Dealing with Criticism as a Musician
Every time we go to sing, we create something new. Something unique. Something that nobody can replicate. Something incredibly personal and yet something everyone seems to feel entitled to judge.
I talk a lot about how getting on stage and performing requires vulnerability and bravery. What we don't talk about often is coping with the aftermath. Dealing with the criticism, the failures, the embarrassment, the desire to hide away and never do it again.
Brené Brown is THE go to for anything dealing with vulnerability. Her book Daring Greatly is an outstanding read (if you haven't read it and you enjoy this post, think about grabbing a copy).
The video below was sent to me by a student (thanks Lori) and boy was it worth the 22 minutes to watch. If you can't do it now, bookmark it for later.
THE CRITICS IN THE AUDIENCE
The first part that struck me like lightning was about dealing with your critics.
We've all encountered them. The girl who comes up and tells you she didn't like your interpretation of that song. The guy who suggests that you might want to be a little more animated on stage. Maybe it's a family member who tells you that you were better last time they watched you sing.
We try to take it as constructive. We try not to be devastated by every single one of those negative little comments. But this is our art. That performance was an expression of you, your story, your emotions - which we can sometimes confuse with our self worth.
"If you're going to go into the arena, show up and be seen, you are going to get your ass kicked. If you're not also in the arena getting your ass kicked, I'm not interested in your feedback."- Brené Brown (from the video above)
The arena in the context of musicians is the stage, the recording studio, any performance space really. If your critics haven't been up on stage, doing what you're doing, don't take it on board.
If they are not stepping up, being brave and sharing their music, then their opinion should not be given heavy weight.
Sure, there may be musicians who criticise you and perhaps their suggestions are valid, perhaps they're not but at least they've been where you've been.
OUR INNER CRITIC
The harshest critic of all is always ourselves. We are always picking on every little fault, noticing mistakes that most people would never even hear.
"Reserve seats for shame, scarcity, comparison and whoever's opinion scares you most."
We are always going to come up against the ideas of not being good enough and comparison. Know that and accept it. The second we try to pretend they're not there, it becomes more of a problem.
And there are always going to be critics in the audience. Not everyone will love you. Not everyone will agree that your way is their favourite. You can't win everyone over. They just want to be acknowledged (don't we all). Brené's suggestion is: "I hear you, I see you, you can watch me show up but I am not interested in your feedback."
CHANGE YOUR FOCUS
So what can help us get through a performance (and any fall out)? Brené says we need to know our values. I also see this as remembering your WHY. Why do you sing? Why do you write music? Why do you perform?
One of the values talked about in the video is courage. "You have to show up. Whether you're successful or not is irrelevant."
Something I've learned about confidence and developing it through music over the years is that this is one of the most important pieces of the puzzle. Being scared out of your mind, but showing up and doing it anyway. Over and over again.
Looking your demons straight in the eye and saying "my art and my expression is more important than my fear." It's not easy and sometimes it doesn't seem to get easier, but the realisation that you're constantly picking yourself up and getting back on stage is what helps you realise you’re stronger that you thought. You're braver than you thought.
HAVING A CHEER SQUAD
Brené says that as well as knowing your values, it’s really important to have someone there as support when things don’t go as well as you’d hoped.
“You need to have someone that'll be there to pick you up when you fail. If you're not failing, you're not showing up.”
It doesn’t have to be a whole tribe of supporters, it could be just one person who listens to you as you sob, complain or rant about how terrible your performance is. Their job is to listen and simply encourage you to get out there and do it all over again anyway.
Remember that every time you suck it up and perform in front of someone or go into the recording studio, you are doing something that a lot of people wouldn't have the guts to do. You will have feelings of embarrassment, you'll fear that you're not good enough and you'll probably have people tell you just that.
But it's what you do after that that matters. Either you quit (please don't quit, you know you love it deep down) or you get back up there and put yourself out there again.