Industry "How To"

Rejection Is Not A Four Letter Word

by Skip Taylor For The Session

May 17, 2011 in Industry Profile

We have all faced rejection at some point in our lives. Some rejections are certainly more painful than others. Most rejections, however, do not have to be the end of the story. An initial rejection by someone or something can, if handled correctly, lead to an opportunity. Rejection can also be a great opportunity for us to learn about ourselves. In my 15 years as a promotion rep for a major label, I faced rejection every day. Every time I went into a radio station it was my job to push for airplay on our tracks until the station said no. If they were playing four tracks it was my job to ask about the fifth track. If they were playing all five tracks it was my job to try and get rotation bumps. My job was not complete until all adds and rotation bumps were exhausted and the station ultimately said “No”. Over time I developed some strategies that helped me disarm rejection and turn rejection into acceptance. While I use a radio analogy here, these concepts can be used in any business area.

Early on in my promotion career, having radio stations tell me they weren’t going to add a song I was working was very tough. Radio airplay was even more important to music sales then than it is today. Initially I took these rejections very personally. I would ask myself, “Was it me? Did I do something wrong?” The truth was, for the most part, I did not yet fully understand the goals and strategies of the stations I was working with and, in many cases, I was trying to get them to play songs that were just not going to work for them.

As I developed, I began to understand why stations would not play certain tracks. I began to understand what criteria they were using to add songs to their playlist. As my understanding grew, I began to think strategically about how I was going to approach each station with new music. I better understood what songs were going to face resistance at particular stations and what tracks would be slam-dunk easy to get added. A former boss of mine used to comment, “Don’t fight the easy ones.” Needless to say, there were very few U2 songs I had to work hard to get added. For the most part stations were ready, willing and able to add those tracks.

Getting stations to add a song by a brand new artist was usually an entirely different matter. Sometimes there was extreme pressure from the label to get stations to add a song, as they had invested heavily in the artists and needed the airplay to drive demand.

My plan from resistance to acceptance would flow through the following stages.

1. PREPARE: This may sound obvious, but being prepared was critical to having success. I would listen to the track. I would make notes of the positives and negatives I expected the station to point out. I would compare the sound of the song to other artists on their playlist. I would draw comparisons. I would plot out answers. In effect, I was preparing counterattacks.

Preparing for their rejection was so important. It gave me a rebuttal that I could fire back right away, and in some cases I would have a compelling enough case for them to say “You’re right...we should add it.” Sometimes they would still resist. This would lead to step 2.

2. ASK WHY: Again, this may seem an obvious next step, but to have any hope of turning a rejection into acceptance I had to understand what their objections were! Was there something sonically about the song they did not like? Was the intro too long? Was there content they found offensive? Was the song not charting high enough? Did this artist steal their pen the last time they were in the station?! Without knowing why a station was against a song, it was impossible to formulate a strategy to overcome those objections. A list of these objections would form the basis for the next step.

3. STRATEGIZE: Once I had a clear picture of what their objections were, I could then start to strategize how to remove them. Some road blocks removed themselves. For example, some stations would only start to look at a song once it was inside the top 30 at their respective format. In some cases other stations across the country would add the song, getting the song into the top 30 and thus the station was then ready to consider it. Others were more difficult. Content, artist relations, etc. required more work. If the content of the song was offensive, sometimes we would have to ask for an edit. If it was deemed that an intro was too long, we could ask for an edit, or perhaps a station did not play rap and we would have to ask for a “non-rap” edit.

All these steps were taken to remove their objections point by point. There were some instances that all points, in my opinion, were removed. If this was the case, it was a great time to pull out the original objection notes and go over them with the station; in a way holding their feet to the fire.
There were also times the rejections were so over the top it made no sense to fight it. Don’t forget in some situations it just makes more sense to walk away.

Over time I got better and better at playing the game. It got to be that I actually enjoyed the rejection, as that became a challenge. It became a great game of life giving me lemons and me making lemonade! It should be noted that throughout this process I always felt I had a strong relationship with station personnel. Though I was at times insistent and there were a few dust ups, for the most part station staff and I got along well. As time went on, we both developed a good understanding of what the other was trying to accomplish.

So how does the Independent Artist apply this?

I think the first thing to understand is that rejection is going to happen. If you are truly out there trying to build your business and move your career forward, you are going to run into rejection. It may come from radio stations, agents, managers, funding organizations, investors, venues, music publications or even your own family (when are you going to get a real job?)! There is a saying, “If you are not making mistakes, you are not trying hard enough problems.” I truly believe that, and if you are not being rejected occasionally, you are probably not pushing yourself hard enough.

Secondly, it is helpful if you can find a way to remove the emotion from the situation. One strategy I employed early on when struggling with rejection was that I developed a plan to not quit until I was told “No” 1000 times. So the first time a station said “NO we are not playing that song,” I said ok, I still have 999 no’s to go. This worked great for me, as it was a way to remove the emotion from being told no. It seemed to allow me to not take it personally. Truth be told, I am sure I surpassed 1000 no’s, but after the first couple of hundred they didn’t sting that bad!

Third is to take the points raised above and:

Prepare. Prepare for no. Have counter attacks ready. The first no should be the start of the conversation – it doesn’t have to be the final answer. The point is not to go into a meeting expecting defeat, but to take a positive attitude and be prepared to defend your position.

Ask Why. Are the rejections reasonable? Are there changes you can make or are willing to make? Are there things you can do differently next time?

Strategize. Are there objections you can remove easily? Are there things you personally need to work on? Are the required changes worth it?

Finally, the importance of building relationships cannot be stressed enough. As an independent artist, you can offer things than artists not located here, can’t. There are ways for you to build relationships with stations or other businesses just by being local. An international artist will most likely not be able to get involved with the business’s charity, for instance. You can create goodwill by offering to get involved with their charity. This does not result in revenue right away, but the goodwill and the nurturing of the relationship can pay off long term.

Certainly some rejections are tough to hear. Being told your art, musical skill or your appearance are not desirable are criticisms that are hard to take. These areas are deeply personal and it is virtually impossible to remove your emotions when faced with rejections of this type. Once the sting of these types of criticisms fade, I think the strategies above still apply. The question then becomes, “How bad do you want it?” Are you willing to try and write 30 songs in the next six months? Are you willing to get in the gym and lose 20lbs? Are you willing to quit drinking beer? Are you willing to go back and take more guitar lessons? If you are receiving these types of criticisms, ask someone you trust to give you the straight goods. Ask someone with skill or knowledge in that area to give you their professional opinion. These can be gut-check moments. Being successful in any business is not easy. Being willing to put time into your personal development is vital to being successful. Even Neil Peart still takes drum lessons! Most people don’t think Neil Peart needs drum lessons, but he is still interested in personal development.

In the few years I have been involved in the Career Tracks Program at SaskMusic, I have seen fear of rejection be a major obstacle both from a business and artistic standpoint for artists. Facing rejection does not have to be outside your comfort zone. Building strategies to limit and overcome rejection takes practice and it is a skill. Adding this skill to your business and career toolbox may be what separates you from the pack!

Skip Taylor has been involved in the music industry for over 20 years; Until recently, he was the Universal Music Promotion Representative for Saskatchewan, holding that position for 14 years. In that position he was responsible for promoting, marketing and securing publicity for the entire Universal Music roster in Saskatchewan, including The Tragically Hip, Sam Roberts, Hedley, Buckcherry and many more. Recently he launched SKIP: Artist Services, a Music Business and Career Planning company.