They say if you don't want to be criticised then do nothing. There is some truth in that, but I'm sure like me that you would rather try and make a dent in the universe than live in fear of sometimes getting it wrong.
For those who don't know, I'm in a writing partnership signed to a publishing company who handle both the songs we write and send us briefs to pitch. It's a big team with a large team of songwriters from around the world with success in most countries. We write for both new and established artists as well as things like Eurovision and for sync.
A few weeks ago we were sent a brief to write songs for a new album for an artist who has had a huge career around the world. Often the brief will include some written things to consider plus links to songs that give an example of what they are thinking about. Sometimes the artist or genre is just not our strength so we simply don't pitch, sometimes it is and so we either consider one of the songs we already have or write from scratch. It can be both fun and frustration, sometimes an idea comes quickly at other times it's blood, sweat and tears.
For this pitch we decided to write a new song, in fact I got the hook idea whilst out walking my dog and so quickly sang it into an app on my iPhone to play to Jess, my writing partner when she arrived at the studio.
A couple of days later and we had the idea and so sent it off to the publisher for consideration.
Then this Thursday an email arrived back in response to the song. The email was a carefully worded and considered email about what was good about the track and where it didn't quite work. It listed areas that needed further work if the song was really going to have a chance to be considered by the label. I forwarded the email to my writing partner Jess and asked her opinion of the email. She called me and we both agreed that if someone had taken the time to write an email that listed areas to consider improving in such detail then they cared enough about the song to help us try and get it the best it could be.
Some of the concerns were about the sound of the production and the mix, rather than the song itself, this meant I needed a second opinion and some help from a mixer who works in the genre.
I called up my friend and colleague Paul Drew and shared the mix with him to listen to so that I could garner his opinion and advice on improving it. Paul talked me through the mix track-by-track and suggested ways to get the sound as the label would want it. It included swapping out some instrument sounds, adding some additional plugin processing both on tracks and on the final mix.
An hour later a new version of the track was sent across to the publisher who responded almost immediately with 'that's 110% better and much more what we are looking for.' We've done some more work since then and the track is a lot better than the first version we sent, it's got some additional vocals and other tracks added to it.
It can be hard to deal with criticism, but one thing that must always be a consideration when receiving it is asking two questions; who is the critic and what is their motivation. This critic is someone who knows us, they have a track record of success and they are trying to help Jess and I get our songs published, ignoring their criticism would be foolish, so even when we don't always agree it is still worth considering their input.
Of course not all critics will pass the test; some critics don't know you, they have zero investment in your growth and often their motivation is flawed and wrapped up in their own shortcomings and issues. The more of an impact you have in this world, the more this kind of critic is going to appear - it's at times like this I lean on some wisdom an old friend gave me some years ago 'the greatest freedom is knowing you have nothing to prove.' Silence can be your best friend in these situations.
I'm glad I listened to my publisher this week, I feel our song is better for it, who knows it might be chosen for the new album project. Even better I've learnt some new tricks and some new mixing skills, without criticism from someone who cares that may never have happened.