‘No!’ Is A Personal Opinion

When anybody (especially a young, starry-eyed wannabe with her whole yellow-brick-road life laid out ahead of her), informs me that her greatest dream is to be a singer, or a singer/songwriter, or a recording artist, or a rock star, (even to be rich and famous), I respond by saying this: “You’d better get used to hearing the word ‘no’.” Please understand. I don’t make that remark to be negative, to discourage the kid, or to purposefully play the part of the grumpy old curmudgeon.[private_member]

In fact, I’ve been on the other side of that equation. Eight years ago, when I informed my father-in-law that I had a Toby Keith single coming out, he said cynically, “Good luck seeing any money from that.” A lot he knew. After topping of the Country Singles charts for weeks and being released on four separate CDs, “My List” has been very lucrative for me and my family, in spite of Ben’s gloomy prognostication. But, I’m not talking about optimism or pessimism here. I’m talking about the absolute realities of trying to make it in the entertainment industry.

After surviving more than four decades in the treacherous jungles of the music-biz, I’ve heard more versions of the word “no” than I ever thought existed. And, now that I’m considered a certified “expert” on the ultra-competitive songwriting/music-publishing and talent-development scene, I’ve pondered and written extensively on what rejection really means. Does “no” mean that we lack talent? Does “no” mean that our work sucks? Well, in one very ironic word, “no.” In fact, in the rare instance that the intent of a negative response is to express those particular sentiments, they are not necessarily true for anyone other than the person making the declaration. In other words, that’s just one person’s opinion, and one that is not in the least helpful or constructive. Thank you, very much, Simon Cowell.

In a nutshell, getting a “no” actually means that you’re in the game, on the field of play. Maybe you got knocked on your can this time; but it didn’t kill you. Your uniform may be dirty, but you’ll be much more prepared next time around. It also means that you’re in possession of a lottery ticket. Now, you have a one-in-a-million chance of winning – if, and only if you keep spinning the wheel (each spin, of course, risking one more painful “no”). Many writers can’t seem to separate a rejection of their song, poem, short story, novel, screenplay, etc. from a personal rejection. When one of our babies, a precious, creative inspiration we’ve labored over for weeks, perhaps months, or even years, fails to receive that anticipated embrace from an industry pro, it stings. I know. But, having one’s creative work disregarded has nothing at all to do with the person who created it (unless of course, you’ve somehow burned a bridge that can’t be rebuilt – in which case, there’s a lesson I hope you’ve learned and a mistake you won’t soon repeat).

Here’s what ex-A&R man, Terry Ayers wrote in response to this subject on the LinkedIn Music-Biz Forum: “l uttered that word ‘no’ far too many times than I care to remember. However, in most instances it had nothing whatsoever to do with the artist’s talent (or lack thereof).” Mr. Ayers goes on to explain that in the instance that he’d just signed a trumpet player to his jazz label, he would not be interested in signing yet another trumpeter. So, I will assume that, even if Winton Marsalis came knocking, the multi-Grammy-winner would have heard the dreaded “no” from Mr. Ayers. I wonder if Marsalis is as insecure as most songwriters, and would take the pass as a negative appraisal of his musicianship, instead of what it really is – purely an intelligent business decision. In show-biz, timing is everything. Maybe that sure-fire Kenny Chesney hit you just pitched (with no luck) resembles another song Chesney just wrote – like, both songs have the word “Truck” in the title; so, since Kenny wrote his own “Truck” song, ain’t no chance he’s gonna touch yours. Maybe he’s already recorded a driving, Stone-sy, uptempo raver and what the label is looking for today (to “round out” the project), is a mid-tempo, third-person, heartfelt story song. Here’s the kicker: you’ve still got that Stone-sy lottery ticket. Keep playin’ it. Maybe your number will come up in a week, a month, a year – or, in a decade.

In my new book, The Absolute Essentials of Songwriting Success (coming this month from Alfred Publishing), I interviewed some of most successful tunesmiths of the last 50 years about how they built their careers. Steve Dorff, who has been responsible for more Number Ones from feature films than any other song crafter in history, says this: “If you don’t have the ability to pick yourself up and dust yourself off a hundred times a day, you’re probably not suited for this business.” Thin skin is not a positive attribute for someone trying to make it the songwriting game (or in any business endeavor, for that matter).

The following quote was attributed to my friend, Hall-of-Fame songwriter, Rory Bourke. He denies he ever said it. If he didn’t, I wonder who did: “If you’re not getting rejected every single day, you’re not doing your job.” Wow! That’s some tough stuff, my friends. Speaking of friends, the relationships you cultivate over time will eventually facilitate almost all of your winning lottery tickets. You will gain recognition because of the friends you keep, and you will find most of your success by developing positive, trusting, mutually beneficial industry relationships. What “no” often means is this: “I don’t have any vested interest in preferring your song over anyone else’s.” Several translations: “I don’t know you well enough — yet;” “I don’t own any of the publishing on this song;” “Your name means nothing in the industry, so it would be much safer for me to go with a proven, name writer’s song instead. No offense.” Or, all of the above.

Once again, A&R vet, Terry Ayers: “Success comes as a result of a combination of hard long hours honing your craft, becoming a part of the musical community that you decide to hang your hat in, and forging relationships with people involved in every aspect of the music business. And as you grow as an artist the opportunity will arise and those relationships that you have formed over the years will afford you the opportunity to share your art with the masses.” No truer words have ever been spoken!

So, when you suffer your next rejection — and you will – remember that receiving bad news maturely and graciously can actually mark the beginning of a new relationship that might just yield a big ol’ “YES” — somewhere down this long and winding road. I know Rory Bourke said this, because he spoke these words in my great room — to me — and I stored it in a digital file: “You have to get to the point to where people can trust you to take the bad news.” Bad news is a big part of this game. Know that any news at all puts you in contention. Don’t take it personally. Try to learn from it to make your work stronger. Use it to forge and strengthen critically important relationships. Take your knocks and rejoice that you’re suited up and on the field of play. Know in your heart that you have what it takes to win and let that next “no” roll off like water off a duck’s back.[/private_member]

I wish each and every one of you success, prosperity, and fulfillment.

Rand Bishop is a Grammy-nominated, BMI Award-winning songwriter, author of four books, including The Absolute Essentials of Songwriting Success, to be released any day now by Alfred Publishing. His  website is http://www.randbishop.com.  Check out his three SongPosium workshops coming up in late Sept (21/22). For more info, check out his Facebook fan page. [/private_member]