On Being Rejected

Ah … rejection letters. I imagine every artist will read these terrible few words one day in their career; “we regret to inform you …”

I got a matching set of rejection letters last week. 

I applied for two grants to record an album this year and just found out I received neither the city grant or the provincial grant. I felt my application was strong. My demos were killer. My plan was solid. I was ready. But still … 

We Regret to Inform You

The words sting. They sound final, like a slamming door. And why the regret? Surely if you have so much regret, it’s not too late to change your mind?! I’ll allow you!

Seriously, though, I understand the reasons laid out in those letters. . There are more applicants than recipients. Not everyone can be funded. I’d rather some projects receive full funding than all projects get a tiny slice of pie that keeps them from being realized. 

I’ve been on juries and I know how hard the process can be. My bleeding heart breaks every time I have to leave a group of artists unsupported. But sometimes those are the right choices. 

Sometimes others see us more clearly than we see ourselves. Other times they don’t have the time or resources to look all that closely. Maybe I’m not ready. Maybe I am. Maybe I was next on the list to be approved, if there were only more dollars in budget. Maybe I was a long shot. Maybe could drive me crazy.

I do know that there are often more of us who don’t get the grant than those who do, and we’re in good company.

We are all rejects.

I have writing friends who keep folders full of past rejection letters. I’ve heard of people framing them. 

Mental Floss has posted a great collection of 10 rejection letters sent to famous artists that you should spend a few minutes with. Here are some highlights; 

  • U2 was told “we have listened with careful consideration, but feel it is not suitable for us at the moment.”
  • “I do not feel she is ready yet” was said of Madonna. 
  • Comic books artist Jim Lee was told by Marvel to “Resubmit when your work is consistent and when you have learned to draw hands.”
  • Andy Warhol was once rejected when he tried to gift a drawing to MOMA!

There, I feel a little better. But just a little.

So now what?

Making music can be expensive. Singing is free, of course, but singing into a pristine microphone and mixing your singing with instruments you’ve paid professionals to play, then distributing that performance to the world (and getting them to notice) is expensive. Without the $15,000 grant I applied for to make my first album, I’m left searching for options. 

How on earth do people pay for these things?

I have, after all, purposed to record an album this year. And I will. It is how I do that – the amount of effort required and the people involved – that change now.

I’ve made an EP for less than $150. I can do that, but only to a certain level. I want this album to be a step forward in sound, playing and instrumental variety. I want a real drummer! 

The way I see it I have a few options now.

First, I could wait and apply for the grant in the fall again. I may get it or I may not but I would not find out until early 2019. Too late to hit my target. 

Second, I could just do it all on my own for almost no money. I know where that road leads and I don’t want to take it. I need help to get better.

Third, I could crowdfund the full original budget of the album on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, etc. I’ve been blessed by strong response to crowdfunding before and I’m not opposed to this route. But this would be an additional system to set up and administer, and a whole series of rewards to ship out after the fact. It may be asking too much of a community that has supported me already in so many ways. I’m not sure.

Fourth, I could double down on my Patreon support and seek new Patrons to contribute every month, as fourteen of you lovely souls already do. Patron funding is stable and means I won’t be in this position again the next time I want to make an album, or shoot a video or do any number of things this music career requires of me. I love having a direct relationship to my monthly patrons and knowing there is an engaged audience for what I make. 

If I could get to the point where I am bringing in $500-1000 in patronage each month, I can afford to record a pro-level song. Every month. That’s 12 songs over a year that I can then release as an album at the end of each year. There’s an attractive route that keeps me working and keeps the music fresh. 

Fifth and finally, I could hobble together some combination of the above. A pocket full of waiter tips here. A few gigs there. Some patron funding over here. Some random graphic design work. A smaller crowdfunding campaign. A grant application for promotions. 

I tend to be the ‘hobbled together’ type. 

So this is where I’m at – a little winded but certainly not knocked out. 

Have you received a rejection letter? How’d you deal? 

Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash