A Songwriters Guide to Coping With Critisism

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There’s nothing like a song challenge to bring out the critics! In fact there’s nothing like being a singer songwriter to bring out the critics! Over the years I have received all sorts of unsolicited criticism on all fronts. It seems to me that when you are an artist on a stage (or just a living human being), there will always be people who think it’s their god-given right to have an opinion on you and your work, and the thought that maybe they ought to keep it to themselves, doesn’t even cross their mind!

As people have liberally blessed me with their opinion sooooooooo many times now (I mean, I have been doing this for years and they do it every gig) I have learned quite a lot about this spikey beast called criticism. So here are a few thoughts I like to remember when people off load on me.

1. We all have an inner critic in our mind that talks us down and lifts us up. That sharp tongue that person just used on you – they use that on themselves and everyone else in their lives. And their inner critic has more to say about them than it ever does about you.  This realisation alone is usually enough for me to feel compassion for that person, or at least to be able to distance myself from their opinion.

2. It’s really all about their stuff. Being a colour-outside-the-lines kind of songwriter, the kind that doesn’t care for genres but instead for the expression of my human nature in whatever form the mood takes, has meant that I have a wide and varied collection of songs in my back catalogue. They cover all manner of emotional states and stories – I write them that way on purpose!  Some are about love, some are about hope, some are about depression or anger, some are about self-actualisation etc. etc. As time has gone by this has afforded me an interesting insight into people, their tastes, their personal experiences, and their state of well-being. I have come to realise that people like or dislike something based on their own life experience. They will tell me they think a song is good or bad but what they really mean is ‘I connected with this one but not that one.’  It’s very interesting to find out which songs people think are ‘great songs’, it tells me more about the person and where they are at, and what they have been though, than it does about the song itself. It’s really true of anyone’s opinion – It will always tell you more about them than it will about you! They will, however, try very hard to make it about you! 😉

3. No-one agrees. I could play a song to a room full of people and for everyone in that room there will be a different opinion on the song. I have had some people love/loath the same song on the same night. The truth is the song was the same but the trigger in the listener was different. One heard a love song and their heart melted, the other heard a love song and their heart hardened. Why? Well, that’s not for me to wonder but when they come up afterwards and tell me their opinion of the song it would not fare me well to base my worth as a songwriter on either response! Every song I have written is both someones least and most favourite song. It does make me chuckle when someone says, ‘That song’s not that great’ when someone else just declared it ‘AMAZING!’  There will never be a unanimous response when it comes to humans so don’t bother chasing it. People’s opinions are as different as their lives.

4. No-one hears the same things anyway! I read an amazing book by Oliver Sacks called Musicophilia. The main thought I took from it is that people actually don’t all hear sounds the same way. Depending on our biological make-up we process sound in different ways – something like colour blindness in various forms. So, what is a beautiful sound for one, for others will be a clattering racket. Should the musician be offended because the biological make-up of the listener interpreted the wonderful sound they’d made as an awful noise? Of course not!

5. In the end, the only opinion that matters is yours. After all, you are the one that has to live with you!It’s been said so often it sounds like a cliche but you just have to do what you do, love what you love, be who you are… Immense freedom and fun comes from realising that your emotional well-being is not dependant on others opinion of you, and that most of the time they are too busy dealing with their own inner critic to be thinking about you!  You just be you and love doing it and that’s really enough! 🙂 If people want to hang around and be involved they will, if not they’ll move on and make rooms for others who do!

I admit, sometimes it’s easier said than done to remember these points, and I have often suffered massive vulnerability hangovers but I think of the story of Buddha and The Angry Man; The man wanted to try and trigger anger in Buddha by giving him a blast of verbal abuse, so he really let him have it! Buddha replied, ‘If someone brings a gift but the gift is not accepted, to whom does the gift belong?’

The angry man thought and said, ‘To the person who brought the gift’.

Whether I manage to remember this in the moment or years afterward, eventually it comes back down to the fact that there will always be opinions. Some lift you up, some help you grow and change, some are hurtful and destructive but you always have the choice – If you don’t want to receive what another person is giving you, you need not accept it! You don’t need to be triggered by it, then their opinion remains theirs!

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Love, 

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