Judgment Calls: The tricky problem of opinions

You can give honest opinions about other musicians without being negative

“So…what do you think of ________’s  playing?”

If you’re a musician and someone has asked you this question, you’ve felt the pressure of deciding how to respond. Maybe the musician in question is clearly excellent, so you have no fear of sharing your opinion.

However, it also might be that the musician in question has some flaws and issues. How do you share your honest feedback without intentionally damaging another musician’s reputation? 

As working artists, our careers depend on being authentic and honest about how things sound. If we aren’t able to distinguish good musicians from bad ones, it can reflect poorly on our professional reputation. But it’s also dangerous to talk negatively about other musicians. Doing so can make us look pompous, unkind or petty. Worse, it can lead to awkward moments when we have to work with those same musicians after we’ve given a negative review to our peers.

Whether your musical opinion is valid or not, it’s always best to let the questioner decide for themselves. Responses such as these can help you avoid awkward situations, while protecting your own musical judgment.

“I’m honestly not the expert. Check them out and see what you think.”

“My approach to the music is different, but you should decide for yourself.”

“I’m still considering that. If I get a better feel for his / her playing, I’ll let you know.”

Of course, you also want to be honest when someone is seeking more information about a fellow artist. The key is this: only mention things that you would be comfortable telling that same musician in a rehearsal or on a gig. If you wouldn’t address their weaknesses personally on the stage, don’t address them off the stage where they can’t be fixed.

Author Stephen Covey once gave this advice about discussing your co-workers: “Be loyal to those who are absent.”

Our moms and grandmas might have said it this way: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Wise words that still apply.

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