Fergie recently got roasted for her performance of the National Anthem, setting off a social media frenzy of gleeful attacks.

The fear is singers watching this will be afraid to take artistic risks as they could suffer the same fate.

In this podcast, John gives an important pep talk on artistic courage and dealing with the inevitable haters and criticism.

A must listen for all singers and artists.

Episode Transcription

Episode 40 – Dealing With the Haters

Hey, John Henny here. Welcome back to another episode of the Intelligent Vocalist. I’m so glad you choose to spend this time to listen to me rumble about all things voice. I do appreciate you being here, so thank you so much.

Today, I was going to do one topic and I completely changed my mind at the last minute because the big rumblings amongst singers has been Fergie’s unique, shall I say, performance of the National Anthem at the NBA All Star Game. And it has caused quite a bit of jeering, piling on, making fun of, criticism, and some of it, quite frankly, is rather funny, some of it is rather cruel. And I just had some thoughts about this that I wanted to share with you. I actually did a blog post about this on my JohnHenny.com website and sent out emails, and I got a lot of response back on this. It’s actually quite surprising, the way people have reacted to my point of view, most of them positive, so I wanted to let you know what I’ve been thinking about it.

So yes, I saw the performance. And was it something that was Earth shattering like Whitney Houston’s National Anthem at the Superbowl or something that completely changed the game and took everyone by surprise even though it was controversial at that time. But Marvin Gaye’s rendition of the National Anthem way back in the 80s, I believe it was in an NBA Playoffs game. And obviously Fergie was trying to do a take-off on what Marvin Gaye did. He sang the National Anthem – if you can find it on Youtube it’s quite interesting – he sang the National Anthem accompanied by a drum machine and he sang it very soulfully. And at that time people lost their minds because you just didn’t do that with the National Anthem

Everything that followed where people really kind off riffed on the National Anthem and then go crazy with it kind of had its genesis with Marvin Gaye’s take, and it really did change things. I think it was in that spirit that Fergie approached the National Anthem. But whereas Marvin Gaye really artistically took risks that, though controversial, ultimately works. Fergie’s frankly didn’t. And I don’t think that anybody’s going to argue that her version will go down in history as one of the great versions. And she has since apologized for it. But she apologized for taking a risk that didn’t work out.

And what’s a really troubling for me is, now in our connected digital Social Media Age, the onslaught of criticism on Fergie was so immediate and vicious, so mean-spirited and people were reveling in it. They just really enjoyed trashing this artist. I know it’s easy to look at them and say, “Well, she’s a millionaire and famous, it shouldn’t matter..” But everyone is a human being, and every artist, when they do something even when they do it badly, they are making themselves vulnerable and they are “bearing their soul”, if you will, and they are taking a risk.

Every artist wants to be loved. And if you sing, if you write your own music, even if you teach, you’re trying to create a positive impact and you’re trying to take your gifts for other people to be enriched by them and to enjoy them. It is never your intention to have people dislike what you do, and it certainly not your intention to have what you do so publicly derided and attacked and made fun of. That has to be painful. And yes, that’s just Fergie, we can all sit back and laugh. But I believe it does have a slightly chilling effect in that. It encourages people to continue to be haters.

Listen, people have always been haters. But now, it is easier to be a hater and a troll than ever. And things that you would say or whisper to an acquaintance after a dinner and you saw something that you didn’t like and you had something catty to say, now in social media people will post it for the other person to see. It’s really hurtful and it really gives people pause. And you as an artist, the one thing that I don’t want to see from you is you being afraid, is you holding back, is you creating your art in light of the critics and the haters. And seeing what Fergie just went through after everybody stopped laughing, the bottom line is it’s going to leave some creative types reticent to take a risk. It’s going to leave them saying, “I don’t want that to happen to me.”

I’m  sure if you are listening to me right now, and I do actually have quite a number of listeners it’s in the thousands, there’s not one of you that wants to go through what Fergie just went through. I know you don’t. I don’t. Nobody does. And yes, should someone on her team stopped and gone “Maybe this isn’t really working. Maybe this is a little over the top” But listen, every artist is going to fail. Every person who’s out there creating and taking risks is going to fail. Jeff Bezos put out competitor to the iPhone, Fire Phone. Steve Jobs put out some stereo that you were supposed to hook your iPod that was going to replace all your home stereos and it ended up quietly discontinuing. Steve Job bombed with the next computer, he got fired from Apple. Steven Spielberg had movies that had completely tanked.

Everybody has failures. And you need to be able to withstand the failure. I don’t want you to look at what she (Fergie) went through. I don’t want you to be scared. If there’s a superpower that you could have, it is to not care what other people think. And that is so hard as an artist, it really really is.

I’ve worked a lot of voice teachers. I trained a lot of voice teachers. And I also worked a lot of voice teachers on their marketing; helping them create products, put things out there, grow their studio. And you know, marketing is essentially putting yourself out there and taking a risk. And you will get some haters coming back at you. I’ve had it myself. I’ve done marketing things people have gone and publicly complained that I was making an offer, that I had product for sale. I’ve had people on voice teacher groups and I’ve put contents out, they don’t like the terms that I’ve used and called me a hack. And in the moment it is hurtful, but I just have to stop and think “No. it’s not about those people.”

There are always going to be haters. There are always going to be critics. Fergie is always going to have critics. Every artist has critics. But it is your ability to not let them frame your art. To not let that fear get in the way of what it is that you want to do. And quite frankly, every step of your journey is going to be a risk. The first voice lesson that you ever take you’re going to be nervous and probably a little scared. I was. When I first went to my lesson I was nervous as heck. And when I went on to that teacher’s teacher, a very well-known teacher named Seth Riggs, I sat in his waiting room in the first lesson, scared to death, just looking at all these celebrities’ pictures on the wall. The first time that I sang in public, it was horrible. I wanted the Earth to open up and swallow me. The first time I played drums in public I almost threw up. I remember putting out the CD of my original music, I had a record deal for a little while, and I remember a publication reviewing my CD and just kind of trashing it. It’s all painful and it’s all part of the journey. And it just depresses me a little bit to think that there are great artists that we’ll never hear from because the fear gets to them. And that they have a unique voice, they have an originality, they stepped forward and get slapped a little bit, and it just drives them back. They just don’t have what it takes to deal with it or they haven’t steel themselves, prepped themselves to deal with criticism.

I’ve talked to other voice teachers, and this is very common, we all have a student come to me in their 30s 40s or older, and they’re just coming back to singing from when they were young, pre-teens, teens. And they haven’t sung in that whole time, and I’ll ask them “Why is that you stopped singing?” and you’ll get a story about a choir teacher that made fun of them, or critiqued them in front of the class, or shamed them and made them feel horrible about their voice. There some event that the teacher probably didn’t remember the next day, it was so nothing to them, but to this potential singer, to this potential artist, it so shattered. That little fragile burgeoning artist within them was gone. They went on and did something else.

Most people that go into the high school choir or junior high choir, they’re not going to be professional singers. But out of all the people that it is happening to, I know that we have lost at least one amazing visionary, at least one amazing voice, because of the criticism.

So what I’m saying today is – if I’m rambling today I do apologize because I literally just changed this at the last second because all of a sudden it just really really weighing on me. But I want to talk to you. If you’re listening to me, and you are an artist or you are a singer, or you’re a developing singer or artist and you have this dream, I want to tell you do not let criticism sway you. I’m not telling you it’s not going to hurt. I get it myself and it still hurts. But then I just kind of shake it off – get a little Taylor Swift on – and I just keep going. It’s through constant getting back up again that you’re going to learn to deal with this. You’re going to slowly develop your superpower. But you need this superpower.

If you don’t know how to deal with the critics and the haters you’re not going to be able to do this. It’s going to crush you. And they will be there. And I hope that you never get it the way Fergie just got it. Sometimes artists deserve it. You know, I’ve seen artists go on TV performances and they seem obviously intoxicated and really get nailed. But then again, we don’t know what’s going on in their personal life. They’re human beings.

I’ve taken part of the making fun of people. I’ll admit it. It makes us feel better. It always does. That’s just who we are as human-animals. When can we make fun of others we feel better about our lives. I mean, why do people watch The Real Housewives of Wherever? It’s because when these women act ridiculous, and they’re selfish, petty, and fighting, you feel better about yourself. You can look at their behavior and say “That’s ridiculous!” and you know you’re not that person and you wouldn’t behave like that. So in that moment we feel a little bit better about ourselves. Who doesn’t want to feel better about yourself?

But I need you to not be afraid. That’s what the world needs. You need to find who you are as an artist, find who you are as a singer, work as hard as hell to develop that, and then become fiercely protective of it, and fiercely brave. You think Lady Gaga doesn’t care that she has critics? She does. I can guarantee you. She’s still a human being. But Man, she just pushes forward. People like Madonna. Think of an artist you can’t stand. You know what? You’re not going to stop them doing what they do just because you don’t like them. And remember, when you show this bravery and when you push on derides you, you are going to gain your followers because they’re going to see your strength, and they’re going to get strength from it.

If there’s an artist you loved and someone criticized that artist, your first reflex is to defend them. That makes you like the artist more. So by not giving in to the critics, not being afraid and keep marching forward, you’re going to get stronger as an artist, and you’re also going to build and develop your following in a really really positive way.

So, there ends my sermon for today. A little bit shorter episode but I just wanted to reach out and talk to you – anyone who is finding themselves afraid. Do not be afraid. You just keep going. Where could you be if you didn’t care what others thought? I’m starting to get up there and aged now, and I look back on my life, and my regrets , so many of my regrets, are when I didn’t do something because I was afraid of what others would think. I don’t want that to be you. Certainly not you, the artist. Be brave.

So, hey! Thank you so much for singing! If you enjoyed the podcast please go on in iTunes, leave a review. If you could go on there and type something out, I so appreciate it. It really helps others find the podcast. If you have any comments or suggestions, just reach out to me and say Hey at [email protected] . If you’re interested in possibly studying with me, I do have openings here and there, even though I’ve cut back on my teaching hours. If you think we’d be a good fit, you can just reach out. Go to JohnHenny.com and click on LESSONS. There’s the information there. Or you can reach out to [email protected] . I still make room of my schedule for people that I think would be a good fit.

Until next time. To better singing! Thank you so much. Bye.