Heart on Their Sleeves, Target on Their Backs: Understanding the Human Cost of Social Media Toxicity on DJs
Just ignore the comments, they say.
That's easier said than done in an era when artists live on a knife-edge due to the pressures of social media, where success breeds both adoration and aggression. The virtual applause can be deafening, but so can the vitriol—and the isolation.
These days, it seems genuine fans are outnumbered by bored agitators hellbent on diminishing self-worth. Music is a lifeline, but so many are actively working to cut it short. When did demolition become the primordial need of the masses on social media?
Electronic music producers now face vicious beasts at every turn in a ruthless digital jungle where a chorus of internet gremlins constantly lay in wait, salivating at the chance to pelt them with rotten tomatoes. Many young musicians dare not share their talents online, where these vicious critiques can shatter their artistic identity. Their words may appear as harmless squiggles, but they pierce vulnerable artists like poison arrows.
It's sad that the music industry's most promising artists fear unleashing their artistic voices because of faceless provocateurs, avoiding permanent scars from subjective attacks on visions still materializing. By guarding their early efforts from social media's malignant gaze, prodigies with generational talents are letting complete strangers stunt their creative development.
Every photo, video, caption or audio recording is a potential landmine in the era of content culture, but artists must walk the plank on the pursuit of career growth. It's a demanding dichotomy that requires mental gymnastics the likes of which would make Simone Biles bite her chalked nails.
Imagine spending countless spirited hours making a song you believe is the best you've ever produced. The social media promo playbook says you need to be—cue the cringe—"engaging" so you set up DJ decks, strobe lights and other visual frills to create content before posting online. A troll comments first, and since social media is a cesspool of blind conformity, the message turns into a heckler's veto as users pile on the trend and ridicule en masse.
"Sometimes it just feels like the actual music doesn't matter to people as much as it used to," says electronic music producer euphee. "Not much we can really do about it either."
Some artists opt to build supportive online communities while others channel the hatred into their art. The key? Recognizing self-assurance isn't dictated by fleeting virtual validation and fickle feedback loops.
"I don't think anything could make me question my passion for producing and DJing. Hate can't kill true passion in my opinion," says John Hauldren of Levity, a blossoming dance music trio who were recently named to the EDM.com Class of 2024. "The hate we received has made me question the community we're a part of at times, but only temporarily... the negativity is always the loudest in the room and gets the most attention on certain apps, and once you realize that the love outnumbers the hate 100 to 1, you remember what's most important for you to be focusing on."
Elsewhere in the web's thorny thickets, Daniel Allan's social media functions as a masterclass in artfully combating hate. The surging DJ and producer is currently experiencing a viral moment alongside singer-songwriter Lyrah, with whom he released "I Just Need" in late-2023. The song is erupting into a global dance hit, but its creators haven't been impervious to social media's relentless rhythm of rebuke and rejection.
Allan has seen his fair share of nasty comments. "Like trash that such a shit video popped up on my algorithm with the most generic house music ever acting like its revolutionary," wrote one Instagram user. "Cool fake DJ moves," commented another alongside a herd of clown emojis.
"If a comment comes in that I simply cannot ignore, most of the time I try to come at it with kindness and actually explain my side of it," Allan says. "Some people look at my content as 'cringe' but they have no idea what my background is or where I come from, and even less context about the music industry at large and how important it is to keep showing up online. More times than not this has really helped me clear things up and if it doesn't, that person isn't meant to be a fan of mine and I’m cool with that. I want my fanbase to be an inclusive community where everyone can share ideas and be creative and communicate with one another."
More often than not, the scourge of social media is even worse for women. Sexism targeting their competency are common on most platforms, exacerbating existing societal biases. For example, women are verbally abused on X every 30 seconds, according to the Social Media Sexist Content Database, a study published in 2023 by psychology researchers at the University of Arizona.
Rising techno and house producer Azzecca says she expected to receive online harassment when she began pursuing a career in electronic music, but it's never upended her passion.
"We live in a weird world where people say horrific things online without any regard for the person on the receiving end," Azzecca explains. "I think you need to have a tough skin to be in any sort of career that puts you into the public eye. Don't let anyone dull your light."
"My only advice is the same advice my dad gave to me when I was a child: hurt people hurt people," she continues. "Don’t take the things you see online personally. Just be a decent person, work hard and stay true to yourself."
In case their name wasn't a telltale sign, Levity's approach is also rooted in benevolence. Empathy is at the trio's core, Hauldren says, and they always try to spin animosity into constructive discourse out of respect for any concealed despair behind the hateful comments.
"If someone's being mean to you, being mean back is going to do nothing for either of you," he explains. "I think it's best to try to understand where they're coming from and be nice and respectful to that person in an effort to explain yourself and help learn more about each other. There's been a couple of times now where someone speaks openly about their dislike for us, and it's turned into both of us learning and understanding each other better, and those people have actually become friends now. I wish stuff like that happened more often honestly."
When today's DJs find out the algorithm has volleyed their posts to the venomous underbelly of social media, they must develop strategies to cope with the cruelty. It's impossible to fully tune out the tormentors so they devise daily routines to nurture their creative flow, like prioritizing offline downtime with loved ones.
Mental resilience is tough to achieve, however, when you're grappling with the limitations of your own adaptability.
"A lot of people don't really realize artists are just people—no different than anyone else—just sharing what they create, and receiving an overwhelming amount of hate can affect their mental health the same way it can for anyone," Hauldren laments. "Social media has just made it 100 times more toxic because it spreads so quickly and 90% of the stuff people say to you, they wouldn't say to your face in person."
Allan believes it's important for artists to shed their protective armor and swallow the fear of putting themselves out there on social media. The negativity isn't going anywhere, he says, so the best approach is to focus on the people with whom they forge supportive connections.
But therein lies the albatross gnawing at today's musicians. Posting on social media feels like walking a tightrope without a safety net for most young artists, their fear of hateful comments keeping them frozen in place. It's even more daunting considering the hostility comes from the keyboards of the very provocateurs who must be converted into ticket-buyers and streamers to stoke career growth.
"I feel like social media has always enabled insecurity in artists, but it at least used to be somewhat manageable for shy and introverted people," says euphee, who has yet to post an image of his face on social media. "Now with the new landscape of fast-paced, short-form content being prioritized more than ever, everything is high-effort and low-reward... while there's some truth to the idea that being yourself works, so many talented artists I know don't progress because what makes them themselves isn't widely appreciated."
These are just a handful of millions of artists navigating a hot-blooded EDM community that was once a refuge where warmth and dignity walked hand in hand, neon-polished fingers clasped, but the increasingly rampant online negativity has infiltrated that tender sanctuary. Criticism from callous fans has always been par for the course for artists, but it's now gone too far—and the consequences are crippling.
The most effective blueprint is for artists to ground themselves in the greater good their songs provide, dismissing the bitterness as temporary tumbleweeds blowing past fixed purpose. They should focus on those made happier by their gifts and shape social islands of emboldenment to withstand the crush of virtual hate waves.
"If you have 1,000 people hating you, then you probably have 100,000 people that love you, which is what you should be focusing on," Hauldren says. "Focus your attention on all the people that you make happy with your music, not to the few that you upset. There's seven billion people in this world, there's going to be some that don't like you or what you're creating. So focus only on the ones that are happier because of you."