That Stabbing Feeling: The Value of Even the Harshest Criticism

Our songs are our babies, and every word of criticism feels like a sharp, pointy knife going straight into our hearts.

But what if that painful sensation is equivalent to the proverbial fingers on a hot stove: effectively pointing out what NOT to do? If that's the case we actually owe our harshest critics a debt of gratitude!

Personally, I want everyone to love everything I write — all the time. Unfortunately that has proven impossible in this lifetime, on this planet... for me anyway!

Nonetheless, I surround myself with supportive-yet-tough colleagues who won't let me slide, because otherwise I surely WILL slide. And I have. There's one guy I write with, an Australian producer named Aladdin, who says, "That's too cheese" when I want to settle for lame, sentimental clichés. He's always right — I just didn't think he'd notice.

My friend Shelly was fond of the phrase, "Uhh, not your best work." That line at least implies that you HAVE done better work!

And my longtime collaborator Jeff — he just makes a face that looks like he smells rotten eggs... 'Nuff said.


All of our well-respected, constructively critical colleagues are doing us a huge favor, because they're never chopping us down in order to raise themselves up. In fact, they want us to succeed!

And it's the same with the music business professionals we submit our material to: they're anxious to keep their jobs, so they have to be ultra-certain that any song they give the thumbs-up to will make money, not make them look like idiots. If you put yourself in their shoes, it's perfectly logical.

As one of my songwriting teachers, Ellie Ellsworth, used to say about getting feedback:

"If 10 people say it's a horse, you might as well saddle it on up and ride it outta here!"

Really think about that: it's not like the world is conspiring against us... It's just that that particular song didn't move ANYONE to tears, laughter, crazy dance moves, or deep thought. And it's generally a bad sign if everyone keeps looking at their watches, wondering when it'll finally end.

Luckily, when we DO write a "magic song," all roads lead to YES. Entire careers spring to life based on the strength of that first breakthrough song that stands head and shoulders above all that came before. I know, because it happened to me.

The process of rewriting is admittedly 100 times harder than blurting out that initial idea because we have to wear our critical hats, which occasionally feel like they're made of barbed wire. But it's essential to the growth process.

Write on, and I invite your thoughts on the subject!