As a student of music composition a number of years ago, I never wrote a piece of music for which somebody didn’t express an intense dislike. Those were pre-internet days, so I didn’t have to deal with online trolls, who can demolish your confidence if you let them.
The key phrase there is “if you let them.” It can be difficult to deal with negativity in today’s world of instant communication. It’s certainly not that you expect everyone to love what you do, but even knowing that you can’t please everyone, it still stings — and sometimes shocks — how vociferous people can be describing their hate.
Some people just don’t seem to have the ability to nuance their opinion of music. It’s either the greatest thing that they’ve heard, or it’s a total and unequivocal disaster.
As a songwriter and/or performer, how do you deal with people who hate your music, and seem to believe that it’s important that they incinerate your efforts at every opportunity?
Streaming your music on public sites not under your control gives you the world as your audience. But it can come at a price: You lay yourself open to those who have nothing valuable to add to the conversation about your music, but only wish to express hate. It’s important that you not let those people tear down your confidence.
Here are some suggestions for dealing with negative online comments:
- Stop reading them. Online commenters don’t write comments so that the singer-songwriter can improve, so why are you reading them? Just make the assumption that some will like your stuff, and others will not, and move on. Stay confident in your talents and abilities.
- Read bad reviews of classic albums. This may seem to be strange advice, but it can help to know that some of the world’s best albums have gotten lousy reviews. It can help to bolster your confidence in what you do to read some of those reviews. It serves to remind us that even professional reviewers can get it wrong, and that getting a bad review has no impact on whether or not an album is actually good. One of my favourites: Tom Hawking’s “15 Hilariously Negative Early Reviews of Classic Albums.”
- Respond with civility and/or humour to some negative online comments. If you must read them, there might be something good that comes from responding to a negative comment: it tends to chase the trolls away. This only works if you can keep your temper under control. Fanning the flames by responding to negativity with your own negativity is a bomb waiting to go off. Choose a negative comment, and respond with humour, or at least respect. (Here’s a great real-life example of how a restaurant dealt with a bad Yelp review.)
- Stop worrying. It’s not possible to write music that everyone loves, and so that will never be the yardstick by which music is judged in the long term. You need to have confidence in your abilities, and the courage to write what you feel. Stop worrying so much about what the outliers think. Work to identify and then build on your fan base.
No one ever said that writing music is for the faint of heart. It takes courage to express yourself in the arts, whether that’s as a painter, a poet, a sculptor or a songwriter.
As a songwriter, you’ll know who the people are that you can trust to give you an honest review of your music, opinions that you can trust. If those people don’t like what you’re doing, you can trust that they’ll usually find respectful, helpful ways to tell you, and it won’t usually be online.
Don’t allow yourself to be distracted or moved off your mission by people who just love to express hate. Be confident, move on, and keep writing!
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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