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Is Criticism a Gift?

How to Take Criticism, Music Blog, Music Reviews, Unsigned, Live Music,

In my recent journey through fusing creation of music with exploration, appreciation, and writing about it; I’ve come to realise something fairly interesting. With my writing, I have a noticeable sense of fearlessness. If someone mildly (or not so) criticises my writing, I immediately want to overcome the problem; I want to improve, learn from it, do something better, work out why it didn’t work – make it work next time. I look onwards and upwards; always thinking forward. It never, ever, gets me down. I really believe in my writing. I trust myself to do it properly, to the best of my ability.

However, when it comes to my music, my performances, my talent in that area – even though I feel that I believe in myself, and I put myself out there (and have done so, in varying amounts, for many years now) I take criticism, disapproval, or even a lack of applaud or compliment, to an extremely personal level. It really cuts deep, upsets me, and I feel like not playing anymore.

A bit childish, in hindsight, but it never feels like a choice – it feels like an overwhelming wall of negativity, one that numbs my ability and makes me forget how to do what I set out to do. It’s frustrating, to say the least, as I love music, and I need it – it’s the one thing that feels incredible; a deeply therapeutic means of expression. Writing is hugely therapeutic too, but it doesn’t really feel incredible – it doesn’t make me feel alive. I wonder then if that musical fear is a part of the buzz, as well as a part of the problem..

How to Take Criticism, Music Blog, Music Reviews, Unsigned, Live Music,

Perhaps it’s an innate realization – the idea that everyone has a particular purpose, or talent, and everything else is just a hobby. Perhaps writing feels more natural because that is what I was always meant to do. Perhaps though, there is also an element of this whole talent thing having been drummed into us from a very early age. We are taught, from being children, that most things, most fields of work, most skills, can be learned. Playing guitar is included, and actually, I never, ever, have any nerves or doubts when I’m playing instrumentally.

With regard to singing, though, we are repeatedly and quite forcefully taught, on a fairly daily basis, that some people can sing and some people can’t. Everyone talks about it. Hasn’t he got an incredible voice? So lucky, like winning the lottery. And it’s true, to some extent, some people sound fantastic from the moment they open their mouths. But many – many, many – have had to learn it. And in most cases – they do so successfully, just like with anything else. So how do I overcome this innate concern, if that’s what it is, that I am just not a great singer? Throw my worries to the wind, and think – f*ck it? One thing is for sure; we don’t get better at something by not doing it.

I often try to remind myself that I never wanted to be a singer. I always wanted to write – songs, books, stories, poems, articles – and I always wanted to make music. Singing was a side product that felt nice, and seemed to sound ok; according to myself, and my initial feedback – excluding those occasional minor put downs or clear expressions of disinterest. It’s ego, it has to be – stop expecting the world to stand back in awe whenever you open your mouth. But that’s what I’ve always seen – that’s what the X-Factor shows us, every week, for years and years (don’t watch it, I know, I know). That’s what mainstream radio talks about; all day, every day. That’s what people around you talk about; friends, family, strangers at the pub, in the street, in the media. Wow. What an incredible voice. Gave me shivers. Regular nice voices tend to get a sort of meh response. Maybe I’m viewing this through a pessimistic peephole, maybe not.

Objectively though, the important thing to remember, is that most singers – truly, genuinely – most singers who lead successful careers, and whom people enjoy listening to, over and over; are not those wow-voice possessors that people talk about. They just sing. Flawlessly when possible, and they make the best out of the moment. And it’s that kind of music I love, and always have. Blues, triphop, soul, rock.. Gravelly, on occasion mistake filled, bluesy, soulful, singing like they mean it.

How to Take Criticism, Music Blog, Music Reviews, Unsigned, Live Music,

Those are the ones who move and inspire me. Those are the ones I always wanted to be like. But still – I turn up to events, where people don’t know me, and almost immediately; based on appearance, or gender, perhaps – people want to know how good my voice is, and suddenly I forget everything else that I’ve worked on for years and years. My voice isn’t like your favourite singer’s voice.

It’s a lot like my own voice though. That’s what people connect with initially, I suppose. The voice is the most human part of the performance, for most listeners. It’s not unfair to be that way – they’ve had the same daily dose of wow-voice social input that I’ve had.

Surely I should be of the mindset then, that if I’m not a part of the solution – I’m simply a part of the problem. Surely that means I should put out my music and help people come around to the realisation that music can be awesome for a number of reasons, not just the vocal strength. Perhaps I should keep these points with me as motivational moment makers.

When it comes to it though, the question has to be; how can I permanently overcome my own reaction to these somewhat imaginary expectations? I fear it’s that all too common yet all to powerfully true answer; just do it – get on with it, apply that fearlessness you experience in writing to your musical performances and the rest will fall into place. Easy. Stop blaming the world for your insecurities. (It is entirely their fault, but it’s time to move past it – unlearn, relearn, and move forward) Not everything we learn or experience is the way things are meant to be. Should I tattoo these ideas to my hands, so I can always see them when I need them? No. It needs to be inbuilt. It needs to be a habit, a part of my character, not an external element.

How to Take Criticism, Music Blog, Music Reviews, Unsigned, Live Music,

Whatever it is – I will put these things into practice over the next sixth months, as I continue to listen, review, interview, and film, musicians I admire and discover, and as I venture back out into my own world of music and present it to a new range of audiences around Europe. I’ll let you know how it goes. I suppose part of it is continuing anyway, regardless of feedback, just doing something because you love doing it. Making art because you can’t live without making art. And I know this to be true, I just crumble in on myself when an ounce of doubt or insecure emotion rises up; I drown in my own fear, and suddenly I can’t do the things I have spent so many years learning how to do.

It will be a process of harnessing the positive memories and emotions, and applying them to what I previously have to come to know as fearful times. We can all do this. It’s about finding the calm, that place of peace, that happiness, that worry free state of bliss and confidence, and just doing what we love to do. If criticism comes; access it, consider it, learn and improve from it, or dismiss it as whatever it may be – some people are critical of everything; it’s their own insecurities driving this, not your ability as an artist or your level of skill.

How to Take Criticism, Music Blog, Music Reviews, Unsigned, Live Music,

Music is for the soul, as they say. It can save your life, in many ways. Find your inner peace; don’t let anything get in the way of what feeds your soul. Show the world what you’ve made. Hopefully, you will brighten someone elses day, and that can start a domino effect of massive impact. A succession of smiles. The power of music isn’t something to be afraid of. We all know this. Let’s put those demons to bed and get on with the show.

I would love to know your thoughts on this matter, as a fellow performer, or as a fan of live music – a different perspective on the whole thing – what do you actually think when you hear someone new singing a song you’ve never heard? When it’s good, when it’s not that great for you? How do you cope with the imaginary pressure you’ve built around yourself in whatever area it is that you are passionate? Confidence is crucial in many walks of life, and we’ve talked before about the journey to success amongst the quiet ones. Don’t be a stranger – let us know your thoughts! Thanks very much for reading.

Rebecca CullenMusician & writer with an MA in Songwriting.


5 responses to “Is Criticism a Gift?

  1. Rebecca, to me a music artist is a person who is unique and identifiably so, a person I can connect with through their work. I don’t want to compare them in any form to an ‘accepted’ standard of what one should sound like, given their genre. I don’t want to hear vocal replicas, or style replicas of a thousand others. To me generecism is anathema, I’ve learned to feel this way over many years. I appreciate and love people to be themselves, to sound like themselves, whatever that may be, to write songs like themselves; all the finest established artists are readily identifiable by their personal & unique approach to their music.

    With my own music I have learned not to be deterred by the fact that I don’t fit into the mainstream, that I don’t deliver what many people (in my music genre) may expect of me and I pursue my own original path and shall continue to do so. When people then say they appreciate you, you know they are genuine and that is the greatest reward. I wish you all the very best with your own music, your performances and your writing! George
    .

    1. Thank you for this, George – it’s lovely to get a different perspective. I never really questioned the role as an artist, it was more about a certain performance anxiety. I love sharing what’s been created, but something about that live setting – witnessing immediate reaction, being overly sensitive, sensing (or imagining) feedback, while you’re still right there in the moment.. It all gets very noisy. Having said that, I had to re-read what I had written in this piece after you commented, and I definitely don’t feel the same as I did when I first wrote it down. It’s good to look back on for that, in terms of time, practice, personal development, I suppose. Anyway, thanks again – great to connect with you! Thank you for the kind words of wisdom 🙂 All the best with the album release next month!

      Rebecca.

  2. Thank you for replying, Rebecca. It is interesting from time to time to look back at what one writes, what one thinks. I do that from time to time either with something I expressed in an interview or some blog post or of course old lyrics.

    We are always in constant movement with our ideas and attitudes and that’s a good thing as long as it’s progressive in the right direction. At times I wonder if I am the same person that expressed those thoughts way back when…

    I’m happy to hear you are out of that insecure state of mind, you have a great voice and songwriting gift so you should be full of confidence.

    I also wonder if there’s anyway for email notifications to be automatically sent when someone leaves a comment/reply here? Many of these type of pages do have that.

    Anyhow, cheers! 🙂

    1. Thanks again for your comments, George – and your kind words! I’ve updated the site so you should be able to select the option to be updated of any follow-up comments from now on. Thanks for pointing this out! Speak to you soon 🙂

  3. No worries Rebecca. I just saw that Option below on another article reply i posted on, and immediately thought I’d missed out on seeing it the first time, feeling like a right twit and was just about to comment and apologize for not paying due attention….. but it’s a new addition to your page, makes sense;)

    cheers,

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