Friday, August 20, 2010

The "Skin" of the Singer!

Friday musings...

How thick is your skin?

As singers in this business - or even just getting started - we will endure criticism from many places: the business, the studio,  the stage,  colleagues and anybody else who thinks they can add their 2 cents, or anybody you deem to ask (this can be a smart move - or not!)

Criticism can come unbidden - both constructive AND destructive.

How do we deal with it?  How do we absorb and learn from the constructive, and let the destructive fall away from us?

The human psychology is unique and complex.

As artists, we need the openness, and the pliable vulnerability to grow and develop our craft.

As artists in the business, we need to be clear of the distinction.  We need to understand and not take personally some of the business activities.

Criticism is one of those complex and very gray areas.

How do you allow for both the openness and pliability to be an artist and the ability to repel anything that is destructive?

I wish there was a simple answer.

Perhaps we begin with "to thyself be true".

If we are unaware of who we are, and what we are about,  we haven't a hope in hell.  We will be led and manipulated and often wasted.

The truth of self means an ability to be honest - with where we are, what we have to work with,  where we are in the process,  what we need to do,  how we need to work.

This self-truth will draw us toward those people who will see us honestly too - and allow for constructive criticism and development.

The self-denial of talent, ability, process, can often create a denial community: we surround ourselves with people who simply tell us what we THINK we want to hear.

The skin of the singer has to have a bullshit detector.  Thin, thick or developing,  it has to be able to RESPOND to truth!

Growth doesn't happen when you are being told you are wonderful all the time.  On the flip side, growth doesn't happen when you are being told you are awful and will never amount to anything, or that your only chance at anything real will only happen with the person abusing you!

As you will need to prove yourself to the powers that be,  so do the people you entrust for that constructive criticism.  We all have to EARN our place.

Earning our place means developing an understanding or WHO we are and where we stand, and who we stand in front of and simply why we are there.

If you are a "singer" that chooses not to listen to constructive criticism and tunes out anything that may help in the development of that process, then my question is simply, why are you singing?

If you, as a singer,  ask for feedback from a colleague or friend, or coach and then are taken aback by that feedback - then maybe you shouldn't have asked, or perhaps you should have been prepared fully for the possibility!

"Skin" is simply how we process information.  Some of us recognize the difference between constructive and accessible and developmental criticism versus destructive and controlling criticism versus blowing smoke up your ass versus simply jealousy.

Some of us don't.  Some of us recognize the difference on paper and haven't been able to live the difference...yet.

Some of us simply have created a cocoon of denial so that the truth will not penetrate.

Some of us have no filter and wander from one person to the other looking for answers outside of ourselves - changing teachers, technique, ideology,  repertoire faster then changing clothes - looking for a quick fix or a place that makes us feel "good".

The"skin" of the singer needs to develop - in order to recognize the TRUTH of what is being delivered to us, and the ability to recognize the truth from within.

Often, a sense of devastation isn't so much about a thin skin or no skin, but has more to do with the internal dialogue that has deluded self.

If we ask for input and are unwilling to hear it and find a place for it - then why did we ask?

If you don't want to know, don't ask.  If you feel you don't need to know - why sing?

If you are pursuing singing, you need to pursue the TRUTH of that and where you stand in that pursuit.

If you are pursuing singing in the business,  you need to pursue the truth of what that means and what it means of you.

We need to be able to HEAR what we need to be prepared to do,  and then decide whether or not we CAN or even WANT to!

Finding out what you NEED to do is less about feeling it, and simply about claiming it and doing it!  We don't have to get overly sensitive or feel put upon.  We need to HEAR that which is being said and KNOW who it is coming from and in what spirit it is being said.

"Skin" is simply an ability of detection.  Do we ask for information and are we prepared to hear it?

Do we know and respect the person who is giving the criticism?  Do we understand why that criticism is being given? Is it constructive or destructive?  How does it uphold the craft or the knowledge of the business?  How does it benefit YOU as a singer?

Is there something in that criticism that you can take and create into a better you?

This is TRUE SKIN!  Claiming truth and development in self;  seeing and seeking honestly in self and others;  responding with an artistic yearning and desire;  responding with a business sensibility that does not deny the truth of the craft.

So, if the skin is real, then ask away!  Ask from those that have the answers and be willing to hear and absorb!

If the criticism comes unbidden - consider the source,  consider the situation and make a decision to give it weight, or dismiss it.  Either way, you will learn from it, and learn more about your skin's ability in the process!

Criticism in constructive mode will always have humanity in it,  it will have a reason for being said that is complex and important,  and it will not be a blanket statement or dismissal.

Truth needs to be pursued and recognized if you are to be a singer with depth and knowledge and craft!  If you cannot be truthful with yourself,  you will not hear the truth from others.

"Skin" is a filter.  It is not a denial. It is not a impenetrable wall.  Skin breathes,  skin sheds,  skin has layers and layers!!

Filter the bullshit - from within and from outside!
Absorb the truth - that is yours and that you learn!

 DO the work.  BE a singer!


  1. SUSAN. Again, SO right on. I love when I get to work with a singer who is open to "criticism", who recognizes that this "criticism" is coming from a place of caring enough to tell them what to change or improve upon in order for THEM to succeed. I'm so often shocked by the resistance I meet from young singers (and more advanced ones too, sadly). They will argue with me on everything from diction corrections, sound production, recital & audition clothing choices, stage makeup suggestions, which edition of music to use, suitable & appropriate repertoire choices... you NAME it. It's like, you need to figure out who you are, and why you're here.

    You nailed it. Again.

  2. I don't know where I read it, probably inside a CD cover, that Alban Berg was compared by one of his friends to a person walking around the world without any skin on. It had a remarkable effect on me, on how I listened to his music from that moment on. I also felt ever so "phony" for having a skin. I guess I felt that as an artist, or just as a human being, we should strive to not having a skin at all - and use the skin just for survival. Then, when being so exposed (in both directions - both expressing and absorbing) - you have no choice but to be around people who are true and don't try to make you absorb pollution.

    Thank you for this post, it reminded me again of those delicate fragile moments of truth... Just before I put my clumsy skin back on - but hopefully a tiny bit thinner each time...

  3. Barbara Streisand had an interesting answer to this...start watching at 4 min!