I don’t read a lot of reviews. With few exceptions, I tend not to find them very helpful.
What I do read, though, are reviews of my own stuff. I’m not alone here. Today an extremely successful composer told me that there’s a critic he’d like to boil in oil because of a review written many years ago. He’s not the first to express such a sentiment.
Criticism is a touchy subject for artists. With this in mind, I suggest a few coping strategies:
1) Don’t obsess. If you want to know what it says, you have to read it. You have to draw a line, though, somewhere between skimming the thing and obsessing over it more than the writer did. The correct place for that line is after you have read it once. Read it slowly, read it carefully, but only read it once. Then put it down and get on with your life, just like everybody else did after reading it.*
2) Celebrate the stupid negatives. If you played the wrong notes, they could say that. If you played everything mezzo forte**, they could say that. Many reviewers don’t feel like they’ve written a balanced review unless they complain about something, though, and if that something is completely stupid, that means you won. They liked the music. Learn to take “yes” for an answer, and get on with your life.
3) Accept that the critic’s opinion is a possible interpretation. I often hear people say that critics are in no position to judge the ability of a performer to do something the critic cannot themselves do. This is a bad argument. I cannot, myself, lift a grand piano above my head, but if you try to do it in front of me, I’ll know if you succeeded. The critic may remember things differently to you: if you’re sure you juggled five Steinways and the critic says they never left the ground, you have to admit your performance may be too subtle for some audiences. Either throw those pianos higher, or accept that what you do isn’t for everybody, and get on with your life.
4) Don’t take this too seriously. From a commercial standpoint, I generally measure the success of a PR campaign in terms of the number of reviews it gets, not how positive they are. After all, things don’t get reviews because they’re good, they get reviews because they’re important, and because the publication will look silly if they don’t cover them. Who needs who here? Remember that you won the moment they decided to write about you, and get on with your life.
Then again, maybe getting on with our lives is the last thing we should do. Maybe the right response is to do something more like this…
** Like this.