I’ve learned a lot of life lessons from my life as a performing and recording musician. However, one of the most poignant lessons has come from the rejections I’ve received along the way. Rejection is a part of life. Rejection is a huge part of the corporate world, the art world, and the land of music. I often joke with friends in bands that planning a tour as a DIY band is at least ten times easier than booking a tour as an independent concert pianist. Being a DIY musician in a band you have connections, you have friends of friends to vouch for you or host you in their town. As an independent concert artist, I have some friends with new music organizations that are willing to present me but largely I have to make cold calls and send out emails that will ultimately go unanswered. When I do make contact with an organization there is usually a board, judging and scrutinizing my every note, my website, my every word posted on the Internet. And then come the rejections… Since I decided to become an advocate for new music and abolished standard repertoire from my performances, my rejections have largely increased. Sometimes they come in the form of backhanded compliments about my “adventurous programming or versatility” but ultimately that message is a rejection of me performing at their venue. Other times they can be more aggressive, flat out telling me that I’m not a big enough draw to the prospective venue to warrant their time in even considering my program.
When I was younger, I found this disheartening. It was crippling and I frequently wanted to retreat to my bed, forgetting the world existed for a while. As I grew older both chronologically and as an artist, I came to accept that rejection as a natural part of life but most importantly how you deal with rejection is crucial. To be truly successful in this life, and in this industry, one must realize that you can’t allow rejection to be the anchor that slows your sailing ship. The quicker one can recover from rejection the more efficient they will be. So XYZ venue or QUA organization turned down my proposal, fine I’ll send that same proposal to at least five more places in that same geographic region. Sitting around and wallowing in the negative pit of despair because one group didn’t jive with me is not only counterproductive, it wastes precious hours and energy that could be spent on practicing or researching other venues which would be welcoming to my particular brand of music.
The ability to let rejection roll off one’s back as a duck in water becomes increasingly crucial to collaborative projects. If you conducted a poll of top executives, one should not be surprised to find that ideas they pitched on their way to the top were sometimes assigned to other individuals for revision or perhaps even scrapped completely. Another commonality you are sure to find amidst this poll of top executives is that rather than wallowing on the negative aspect of these rejected pitches, it caused them to approach the account or problem from a different angle. Plan A, Plan B, Plan C… may not have worked but Plan X was gold.
Rejection is not a reflection on a person. In an old sales training manual my father passed down to me it says that people often reject your pitch because you have not full explained how your product solves a problem they have or your product is not properly suited to the demographic to which you are addressing. It is important to remember this when you are an artist or employee, just because an idea is rejected does not lessen your value as a person or artist.
Next time your idea is rejected or someone has suggestions to improve upon your original plan, take a moment to breathe and realize that there is another way around the mountain. A musician’s life, teaches that one not only has to be flexible but also a levelheaded problem solver. As difficult as it may be to break out of the post-rejection break down pattern, realize that the more you accept rejection as a neutral hurdle that one can walk around, the easier it becomes to handle the perceived downs of life.
Elizabeth A. Baker is Founder and Executive Director of The New Music Conflagration, Inc. Ms. Baker maintains an active career as a performer and composer with concerts across the nation.