work the mic

Feedback from the Pros Ain't Always Pro Feedback

July 21st, 2014


A few of the most exciting experiences I've had in my musical life involved getting my songs into the eyes and ears of some pretty famous musicians/industry people. When I say "exciting," I mean that these moments are the closest I've ever come to being downright giddy. Keep in mind that "giddy" is not a word that I, or anyone who knows me, would use to describe my highly-introverted personality, so understand that this giddiness is a big deal.

These were hands shaking, voice cracking, sweaty pits-type moments. I'm across from this person, this legend/hero, and they're about to tell me what they think about MY SONG. In each case, my thoughts were relentlessly going back and forth between "What if they like it?" and "Oh my god, what if they hate it?!" "But what if they LIKE it?"

These situations are distant relatives to those times when you play your song for a significant other, family member, or friend, except that instead of hearing "are these lyrics about ME?!" or "why can't you write something happy?" these famous people, no... these STARS, with their connections, knowledge, and experience could give you that one comment or criticism that changes EVERYTHING.


If you're a fan of sports metaphors, (and who isn't?!) then this is the turning point when the kid who's never played foosball in his life gets pulled into the game with 2 seconds on the clock to throw the grand slam that will determine if the team makes the semi-regional-quarterfinal-bowl. The crowd is hushed. The clock starts ticking. The kid takes a deep breath, and swings the ball, and against all odds SCORES the wicket or whatever, and then the crowd... quietly gathers their belongings and heads for the nearest exit at a reasonable and orderly pace.

There was no 'oh my god' eureka experience.

That's what it was like for me anyway. There was no "oh my god, this is pure gold!" eureka-type experience. Nor was there a "get out of here, kid, you're a hack" public shaming. In almost every case, it was more like a "yup." For example, the moment I was most excited about was when I got a response from a member of one of the bands that inspired me to become a musician. He had heard approximately ten demos of mine. His feedback? Something akin to:

"Good structure. Good songs."
"Anything we should change?" I asked.
"Nope. Good stuff."

That's it. Wait, seriously? That's it?! The hard work, time, money, and sacrifice of writing and re-writing 10 songs got me 4-5 non-committal words from a personal hero. Of course, that's just one experience, right? Nope. There were others. I hired a well-known and respected producer to work with another batch of songs. I paid him a lot of money. He heard 12 demos. His response? Pretty similar to the above. Actually, all four of the situations I have in mind went almost the exact same way. Coincidence? Not likely.


It's my theory that these responses are not the ones that these people WANTED to give, but rather the ones they have trained themselves to give after going through what must be hundreds of situations in which someone handed them a demo and asked if they would check it out. (For reference, see the interaction between Jonah Hill and Russell Brand in "Forgetting Sarah Marshall.")

In each case, the famous person must know that the demo-hander is hoping that any or all of their songs will cause the famous person to uncontrollably shout, "oh my god, we've discovered the next big thing" and then ask them to hop on back of their gold-plated rocket to fortune and fame.

Music is personal. You tie emotions into it, even if it's something you didn't write. I can't listen to a song from my high school days without cradling a yearbook and sobbing a river of tears onto the glossy pages filled with "have a nice summer" messages and awkwardly-posed photographs.

When someone writes a song, they might as well be pouring their soul onto a piece of paper. So, if someone tells a writer, "the chorus needs work" you're pretty much saying to that person "your soul is hollow, you should burn your guitar, and you have no reason for living."

I've been a feedback-giver in a few situations. Some people take your feedback with some wincing, others say "thanks" but ignore it altogether. Others get angry. Like seriously pissed. Others get hurt. Like, you might be surprised just how hurt.

I believe that true Pros have learned their lesson and walk the safe line of "not bad" because it saves them the pain and hassle of having to watch yet another aspiring musician angrily snatch their CD back, stomp off to the bathroom, and try to drown themselves in the sink.


The moral of this story is, you have to decide whether you're going to let this feedback impact you, for better or worse. If someone tells you they hate your work, does that mean you should quit? If they tell you they love it, does that mean there's no room for improvement? If they are totally "meh" about your work, what does that mean for you?

It wouldn't hurt to prepare for these situations before they happen, as awkward as that might seem. Think through your response if the person trashes your work, or praises it, or if they say something like "not bad."


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