Monday, March 30, 2009

Musical Etiquette: Dealing with haters

Hello Musical Etiquette:
I just read a review of our bands last show. The guy who wrote it is obviously some kind of asshole. He just went on and on about how lifeless we were on stage.
What should I do about this guy? He's ruining our reputation!


Criticism is one of the most important parts of music. A well thought out critique of your music can be insightful and help to improve your abilities in almost every fashion. Sadly, many critics fail to realize the merits of criticism and instead say the most unspeakably vile and contemptuous things about your work without offering up any advice or real insight. Any publicly performing artist will deal with both of these types of criticism during their careers and it can be challenging to see the difference between them. At times even the most mean spirited critique of your art may be of a deep and abiding value if you can see the meaning underneath the words. Likewise high praise can be trite and meaningless if it does not contain real truth and an honest evaluation of the work. The line between a critic and a hater is very blurry sometimes but with some knowledge and patience, you can learn to tell the difference.

You're The One Who Stepped Out On Stage.

If you make art, you're going to have to deal with criticism. If you don't want to open yourself up to the rest of the world's opinions it's best to never play live, never release a recording and not let anyone hear what you're up to. The only way to stop people from expressing their opinions is to ensure that they never hear you in the first place. Well, that seems like a terrible idea to me. You want to be heard, why else are you making noise? Remember that you take personal responsibility for the act of stepping out on that stage and playing music. No one can force you to play. If you are unable or unwilling to listen to the unending stream of hate that humanity can generate at will, I suggest you find a less public pursuit.

Don't Be A Whiny Little Bitch!
Now that you've come here under the bright lights of the stage, please don't whine about how bright they are. I know how harsh it can be, but making music isn't for wimps. You need to develop a tough skin when you're looking at reviews of your work but remain open to real critique. Please, don't cry and moan about how hateful people can be, we all know. Responding to what you deem a hateful review in an equally juvenile manner can generate some seriously bad press and the fact is, you don't want to stoop to their level. The best thing to do is to give no credence to the babbling inane hatred of an unsophisticated reviewer. Ignore them, it's just noise. And please don't bitch about it. Bitching is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but it won't get you anywhere.

There Are Haters Everywhere.
The truth of the matter is, there are a lot of opinionated people out there and some of them are world class assholes. They will pan your work as meaningless drivel, a waste of their time or an insult to the word music. They will hate on you night and day, at parties and at home, on the internet and in print. Haters will invent new words to describe just how awful you are at what you do. Some of these hateful bastards have jobs being Professional Haters with major media corporations and get paid quite well to shit on other people's dreams. Most of these assholes are just as mean spirited and spiteful in the rest of their lives and in all probability are miserable because of it. Take solace in the fact that most haters hate themselves as well and haven't experienced joy in many years.

Sometimes The Haters Are Right, Sometimes They're Just Haters.
The primary difference between a hater an a critic is in intent and delivery. A reviewer may describe a live show as "An utter failure to be alive on stage, it was like watching zombies fuck to the tune of early 90's shoegaze." So is this being a hater or a critic? It's about context. If you and your band mates lack any kind of real stage presence than it may be a valid critique of your performance. True, it's couched in negative language and could be construed as mean spirited but if it's true, it's true. There might be nicer ways of saying it but no one is obligated to be nice. Real hate can do better than that. "A useless waste of my fucking time, I have never seen a band suck that hard on stage." What's really useless is an insult without insight. What can a band gain from this statement? Nothing, this guy is just a Grade A Dickwad.

Be Your Own Best Critic.
The key in many situations is to be able to see the difference between useless hate and honest feedback and attempt a objective view on what you've achieved or failed to achieve. This can be exceedingly difficult given the fundamentally personal and emotional nature of art and requires considerable experience and hard work. If you are truly interested in improving on your music, you must learn to become your own critic. Spend some time each day listening to what you've done as an outsider. Imagine that you've never heard this piece before and listen to it with a fresh mind. I've found that leaving several days between the writing of a new song and listening to it can do wonders for your perspective. Once you've gained some experience in critiquing your own work it becomes easier to separate the haters from the critics.

Pay Attention To Real Critique.
Not everyone is a hater. There are plenty of people that craft meaningful an insightful reviews of music, live and recorded. These are true critics. They might not always like what you're doing musically but they can express the reasons behind their opinion clearly. It is an art form. It is said that critics are all failed musicians. This is simply not true. Haters are failed musicians. A true critic is the most successful kind of artist. One who has a direct line to their feelings and can express them lucidly and with the intention of improving a fellow musicians work. One's success as an artist cannot be measured in dollars or listeners. It is measured in your ability to express emotions directly to your audience and to some extent your technical ability. This holds true for music criticism as well.

Keep those haters where they belong kids. In the trash.
Eriq Nelson.

Drop me a line at


Jess Gulbranson said...

Yet another in a great series, Eriq. You have done a thorough job discussing the vicissitudes of these pimps, ho's, players, johns, tricks, marks, mark-ass tricks, trick-ass marks, skeezers, skanks, skig-scags, and scallywhops... I feel that were I myself a "square bitch", my coat would be thoroughly pulled.

However, since I feel that you and I are both riders, and not punks, may I offer up this time-honored toast:

"I hope all square bitches become syphilitic wrecks, trip and fall through their own assholes and break their motherfucking necks."

Viva la criticism!

Goldie Davich said...


Mike Burnett said...

I love music criticism... well writing it and reading it re: music that I either love or despise. Receiving it can be harsh, but that's all part of the game. I agree that hating the players solves nothing!

Speaking of this, did you see Boing Boing's post today about Paul Williams. In that post there's a link to an online archive of Crawdaddy!, Williams' seminal rock criticism magazine.

Notice Jonathan Lethem is the one quoted in the post.

Eriq Nelson said...

Thanks Jess, I'll take that toast. I'd pay good money to watch a hater swallowed up in the paradox of his own asshole.

Mike: Spot on man, haters are not worth the effort. Paul Williams is a shining example of the good that criticism can bring to culture and it's a damn shame he's on his way out. I just dropped a 20 spot on him and his wife. Check out his situation and see if you can spare a bill for these folks.

Amber Dawn said...

when I was taking classes in highschool a lot of people were afraid to give any kind of criticism and it was super lame. Sure, hatefulness sucks, but it's better to know if you've got your skirt tucked into your underwear, in a metaphorical or real sense, right?

t wiggins said...

also, you can take comfort in total assholes hating yr band. i mean, unless they're yr target audience, its probably a good thing.

Jess Gulbranson said...

Well, my haters are back in force. Now they are going to be put in their place. Check the comments for what set me off:

And then see what happens when the hornet's nest open up:

Jess Gulbranson said...

Oh wow, I just realized that T wiggins is probably the Anonymous who posted the hater comment! Good for you, sir! We can have so much fun now, without you hiding in shame.