Putting yourself out there as a singer or instrumentalist can make you feel quite exposed. So how do artists deal with criticism, negative feedback and bad reviews?
It’s important you learn how to handle reviews as a musician. This includes official press write-ups and individual opinions on social media. Feedback can be very useful, but it has to be weighed and you must always consider your reputation when responding.
In this article, we’ll look at the kinds of reviews and criticism you might receive, how to cope with it, when it’s helpful when to ignore it, and if you should take any action.
How to handle reviews as a musician
If you’ve not yet had a review of your music or performance, you will. And while a good one can make your day, a bad one can ruin it or even put you off music altogether. This shouldn’t happen though if you’re mentally and practically prepared for it. So take some time to read what we have to say on the topic, as it’ll make your journey as a musician much smoother. Firstly, let’s look at the types of criticism you may receive and how much weight you should give it.
We can broadly separate reviews into two categories, professional/official and individual/unofficial. Official reviews include those from music websites, reviews sites, performing arts publications, newspapers, magazines and established music blogs or vlogs. However, even within these, you’ll get reviewers who are experienced and knowledgeable and ones who are amateur. Professional reviews and criticism also include any verbal comments provided at contests and competitions, by industry judges, as well as a written or verbal feedback from studios, labels, agents, managers and A&R.
Unofficial reviews include those posted by individuals (not part of wider professional publications or the music industry) on social media/streaming sites/comments on websites/forums. Anyone can set up a website or social media page and call it a review site and there can be a fine line between which are professional and which are not. This will usually come down to the number of followers or subscribers and that person’s credentials.
How do artists deal with criticism?
While it can be disheartening to receive a bad review of your music, few, if any, musicians are able to avoid them. However, there are a number of ways to deal with them and, in some cases, a bad review can be of benefit.
Professional artists deal with reviews by first ascertaining who they’re from. If someone from a big record label offers some feedback, an industry judge gives you notes, or a respected reviewer from a well-known publication reviews your EP, then you should take it on board. This is valuable information for your development and you’ll be very lucky to get it. Many artists clamour to get this kind of feedback. A good review should be used as part of your marketing campaign – be sure to get it all over your social media and on your website.
Most professionals will criticise you in a way that’s constructive, rather than tearing you down. Although some publications can be more aggressive in their approach, as this might be deemed a more interesting read. Don’t ever take it personally. Take on board anything that’s useful and look past any sensationalised language.
Alternative music reviews
If your review has come from a less established source, proceed with caution. Everyone has an opinion and many will not be valid. The internet is also full of trolls intent on spreading meanness and nastiness. These people are to be totally ignored and if necessary (in the case of bullying, threats, racism or hate-speak), reported to the right channels.
However, some members of the public or friends may offer some really useful reflections on your performance. If you’re unsure whether what they’re saying is valid, ask your vocal coach, music teacher or fellow musicians what they think. Sometimes friends are actually too nice and don’t give you the constructive criticism you need to get better. Never listen to just your good reviews or just your bad ones.
How do you overcome bad reviews?
So you’ve had a bad review from an official source. Let’s take a look at the steps you should take.
Critical reviews are an important piece of the jigsaw puzzle: critics often know a fair bit about music, but that doesn’t mean they are always right.
Don’t panic and don’t take action, yet
Bad reviews are something everyone in the industry deals with. You might feel blindsided and angry, but it is important, in the first few moments after reading a bad review, to avoid responding or taking action.
As upset as you will inevitably be, allow yourself to calm down before you decide on your plan of action.
Consider the reviewer’s perspective
As a new musician, it can be easy to take everything to heart and, sadly, it’s often human nature to internalise the bad and not the good.
However, music is subjective and you’re not going to be able to please everyone all of the time. Ask yourself: “How does the bad review stack up against the good ones?”
Review the facts
While opinions are a dime a dozen, a bad review can be an opportunity for reflection. Is there anything in there that rings true: does the critic have a point? Is the criticism constructive or does it seem to be unfounded? Has the reviewer come across badly when they’re simply trying to give you some well-meaning pointers?
Should you respond to a bad review?
It may be your impulse to want to reply. But should you?
Ultimately, responding to a bad review — or not — is your choice and yours alone. But how can you decide? What was the content of the music review?
Factual or minor criticisms
Has someone posted a negative review that states the facts but is a minor criticism? Perhaps they picked up on a live mistake.
Often, these kinds of reviews don’t need a response. If you would like to respond, do so succinctly and politely, thank them for their feedback and move on.
If the review contains a factual error – they quoted you incorrectly, spelt your name or song wrong or said you did something that you categorically did not, then you should absolutely get in contact with the editor or writer and ask them to amend it.
Often negative reviews will be a result of trolls and bots posting generic, copy-and-paste, comments.
Honestly, in a situation like this, there isn’t much you can do. As frustrating as it might be if their review is completely false, there’s little that will fix it; you can dispute it but it’s unlikely to be removed as it’s a subjective matter. Ultimately it’s their opinion.
Rants that ring true
Sometimes, rant-like reviews have some truth behind them. These are the ones that are most likely to get under your skin.
Wait until you’ve calmed down before you reply. When you do, remain polite and be aware that responding gracefully to a bad review is an art form in its own right. Avoid getting into a back and forth as this will inevitably come off petty and may damage your reputation.
If, after some consideration, you decide that the review is fair and something of genuine concern, it is important to respond.
Public replies can lead to frustrating he-said-she-said scenarios, which are to be avoided at all costs. Furthermore, some people aren’t even looking for positive interaction and are just posting to cause trouble.
In contrast, genuine reviews, and the way you respond to them, can show your fanbase that you care and that you take constructive criticism on board. Again, be concise, polite and acknowledge a difference in opinion if that is what it is.
How do you get your music reviewed?
Getting a good review is fantastic. But don’t let it go to your head. Keep working and developing. Once you have a positive write-up, be sure to use it to your advantage. The review site will often share it on their social media. Like their post, comment and share from their page – they need publicity and fans as much as you do, so by doing this, you’ll be helping them out and more likely to get them to review you again in future. Plus you spread the word of your success. Create a post on your own accounts too and tag the site in it.
What are the best music review sites and music review blogs?
If you’re actively trying to get a review (and this is well worth it if you’re releasing a new track, album, EP or playing a reasonably sized live gig), you can proactively approach publications. Don’t go for the biggies like NME and Rolling Stone. Look for smaller ones with local area interest by googling your area name and ‘music reviews’.
Here are some tips for approaching reviewers.
- Contact the editor or publication, rather than stalking the individual writers and getting their personal email or social media handles. It’s usually the editors who allocate reviews and you’ll risk irritating individual reviews asking. However, you can and should drop the individual writer a nice message to say thank you if you’ve had a good one from them.
- Check the publications submission guidelines. They should tell you how to ask for a review somewhere on the site. Don’t spam their inboxes.
- Follow the publications on social and subscribe to their updates to see who covers what. You have a better chance if you approach sites and publications who like your genre or medium. This may mean putting requesting to different sites for live or recorded work. Never ask a publication to review your EP if they only write about live gigs. They might be irritated that you didn’t bother to do your homework. This also applies to your musical genre.
- Be sure to let them know your USP and pitch the reasons you think you should be reviewed. Being local home-grown talent is a big boon with regional publications.
- Don’t ask for a ‘good’ review or try to bribe the site. If they agree, they’re highly unprofessional and will be discredited, which will also affect your reputation. If they don’t you’ll be immediately discounted for future requests.
Overcoming negative reviews
More often than not, replying to a bad review is unnecessary, especially if it’s a subjective critique of your work. As a musician, you should be proud of everything you put out there, so be confident in yourself and your music.
Take care to look after your mental health and build up a good network of peers and friends who can support you. Similarly, look out for others, be encouraging and a listening ear when needed.
Dealing with criticism in the music industry
As an artist, you should also maintain some interests and hobbies that provide a release. Music maybe your life, but it shouldn’t fill every last second of it. Exercise and mindful activities are excellent and help you decompress after a stressy review or bad gig. Hanging out with friends – including those who aren’t performers – is excellent.
At the end of the day, critics will always be there and as you gain more traction in the music world, you will become more and more confident in dealing with them. Always keep things in perspective and remember to enjoy your music above all. Don’t dwell on a bad review for too long (we recommend no more than 24 hours of thinking about it). Take any points and move on. And always be kind to others, if even others are not always kind to you.
What is the role of the music critic?
A music critic or arts reviewer writes about performance, albums or tracks. The purpose of this is to guide and provide recommendations to the general public, give artists feedback and provide content for the website or publication. Some are paid, but most do it for the love of music and freebies.
What are the best music review sites?
This is subjective as it depends on the type of music and style of sites you like. NME, Rolling Stone and Pitchfork are huge, but many smaller ones are excellent and offer more niche perspectives. Here’s a comprehensive list.
How do I become a music reviewer?
Publications will advertise on their sites and social media when they’re taking on new writers. They may also advertise on music forums and jobs boards. You’ll need strong writing skills, a love of music and knowledge of the industry to apply.
Have you ever received feedback or criticism? How do you handle reviews as a musician? We would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.