’ve just received a nasty review: we all hope our music gets positive attention, but even a negative review is a signifier of success to some degree.
It means someone took your work seriously enough to write about it, hopefully in a thoughtful way. Don’t make music to please critics because, strangely, you’ll probably end up creating something they won’t like anyway. By honoring the relationship you have with your work and songwriting process, you give yourself everything you need to create work that’s meaningful to you- despite whether it gets positive or negative feedback.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.