Why is rejection in music so rampant?
“No” can be a hard pill to swallow, but it’s an unavoidable part of life. No matter who we are or what we do, being denied what we want is something we’re likely to experience throughout our lifetimes.
Whether we fall in love with someone who doesn’t feel the same way or get turned down for a job we really want to land, hearing “no” is inevitable.
But while most of the world is used to rejection, it’s an often devastating feeling that musicians usually are forced to have an especially close relationship with.
Choosing to create and share music, seriously opens musicians up for a type of rejection that most of the world isn’t really familiar with or ready for.
Every time you invite another person into your creative musical life through things like performing in front of a crowd or uploading music onto a streaming platform for all the world to hear, you’re creating opportunities for rejection. This means that there’s no escaping it when you’re a serious musician.
Why artists face so much rejection in music
All musicians are different and bring unique skills, benefits, and drawbacks to their work. You might hear “no” a lot when it comes to your music because your work isn’t developed enough yet to be taken seriously, or because you’re simply putting it in front of the wrong people.
Make music long enough, and you’ll actually begin to prefer being told no over hearing the deafening silence over and over again after sharing or submitting your music and not getting replies in return.
An overwhelmingly crucial fact about being a musician in 2019 that you shouldn’t ignore is that you’re making music in an unprecedented era of music saturation and unbelievably fierce competition.
There’s more human beings living now than at any other point in history, and a whole bunch of them happen to be really good at making music.
We’re also creating music during a time when sharing work digitally has become insanely cheap, quick, and easy. In many cases, there’s simply not enough opportunities for musicians to go around, no matter how hardworking and talented they are.
But by nature, the music industry has always been cutthroat. You might view music-making as a deeply emotional thing, but the tastemakers and industry pros you share your work with often don’t see it the same way because they usually can’t.
They’re paying their bills through working with music. You might hate the fact that people listen to your work and assign a value to it depending on if they think it’ll earn money or not, but music really is just business for many working in the music industry.
Rejection is common in an industry where a very limited amount of work is truly marketable and lucrative. This means that your work might have loads of heart and creative merit with little or no chance of making money at the same time.
How to not take rejection personally when making music is so personal
Feelings of anger and shame are common for musicians who experience rejection. It can be absolutely brutal to pour love, hope, money and time into something only to watch it be ignored or dismissed.
We’re told over and over again that great art requires creators to be honest and vulnerable in their efforts and simultaneously not to take rejection or being ignored personally. It doesn’t make sense.
Lots of what goes on in the music industry seems unfair and unsensible, but there’s not much we can change other than ourselves.
We need to accept that rejection in music is inevitable and prepare for it accordingly because not taking it seriously can dramatically shorten the lifespan of your career.
Putting your rejection in context is something that can be helpful.
For example, if you’re bummed none of the dozens of bloggers and music journalists you’ve pitched your music to picked up your songs for coverage, consider how many emails industry tastemakers get on a daily basis.
It can be hundreds or even thousands. In other words, this sort of rejection says little about your work.
But what about when rejection is harsher and more direct? Maybe you’re turned down after asking to open a show by someone you respect or get panned by a local music critic.
This sort of rejection can be harsh, but measurable good can result from it. What if, for instance, it turns out your local music critic is actually right about your work?
What if your work isn’t strong or memorable? Instead of sulking and giving up, we can commit to learning from experiences and trying to be better in the future. Our music can always be better, and this applies whether the world loves what we do or if it couldn’t care less about us.
Finding growth and opportunity through rejection
Finding ways to turn rejection into something that’s good for your career is crucial for weathering disappointment in music.
No, I don’t mean plastering a fake smile over your face every time you’re let down in music, but instead making a real effort to find the good and room for growth in every disappointing circumstance.
It’s not easy, and there will be times that you simply won’t be able to do this. But when you are able to, powerful things can happen. Rejection can inspire new musical directions, harder and more focused creative work, and coming to terms with one’s process in a powerful way.
A natural way to try to grow after a rejection is through an “I’ll show them” mentality. This will only get you so far because there’s simply not enough creative energy in spite to make meaningful work with. To really grow through rejection, you have to pick yourself up and move forward for no one other than you.
Hearing “no” can still sting a little no matter how many times it’s been said to you in music, but don’t make music with the goal of it never being rejected.
Music that sounds safe rarely gets remembered. Learning to accept rejection with grace and a resilient attitude will allow you to grow and keep your music career strong through years of setbacks and disappointments.