Musicians, This Is How to Deal With Haters

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I remember the first time I got publicly s—t on. I remember like it was yesterday. I’m still learning how to deal with haters.

This was actually nearly 8 years ago.  I was included in the Minnesota Daily’s (the official newspaper of the University of Minnesota) “Freshman Survival Guide” as one of the “Worst bands of Minneapolis.”  I was number 1!  Ironically, at the time, I was selling out the 800 person Varsity Theater in Minneapolis and had just played in front of 3,200 people opening up for Ben Folds – also in Minnesota.

I guess I had reached a level of awareness where the haters came out to play.

I wasn’t making offensive music — or so I thought.  It was pretty straightforward singer/songwriter pop.  But the reason the writer claimed I was “the worst band of Minneapolis” was because of my wardrobe, my favorite movie choices (listed on my personal Facebook profile), my show promotional techniques and my fans — or so this writer believed were my fans because he had actually never been to a show of mine.

He literally never even discussed my music in this hate piece.

When I started writing for Digital Music News in December of 2013, I received LOTS of hate. And still do. Just last week someone called me “a never was, never will be.”  Someone said, why should anyone listen to my writings about the music business because I, as a musician, don’t have a million Spotify or YouTube plays?  Even though songs I co-wrote do have a million plays, but because I’m not the artist on those, it’s impossible to find that out easily.  And all the while disregarding my 600+ shows, countless synch placements and other little career victories (like making a living with my music) that can’t be measured in YouTube or Spotify plays.

People have literally hated on me for everything from my music to my wardrobe to my hair to my income (or so they thought) to my music taste. I get s—t on almost daily in DMN comment boards for my opinions.

And for the first year it really, really hurt. I’d be lying if I said the Minnesota Daily piece (and some DMN comments) didn’t destroy me to the point of wanting to curl up and f—king die.  But now I’m able to just brush the hate aside.  It took lots of practice, self-reflection and meditation.

Hating on musicians is a lot different than hating on politicians.  Musicians are sensitive.  We’re artists. Attacking someone’s music is attacking their inner being. The core of who they are. Their soul. Attacking a politician is expected because it’s a battle. There are winners and losers in politics. Music isn’t a competition. But many reviewers like to try to make it one. And, I guess, the Grammys is kind of a competition, but if you get nominated, you’re pretty much already winning on a massive scale.

I eventually became OK with the haters, because I realized I had reached a level where people were paying attention.

That’s the thing, you WANT haters. It means people care enough about what you’re doing to hate you for it. That’s honestly how to deal with haters — embrace them.

I know it doesn’t feel good.  I know this first, f—king, hand.  But it’s a badge of honor and you should wear it proudly.

You are never going to please everyone.  That’s impossible.  Some people hate the Beatles and Bob Dylan.  No one gets a pass.

You don’t want to please everyone with your music either.  As Derek Sivers put it in his book Anything You Want, “You need to confidently exclude people and proudly say what you’re not. By doing so, you’ll win the hearts of the people you want.”


“The best art divides an audience.  If you put out a record and half the people who hear it absolutely love it and half the people who hear it absolutely hate it you’ve done well.  Because it’s pushing that boundary.  If everyone thinks “aw that’s pretty good,” why bother making it?” – Rick Rubin


That being said, haters are going to come out of the woodwork when you start to achieve a level of fame and recognition.  And they will try to attack you on everything.  Do not engage with them.  It belittles you and brings you down to their level.  It makes you look small.  We all remember John Mayer and, the great agitator, Perez Hilton, having a public Twitter spat.  It ended up with John Mayer quitting Twitter for a couple years.

It’s not worth engaging with the haters. Let your supporters duke it out for you.

I’m not going to admit I’m perfect when it comes to this either.  Even with all of the practice, some comments still get under my skin.  Sometimes I get into Twitter battles.  However, I’ve tried to stop reading comment boards because of all the anonymous hate. I’m healthier for it.

I know of YouTubers who have their interns go through all their comments and remove all the hateful comments and ban those users.  You don’t need that toxic energy around anything you do.

Above all, don’t let anyone define success for you.  People throughout your career will try to rip you down to prop themselves up and make them feel better about their shitty lives.  Your success can only be defined by you.  Did it hurt when someone chastised me for having fewer than a million YouTube plays?  It sure did.  But then I remembered I’m making a living doing what I love and I let it brush right off my shoulders and into my guitar writing my next song.

20 Responses

  1. Cato

    Well, I’m a fan of yours Ari. You write intelligently, you mean well in your articles and I’m impressed that you manage to deal with people who are determined to sneer, gripe and moan about you with such dignity (I would find that difficult to be honest). At the root of it is usually just insecurity and jealousy, both of which are wasted emotions. Keep on, lots of people appreciate your advice from what I can see, me included.

  2. NK

    Hey Ari,

    I don’t like your music. It’s just not my cup of tea. But I don’t hate you for it. In fact, I respect the amount of effort, dedication, talent and musicianship it takes to make your music that I don’t happen to be into.

    People need to get past their own tastes and get over the notion that their opinions are somehow especially shaped to closely follow the contours of objective reality whereas other people with differing opinions are deluded and tasteless fools. Yes, that can be very tough to realize that your own point of view is limited, flawed, subject to error, and even when 100% accurate for your own purposes, it has no bearing on how other people are going to see, hear, and experience the world. Opinions are like assholes. Everybody has one but only a few people actually are one but they tend to be very vocal.

    And despite the fact that I’m not a fan of your music, I am a fan of your writing and the work that you’re doing advocating for independent musicians and helping people figure out how to make a living in the music industry of the 21st century. I think you and Albini have it right … The good old days were never that good (except for a very very few musicians) and now that the problem of distribution has been more or less solved with the Internet, any musician can reach a global audience, whatever the size, and even if things aren’t perfect at the moment there is massive potential heading into the future for musicians (and artists generally) to take control of their own careers and reap the rewards of their work instead of giving 90% to a label that has them signed into indentured servitude. That system was fucked, good riddance to it and the major labels and even the idea of major labels.

    Your intentions are clearly good and your opinions and ideas are always very sound and usually very practical in terms of application, and so they are suitable for any aspiring musician looking for guidance. Keep up the good work. And by that I mean both the writing and the music, even if I’m not going to be listening to the latter, you’ve already proven that plenty of other people will be, and for that I say more power to you.

  3. ©

    I totally don’t think you deserve hate. I also don’t think this article addressed how to deal with hate(ers) as much as it defended yourself. And this is coming from someone who does like your music.
    Almost the entire article is about how unfairly treated you think you are and how you DO in fact earn a living off of music (which I think is awesome and I’m happy for anyone who gets to do) and only at the end is there any kind of advice about how to deal with the hate (the title of the article).
    Maybe a better title would be “Why I don’t think I deserve this much hate” or something like that.

  4. Joshua Sanders

    I think the key issue here is to not engage them. Why waste your time with someone sitting behind their computer screens, out of harm’s way, and taking pot shots at you? Those people have been around forever, and always will be around. It is just part of life.

    I have been thinking about this when I am at the gym. You know how people leave their sweat behind on a machine, or try to rush you off some apparatus because they feel they are entitled? Don’t take it personally. They are fucked up, and fucked up people are just always around.

  5. Paul Resnikoff

    Ask yourself: who’s doing the hating?

    Most of the time, it isn’t a highly-accomplished, secure, and innovative individual. Those people simply don’t have time to chop down others. They’re too busy building.

    And you’re right Ari, hate is a sign of success. I wish you more of it in the future!

    • David Ring

      Well said Paul. Hey Ari. I don’t know you or your music, but I’m about to go listen to it based on your post. I’d like to say that I’m a retired musician. But, I cannot even do that. I retired before my career began… I didn’t even have the courage to take the road I was meant to go down. I’m in awe of any any artist with the strength of character and conviction to do what they love and to even attempt to make a living doing it. What would humanity itself be like without art? Boring, at best. Insufferable more likely.

    • Matt Thompson

      I’m not a fan of how people were attacking Ari and his music as it related to his view on the Facebook issue. Yes, I disagree with the entitlement ideology and other issues presented in Ari’s argument. That said, I happen to like his music and appreciate what he does. Even if I didn’t, it had nothing to do with the topic at hand and shouldn’t have been a part of the conversation.

      There are various degrees of success and multiple directions to go in this business. Just because Ari isn’t part of Imagine Dragons doesn’t mean he isn’t successful in his own right. I’m sure there are plenty of people that don’t know who Tim Myers is, but he’s incredibly successful.

      Keep it on topic and above the belt. We don’t have to agree but we can still respect one another for what we’ve accomplished in this business.

  6. anom nom

    Hi Ari,
    I didn’t even realize that you were a songwriter, musician & artist.. just found some of your tracks on YouTube and listening while I’m writing this.

    I’m sick and tired of all the nasty rubbish that comes from people using the
    Internet.. and I think you made some good points.

  7. EZE

    Oh PLEASE tell me Cracker band wash up David Lowery didn’t get under your skin ARI. He’s a jealous, angry man who had a top 40 song (NOT hit) in 1994. You have the new ideas

    Thanks for pushing me as an artist FORWARD.

    Love you man keep it positive

  8. Concerned

    Ari – There’s a difference between baseless or misplaced “hate” on the one hand and criticism on the other. I believe most of the “hate” you mention here is actually the later: discourse that begins in response to your often harmful discussions of topics on which you seem to have very little knowledge. Clearly, I don’t hate you. I’m simply disappointed that you have a platform to spread ideas that misinform independent songwriters and musicians. I apologize if I’m missing the point of your article.

  9. JJ Bassette

    Semi-professional musician here (20-30k/year), reader for about a year, unsubscribing today for a couple reasons:

    1. Your content, though sometimes useful (30/70), is formatted terribly. Compare the way one of your emails looks to the way an email from Seth Godin, Brian Clark, et al. You sell your content short when it looks horrible in someone’s inbox.

    2. Completely unrelated, this post prompted me to look into what some of your critics were saying to see if they had any merit. And speaking frankly, they made a good point: your music career probably pales in comparison to your journalism/writing one. College kids aside, most of your fans probably discover your music through your music business writing. Nothing wrong with that, and I’m not disputing your success, but it’s odd to be told “how to make it in the new music business” by someone who will probably make more money from that book than his music…it feels disingenuous. (Even if Lowery’s a total backwards blowhard).

    3. What do you say that the Lefsetz letter doesn’t, besides content aimed at absolute beginners?

    So keep it up, as your work helps the true beginner, but adios, Ari.

    • Ari Herstand

      Hi JJ, appreciate the comment. Responding because you bring up good points I’d like to address (and aren’t just slinging mud).

      I’m sorry you don’t dig the DMN email formatting. We’ll look into it.

      Considering I only started writing less than 3 years ago, the vast majority of my music career (and income) came before my writing career. The majority of my income still comes from music. But regardless, that shouldn’t matter.

      Something I do want to clear up. The book deal didn’t come because I am a superstar musician. The reason I was asked to write this book is exactly because I’m NOT a superstar. Sounds weird right? But, the thing is, I’ve made a middle class, independent music career work in the new music business. It has nothing to do with luck. And nothing to do with advances, label/pub deals, or ‘the powers that be’ swopping you up and turning you into a star. But this book is only a tiny bit about my experience. It’s more about the hundreds of musicians, managers, booking agents, promoters, publishers, startup founders and music supervisors I interviewed and how they are navigating the new music business and making it work. If my book was just about my music career it would be a memoir. I wouldn’t have the audacity to tell you the only way to ‘make it’ is to do exactly what I did. The beautiful thing about the NEW music business is that there isn’t only one way to ‘make it.’ And “making it” is honestly defined differently by everyone. To me, making it means living the kind of lifestyle you’d like to live doing something you love. I encourage you to read Derek Sivers forward of my book for a better understanding of what my book’s about (it has very little to do with me).

      Few things I say Lefsetz doesn’t:

      * How To Legally Release Cover Songs On YouTube
      * How To Book a National Tour
      * How To Negotiate Deals with Clubs
      * What’s the Worst to Best Club Deals in the Country
      * How To Copyright Your Songs
      * How To Verify Your Twitter Account
      * How To Double Your Merch Sales
      * How To Get Songs Placed on TV, Commercials, Movies
      * The Best and Worst Ways to Send Emails
      * How To Make The Most Amount of Tips at a Gig
      * How To Make 6 Figures a Year Playing Colleges
      * An Actual Explanation (not rant) on How To Obtain All The Royalties You Never Knew Existed (SX, PROs, Mechanicals, SAG/AFTRA, etc)
      * How To Turn Your Fans Into Paying Subscribers
      * Comparisons and Reviews of Digital Distribution Companies
      * Tips For Performing Live
      * Tips for Building an Instagram Following
      * How To Make Money Live Streaming

      Not sure what constitutes a beginner in your book, but whenever I learn something new I like to pass it along. Most of the above stuff I learned and wrote about it immediately.

      • JJ Bassette

        Hey Ari,

        Thanks for the in-depth reply. It says a lot about you and your investment in your readers.

        I just replied to your email with more details re: the formatting issues – I’ll try to help however I can.

        Re: the rest, I think I understand where you’re coming from. Whether or not it’s my cup of tea is mostly irrelevant, as clearly you’re doing work that’s helping people, and you’re a well-suited guy to the job. So keep it up 🙂

        Congratulations on the new book. Hit me up if you’re ever in Shanghai, I’ll buy you a beer and show you some of the good local gig spots.

  10. JSS

    (In reply to comments)

    Hilarious! It’s ok to be a hater if you don’t even comprehend that you ARE a hater? Or make snide, “I’m better than you . . . but I’ll throw you a bone” kind of comments?

    I’m not going to comment whether or not I like Ari’s music. Or his writing in general. Know why? Because NOBODY CARES! Nor should they!

    Read the article – or don’t – get something out of it – or don’t . . . then MOVE ON!

  11. Eric John Kaiser

    Interesting article. Keep up the good work. I enjoy reading your posts.
    Love the Rick Rubin quote.

  12. Nasty Boy

    I like reading the stories and news posted by the DMN team..

    It grates on me that some comments can be so rude, insulting and nasty..

    No wonder America (and the rest of the world) is in such a mess… so many people have no idea about good manners and on how to be nice.

  13. Paul Abrahams

    Title is fine, ideas and opinion fine, experience is all we have in dealing with the world. It’s ok to have debates online as long as they don’t get personal. I can like someone and not like their music. I can like someone’s music and not like them but they won’t get a second listen. It’s all about who you are. As far as I can see, you are up front, pass on some great info. Lots of different ways to skin a cat and being outspoken can land you some haters.

    The haters are going to hate. There are people out there with an open heart who can not wait to hear from you. You don’t need to spend any time with the haters.

  14. Thedenmaster

    Ari you are a horrible writer. You articles are frothy light lattes that support non musicians that want to have another main job. Your music was bad then and it’s bad now. You are the reason I now longer read this site. It’s too bad Paul thinks you got something cause it ruined his business. You have such a large ego that it takes up the whole room every time. We don’t care about your stupid past. You were a failure then and pretty much regulated to your own crap now. I figure it will stay that way. Deal with this hater by getting educated and write better. You haven’t written about anything worthwhile from your life. You keep thinking this minimal shit you talk about matters in some unique way, but it doesn’t. It all says he same thing. Give it up. #1 way to deal with stupidity. Leave it in the junk mail.

  15. Fi

    Hi there,
    It’s understandable that you want to defend the musicians position but there are many time when musicians, more so in America, to psychically attack other people. I think this is a complete abuse of what music is actually for, to uplift, entertain and soothe other peoples troubled emotions and fears. I think people who do this, bring destruction upon themselves are are just revolting human beings…bullying people is just not cool. And words and negative attacks do hurt people. Look at Kanye West as an prime example of this and what he has done, but I can name another band who was very adept at this, the Beastie Boys. Very ugly and inhuman to target and attack people. Putting yourself on a pedestal whilst doing this makes you a hypocrite and an oppressive creature. I hate people who do this, they are nothing but scum.