Last week I was the recipient of my first negative review! I hesitate to write about this because I don’t wish to create any public drama with the reviewer in question, but it did stir up some unexpected thoughts that I think are worth talking about.
Some facts about the review:
- The negativity was not limited to my piece, and extended to most of the concert.
- Much of the negativity was perceived to be unfair and inaccurate by others in attendance.
- Musically speaking, very little in fact was said about my piece.
- There was a technical, non-musical issue that extended the intermission of the concert beyond any reasonable expectation. (I’m embarrassed to say that this technical issue was basically my fault.) This was mentioned in the review, and may have colored the rest of it.
- The reviewer is a highly credentialed composer.
- Despite this, there were many typos, grammatical mistakes, and factual errors in the review when it was first posted, though most of them have been quietly corrected by now.
So, in essence, as negative reviews go it was a pretty tepid one. Easier to ignore, perhaps, than an insightful, detailed, and accurate bad review. Still, I was surprised at how angry and upset I was when I first read it, and how long it took me to calm down about it. In short, as much as I thought I was prepared for this inevitable moment, I wasn’t.
Part of this unpreparedness, I think, is because conventional wisdom about how to react to reviews is often contradictory. We’ll often hear that it’s best to ignore all reviews, and just concentrate on the work at hand. But wait, isn’t willful ignorance of your audience a bad thing? Opinions are similarly confused on what a negative review actually means in this profession. On the one hand, a negative review can be a positive meta-indicator that you’ve “made it” big enough to attract someone’s disdain or ire. On the other hand, in an environment where fledgling careers are fragile, a single negative review could have a disproportionate effect on your livelihood.
In the end, what helped most was posting the review to Facebook and reading my friends’ snarky/supportive comments in response. (I guess Facebook is good for something.) I’d like to think that under normal circumstances I can take criticism to heart, but when that criticism is neither constructive nor perceptive, sometimes it is best to simply dismiss it. As basic as this advice is, it’s just about the only wisdom I have to pass on to other composers who find themselves in the same situation.