I know, you don't want to hear this, but it's important - you are going to get a bad review. If you're a musician, sometimes, someone is going to knock you for a loop in print after they listen to your stuff. If you are a label, sometimes, someone is going to rip your latest release to shreds. It ain't pretty, but it is part of the game. The important part isn't getting the bad review - it is what you do after you read it. Here's what to do when one of those less than flattering pieces of press comes your way.
No, seriously - DON'T FREAK OUT. Bad reviews run from the lukewarm to the downright mean, and they are never easy to swallow - but they aren't the end of the world. Bad reviews are part of earning your music industry stripes, and everyone gets them. A bad review doesn't mean you shouldn't be making music or releasing music, and it doesn't mean that everyone hates your music. It means one person didn't get it. You're doing this for the people who DO get it, not the ones who don't.
Grab a coffee - or something stronger - talk to some friends who you know will give you a pep talk, take a day off - do whatever you have to do get a little space and put the review in perspective.
Separate Fact from Opinion
Once you have had some time to let the initial sting die down, check out the review again. What is fact and what is opinion? Sometimes, reviews have little nuggets of constructive criticism in them that can help you learn. If the review says, "I hate all of these songs!," well, that's an opinion that you can't do much about. If the review says, "the recording is muddy, the song titles are misspelled and it didn't even come with a press release," well, those are a few things you can maybe do something about. If there IS something to learn - by all means, learn it.
If there isn't? Forget about it. You can't tailor your music to everyone's specific tastes.
Pow-Wow with Your Team
If you have a PR company, label or manager (or if you are a PR company, label or manager), you will usually want to discuss a bad review with all relevant parties (note: the person who delivered the bad review is NOT a relevant party). Did anyone have any inkling that this review was going to be a drag? If there were any of those, "eh, fair enough," kind of points in the review, what is everyone going to do fix them in the future? Any confirmed good reviews coming down the pike? In the case of a bad review in a major outlet, can you do a little damage control by, say, seeking a flattering interview in another outlet or running an ad campaign that quotes some good press from other publications?
You can't exactly take back a bad review after it is out there, but you CAN do things like place it in perspective and get proactive about the future.
Well, it is worth repeating.
Lash out at the reviewer. Even if their review was really bad and really unfair. Even if you know they just gave you a bad review because of bad blood between you. Even if you are just so, so mad that lashing out at them seems like it is the only thing that will make you feel better. It's so unprofessional and it's not worth getting that kind of rep. If you're a label looking to avenge one of your artists, this goes double for you.
Remember that plenty of albums that are highly regarded and that sold well received bad reviews.
Ask for a second chance when appropriate. If the complaints in your review are not specifically about your music but about things like recording or something else you can fix, don't cross that reviewer off your list. You won't get a second review for the same release, but if you are playing in town, offer the reviewer a guest list spot to see if you can win them over. If you aren't playing with anywhere near them, still send them your next release - especially if you have taken their criticism on board and made some changes. If you surprise them and they love your music, you can count on a glowing review.
Learn more about getting press and press releases in these articles: