In the former Aaron Sorkin dramedy "Sports Night", there was an episode where the new producer Jeremy, played by Joshua Malina (West Wing, In Plain Sight, Bullworth) was tasked with an assignment to go on a hunting trip and report back. It was meant to be his first big project as a producer where he would produce the segment, edit it and whatnot.
However due to his not telling his bosses about his serious problems with hunting and the killing of animals for sport, there were serious complications. In the fantastic climax of this storyline he is in the office his supervisor Dana (Felicity Huffman) and their boss Isaac (Robert Guillaume) and Isaac is pissed because Jeremy never told him that he had an issue with this because he thought he would be fired for not "fitting in"
Isaac then gave him an excellent speech with one specific aspect that I thought was brilliant and is a great motto to live by as you go about your business endeavors.
MORE AFTER THE BREAK:
He told Jeremy the following: "It's taken me a lot of years, but I've come around to this: If you're dumb, surround yourself with smart people. If you're smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you."
And I think that's pretty much the #1 rule people should follow when going out in the business world on their own, no matter what field you're operating in. You always need people who are smarter than you because not only are they a good source to bounce ideas off of, but a lot of times they may be able to see things you don't. Maybe they have more experience in certain areas and know what to do and not to do in certain situations.
And under no circumstances do you want to be in a situation where you are essentially surrounded by "Yes Men". People who will not rock the boat, will not be honest with you and will only tell you what you want to hear. This is just common sense, folks. At least to me.
And when you are building up your fanbase as an artist, whether you're a rapper, a singer, instrumentalist, a DJ or a producer you also want to be able to recognize the difference between constructive criticism and/or someone who takes an issue with something you said or did, and someone who's trying to have a go at you and make their little 15 minutes of fame off your back.
More and more these days I see artists that do not have that ability. They surround themselves with people who only tell them what they want to hear, whether it's out of personal security (don't want to risk pissing off the guy paying you) or they don't want to risk alienating an artist who isn't secure enough with themselves that they can hear criticism.
And instead when someone points out a flaw in something that the artist is doing, or someone says "you know, I wasn't feeling that track", the artist tends to flip out and throw out that magic word that is all encompassing to describe anyone that disagrees with you: Hater.
This annoys me because it basically throws you off and works essentially as a preemptive strike against criticism. "If I say something negative, I'm going to be called a Hater" Also there's the troubling trend of artists embracing that mindset that any and all criticism is hate and therefore they're doing the right thing. "If people aren't hating, you're probably doing it wrong" is a thought that many have and treat as if it's legitimate.
It is true that the more success you get, there more people there will be that will be gunning for you, so to speak, and who will be motivated by jealousy and bitterness. However the moment that those things blend into one, and you can no longer tell (or no longer want to tell) the difference between honest criticism motivated by sincerity and blatant jealousy, is when you have begun the march to mediocrity, in my opinion.
Here's an excellent example of what I'm talking about here. Years ago I was on a hip hop message forum and there had been this story out in previous days about these rappers that were approached by McDonalds to alter their lyrics to include references to their "Big Mac" sandwiches.
WITH NAMES LIKE Big Pooh, Big Daddy Kane, Big Rich Tha Don and Notorious B.I.G., "big" is already huge for rappers.
Now, McDonald's reportedly hopes to lure hip-hop artists to drop references to Big Macs into their rhymes.
Though it's not offering money upfront, the fast-food giant is willing to pay rappers $1 to $5 each time songs with the plug hit the radio, according to today's Advertising Age. McDonald's hopes to have its signature sandwich in several songs by summer, the mag says.
And during this discussion I pointed out that I thought this was selling out in the most literal sense. You're altering your work to cater to a business that is going to pay you money. Whether you like the stuff or not isn't the issue here, because you're basically changing what your music would have been. Without that business offer, chances are you're not mentioning Big Macs or anything like that in your rap songs.
So then this other person started ripping me calling me racist and a "hater" and that I was "hating on black men with money". This was also a reference to my taking issue with rapper DMX who had one substance abuse problem after another. So because I had criticized these rappers, I was suddenly a racist who hated "Black men with money". Never mind that I had repeatedly stated that I was a fan of DMX and that I sincerely wanted him to get free of his demons that were plaguing him because he could be such an amazing role model for people with his ability to speak and get people to listen. He has a powerful presence.
Yet my criticisms based in a sincere wish that he got better, morphed into a race based "hate".
He then proceeded to call me the greatest name I've ever been called in my life, a "Racist Cracker". Now that's just brilliant folks. Calling me a racial slur (however hilarious and utterly fangless a slur as it may be) while accusing me of being racist. You can't make that shit up. And this is an offshoot of the "any criticism of an artist is 'hate'" where if you are white and you criticize an African American athlete or musician or politician or whoever, it's not because there's any merit at all to your criticisms, it's because you're a racist hater. And a cracker apparently.
And to be clear this is not an everywhere occurrence. I don't want to sound all Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity here where they have this idea that any criticism of the President will merit you being labeled a racist. I've already been over that subject HERE, so no need to delve into that. Just saying that the vast majority of people don't leap to that conclusion and are intelligent enough to weigh the arguments and determine what the motivations are.
And this type of reaction pales in comparison to when overzealous fans of artists get enraged. I sent some tweets critical of Chris Brown and how he put hands on Rihanna, and his legion of fans went apeshit on me. You'd have thought I was defending someone who physically abused the woman he loved. Oh wait, no that was them.
Also don't get me started on the vicious reactions I got when I reviewed Kanye West's album "My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy" and gave it a 3/5 rating. Admittedly it was one of my early reviews here, and it's not one of my better ones, but I just couldn't get into that album beyond a handful of tracks in the beginning. The fans are crazy, man, and this stems from the artists themselves.
If you have an artist who is grounded in reality and can take criticism and accept it for what it is, then your fans are going to more times than not, be the same. When you have an artist that can tell the difference between someone giving genuine constructive criticism and someone who is just messing with them trying to get a rise out of them, that flows down to the fans and your fans don't become petulant children.
Artists need to stop surrounding themselves with "Yes Me" who will only say what they want to hear. They need to thicken up their skin and be able to interact with fans and be able to properly discuss criticism. That can be a powerful tool for an artist to get outside perspective on things that they themselves may be too close to.
As someone who has self published a book of short stories, I can tell you it's not easy. I absolutely do not like criticism, because it's very easy to take that shit personally. When someone says "man, I wasn't feeling that" or "You did this wrong", you take that shit to heart and it's so easy to take it as a personal attack. Like they're saying "YOU can't write." or "YOU can't rap" or "YOU can't sing"
And there's the rub. Not only developing thick skin and wading into the battle of criticism, deflecting the nonsense and picking out the genuine tips and suggestions that can make you a better artist as well as a person, is something that I don't know that anyone can really teach you. You just have to develop it through trial and error.
You're gonna fuck up. You're gonna spazz out on someone and you know what, you'll probably lose a fan or two in the process. But it's how you build from that. How you grow as a man or as a woman and can say "You know what, you may be right. I appreciate your opinions on this and I'll look at how I can make my next song/album/book even better."
I'll close with one more personal experience which still bothers me about six months later. There's a rapper that I followed on twitter. Not going to name him because I'm not trying to put him out there like that, but a few people reading this who know me probably know who it is because I've spoken with them about it. I first came across their mixtape online and listened to it and was blown away. I mean I just fell in love with the production on it, the samples were genius, and it was a concept album of sorts and I just really liked the story that was being told.
Then right around 4pm he starts tweeting nonsense "joking" about it like "oh my God, my laptop just crashed as I was finishing it and I lost EVERYTHING". And this followed several other suspect tweets that reeked of massive unprofessionalism. There were some of his fans that were tweeting about it excited hoping that the album would come out, and earlier he had written something to the effect of "I'm more concerned with my next sex session than I am with this mixtape".
Now those all could just be jokes. I get that, I'm not a super serious guy all the time. But when you're pushing your tape back repeatedly, at least four or five times in the last month alone (including three times in a 24 hour period), I think jokes become a bit of a "fuck you" to the fans who are constantly asking "what's up with this tape?"
So I started tweeting to him, kinda irritated but also excited. I told him I was looking forward to reviewing it as I really liked his other one.
But I also kinda took some shots at him as well. Referring to the "more interested in a sex session" tweet, I just said "wow." And in regards to the "laptop crash" I said that I didn't know if he was joking or not, but that either way it was highly unprofessional and bordering on an outright disrespect to his fans.
And then the tweet that apparently set him over the edge was when I responded to another twitter fan of his that was also upset, "Which will come out first? #Detox or ......" and hashtagged his mixtape title.
So he said some heated things towards me and I responded very politely and said that I didn't mean any disrespect and that I was a fan, but that I and some others had clearly taken issue with some of his attitudes and comments he had made. I said that it reflected badly on him because he came off looking massively unprofessional.
So after that last tweet he responded by saying that "I'm getting pissed now" and that if I didn't stop tweeting him he was going to block me.
At which point I just finally said that I didn't care at that point. I had lost all interest in his mixtape, and said after the support I had shown him, after the promo that I had done on twitter, reviewing his tape and whatnot, and he spazzes out when people take issue with his lack of professional behavior?
And to this day I haven't been able to even listen to the tape. I've got it on the hard drive along with his other tapes but I haven't listened to any of it (except one song I REALLY liked on the other tape) since then because the whole situation left a bad taste in my mouth.
This was a guy who I had respect for a bit, and really liked his music. Was psyched for it and was going to review it. And due to his arrogance and inability to accept criticism, he lost a fan permanently.
There are many artists out there who are very good at dealing with the fans and accepting constructive criticism. Artists like Jin, Mega Ran, K-Murdock and Marvin Ambrosius. These are all artists (two rappers, producer and singer respectively) who have a very strong connection to their fans and interact with them daily and are secure with who they are and their talents and abilities that they can act like adults and be told that something they did might not be as excellent as they may think.
I think that that is something that every artist should strive for, because without that ability, I'm not sure just how high you will ever reach.