Criticism – let that word sit there a moment.

Dealing with criticism is just part of putting ourselves out there, right?!  I have received inquiries in the past from my readers about how to deal with negativity and criticism.  This article will give you some tips that I hope you will find helpful. Today I want to take some time to explore how we can stop letting this type of criticism get us down.

I know better than anyone, that it’s the negative stuff that stays with you, even if 98% of your messages are just lovely. It doesn’t matter what you do, there will always be someone who finds a fault, especially when you are in a subjective field, like making art.

By the very act of creating, and sharing those creations with the world, you are opening the door to other people’s opinions. It’s part of the deal, so let’s learn to deal with it in the most graceful way possible:

Reflect on the critique.

Take some time to read what they’ve actually said. And ask yourself two questions:

  1. Is this person someone who knows what they’re talking about, or is he/she an internet troll?
  2. Is there any merit to what they’re saying?

There are times when criticism is valid, and may just have been expressed in a less than ideal way. For example, if someone left a comment complaining that the photos you share of your artwork are too dark, you could look at ways to improve your lighting. If they moan that your nose is too big, or your voice annoys them, delete and ignore.

There are also times when other artists or teachers may offer constructive feedback about your art. It can feel like a personal attack, because as artists our work feels like an extension of ourselves, but it’s important to know the difference.

Make choices that are right for you.

Like I said before, no matter what you do, and what direction you take your creativity, there will be people who have something negative to say. You can’t control that. The only thing you can control, is you and how you handle it.

You’re not going to please everyone anyway, so remain true to yourself.

Understand your spotlight.

Having an online presence will always attract attention (of all kinds). There is no magic bullet for cutting all criticism from the web, but you can put certain measures in place to limit the impact:

  • If you run an online community, draft strict guidelines about what is and what is not acceptable, and follow through with removing anyone who gets nasty.
  • Close comments on your blog posts or simply moderate them to control spam and unwarranted ugliness.
  • Kill with kindness. If someone has something unkind to say about one of your posts, don’t engage in the negative, simply say “Thank you for your feedback – I hope you enjoy the next one more.”

Appreciate the outpourings of support.

I can guarantee that no matter the size of your creative network, you will receive more positive messages and comments than negative ones. Unfortunately, we all tend to dwell on the ones that make us feel bad.

I would suggest collecting those nice things people say in a notebook or take a screen shot and save in a folder on your computer, and reading back through them every time you have to deal with something mean.

Here’s another thing to remember – those people that really cut you with words are not thinking about how they’ve hurt you. They will already have moved on to the next thing. The people who support you, are the ones that will be thinking of you – so give them your focus too.

Journal it out.

Our journals aren’t there just to look pretty on a shelf, they can really help us work through this stuff. Whether you’re a “regular” journaler or an art journaler, you can use those pages to process your feelings, and move on to a more positive headspace.

Writing it all down can be a very cathartic experience, and I really recommend it.

While it’s easy to say, “I want to get a lot more fans” you have to ask yourself, how is saying this actually going to help you achieve your goal? It’s a non-specific “want,” rather then a well thought out business plan.

Studies have shown you’re more likely to achieve your goal if you have a clear visual understanding of what you want to achieve in life. This is where S.M.A.R.T. aim and objectives come into place.

S.M.A.R.T. is a tool we can use to better map out what we want to achieve. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timed. That means all of the aims we have for our music career should be specific, we should be able to measure them, they should be achievable, they should be realistic, and we should know how long it’ll take us to achieve this aim. These aims should be written down, so we have a goal to look at and refer back to when we feel a bit lost as to what we’re doing.

You can run a few S.M.A.R.T. aims alongside each other, and they can vary in size in terms of how big they are. One may refer to how you’re going to hit the 100 gig mark (which is more long term), and another may be how you’re going to set up all the necessary social media profiles you need to promote your music (which is more short term).

Make sense? Hopefully it does, but if not, here’s an example.

Let’s take the above aim of:

I want to get a lot more fans.”

This is a very vague aim to have, as it doesn’t give us any idea of how we’re going to achieve this goal of ours. By applying the S.M.A.R.T. formula to it, we can edit it to be an aim we can refer back to and get a better idea of how we’re currently doing. This will make it easier to achieve it.

So first off, let’s make our goal Specific. We want to specifically state what we need to do to achieve this goal. There’s no point saying we want more fans if we don’t know how we’re going to go about getting those extra fans, is there? It won’t make it any clearer how we’re going to achieve that goal; it’s sort of like saying, ”I want to be rich.” The majority of people who say that have no further ideas in their plans to get rich, and therefore never take any real steps to achieving that goal.

OK, so how Specifically are we going to go about getting more fans? Let’s say you have the means to create home made videos of you performing cover songs, and have a YouTube channel via which you can showcase your material to the world. By uploading your videos and encouraging people to like your Facebook page if they enjoy your song, you will get a percentage of people taking you up on this offer. Tell them they will find out about your new videos there first, and that they will also get exclusive bonus videos not shown publicly on YouTube. This will encourage a larger percentage of your video viewers to Like your Facebook page.

You could also get those new Facebook fans via gigging or other means, but for this example we’ll stick to the cover songs strategy. So we can change our aim so it looks like this:

I want to get a lot more Facebook fans by doing cover versions on YouTube.”

Now every time we look at this aim, we know what we should be doing to achieve it. If you want to get more fans by doing other things, you can make other aims to go alongside this one.

Next, we need to make this aim Measurable. After all, how will we know if we’ve achieved our aim if we haven’t got a clear goal to aim for? What does “a lot more” really mean? Is that 20 new followers? 100? Or 1000?

In this example we’re using Facebook followers as our measuring point, although you can aim to get more mailing list subscribers, more gigs, make more money, etc. Sticking to the Facebook example though, I will change the aim to:

I want to increase my Facebook subscriber count by 100 followers by doing cover versions on YouTube.”

Now this is something we can actually measure, and can look at to see how close we are to achieving our aim. We don’t want to stop there, though, as there’s more we can apply to make our aim even more useful to us.

Next, we want to make sure our aim is Achievable. Well, is it? In this case, it is. Gaining 100 Facebook subscribers is something most people can do if they offer something of value or interest. It will take some people longer then others, but it is something you can achieve. It is also Realistic, which covers the next section in our S.M.A.R.T. formula as well.

If you was to say you want to increase your Facebook subscriber numbers by 10,000, though, while it may be humanly achievable, it’s not really a Realistic aim for the average independent musician. Therefore, this number would have to be cut back to one that’s a lot more realistic.

Don’t try to cheat with the numbers; they’re only there to help you take manageable steps to advancing you music career. You don’t want to aim for the end goal straight away; this will lead to you not hitting your targets soon enough and only leave a feeling of disappointment and failure. This often leads to people quitting music and believing it doesn’t work, so initially aim for something that is Realistic and Achievable.

We don’t have to change our above version of the aim in this case (“I want to increase my Facebook subscriber count by 100 followers by doing cover versions on YouTube”), as it is both Achievable and Realistic. That said, if you’ve made an aim and it isn’t achievable or realistic, change it accordingly so it is.

The last stage is to make sure it’s Timed. By this, I mean it’s something that we can time, and has an end date.

There’s no point having an aim that will go on forever; if you don’t achieve that aim, you need to know when it’s time to say it’s not working and modify it to something more realistic. This is why we will give it a time limit.

For this example, I think 4 months is a reasonable amount of time to get 100 new Facebook fans. You may want to aim to do it quicker if you already have a starting fan base that you can transfer over to Facebook, but for this example let’s stick to 4 months. So, let’s edit our aim to reflect this:

I want to increase my Facebook subscriber count by 100 followers by doing cover versions on YouTube. I will do this within the next 4 month by [insert date].”

And that’s it, our S.M.A.R.T. aim is complete! Instead of just saying you want to achieve something, you now know how you’re going to go about achieving it, when you should have it done by, you can measure how far along you are with your aim, and you know that it’s an aim you can realistically achieve.

You should carry out this process with all the aims you have for your music career, whether in terms of how you’re going to get more gigs, how you’re going to reach a certain pay rate, or how you’re going to finish an album you’re making. Apply this to all the things you want to achieve, and you will have a much clearer view of what you need to do to succeed.

Important Note:

When you set your music career aims, do them in manageable steps. Don’t say you want to earn a million dollars and be rich; take things in baby steps and achieve one goal at a time. So initially aim to break even, and create a S.M.A.R.T. aim for how you’re going to achieve that. Once you’re at a break even level, next aim to make, say, $100 a month from your music career, and do a S.M.A.R.T. aim for how you will complete this aim. As you achieve it, keep building things up and work toward new aims in manageable and realistic steps.

What Happens If You Don’t Meet Your S.M.A.R.T. Goals (and What Happens If You Do)?

So, you’ve mapped out your S.M.A.R.T. goals, and you’ve been following the plan to achieve your written down goal. But at some stage of following this plan, it becomes apparent that you aren’t going to hit your target. What should you do?

Well the thing about these goals, is you can make them flexible. You will of course want to try and make your goal as realistic as possible when you’re drawing up your plans, but sometimes it’s easy to underestimate how difficult something really is.

If this happens, you should go back to your original aim, and edit it as needed. By now, you should be more clued up as to what a more realistic aim is to have in terms of this part of your music career. Let’s say for example 100 new Facebook follows was too much to aim for. Why not reduce that number to 50 if you feel that’s a goal you really can reach?

On the other hand if you hit 100 fans well before you time limit is up, why not set a new aim for more Facebook fans in a new time range? Only if you feel it’ll benefit your music career of course, you may instead decide to increase interaction with your current followers before you actively try and get any more.

At the end of each S.M.A.R.T. aim, there are a couple of things you should do. Firstly, you should analyze how things went. What worked and what didn’t? Is this something you can scale up to get even better results? Is it worth aiming for this goal again?

Once you decide this, you should make a new aim to keep you busy in your newly free time. Alternatively, you can use that time to work more on another aim you have going on.

After a while, you will start to see what the best place to put your efforts is. You will find that by doing some things, you will be gaining more fans (or making more money) quicker than when you do other things. It’s in these areas that you should start to put more time, as they will give you more rewards for your time. Work smart, AND hard.

When people study music, they learn much more than simply how to sing or play an instrument. Most of us can’t become professional musicians as adults, but the time spent on music adds up to much more than “just a hobby.” Musicians gain a number of soft skills that are helpful in any type of career. As opposed to hard skills, which consist of specific knowledge and skills needed for a given job, skills are equally important abilities that allow you to interact well with others and complete work successfully, and they’re in high demand.Having soft skills makes you more competitive in the job market and increases your chances of success in any position — even if you’re self-employed! Whether you end up in a music-related career or not, you will be more prepared to tackle future employment challenges by having these 8 skills learned through music.

1. Self-Discipline and Responsibility

Self-discipline is a crucial skill in any profession. Employers and clients naturally appreciate punctuality, and time management skills are necessary to plan one’s schedule and complete work on time. Musicians must learn how to meet the goals of a lesson on schedule and make adequate time to practice. It also requires organization and personal responsibility, because getting to a concert on time doesn’t mean much if you haven’t practiced adequately or forgot to bring your instrument, sheet music, or other necessary items. 

2. Adaptability

The ability to accept change and go with the flow is a very attractive quality in an employee. Musicians learn how to play with new groups of people, how to play a different style of music, and how to adjust to meet the requirements of a conductor. Whether it’s adapting to work with a different team, shifting to a new procedure, or learning how to use new software, employees who can make a smooth transition will be much more successful than those who flounder when changes occur. 

3. Perseverance

Every job will present its own frustrations and obstacles, but those who have practical experience with perseverance will be ready for the challenge. Even for a person with natural talent, learning how to sing or play an instrument well requires a great deal of practice and repetition. You also gain valuable experience in how to face a new challenge every time you start learning a new piece of music. When a piece is difficult, you cannot give up. You play the hard parts repeatedly, going slowly at first, until you can hit every note right at the desired tempo. It’s also beneficial to learn to recognize when you need help with something, and how to ask for that help. 

4. Memory and Concentration

Musicians must often memorize pieces of music they plan to perform in concert, and memorization is a great mental exercise as it requires repetition and concentration. Attention to detail is an important aspect of learning a piece of music as well, since you must learn which notes to play, how long, how loudly, and so on. Concentration skills are also necessary, especially when playing with other musicians or in front of an audience. You must be able to focus on your own part in the middle of an orchestra or choir, while still paying attention to the conductor and the performance of the group as a whole. This skill comes in handy throughout your life, anytime you need to absorb important information or work in a place where other people are also working or talking.

5. Communication

Good communication skills are extremely valuable, and can mean the difference between success and failure. Musicians learn how to use verbal and nonverbal cues to communicate with one another while rehearsing and performing. They learn how to gauge audience reactions as well. If a team of world-class experts are unable to communicate well with each other while working together, their project will run into trouble regardless of how good each individual may be at their own part.

6. Teamwork

The ability to collaborate well with your team and other colleagues is a critical skill in the business world. People have different personalities and working styles, but they all must work together. Musical ensembles of any size must function as a team, overcoming personal differences to produce good work. Cultivating a sense of responsibility towards your team helps you feel more determined to overcome differences and carry your own part for the team as a whole.

7. Openness to Feedback

Music students learn how to deal with criticism. Constructive criticism from an instructor is a vital part of the learning process, and a music student needs someone with experience to help identify areas that need work and offer strategies for improvement. It’s no different in the workplace. Employees will receive feedback from their supervisors and others, and they must learn how to accept criticism gracefully and adapt their work accordingly. Musicians may also experience criticism that is less constructive, and the same may be true in the workplace. This is unfortunate, but having experience dealing with that as a music student can help mentally prepare you for it on the job.

8. Confidence

You may have many other skills, but without confidence, it’s difficult to apply them to the best of your ability. The pride and sense of accomplishment that come from learning how to play an instrument, mastering a piece of music, and performing it successfully build a music student’s confidence. It also teaches them how it feels to achieve something through steady work.Overcoming any trepidation about performing in front of others is another boon in the professional world, whether you’re feeling nervous about a job interview or meeting, or have “stage fright” about giving a presentation in front of a group of people. Gaining experience with this as a young person can help produce a confident and capable adult.

  • What am I Literally Making?

Your thoughts and motivations for creating a work of art can be complicated, but when you focus on the concrete details of its execution, you take one step closer to your goal. If you want to release music, planning out the dimensions, studio, band members, music, rehearsals, distribution, promotion etc is the way to go.

  • Has This Been Done Before?

It’s okay if the answer to this initial question is, “Yes, this has been done before.” From there, the question can become…

  • How Will I Do This in a Way That Hasn’t Been Done Yet?

If the concept or theme has been done before, fine, whatever. But as long as the realized project is art that no one else in the world but me could’ve made, I’ll consider it a success.

  • Will I Actually Enjoy Doing This?

Potential clients will look to work you’ve done in the past to see if you’re the right fit for the job. If you’ve invested your hard work into projects you loved, you’re more likely to get commissioned for similar projects.

  • What Do I Want to Say?

Once you’ve decided to go forward with a project, contemplate what you want it to convey. Your “statement” can be simple or complex, and it can change over time. Your work should always have some kind of purpose, or it should evoke emotions in another human being. This question is probably the most difficult, so try not to put too much pressure on answering it all at once. I think that this takes years, even decades, to master.

  • Why Does This Matter to Me?

This question goes hand-in-hand with the last one, but it’s slightly different. If you’ve already determined your message or statement, it’s time to dig deeper and think about why it’s also meaningful to you personally.

  • Am I Challenging Myself?

Creative revelations are often the result of pushing yourself to try something different. These challenges can be big or small. 

  • Am I Overthinking This?

Asking yourself questions is an invaluable part of the artistic process, but so is knowing when to let them go. You don’t have to have all the answers and that’s okay.

Answer by David Plantz, creative director, media consultant, music writer/producer:

Data is certainly popular enough to sustain businesses like Hit Songs Deconstructed, which writers, producers, record label, and radio executives subscribe to. Just like in other parts of the entertainment industry, following music trends is important to economic success, not only for executives but also for artists.

Let me clarify what I mean by music trends. It is more than the genre discussions most of us find ourselves in from time to time: Is dubstep still relevant? Did hip-hop jump the shark? Is disco back? Is country too pop these days? Will their ever be a next Nirvana?

Song writers and producers want to know even more: What’s the average song length? Intro length? Structure? Start with chorus? Is there prechorus? Most common instrument? Most common secondary genre? Are male vocals or female vocals doing better? How long are echos and reverbs? What frequency range is most emphasized? Digital drums or analog? Acoustic versus electric guitar? Noticeable effects? Average BPM? Swing in the tempo? Most popular key? Major or minor? Popular lyrical directions? Snare hits on beat two or beat three? Which songwriters are crafting most hits? What genre is out of top 20? What genre is rising in past six months? And there’s so much more …

I’ve had access to this data before and wrote a pop song or two based off it. Quite honestly, the songs I write with data objectives haven’t been as good as the ones I write for fun. One would think all this data would make it easy. It’s not. You have to be able to balance trends while still committing to something. It’s more important to know when to use the data and when to ignore it. And of course, the song still has to be good, attention-getting, familiar yet distinctive, and memorable. On top of that, it has appeal to the artist on his or her own merits and fit  his or her image and audience.

If there’s anything people should know about pop song–writing is that these days the biggest hits are collaborative team efforts. The days of Brian Wilson crafting a top 10 hit are rare, at least for now. You’ll have one person craft the beat, another craft the chorus and foundation, and another craft the verses. Then the lead producer will work with the team to bring it all together into something that meets the artist’s and the label’s visions. (This is when things like guitar solos are nixed for length, tempos are adjusted, secondary genres are determined or change, etc.) The mixing engineer and the mastering engineers bring their expertise as to how to make something sound more modern or more retro based on the technical trends (frequency analysis, song dynamics, depth, etc).

So yes, data can and does play a big role. But there’s still an art to pop. Otherwise, we could just have machines craft the hits. Maybe down the road, though. Did you use data for making your songs?

According to Will: “Success is what you celebrate when you have decided your ready to give up hard work. If you want to be successful then first find out what success is to you. For some its a dinner with friends and family. For musicians.. Well who knows. Each to their own. For me, It’s seeing the influence in the world that music has created and feeling that my contribution of music has been a positive factor in that influence.

I’m not ready to give up the hard work yet so I don’t feel successful. It’s not about money or having a home or a family. It’s not about being loved or loving through your music, or about creating thought provoking art work or spreading a powerful message of hope through music. It’s not about how many album’s you have made, or how many T-Shirts exist with your band name on. It’s not about a long lasting influence on social cultures, such as the likes of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, have had.

It’s about you. How music makes you feel. When you feel that you may have achieved something that can make you smile if your ever reminded of it. All those moments you have ever had. Add them all together on the day you decided to stop working hard towards your goals. Look at your goals. Did they grow as you grew? Have you been loyal to them. When the answer is yes. Thats when.

According to Leonore: “For most musicians, I’d say that you are a success if you can make a decent living out of playing music. I am assuming you are referring to performers. I agree with others that the most famous and successful musicians are often not the best, and the amount of albums and tours might rely heavily on marketing, management and public image. To me, when a musician is well-respected amongst fellow musicians, and his/her skills are in demand, that is a sure sign that you’ve made it as a musician. For orchestra players, it might mean getting a permanent position in a good orchestra (and becoming the principle player of their section would be the top position), for smaller ensembles, soloists, jazz and other bands, it might mean being invited to perform at sought-after events, or being asked to perform with a famous musician or group of musicians. If your music touches the heart and inspires other musicians, I’d say you’ve really made it. Unfortunately, I think the view of most people would be that success in music is measured by how famous, sometimes how prolific, and how rich a musician is.”

According to Paul Griffith: “The ability to express one’s inner soul and communicate on a completely different level through the power of music is unparalleled in any other form of human communication and having the ability and determination to achieve this is immensely rewarding.”

According to Francesco Tristiono: “To be in line with what you do artistically. (Whether this works out commercially speaking is another question).”

According to Reiko Fujisawa: “Of course we all need endurance and dedication to succeed. But sometimes, success can be measured on a more everyday level – like dealing with a less than perfect piano, or resisting the urge to run away just before the start of the concert!”

Annie: “Music can change the world, I can change the world…

Passion is a strong word that can take on different forms. Whether the form is love or hate or joy or sorrow, it is a driving force inside the human soul that brings about everything, from art to war. It is a result of great passion. However, passion does not always have to be a huge war to change to world. It has been said, “If you change yourself, you change the world.” The passion inside drives these changes, and my goal is to change the world with my passion: music.

People allow their emotions to be affected by the music they listen to and this vulnerability places a great deal of responsibility on the musicians. Songs can alter people’s perspectives on different subjects. There have been stories of people on the verge of emotional and mental collapse who claim that a song literally saved their life. One night after one of my shows, a girl around 16 years old came up to me. She expressed that my song, “Crash”, had given her hope. The line, “to crash is the only release,” spoke to her and told her that sometimes it is necessary to hit rock bottom to be able to rise again. Music is powerful. Musicians have been given the gift of this responsibility. Songs can change the world. I can change the world.

Music is my passion. I cannot escape it. It is a part of who I am. It has strengthened my understanding of people and their emotions. I have come to realize that music is my calling in life and it must be nurtured correctly to be able to grow and change the world.

Melodies draw people in; the lyrics keep them listening. It is my responsibility to use my gift to change the world one audience at a time. Whatever the feeling, I will use my music to guide, relax, entertain, evoke emotion, give peace, cause reflection, give hope bring a smile, and perhaps, lift a burden.”

Yvette’s story:

“I don’t want to be a musician, I am a musician!

I have always been a musician because in my eyes, if you desire to do music and nothing but music then you will always be a musician.

I first knew when I was 5 and I wanted to learn music but my parents couldn’t afford any expensive instruments so they got me a keyboard. It was okay but after a few weeks of lessons my piano teacher (bless his heart) said I was too advanced fro just a keyboard and suggested my skills would be much better utilised on a piano.

My parents finally said they would get me a piano (after trying to persuade me to play something cheaper) and the rest was history! My piano teacher Mr. Parr was probably the best teacher I had. He gave me things that were more challenging than they should have been for someone with about a year’s worth of experience.

I remember hearing Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor somewhere once and I wanted to play it badly. So I went in and memorised the toccata from ear – needless to say he was quite astonished and he got me the score which I learnt. From here on then I had a big interest in classical music and I composed my first works sometime around the age of 6 or 7 which were based around Bach’s style.

It was at this time too which I played Toccata and Fugue and my compositions on a church organ in Fingrinhoe at the local festival – he played some of Bach’s works for me too.

I was also a very good improviser too and this meant that he gave me private sessions where we would ‘jam’ and improvise and he taught me all kinds of theory knowledge such as modes and extended harmony.

Unfortunately he moved away so in high school I stopped piano lessons and carried on, on my own. However, I still retained the knowledge he gave me and in music class they were quite impressed with my composing skills. I had some other really skilled musicians in my class whom I studied with for 5 years through the last two years of high-school and then in college and in my year out too.

I then started to go serious on the earning money side of things. I started getting around with my old music friends and helping them out in production and setting up and I even recorded bits for songs.

Later I enrolled in university and now I’m starting my career as a solo musician :-)”

I have asked some musicians: How do you keep your creativity?

Here are their answers:

Sebastian Fernandez: “Eliminate all potential barriers to entry into the flow by having an optimal setup that is ready to go. Listen to other people’s work (but pay attention to the details). Embrace it when it comes but learn to also let it go when it’s not there (go for a walk, take a break). Enjoy the creative process, it’s not about the outcome. Take your time. Use Youtube to learn and develop your craft. Be comfortable being out of a comfort zone (always try to learn new things while mastering the things you know).

Rosa: “I use TikTok… There’s a lot of creative people on there who share ideas and challenge/motivate each other. Also mini tutorials, vocal excercises etc. I followed a couple that I liked and now the algorithm keeps feeding me more, so whenever I’m mindlessly scrolling I always see lots of things that inspire!”

Below you can find all the podcast episodes of Marcella – Synergy For Music.

Episode 1:

Episode 2:

Episode 3:

Episode 4:

Episode 5: