You’ve spent years slaving over a mixing desk to make your album. You’ve spent thousands on CD manufacture. You’ve hired a PR company, radio pluggers and even a stylist to ensure your meisterwerk gets the best shot at rising up the charts. And then what happens? Your record gets an absolute stinker of a review in a newspaper or blog read by thousands, accompanied by the 1 out of 5 stars kiss of music career death. Ouch! So how do you deal with this?
1. Keep calm and don’t write letters to the publication
A bad review hurts, there’s no question about that. Yes, it took you years to make your record and a critic 5 minutes to dismiss it (45, actually, if you include listening time), and the instant reaction is to run over to your computer / iPad / typewriter and furiously type a letter to the critic’s publication decrying the ears and/or writing abilities of the critic. DO NOT do this. It is incredibly tempting to put your feelings down in rant form and mail them to the editor, but it will not help your cause. Firstly, it makes you look like you can’t take criticism (never a good trait); secondly, if the publication actually print your rant it will only draw further attention to the fact that you got a bad review; and finally, it may reduce your chances of getting more coverage (and perhaps more positive coverage next time) for future releases from the publication in question.
2. Remember that you can’t please all of the people all of the time
Whatever kind of music you make, and however good it is, it simply will not be everybody’s cup of tea. Critics are no exception to this type-of-tea business; some will recoil in horror at a glam rock-influenced album whilst others will positively devour it. Better-informed critics, or those who listen to a broad range of musical output, should in theory be able to cast prejudice about genres to one side and judge a record on its merits within that genre…but hey, sometimes, you just encounter a critic who doesn’t like glam rock and will use your record to vent their frustration at the whole genre. Dem’s de breaks. The best way of dealing with this is to 1) take a note of that particular reviewer’s music tastes and never ever send them a glam-rock record again and 2) accept that some people just don’t like glam rock. (I love glam rock, as it happens.)
3. Accept that the critic might have a point
As difficult as this is for you to do, try to think the unthinkable for a moment: maybe the critic who roasted your album alive had a point? Maybe your record, despite everything your mum said, wasn’t very good after all? Particularly after an awful review, it is tempting for bands to dismiss the whole idea of rock criticism completely (and yes, some of it can be terrible) but it's not entirely fair to do this, and it isn't helpful either. Remember that reviewers probably listen to a hell of a lot more music than you (it’s their job after all) and as such are able to compare your efforts to what else is out there and put its quality in some sort of context. You may not initially agree with what they have to say about your album, but step back from your precious baby for a minute, listen to it with more objective ears and see if you can see the reviewer’s point for a moment. Maybe the critic was not just being mean when s/he said your record was a bit derivative; maybe his/her observation about its poor production was correct; maybe the drummer’s playing does hint at the fact that he was just in from the pub when he did his takes. As hard as it may be to admit, there can be learning points in a bad review – the trick is to spot justified criticism and learn from it rather than dismiss everything the critic has said simply because it hurts to hear it.
4. Put your stinking review in context
As mentioned above, you can’t please everybody all of the time. Which means that even if you’ve just released the 21st century equivalent of Dark Side of The Moon, at least one reviewer is going to think it’s absolute pants. But before you get all despondent about one stinking review, put it in context. What were your other reviews like? Was the general reception to the record good? If so, calm down: it’s probably just a rogue review from a journalist who doesn’t like whatever genre you’re operating in. However, if a particularly bad review is consistent with all your other reviews (i.e., if reaction to your record has been, shall we politely say, generally muted), it may be time to look at how to improve your musical output. If all the critics you’ve sent your music to don’t like your stuff, it’s probably not just a taste thing and there is clearly stuff for you to address.
5. Remember that even a bad review can have some benefits
Even a bad review can help you a little bit. For starters, if it’s published on a heavily-visited site (for example, a newspaper site that attracts hundreds of thousands of visits a day) and there is a link to your band website at the bottom of the review, it will instantly boost your site’s search ranking (and – you’ll be relieved to hear – without any sign of the review necessarily appearing in the search results). Also, you can post a link to your bad review on your various fan pages, allowing fans to get all outraged on your behalf, massage your ego by telling you how great you are really and post angry tweets to the reviewer who had the barefaced cheek to slag your band off. All while you hover gracefully and impassively above the fray.
6. Don’t forget the other channels of music promo
Good reviews are helpful, but reviewers are not the only arbiters of musical quality. Even if you are not getting good reviews (or any reviews at all), remember that if your music is inherently appealing, it still stands a good chance of doing well. This is because well-written music, irrespective of how hip it is, or people’s opinions on it – has an uncanny knack of travelling. Good reviews are important and certainly help music on its journey, but so can radio play, word of mouth and gigs. In other words, you should not view press coverage as the only tool in your armoury but as an important part of the mix, because if it all goes Pete Tong with reviews, there are still other avenues you can and should explore.
7. Prove your critic wrong
Ultimately, the best way of dealing with a bad review is to use it as an opportunity to prove your critic wrong. Put your head down and make a follow-up record that is so fantastic that the guy or gal who wrote that awful review of your album ends up wishing they’d actually fawned over it and were backstage in the VIP area of your sold-out and much-talked-about gig chatting to Nigel Godrich, Niles Rodgers and Zsa Zsa Gabor now. If there are genuinely lessons to learn from your critics, learn them and improve so significantly that your critic will have no choice but to give your album 5 stars next time; if not, just move on, screw everybody's opinions and be bold in pursuit of delivering that perfect glam rock record. Either way, make an album so fabulous that nobody will dare criticise you ever again (well, until the underwhelming follow-up to that one comes out).
Article by Chris Singleton, Head of Digital Communications at Prescription PR