Rozovian’s Music Log

How to Handle Criticism

Posted by Ad on February 15, 2014

TotalBiscuit, the Cynical Brit, has had one of his videos censored via the copyright flagging system. Not cool. The situation is still developing and unraveling, but the whole thing blew up not so much over the copyright abuse, but rather over how the devs of the game TB reviewed don’t seem to be able to handle criticism.

Rather than rant about copyright and add fuel to what the internet is already turning into a rather large firestorm against the devs, I’ll cover a different angle: how to handle criticism.

Your game, your music, your art, your work; whatever you do, you’ll likely take it personally when someone eviscerates your work, whether this is accurate criticism or hate/trolling. It’s not necessarily easy to ignore random disembodied voices on the internet, but the higher profile someone is, or the more you value their opinion, the worse it’ll sting.

The approach I have to criticism is to understand everything, and fix what you agree with.

Let’s say someone says an arrangement of mine is cookie-cuter, paint-by-numbers, blocky or newby. First, I have to understand what they mean. My arrangement might not have good transitions, might not differentiate parts with different rhythms, textures or dynamics, might have too little or too much variation between parts. It could be just one of these, but it’s more likely that it’s a bit of everything.

Then I have to agree. Theres two parts to this: I have to agree with their observation, and I have to agree that it’s a problem. My chiptune-y track sounds like cheap synths? Not a problem. My orchestral piece sounds like cheap synths? Problem… if it’s true.

Finally, I have to fix what I agree with, if possible. Cheap synth orchestra? Either go for it as a stylistic choice, embrace it, do it well; or make it sound more real; or scrap it. Cheap synth chiptune-y track? Not a problem, doesn’t need fixing.

But the thing is, just because I don’t agree with criticism doesn’t mean I’m right. If I do something, it should sound intentional. It doesn’t matter whether it actually _is_ intentional, it just has to sound that way. My cheap synth orchestra may be the sound I’m going for, but I’d have to make that obvious somehow. Easiest trick is to name it something like “Pocket Orchestra” or “Synthetic SYmphony” or something along those lines. But preferably, the music should be able to communicate this on its own. An exposed, really cheap synth solo early on, that highlights the cheapness and is still expressive should do the trick.

That’s doing it right. How can you do it wrong?

Ignoring. Arguably a better approach than some other wrong approaches. Ignore the trolls, but don’t ignore valid criticism. Dismissing it with a “well you don’t have to like it, other people will” isn’t going to help you make your work any better.

Arguing. This isn’t about valid arguments to better explain your positions and understand where the other party is coming from. This is about questioning the other party’s qualifications, eg “who are you to say an orchestra doesn’t sound like this?” (an ad hominem attack). This is about undue defense, eg “well it’s a style choice to have a square synth in my historically correct baroque track”. This is about justifying things instead of re-evaluating them in light of the criticism. That’s wrong.

Flaming, raging, threatening. These are all pretty much the same, because they’re all about throwing a tantrum in some form. Legal threats count. Threats of violence count. Threats of reporting count. Personal threats certainly count. Ranting, as a form of venting, is a way to deal with frustration, but do that somewhere else.

Magic. I’m not talking forest rites and hexes and stuff, I mean trying to make the criticism go away. Flagging stuff as spam or copyright infringement, downvoting, deleting… Bribing? Whatever. It’s a form of ignoring, but offensively. And it’s offensive to anyone who values the craft.

These are in order of how bad they can backfire. Ignoring something generally doesn’t backfire, but you might not get a lot more good feedback that way. Less bug reports, less suggestions, less valid criticism. Arguing is likely to offend the person offering criticism, and is likely to drive them away or make them hostile towards you and your work… which isn’t a good thing.

Flaming, raging, and threatening tends to backfire spectacularly and become little wars on the internet where supporters of different causes start attacking each other on every medium and every platform they can get at. And worse, magic, when it gets out, tends to ruin whoever tried to censor someone else. The Streisand effect goes into full swing when this gets out. The bigger you and/or your critic are, the bigger the backlash. And any PR is _not_ good PR…

…as I’m sure certain devs have noticed by now.


One Response to “How to Handle Criticism”

  1. Joey said

    I just learnt something useful. Thanks.

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