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One of the most important aspects of being a professional at anything is the ability to take criticism and use it in a constructive manner. No matter what your profession, it is imperative you know how to receive feedback, and the difference between whether that feedback is truly good or bad.
As a musician, debilitating self-doubt is something we all find ourselves riddled with periodically. It is unfortunately a big part of what makes a creative person tick, as they grow and develop in their art. Though it can feel discouraging and even isolating at times, we are often our own worst enemy when it comes to criticizing our own work.
It’s no wonder, then, why so many musicians find it difficult to receive any critique from others.
I can remember myself from a very young age seeking the approval of my parents for my singing. I would often practice at home in my basement, belting my face off for hours at a time; hammering those same high notes over and over again, with ballad bridges on repeat, anticipating those key changes in my gut like a rollercoaster drop approaching.
Finally, I would get to a place where I felt ready to hear someone else’s thoughts on my progress. The song would end, and the feedback would come. I remember feeling a mix of emotions, everything from joy that I made them feel something with my music, to disappointment when they expressed that there was something left to be desired from the performance, to a disgruntled, passive aggressive, “well you’re not a singer, so you wouldn’t really know,” response pivot once I felt their advice had become unqualified and was no longer warranted.
That is probably the earliest point I can recall encountering the difference between good and bad feedback.
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When receiving feedback, it is important to take a few things into account.
- Firstly, who is the person providing the feedback, and why does their opinion matter?
- Is it a seasoned professional in your field that is able to shed some light in an area where you still have room to grow?
- Or is it someone less experienced than you, or someone that shines in another area that may not be specifically qualified to give helpful advice in your space?
Most of the time, people only want to help, but it is important to know whether or not to internalize their critiques and actionably put them into practice, or to filter them out accordingly.
*It should also be noted that not everyone has to be a professional in order to have their opinions matter. Most fan bases are not made up of other professional musicians.
If you want to know if you have a hit song on your hands as a writer, it’s important to give your new song the “focus group treatment.” Play it for lots of different people as see how they authentically and honestly react.
- Are they feeling the emotion you intended (ie: showing a physical response like tapping their foot or moving to the rhythm)?
- Are they bored and looking at their phone?
- Are they singing along with a catchy hook after only the first time hearing it?
That kind of feedback from any type of person is valuable and should be taken seriously.
+ Read more on Flypaper: “A Musician’s Guide to Listening With Empathy.”
Next, how can you learn to receive feedback so it is helpful to you? You’ve got to know the difference between whether that feedback is good or bad based on your personal goals as well.
Good feedback is realistic, something that is attainable; growth that can be truly accomplished, that you can lean into. You should determine what the ultimate takeaway is, and learn how to distinguish between the parts that are helpful, and those that should be deemed unnecessary, while being completely honest in your assessment.
It should be constructive, and not convoluted, manipulated, filtered, or fluffed. Bad feedback is information provided that you can ascertain as being frivolous, judgmental, unqualified, or useless to the improvement of your craft or specific piece.
And as with most things, how you respond to the feedback — whether it is good or bad — is something with which we should all become comfortable.
Such is life that not everything is for everyone, and that is okay. Most often, it’s the polite thing to do to thank anyone for their time providing their thoughts or critiques, in order to help you improve what you’re doing.
If they’ve truly checked off the boxes for giving good feedback, then genuinely consider how you can incorporate their comments in the future and be gracious in your response to their commentary. And if it’s bad, well, a simple, “I really appreciate your feedback” will suffice… and then keep this party train moving ahead with a big ole’ smile!
Don’t stop here!
Continue learning with hundreds of lessons on songwriting, mixing, recording and production, composing, beat making, and more on Soundfly, with our artist-led courses, like: Com Truise: Mid-Fi Synthwave Slow-Motion Funk, Jlin: Rhythm, Variation, & Vulnerability, and Kimbra: Vocal Creativity, Arranging, & Production.