Oh, boy…how many of us have had to go through some kind of rejection in our lives? It would be pretty unusual to meet someone who hadn’t! As positive a person as you might be (and I am!), there is nothing that will get you through the pain of rejection other than simply going through it. In the business of music, you are going to face a lot of rejection. And you are probably going to take it pretty personally at first, especially being a creative type, because whatever you write literally feels like it is a part of you, and having someone reject your song, your music, feels like it is a rejection of YOU! A figurative slap in the face. But of course, it isn’t. The person rejecting your music doesn’t know you, and has probably had to reject a thousand other songs/artists in the past, so it becomes a very matter-of-fact process for them. This is the very first step you have to take in recovering from such a rejection: realizing that it isn’t personal.
I remember my first negative review of one of my CDs…while it wasn’t blatantly horrible, it said a few things that made me cringe…that I sounded like everyone else, that I had little originality. The reviewer wished I done more this and less that. At first I felt like someone had just slugged me in the stomach. My thinking got pretty defensive, and I ranted to anyone who would listen 🙂 Eventually I got past the emotional stuff and was able to remind myself that IT IS VIRTUALLY IMPOSSIBLE TO PLEASE ALL OF THE PEOPLE ALL OF THE TIME!! This is a major key, folks. That reviewer was listening for what HE wanted to hear, and didn’t get it. Oddly enough, all of the positive response I got had somehow been overshadowed in my head by that one review…isn’t that stupid? And yet there were lots of people who loved the CD! Once I had settled down, I also realized I had learned something really important. There’s a difference between someone simply not liking what you do, and actually having some problems that need fixing. You’ve got to learn the difference between these two things! If a publisher says your song doesn’t fit the genre they’re looking for…it doesn’t mean your song is bad, it means THE SONG DOESN’T FIT WHAT THEY’RE LOOKING FOR. It’s amazing what we ‘hear’ in a rejection, even if it really isn’t there!! In the beginning you’ll almost always confuse what you hear with what they’re actually saying 🙂
So let’s nail down a few things you are going to need to know. First of all, what you feel is what you feel and it is silly to try to suppress those feelings…so feel ’em. Let yourself be hurt, angry, depressed, whatever. If you deny them, you’ll be asking for trouble. Those feelings will show up unexpectedly in other ways that don’t have anything to do with your songs.
The next stage will be a little easier…the emotions will lessen to some extent. This is when you can start looking at what went wrong and distilling it down to the stuff you can’t do anything about, and the stuff you can. Ever heard the serenity prayer? It talks about having the wisdom to know the difference between what you can’t change and what you can. You can’t change someone else’s taste in music! Duh! They like what they like and that’s it! Later on, I talk about how to handle a critique…but let’s assume you send a song out to a bunch of publishers, and some of them send a kind of report back to you about the song. They all reject it, and have different things to say, but then you notice that several of them say the same thing. THIS is what you pay attention to! For instance, maybe they don’t like the lead vocal. HEY! You could find another vocalist! There’s an idea 🙂
The third stage has to do with taking the steps you need to try again. Some people never make it to this stage or the second. That’s because they’re still stuck in the first one…still ranting about some reviewer or some publisher’s rejection of their songs. If that’s where you want to be, well no one can change that. I have learned, however, that the more you go through the process of rejection, the faster you’ll go through the first stage. You’ll recover more quickly because you’ll KNOW HOW TO. In Nashville, it takes an average of 7 years for a songwriter to get anywhere near having a cut on an artists album. SEVEN YEARS of rejection. Could you handle that? One after another after another?
There is one more type of rejection I want to talk about. It’s called “indifference”. I almost hate that one more than outright rejection. An example of it might be when you’re sitting in a place playing your heart out and nobody’s listening. Nobody. Your head is full of thoughts like “what the hell am I doing this for?”. Or sending out your songs to people and never hearing a THING back. Indifference. It’s a kind of quiet type of rejection that sneaks up on you rather than hitting you suddenly.
My solution to this one is a little different. Keep moving…keep putting one foot in front of the other. Let go of an expected outcome to ANYTHING. The fact is that when you’ve worked long and hard enough at it, the little rewards will start to come from unexpected places. If you are too busy looking for the obvious rewards, you might miss those other ones! They are really important, because they are the little bits of fuel that will keep you going when times are tough!
And one very last thing…remember why you write songs in the first place, and you’ll survive anything! Guaranteed 🙂