If you plan to make a living as a musician and/or composer, I’ve got some quick advice for you. Get used to criticism, but don’t let it deter you.
Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of opinions for or against my music. One of the greatest or funniest comments of all time: “I’ve always wondered who wrote that awful music!”
This statement was actually made by a realtor who was touring one of my homes in the Chicago area. She spotted my music studio and asked me what I did for a living. At the time, I was composing music for Gottlieb pinball games at Premier Technology in Bensenville, Illinois. I explained what I did for a living and thus, the infamous and ignorant comment, “I’ve always wondered who wrote that awful music!” Needless to say, that realtor did not get the listing to sell my house.
How many times have I been criticized or ridiculed? In the course of my career, way too many times to recall them all. I do remember being “booed” by a bunch of obnoxious drunks in a bar called The Gridiron in Crown Point, Indiana because I apologetically explained that I did not know how to play “Jingle Bell Rock” at a gig shortly before Christmas. This led to “My grandmother can play better than you!” and other choice comments that can not be published here, because they are too offensive. That was a long gig.
I remember people giving me advice about what kind of equipment to buy, what to wear onstage, etc. Oh, yeah, according to a past band leader and band manager, I shouldn’t have worn my wedding ring onstage because I was supposed to appear “available” to female fans. That same band leader and manager told me I’d never work again after I left that band. Oops, where are they now?
More recently, an old friend, upon hearing that I now compose music for casino games, said, “What a horrible job. You just make noises all day? How do they pay you? With tokens?” I told the person that I love my job at IGT and changed the subject.
I know that the vast majority of people in this world do not intentionally mean to cause harm when they talk. It could be that they have a strange sense of humor, are totally drunk, or they are simply incapable of filtering anything that comes out of their mouths. My way of dealing with this kind of criticism is to shake my head, roll my eyes and have a good laugh. I don’t take it personally.
All that said, there are also times when constructive criticism can be very positive. This is particularly true when working with a team, which I do all the time for games. Music is a very subjective thing and there are a lot of people who need to be pleased with the results. These include the producers, game designers, studio directors, sales force, buyers and ultimately, the players. So I always listen to what people are saying. Sometimes, that means taking the music in a totally different direction than I would have gone on my own. But more often than not, those voices have helped make a better game.
Unless you are creating music only for yourself and no one else will ever hear it, get used to criticism in one form or another. That’s just part of being creative and especially in music. The most outrageous comments will eventually make you laugh, even though they may not be pleasant at the time. The constructive comments will help to create more successful projects. Never let it get to you. Simply enjoy music as the universal language and celebrate your part in it.