Photo Credit: Jack Mensah

Coping with Criticism

How to best deal with criticism.

Criticism is something that we all have to deal with, and it’s something which is prevalent in every industry. While a difficult but necessary part of being a musician, using criticism to your advantage can help to ensure your longevity within the music industry. This article looks at strategies for dealing with criticism.

Criticism can be separated into two main categories: Constructive and Destructive.

Destructive criticism is that which has no valid points. Comments and feedback are almost always vague and negative with no underlying basis to them. Shows such as X-Factor use destructive criticism for the shock value, while on social media people use it to draw attention to themselves.

Destructive criticism should be ignored and disregarded, as it is not relevant to you or your music.

Constructive criticism on the contrary, has depth and detail. It addresses genuine observations and may even give suggestions for improvement. It is the sort of criticism you’ll see from reviewers or other people within the industry who are ‘in the know’.

You should pay attention to constructive criticism and use it to your advantage as it can help you to improve your music, giving a feeling of accomplishment when you rectify the issue that was being addressed.

Photo Credit: Jack Mensah

Although constructive criticism can sometimes be taken the wrong way, it is important to realise that it is simply one person’s observation and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of other individuals.

For this article, we are focusing specifically on constructive criticism.

Rule number one:

  • Keep calm and don’t take it personally. What one person says does not define who you are or what your music represents. In most cases they don’t know you personally, and can therefore only comment on what they observe – so, why take something personally when that person doesn’t know you personally?

Don’t feel discouraged.

  • While it can be disheartening to receive criticism, very few musicians are able to avoid them.
  • Although a review may contain constructive criticism, very rarely will every word be critical. Pick out the good bits and focus on those.
  • Critics often know a reasonable amount about music, but that doesn’t mean they are always right.
  • Keep in mind that other people may not have the same opinion, which is why it’s important to seek reviews from more than one publication whenever possible.
  • View criticism as a way to identify which areas you need to work on. Any feedback, good or bad, can help you to finetune your music.
  • It’s true what they say, you can’t truly know the light until you have known the darkness. A few critical words will make your good reviews look even more amazing.

Don’t panic, and don’t act impulsively.

Photo Credit: Jack Mensah
  • Constructive criticism is something everyone in the industry deals with. It’s normal to feel hurt and angry, but it is important to avoid responding or taking immediate action.
  • As upset as you may be, take a few deep breaths and allow yourself to calm down before deciding on a plan of action.
  • Responding to the critic while angry may result in regretful words being said. It will also potentially aggravate the situation further.

Talk it out.

  • Whether you’re a solo artist or in a band, we all have our supporters. Talk it out with those who support you and listen to what they think. They may have a different take on what was said and seeing it from a different perspective may help.
  • While friends and family can play a massive role in your support network, keep in mind that because they know you personally, they won’t necessarily be willing to speak their true thoughts about your music, in case it should affect your friendship. Take the time to also speak with other people in the music industry, such as music teachers and fellow musicians.
  • You should be proud of the music you create, regardless of what other people think. Be confident in yourself and your music.

Consider the critic’s perspective.

Photo Credit: Jack Mensah
  • Just like you and I, critics are only human.
  • Whether you agree or not, everyone is entitled to their own opinions.
  • As with many other people within the industry, some critics do have learning difficulties which may affect their word choice or sentence layout.
  • It’s important to keep in mind that most people do their best based upon their current circumstances and the information they have available to them. You cannot expect anyone to do better than their best.
  • Music is subjective, and not everyone will like what you have created.
    – It’s not your responsibility to create something that everyone likes, but it is your prerogative to create something that you get enjoyment from. It’s a bonus if other people also get enjoyment from it.
  • Constructive criticism also provides an opportunity for reflection.
    – Was anything said that rings true? Does the critic make valid points? Perhaps they were trying to give you some well-meaning pointers but didn’t express it in the best manner.
  • Keep in mind that while the critic may not like this particular piece of music, they may enjoy some of your other releases.

Use constructive criticism to your advantage.

Photo Credit: Jack Mensah
  • Ascertain where the criticism came from.
    – A record label offering advice is different from a person from a well-known publication reviewing your music, which is also different from someone voicing their opinion on social media. Some criticism demands your attention more than others.
  • Consider any advice given and determine if it would work for you.
    – As with any other aspect of life, you don’t have to actively follow every piece of advice given. However, at the very least, you should give it some consideration.
  • If you think any advice given would work for you, act on it, focussing on what you think has the most potential first.
  • If you don’t think the advice given would work for you, make peace with it and move on.
  • Don’t throw ideas away, shelve them for future use.
    – Sometimes you don’t get the best review, but that may be because the marketplace isn’t right at this point in time for that particular piece of music. What doesn’t work now may still work later.
  • Keep moving forward.
    – The only way to get past any criticism is to push past it. Don’t dwell on it for too long – learn from the experience and move forward.

Should I respond?

Photo Credit: Jack Mensah
  • Whether you reply or not is entirely up to you, and you alone.
  • If the review contains a factual error (you were quoted incorrectly, a song name was spelt wrong etc), you should absolutely get in touch with the editor or writer and ask to have it amended.
    – Just be sure to give yourself some breathing space first and take the time to ensure that your response is civil, polite and professional.
  • Never ask the writer to change what they have written when it comes to their personal opinion. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, regardless of what you think.
  • The same applies to any ratings that are added to your reviews, it’s not the best idea to ask to have a rating changed just because you believe you deserve a higher rating. Remember, you created the music, therefore you will be bias towards it.
  • In most cases, replying to a critic is unnecessary, however, if you do decide to reply, do so privately. Ultimately, any grievances you have are between you and the critic and don’t need to be aired in public. Be concise, polite and acknowledge the difference of opinion.

And Lastly,

Photo Credit: Jack Mensah
  • Regardless of whether someone writes about your music in a positive or negative light, it’s given them something to think about. Once a review goes live, it can become a conversation starter, giving other people something to talk about.
  • Even the most critical of pieces can have positive outcomes; not only can they give advice as to how you can improve, but they can also motivate you to create something even better the next time around. In addition to that, they also get your name out there – which in turn gets more people listening to your music.
    – You would be surprised by the number of people out there who will read a negative review and still opt to listen to the music regardless of what the review says – choosing to make their own decision as to whether they like the music or not.
  • And for those of you who are just starting out – very few musicians look back over their first music releases 10 years down the track, and still like it in its entirety without picking up on parts which could be improved upon.
    – Your music will evolve significantly over time and part of that evolution is down to what people say about it. Over time, even you will become a critic of your own music.
I'm Lisa,'s founder and manager. I also manage the Aotearoa Music Industry Collective and Gig Space Facebook groups.