If you do a quick search for inspirational quotes, you’re bound to find the stories of how Michael Jordan missed lots of game-winning shots, Walt Disney was fired for having no imagination, and JK Rowling was living off welfare when she started writing Harry Potter. Stories like these sometimes don’t feel relatable to us because “we’re in it” and living it every day. But that’s just what these are – stories. Our minds make a conscious (or subconscious) decision to classify our experiences as “rejection,” and by attaching negative emotion to that experience, doubt starts to creep in. So, I want to share my experience and offer some ideas about rejection that are specific to the music industry.
When I first starting making music with my computer and a midi keyboard, I thought it was the greatest thing ever. Being able to create sound and put together full songs using just software was amazing and producing quickly became my most time-consuming hobby. As I continued to stumble around and gain knowledge about virtual instruments, samples, and online communities for music, I started getting more and more confident in what I was doing. I thought I would just throw some of my tracks up on MySpace (just dated myself) and I’d be producing for recording artists in a few weeks. At the time, I did not have a clear intention. I was just producing music with the hopes of “making it” without even really understanding what “making it” meant to me.
Over the past 10 years I’ve been rejected, told I wasn’t good enough, laughed at, and flat out ignored. It doesn’t feel good no matter the circumstances. What’s changed for me is my intention and my expectations. I’ve learned what my real motivation for producing music is: it fulfills me and makes me feel alive. Understanding my own motivation helps me stay focused and cut through all the bullshit in this industry. If 99 out of 100 people tell me they hate my music, that’s fine. My reason for creating music isn’t to have them like it (although it would be great if they did), it’s to satisfy my desired feeling of being alive and fulfilled. By changing the focus of my expectations and feelings from external (all about them) to internal (all about me), I have completely changed my relationship with my music.
Part of the grind IS sending thousands of emails that never get replies. It IS reaching out to blogs and other artists and being turned down, and it most certainly IS making lots and lots of bad music before you start making stuff people like to listen to. But those disappointments are just part of the deal – they ARE NOT the end all be all (or at least not for me). You keep going because one day you WILL get a reply that will start a relationship that will help launch your career. You do it because randomly, out of nowhere, you WILL win a contest with a major artist and be skyping with them the next month. Just learn to not attach emotion to certain expected results and you will not only be happier, but start making better music. Figure out why you’re making music in the first place, then make music for that reason and that reason alone. Even if your reason for making music is to make millions of dollars and be famous, at least you would have a clearer path on how to achieve that goal once you get clarity on your intention.
The Middle Ground
If you have a clear primary intention, you can still have secondary goals or desires to achieve with your music. You can certainly be making music because it makes you feel a certain way AND want to create a sustainable income for yourself at the same time. I’ve discovered that by letting my primary intention dictate my actions, other things seem to just fall into place and my path becomes clearer.
Music is one of those industries in which there isn’t much middle ground. Either you’re a Grammy-winning artist or you’re a nobody. I don’t put a lot of weight into being rich and famous, but I do appreciate when people sincerely enjoy my music, even if it’s one person. Doctors can still be successful doctors even if they aren’t the #1 surgeon in the world. The music industry is the same way. Success doesn’t have to be defined by followers or plays – define what success means to you and celebrate the small victories each time you’re successful.
When it comes to rejection, everything is about perspective. You can choose to view it as failure and fall into the “I’m not good enough” trap, or you can choose to see it as just part of your journey. When you clearly define your intention for making music and focus on that, decisions start to become clear, you start attracting opportunities that fit your intention, and a few unresponsive people don’t bother you anymore.
I’d love to hear your intention for making music. Share your story with me in the comments or shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.