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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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How Not to Take Feedback
Friday, November 02, 2007

Feedback. It’s the one thing labels and artists crave, but some have a very hard time handling when it’s not absolute praise. Some writers only give positive feedback, they are useless. I, as many of you know, have always been a harsh critic and, not surprisingly, I’m equally harsh when it comes to the feedback I give for albums. My feeling is if something stinks I should let them know in the nicest possible way so they can go about improving their skills. The following is an exchange I had last week when a very small indie label’s owner asked me for some feedback. I have redacted the name of the label and the artist because this isn’t about creating a beef, it’s about illustrating a prime example of how not to take feedback and how to hurt an artist’s career.

The emails started innocently enough.

Label Owner: Checking in to see if any reviews are planned for the ARTIST mix cd/street album.

Me: No plans as of yet.

Label Owner: OK... Curious to see if you listened to it.

Me: Yeah. The hype you gave for him was good, but he didn't live up to it in my opinion. He was OK, but not great. I got kind of bored halfway through. May have been the beats, though.

Label Owner: Interesting... OK… Thanks!

Me: Sorry. I'm always brutally honest with my feedback.

Had the conversation ended with just that exchange everything would have been fine. That actually would have been a prime example of a great way to take feedback. I know I could have given something more exact, pointing out everything that I felt was wrong with the album and the artist, but I figured if he wanted to know more he’d ask and then we could get into a longer discussion. I would discover with his next email that wasn’t exactly the way he wanted to go about things.

Label Owner: New Subject Line - I always laugh when cats talk sideways!! I have removed you from my service list...

The email then went on to list six DJ’s who liked the record, one of whom was the DJ who mixed the record, so his opinion is fairly useless, it’s not like he’s going to rip his own album or anyone he’s working with, and a note about an online battle the rapper won. I immediately knew this was someone I didn’t want to deal with and replied back with my own new subject line.

Me: New Subject Line - No Problem

OK, man, but you asked for my feedback. If you only wanted positive feedback you should have said something like "what did you like about the album?" If you only accept positive feedback your artists stand no chance to grow because they'll only be told they're great even when they have shortcomings. I tell some of my best friends that their work is sub-par when I honestly feel that way, but they know that feedback only makes them better. An artist asked me the other day what I felt his shortcomings were so he could work on them and improve. But if you only want positive feedback, yeah, you'll need to take me off your list, because very few artists are great, and I'm not about tell someone who isn't that they are.

The label owner replied with two more emails.

Label Owner: All positive... No... Don't ever expect that... I just think you are off base… 1/2 way through you got bored? Yeah... I removed you!! But thanks for responding...

Label Owner: To clear the air… The reason I think you’re off is you and the dude from RapReviews both had negative feedback, so it's not just the positive… I didn’t agree with his review based on what he wrote about other acts who are no doubt going nowhere in their “careers.” I own a CD/DVD store and keep the CD playing in my system. Since the CD dropped I have sold over 150 copies (not big numbers by any means) in the store based on the customers asking “who is this” and then they pick up a copy! We have numerous events coming up and we will move thousands of units, as I always do... Reviews are not required, positive ones are not required - just more on point of the critique is what I look for... 150+ people purchase it because they liked what they hear...I don't sell a lot of major cats in them quantities here...And yes, I play them as well.... Keep an ear and an eye out.

I simply responded “do your thing” and left it at that. There was no need to speak to this guy. He said he didn’t expect all positive feedback but removed me from his list because he felt my views were “way off base” and needed to be “more on point,” and he felt the same way about the other negative review of the album. Anyone can plainly see what he really means “I just want people to tell me how great the album is.” I also thought it was hilarious that he mentioned RapReviews being that I happen to write for the site (but I didn’t do the review in question). Now this exchange might have been funny to some, but in reality this label owner is doing his artist a huge disservice with his actions.

First, by only giving his artist the positive feedback he’s not allowing him the chance to grow and get better. No matter how dope the label owner may think his artist is clearly there are plenty of folks who think he’s mediocre at best. The artist should know this. He should know he’s boring listeners, it’s the only way he’ll be able to eventually create something exciting. Second, he should be selling tons of copies of his own artist in his own store. If you can’t sell more copies of a five dollar CD than a fifteen dollar CD you’re doing something wrong. Plus, he can manufacture that CD himself rather than having to order more copies like he would for an artist on a major label. Add into that the fact that most people aren’t buying major label CDs right now and his warped statistic looks even more unimpressive, though I’m sure he’s not telling his artist any of this. Finally, hearing something as background music for five minutes while you’re in a store versus twenty or thirty minutes at home is a huge difference.

There are a few valuable lessons that can be learned from this experience. If you’re an artist not only is it important to be able to handle negative feedback, but it’s also important to know that who you’re working with is trustworthy enough to give you that feedback so you know how people really feel. I’ll bet that this particular label owner is sitting back and either not telling his artist about any of the negative reviews, or throwing BS his way whenever a negative review comes in. You don’t need to call Martha Stewart or Rachel Ray to know that’s a recipe for disaster.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:53 AM  
  • At 12:42 PM, Blogger BlueShoes said…

    wow...this is priceless! Thanks for sharing...

  • At 6:16 PM, Blogger aceha1 said…

    I'm giving you negative feedback on that Martha Stewart line: corny! But I love ya and all that you do here Adam!

    Dude should be glad you said NOTHING instead of writing a bad review.

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