Wanted: Creative People to Become Songwriters and Music Publishers. Only those with the tender, open heart of an artist and the skin of an armadillo need apply.
I’ve written more than a thousand songs and have probably received more than ten thousand rejections. Being told “no” hurts, and it never gets easy. Creative people are sensitive—and they need to be—in order to be effective. Heck, I still feel like I’ve been kicked in the stomach when a co-writer asks me to change a line or rewrite a melody.
It’s only natural for painful feedback to trigger a knee-jerk defensive reaction. “What an idiot! She wouldn’t recognize a hit if …” But while not every critique will hit the target, most will hold some kernels of truth. Regardless of how you feel about the comments, bite your tongue and thank the person for his input. Arguing, explaining, or defending your song is unlikely to sway the listener. But it is likely to incite him or her to defend their criticism and get you branded as someone they will not meet with again.
Receiving negative feedback about our songs feels lousy. But there is probably no better way to improve our writing and/or pitching skills. Listen for the lessons. Were you told that your chorus doesn’t soar enough for this artist, or that your lyrics needed more edge and attitude? Were you told the production sounds dated, or that the singer had distracting pitch problems? If the issues pointed out don’t ring true for you, get additional professional feedback. It’s not a coincidence when more than one professional voices the same concern.
So, how do we staunch the bleeding and get back in the saddle? The most important thing is to avoid taking rejection personally. It can take a bit of the sting away to remember that when a publisher or other music business professional passes on one of our songs he or she is not saying, “You are a worthless, untalented loser who will never be successful,” although that might be what we hear. What is actually meant might be, “This song is strong, but I already have similar songs in my catalog.” Or, “The artist has already recorded a song with this topic.” Or, “This artist needs a more youthful, less traditional approach and the lyric would benefit from more details.”
When one of my songs is passed on I am not being rejected; it’s this one particular song that is being passed on by this one person. My song “Change My Mind” (written with A.J. Masters) was rejected more than 75 times before being recorded by the Oak Ridge Boys and subsequently, John Berry, earning a “gold” record and a BMI Million-Air award for garnering more than a million radio spins.
Sometimes, being rejected only means a song hasn’t found the right home yet. Other times, a rejection can be a teacher—if we keep an open mind. So toughen up and let every rejection bring you closer to a song that is undeniable.
PS. I don’t bleed nearly as long as I used to.
Jason Blume is the author of 6 Steps to Songwriting Success, This Business of Songwriting, and Inside Songwriting (Billboard Books). His songs are on three Grammy-nominated albums and have sold more than 50,000,000 copies. www.jasonblume.com