Getting the most out of your music reviews: Artist’s guide

If you create and publish music long enough, you will inevitably have to reckon with reviews of your work, some of which are guaranteed to be scathing. Here we look at how to use these reviews (negative or otherwise) to your advantage, and to help you grow as an artist.

Guest post by Patrick McGuire of the ReverbNation Blog

It can be exciting to read reviews of your music when they portray your music in a positive light. But, unfortunately, make music and share it with the world long enough, and it’s almost inevitable that some negative feedback about your work will get published and sent your way. The truth is that music criticism can help you as a music-maker whether the reviews covering your music are flattering or difficult to read. It all depends on your perspective and goals. 

Decide what feedback is worth taking seriously

What exactly is a music review these days? Can it be a lengthy video comment, or does it have to be published on a website or in a magazine? The feedback you’re likely to receive about your music can come from starkly different places, and it’s up to you what you take seriously, but it’s important to remember not to take everything you read and hear about your music to heart. In 2021, you’re just as likely to find something thoughtful expressed about your music in a social media comment than you are to discover a hastily written mention of your work on a popular blog or in a magazine. It’s your call whether you even want to read feedback about your music, and there’s a good argument to be made that it’s better to remain blissfully aware for some artists.

But if you get curious and do want to check out what the world is saying about your music, you’ll need to separate thoughtful music criticism from unhelpful observations. When someone expresses an opinion about your music but can’t explain why they feel the way they do, it’s not worth paying much attention to whether their feedback is positive or negative. In general, extremes aren’t particularly helpful either. You probably didn’t just make the best album of the year or the worst, so if a music reviewer or random listener relies on extremes to express their feelings about your work, it’s best not to take that feedback too seriously. 

What you want to look for in music reviews is some sort of thoughtful, honest insight. Feedback that tries to get to the heart of what your music sounds like and what it means is what you can actually learn something from. Both positive and negative reviews can be helpful to you as long as they’re clear and thought-provoking. 

How music reviews can help you as an artist

You should not, I repeat, should not shape your future music based on what people have written or said about your previous music. You are infinitely better off diving into the mystery of your own creative process over and over and over again and trying to make something that feels authentic to you and your musical inclinations. However, solid reviews of your work can be helpful in other ways. If it’s hard to describe your own work as an artist, a well-written review of your last concert or single can help give you the language you’ve been lacking. Good feedback for your songs can show you whether the music you’re sharing is being thought of as creatively successful and why. To put it another way, music reviews can tell you whether people will want to listen to your new music or not. 

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Bad reviews can actually be the most helpful if you’re an inexperienced artist. If you get the feeling something is lacking in your songs, thoughtful negative feedback can point out glaring errors and consistent flaws in your songs, like poor performances and production issues. While you shouldn’t create music to please critics, they’re not always wrong. If someone says your music has potential but your songwriting needs work, they might be onto something. 

It’s also important to remember that it’s a great sign when people are taking the time to talk about your music. This applies whether their feedback is positive or negative. Half the battle for unestablished artists is getting to the point where listeners you don’t know take the time to listen to your music. If you’re getting feedback, solicited or unsolicited, it means you’re headed in the right direction as an artist. 

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.

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