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Four Ways to Get Your Music Rejected

This piece is adapted from an article I wrote for The Developing Artist. I thought it was relevant to share here because while rejection is part of the game in the music business, too many promising DIY musicians actually set themselves up for rejection through simple lapses in judgement. The things I mention below are obviously not the only things that will get your music rejected, nor is there any guarantee that you will get a “yes” by avoiding these things. I just figure your odds for catching a break will greatly increase if you avoid certain pitfalls that are almost certain to get you a “no.” Enjoy!

The business side of music is difficult for most musical and artistic types, because rejection is inevitable. One thing that makes us good artists is that we have a sensitive side, one that cringes at the thought of getting rejected.  And yet, whether you’re putting your stuff out there to agents, or venues, or record companies, or the press, or blogs, it’s a numbers game, and your band is going to be passed on by some people. No one’s immune. Decca Records even passed on The Beatles, saying that “the Beatles have no future in show business.” (Stupid Decca Records–but still.)

In a perfect world, we’d all have agents and promoters doing this stuff for us, kind of shielding us from the rejections.  But DIY musicians have to get used to it. Even though you have to press through some rejections before someone says yes, there are a lot of musicians out there who are setting themselves up for rejection–doing things that are almost certain to get a “no” from whoever it is they’re trying to pitch their music to, whether you’re trying to get a record deal or a gig down the street.  Here are four common mistakes musicians make which are almost surefire ways to get a rejection.

  1. SENDING UNSOLICITED MATERIAL. Look–you could be the most talented person to walk the earth since Mozart, but for anyone to recognize that, they have to actually listen to your music.  The fact is, these days there are just too many people clamoring for the attention of music biz people who simply don’t have enough time in the day to listen to everything that comes their way.  If you send something that wasn’t asked for, it’s almost certainly going to get thrown in the circular file and never listened to, no matter how good you are.  You might as well throw that packet in the trash yourself and save yourself the stamp. I’m serious.  The way you get around this is to get permission first. Make friendly contact with that agent, or venue, or whoever. Introduce yourself, tell a little about your act, and ask if you can send them some material for them to consider. If they say no, you’ve saved yourself the trouble, and if they say yes, then your music is far more likely to get listened to when you send it.
  2. NOT FOLLOWING UP. Again, with all the musicians clamoring for attention, even the best-intentioned music business people  can get overwhelmed, forget that you called, or forget that you were going to send something. It doesn’t automatically mean they don’t like you; it means they are busy. If you are pitching your band , follow up on your press kit or demo with a friendly phone call or email after a few days.  Don’t be annoying, and don’t call seven times a day–but when someone is considering your band or act, don’t be afraid to remind that person that you’re still around, at least once or twice. In this business, failure to follow up is a signal that you don’t really care about the deal–and if you don’t care, why should they?
  3. RUDENESS. This one’s pretty self-explanatory. The other person might be an a$$, but that doesn’t mean you have to be.  The quickest way to get a “no” is to be rude or impolite. Always be professional in all your dealings, both with the industry and with the public.
  4. BAD SONGS. I’ve harped on this before, but mediocre songwriting is one of the biggest downfalls of any band or musician trying to make it.  No matter how good a musician you are, you need to have outstanding songs in order to be taken seriously.  Get some honest feedback about your songs, and if you discover that you’re weak in this area, don’t be above collaborating or using someone else’s material. If you’re stubborn about this just because you want to be your own songwriter, you’re likely to continue struggling indefinitely.

As I suggested earlier, even the best musicians have to face rejection when putting their stuff out there–so the bad news is that even if you avoid all these pitfalls, there are no guarantees. You could get rejected simply because the other person is having a bad day. But the good news is, not every answer is going to be no.  All you need in most cases is one good, solid yes. By avoiding these pitfalls, you will be preventing some needless self-sabotage, so people will be able to see and hear how good you really are, and so the “yes” you’re looking for can come more easily.

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About the Author


Jeff McQ is a songwriter/composer/musician with a diverse resume that includes everything from directing music in church to scoring short films. In addition to his role as chief editor for Music Is My Oxygen (and writing our DIY Musician Channel), Jeff also covers the local music scene for Examiner.com in his hometown of Denver, Colorado, and maintains The Developing Artist [http://artistdevelopmentblog.com], a blog dedicated to offering advice and encouragement to indie musicians.

When he's not tinkering in his home studio or blogging for hours on his laptop at the local coffee shop (to the annoyance of the baristas), Jeff McQ enjoys taking in local shows, going on road trips, wandering aimlessly, and talking to himself.

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