Taking Criticism: The Bitter Pill Can Be Good for You

Advice on taking criticism: take a bath with wine and a hookah - Pyragraph
Me and my best friend Alyssa enjoying a standard New Orleans bath.

The first time I listened to my first CD was through set of portable speakers outside of a tea room off a recreational path. Excitedly, I sat down to listen to the quality of the recordings. Before long, two men approached from the path. Inconspicuously, I watched for their reactions.

Immediately, the men looked at each other with crunched noses and grimaced. “This is horrible,” whispered one, pointing his right thumb up at the speakers.

I was embarrassed and offended, but I knew they were right.

The song they had heard wasn’t intended to be cleaned up and sprayed with perfume. In fact, it was meant to be sung while getting whiskey-drunk under a bridge.

Here I was, faced with this idea that I may not have succeeded at something I was trying to do. And ow! My ego! Ultimately, that song never made the final cut. I never loved it any less though; I just knew its purpose was best served in a tin cup next to a barrel fire.

The art world is full of scraps, start-overs and hurt egos. So, it’s okay to humbly take a hint from time to time.

Let’s fast forward five years.

I am packing up from a rather successful evening of busking with my best friend, Alyssa Potter. A drunk man from Texas saunters up and offers us 50 bucks to play a song, an offer we clearly cannot refuse. I begin to play “Hurts Me Too” with all of my heart and, quickly, he stops me. Gravely, he tells Alyssa and me that we need to do something different with our lives. Smiling, we agree, pocket the money, close the case, then bid him goodnight and laugh at our luck.

The next morning I receive a phone call from the owner of The Spotted Cat on Frenchmen Street. He offers me a regular gig at his staple venue based on the rave reviews his staff has given me.

I’ve been there for less than two years and am now preparing for my first ever tour (in France), and am on the ballot as a nominee for “New Orleans Best Emerging Artist” in the 2013 OffBeat Awards (TBA this month!).

Surely bad criticism is disappointing, but sometimes I find it can really help me out.

It can be the eye-opener that makes us see that we need to put a different twist on a tune, approach a crowd in a new way, try a new trick or inversion, and to reinvent or retire a song (maybe even a project) completely. You’re not having your pants pulled down for nothing (so to speak). The art world is full of scraps, start-overs and hurt egos. So, it’s okay to humbly take a hint from time to time.

Then again, sometimes you’re just dealing with some fat-head who only wants to hear “Freebird,” and already had it out for you from the start. You have got to be able to tell the difference. The music, its integrity and direction are based on your decisions either way. Not everyone is going to like you. There are going to be a lot of people who blow smoke up your ass, so getting some blunt (and unflattering) opinions can be a good way to find your best balance.

So suck it up and chin up! My advice on taking criticism: You got this!

Photo by Nathan Madl.

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