Returning to His Roots
A pillar of DIY knowledge in the music scene, Ari Herstand’s latest venture reflects a return to his first love: songwriting. A self-taught pianist and guitarist from early on, Herstand’s earliest melodies unfolded before he was old enough to recall details, and his first song was written with three guitar chords for a girl he had a crush on at 14. The release of the EP, Like Home, marks a return to his singer-songwriter roots after a seven-year hiatus.
Learning to play the trumpet in fifth grade, and playing in a band throughout high school, it wasn’t until university that Herstand’s love of storytelling and observational learning began. His trumpet teacher taught explicitly classical music, so he took a 45-minute bus ride to study with Prince’s horn player, Dave Jensen, and, while the lessons only lasted a few years, the stories of Jensen’s time with Prince left an indelible mark. “It was fun and I love jazz,” shares Herstand, “but I quickly realized that I resonated more with songwriting and performing.”
First writing for himself and playing coffeehouse gigs his freshman year, Herstand learned from studying those he looked up to––including Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie) for his lyricism, Ingrid Michaelson and her manager (Lynn Grossman) for their DIY genius, and Derek Sivers (founder of CD Baby) for his incredible mindset. The Minneapolis music scene had a massive impact in guiding him as a musician and teaching him to build a live, local, organic fanbase. More recently, Herstand has become an admirer of Jack Stratton and Vulfpeck, gushing, “he is one of the most successful DIY artists of our time. I’m a huge fan of everything they’ve done and how they’ve built it.”
Moving to a new community for co-writing and collaboration opportunities––after repeated heartbreak watching Minneapolis bands break up when they couldn't make a living, or were taken advantage of––Los
Angeles presented hustle, accountability and encouragement. Best-known for his blog, Ari’s Take, which was initially started to handle inquiries about his strategies, Herstand’s podcast, book, and online music business school soon followed, all of which continue running today, propelled by a sense of responsibility and pride in serving other artists.
Confessing that his art feels selfish, but that connecting with a crowd feels like Nirvana, Herstand now seeks a deeper connection with his audience, revealing that he feels much more comfortable getting vulnerable with the reciprocity of energy on stage than he does releasing his music on social media (where you run the risk of algorithm scrutiny).
Like Home navigates reinvention following a breakup after 11 years. While Herstand's business accelerated and friends thought he was doing really well, no one witnessed the struggle to process his pain. Forcing himself to write every Tuesday throughout 2019 and part of 2020 resulted in 40 songs, later narrowed down to six. “Drifting” describes numbness and shock over the split, while “Guard” details rushing into relationships when both parties are not on the same page. “The song is about me falling too quickly for somebody who wasn’t reciprocating,” Herstand admitted. “I was so open that year that I was offering [myself] to people who didn’t deserve it and were really not looking for that from me.” Ironically, the best thing to come from his catharsis was meeting his fiancО, Annabel Lee. The last track on the record––“Half Way”––was written the week before their first kiss, as he wrestled with moving the relationship toward romance, risking their friendship. Three weeks later, quarantine happened and Lee moved in. Her vocals feature on the final recording of the track.
When asked what he would like to be remembered for, Herstand responded quickly, “That I was a force for good in the music industry and that I helped people realize their dreams.” As for some unexpected advice from the guy who encourages hustle? “Write more songs! None of the business matters if the product isn't there. The strongest work ethic in the world isn't going to be able to give you a career without that foundation.”