Rejection and disappointment are inevitable for those who seriously pursue music, so why not put these experiences to work and get some good out of them? You can think of life like a song recording. We can try, and fail, to ignore or edit out unwanted noise and mistakes, or we can seamlessly weave them into the production and let them add character and nuance into the music. Setbacks and pain are going to meet you at many points in your musical pursuits, and a lot of what you’ll experience will be out of your control. However, the way you respond to challenges is something that’s completely in your hands.
Why music-makers are uniquely suited to experience rejection and disappointment
Doing anything creative leaves you at risk for being disappointed, but there’s an especially high amount of pain and rejection in the music industry. Music has always been a brutal industry to find success in, but it’s never been as competitive as it is right now. Add in the fact that streaming revenues typically translate to low payouts for musicians, and you can see why many musicians feel jaded, frustrated, and even hopeless. A lot has changed in music recently, mainly how easy and cheap it’s become to create music from anywhere and share it. But what hasn’t changed is that there are always more artists out there than professional opportunities to accommodate them, whether it’s finding a home on a label’s roster or getting on a popular playlist.
Turning pain into something positive starts with your perspective
All this means that if you make music and want the world to hear it, you are going to feel disappointed at some point. Most everything is out of your control as a music-maker. You can’t make people listen to your music or like it. You can’t make a label want to sign and support you. And you can’t guarantee that you’ll make a specific amount of money from a single or album. However, there is so much that is in your control, and that agency starts with your perspective. You can allow setbacks and rejection to demolish your confidence, or you can learn from them. You can let streaming statistics and negative reviews determine your value as a human being, or you can choose to see that sort of feedback as something entirely different that has nothing to do with your self worth. You can give up the minute something bad happens, or you can stay the course and make music for as long as you love doing what you do. These are all choices you can make.
Since rejection and disappointment are headed your way as a musician whether you like it or not, you can make the conscious decision to allow hardship to build your character and resilience. The music industry loves overnight success stories, but most people succeeding in music have endured years and sometimes decades of uncertainty and rejection to find their audience and succeed creatively and commercially. You can try your damndest to avoid pain and discomfort, or you can learn from every experience and keep creating. Instead of dreading every setback, it’s completely in your power to be able to learn and grow from every difficult situation in music, whether it’s your band breaking up or waking up one morning and reading a terrible review of your music.
Painful experiences can make us wiser, more resilient, and more creative. Since audiences are searching to feel intimately connected and understood by the music they hear, songs that are written from a viewpoint of someone who has endured hard times can often resonate a lot more than ones written by someone who hasn’t ever faced anything difficult. As a songwriter, your life experiences are some of the most valuable tools at your disposal for creating new music, so there’s a lot of good to be found in hard times.
It takes a lot of work to leverage rejection and disappointment in music, and it’s important to remember that doing this is a choice you’ll have to choose over and over again. But doing this ups your chances for succeeding in music considerably, even if your only metric for success is whether you’ll create for the rest of your life or not.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.