The Four Steps I Use to Turn the Fear of Negative Criticism into a SUPERPOWER

Getting feedback is scary. Getting negative feedback is the WORST… or is it? Here’s how to turn the fear of criticism on its head and into a superpower. Seek out and focus on negative feedback to zero in more accurately – and more creatively – on what your client wants from their music (or whatever your creative specialty is), without them even realising it. Top tip – this is how to get a reputation as a mind reader (when it comes to writing the right music for the job, at least).

1. Write 2 (or more) quick sketches

Write quickly – don’t overthink it. Get all possible ideas down on the page or the screen, avoiding judgment. Play and experiment with the ideas as time allows. Come up with more than 2 ideas that illustrate several different ways you can interpret the brief.

2. Get feedback on what doesn’t work (along with what does, of course – but pay the closest attention to what doesn’t)

Forward these sketches to the client. Make sure they understand the rough nature of these drafts – they are initial ideas. Encourage them to be completely honest about what they don’t like along with what they do (if they seem reticent). If they don’t have a problem telling you what they hate: even better.

(I can feel you cringing! Trust me, this works and the more you do it the easier it gets. You’ve got this.)

3. Combine any (or all) elements that do work… and more

Focus on what they dislike as a way of getting clearer – in a more creative and less restrictive way – on what they will like. Do this, and you won’t limit yourself only to the elements they do like of what you’ve already come up with in your rough, initial sketches. Combine all the elements the client mentioned that did work and cut all the elements they specifically said they didn’t.

If there’s time, do another round of multiple sketches to come up with even more options. The more contrasting the ideas, the better for the client to get clarity on what they like and (you guessed it), more importantly, what they didn’t like.

4. Remember next time you work with the client what it is they don’t like

Do a good job and the client might have you back for the next project. For this reason, make sure to keep notes specifically about what they didn’t like and why.

Was their dislike related only to that particular project?

Or was it more general, eg, they had no time for harps and glockenspiels (madness, I know, but some people really dislike them. Don’t ask me why. Adding sweeping harps and tinkly glockenspiels to a track brings such joy to my heart. But each to their own).

Uncertain? If you do work together again, make a point of trying them deliberately include one of your initial rough sketches again, and make sure another of your sketches has nothing of the sort included. If they single out those issues again, you’ll know it’s more likely a personal preference and you’ll know never to use those techniques, styles, or instruments ever again for that client. Knowledge is power.

That’s how, and why, to look for and encourage negative feedback to put more focus on what the client actually wants from their music. Especially useful with a very vague brief, getting the client to clearly state what they dislike about your initial sketches will help you zero in on composing the best music for the gig without being creatively closed off by what the client does like (although that’s useful too, obvs).

Of course, it’s scary, courting rejection or negative criticism. The most important part to remember: it’s not you that they’re critiquing, it’s just your work, and a work-in-progress at that. You’re still an awesome human. And you’ll be even more awesome after turning your fears of negative criticism into a SUPERPOWER (cue ‘Avengers Unite’:).

Main Image: Yulia Matvienko for Unsplash

Clouds Image by Miguel Á. Padriñán on

Creative? Freelancer? Working in media like TV, theatre, film or games? Artist? Small business entrepreuner goddess? All welcome.

My newsletter is about living creatively in the music-for-media business and beyond, along with news and events from HF HQ. Come join the tribe.

Sign up here, unsubscribe anytime.