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Failing Forward: How To Handle Rejection As An Artist

The higher the success you reach for, the more ‘failure’ you’ll encounter. Here are some ways I gain inspiration from hearing the word ‘no’ in the music industry.

I get asked a lot ‘How do you deal with rejection in the industry’? Well, I deal with it quite often, and I try to let it go quickly with as little emotion as possible. If you’re in the business you’ve probably had just as many rejections, as you’ve had wins, if not more. But you’re still here, and did you let them stop you? No, I’m guessing not if you’re reading this. So you’re doing better than the rest of them who gave up. Let’s start here. 

So you wrote a track you think is the greatest hit that’s ever been created on planet earth. You go to hand it in, or show it to a fellow artist, and you get less than a desirable reaction. A label says, ‘Sorry, just not for us’, or your buddy plays half of it then goes about what they’re doing without the praise you had hoped for. It’s not a great feeling, we’ve all been there. Rejection is just something that you have to accept, and stop fighting against. It’s something you almost need to begin to enjoy as being a part of the process. So this track may not be right for that specific label or person? Well it could be right for another one. Or maybe this is that push you’ve needed to maybe up your skills, learn a new program, try out a new microphone or writing style. Whatever the case may be, the best thing you can always do with rejection, is learn something from it.

I know it’s hard not to take things personally, because what we do is so personal. We put our hearts and souls into this business, we put time with family and friends aside to spend long hours in the studio, and we put our money into it because it’s what we love and believe in. So rejection or ‘failure’, can hit hard. The best advice a fellow artist friend ever gave me was this: Take a second, lick your wounds, and move forward. I live by this. I’m not denying that it sucks, I’m not pretending that it didn’t hurt my feelings just a little, but am I going to dwell on it and let it ruin my day or studio session? Hell no. Moving on.


You can also begin to notice a pattern in rejection or failure or whatever you want to call it. Places where you feel you just keep hitting a brick wall. Albert Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. I think of this at times where I feel stuck, or I keep hearing the word ‘no’. Are these maybe signs to try something new? Okay so this one particular track isn’t getting the attention I had hoped for, maybe it’s time to try a new one. Or use a different phrasing lyrically or instrumentally. I’m not saying you always need to listen when someone says it’s not right for them, but if you are hearing it over and over from many different places, there’s no harm in upping your game, or trying out new ideas. All this does is give you even more practice, and is what the idea of ‘failing forward’ is all about. It’s also okay to take a day, or even a week away from a project sometimes. Give it some air. Give yourself some air and get outside, take your mind off of it for a while, and gain some new perspective. I promise this always helps. Even with a deadline, ideas need room to grow sometimes. And that’s okay.


Another thing to realize is sometimes when you’re hearing no, or getting a rejection from someone, a boss, mentor, or co-writer, they may just be trying to inspire you. I know it sometimes doesn’t come across as this, but try to stay open minded. I was recently in a writing session in L.A. working with two artists I greatly admire. They had been extremely happy with my writing on one specific track, but when it came to finishing it up one afternoon, all of my ideas seemed to be falling flat. What about this line? No. Okay hey how about if we say it like this? No. Maybe if we… No. Was it me? Had I lost my game? Did I suddenly forget how to write a song? No. They were pushing me. They knew I could do better. They told me hey, these lines are good. They would make a good track, but you, you can be great.


There came my ‘aha’ moment. Sometimes people will see something in you, that you don’t even see for yourself. Learn from this, become inspired by this. You will succeed, because you failed over, and over, and over, and over. Failing at something, means you tried something a lot of people are too scared to do. It means you’re thinking bigger than you were before, when you were only hearing ‘yes’. It means you’re growing, and learning, and it means you’re succeeding.


Michael Jordon once said “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again and that is why I succeeded.”


Another inspiring story is from the author of Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert, who in her TED Talk mentions for over 6 years all she had was rejection letters. And even after the success of her famous novel, she still struggled with the idea of rejection.