5 Tips for Coping with Rejection as a Jazz Musician

As Jazz musicians, like most people in the arts, we face rejection on a daily basis, yet it is something we rarely discuss. We face rejection from radio stations, booking agents, managers, even our peers, and the rejection comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s subtle: someone else gets hired for the gig. Sometimes it’s more blatant: being told openly that you’re not accepted. Sometimes it’s just the silence: not even being acknowledged as a viable contender. 

In this day of Facebook it’s easy to for all of us to portray the best possible version of our lives on online: ‘look at that amazing meeting someone attended! wow, look at those gigs they have! check out that new instrument someone gave them!’ Since rejection and competition go hand in hand, it’s easy to blame our negative feelings on someone else and turn our rejection into jealousy, instead of taking responsibility for our negative feelings and channeling them into more positive avenues.

I have spoken about this constant rejection with many of my musical heroes and their responses, while being varied, always point back to personal perseverance and perspective. Here are a few tips I have learned from them and a few I picked up on my own:

1. Learn to Expect Rejection: This one may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s a helpful attitude. I have always found the “rejection rate” to be around 85%. That means if I ask for 10 gigs, I will actually contract 1 or 2. Same goes for general business emails and calls to radio stations or other industry people: just accept most of them aren’t going to respond (but seriously, if you’re an industry person, RESPOND. Even if it’s a “no”). Remind yourself of this point of view by remembering these words of wisdom from Clark Terry: “Make like a duck and don’t give a fuck.”

2. Make Your Own Pie: Sometimes it feels like there is only one pie, i.e. only so many gigs. That’s just not true. There are gigs out in the world that you can create and there are gigs out in the world that may seem “little” or even “lame” but that you can fully exploit to the benefit of your career. Bake your own pie and get more pie.

3. Be Competitive with Yourself Not with others. This goes along with making your own pie. Don’t look at someone and say, “I want what they have, SPECIFICALLY”. Get ideas from them, maybe even venue ideas, but think of your own career and what you want for yourself. Your music isn’t just like theirs, so your place in the world isn’t the same as theirs either.

4. Back Away from the Screen Seriously. Post your content on your various social media sites and then just shut it down (harder than it sounds, I know). Don’t creep on peoples sites if it’s just going to make you feel competitive and rejected. 

5. Find Happiness in your Music , not in your commercial success. At the end of the day we are all artists and we should practice our music and find satisfaction in that. Remember to keep your eye on the prize. If you’re making music you love that represents you, that is what matters. Not how many youtube hits you have or how many facebook fans, or even how many gigs. You should be building an artistic body of work that you can be proud of for the rest of your life. 

How do you handle it? Let me know in the comments…..

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36 Responses to 5 Tips for Coping with Rejection as a Jazz Musician

  1. David Mitchell says:

    It’s all very true.Thanks for that Champian,very important to remember this in today’s music world.


  2. sfawcett says:

    That’s a great article/post there Champian! Wow, an 85% rejection rate in your world! That’s brutal. I left the corporate world 20 years ago and started fending for myself as a freelance business consultant and writer. So, I’ve faced my fair share of rejection. My main coping strategy has been to keep my head down and keep moving forward. Years ago, I borrowed my motto from Winston Churchill, ” Never, never, never give up.” Although, I think I always add a couple of extra “nevers” when I say it!


  3. Anna Lumiere says:

    I think the hard thing is ego and attachment. Because most musicians are passionate about music and want to have more and better chances to play, there can be an attachment, a wanting, that can create a lot of suffering. I know a fellow musician who started doing Zen meditation and stopped playing because he found his ego was so wrapped up in music that it blocked his development as a human being. I feel that way sometimes. I see both the total joy music brings and then the suffering that comes with rejection. I also see my ego trying to differentiate me (ie comparing) rather than feel the connectedness. The question is how to love without attachment


  4. Anna says:

    Such wise words, and so nice to know that I’m not alone in feeling like that too! I think people are afraid of showing weakness so I guess this is all quite taboo in the ‘real world’ of musicians. Shutting off that screen is an exellent point. Don’t get sucked into a (admittedly probably distorted) world of other people’s successes. Just focus on your own. Some great practical advice here on this blog about that fight between music as art, and music as survival. http://goo.gl/25C7QY Anna x


  5. nancyruthmusic says:

    Good one, Champ! I’ve also found that the more one finds their own musical voice, the more the whole concept of ‘competition’ fades, which is so freeing. Glad to see you’re on a roll, I enjoy your writing as well.


  6. This is so true! Thank you for stating it so well!


  7. scoop nisker (newscaster dj from sf scene in 60’s) used to say after each broadcast “If you don’t like the news you hear, go out and make your own”. Same applies to music, if you want to be on the music scene, go out and make your own scene come alive!!


  8. Mark Patterson says:

    Thanks for the shot of positive and uplifting attitude. We need that from each other. The community of musicians is another reward besides finding happiness in your own music.


  9. Work hard on the QUALITY of your music; this not only makes you feel serene, but it may get to a point where YOU may have to reject over-bookings. Danilo


  10. Great post and well put throughout! The only thing I wanted to add was a sub-point to the “back away from the screen” point, which is that it’s also good in general to be interactive and interested in others online, which is a bit off your main point. That is, I’m turned off when folks use social media to just blast out their fabulousness whereas I feel more engaged and interested in delving into their work/play when they actually want to converse. And then I see that you are exactly this way in your comments.


    • Very good point Lisa. I’ve actually been thinking of making a post about Social Media etiquette, because I think a lot of people do “blast their fabulousness” and then don’t actually take interest in their commenters or their “friends” on FB. Social Media is definitely a community and you have to give and take. Thanks again!


  11. mrG says:

    I like to say, “Don’t make The Scene, MAKE the scene!”


  12. Elad Katz says:

    Hey Champian, Thanks for putting these posts. Music is a journey, and like a journey there are obstacles, challenges that you shouldn’t run away from but absorb them and continue with what you do. The “No” is a gift.


  13. Eli Yamin says:

    Well said Champian. I especially like the “find happiness in your music” part. Thanks!


  14. David McKay Wilson says:

    I’ve been baking my own pie for years in the freelance writing field. I even make my own crust!


  15. tessasouter says:

    Love it Champian! I would add, realize that actually the more you share, the more you receive. It’s really a lot like Love.


  16. Lynn goucher says:

    Excellent ideas, especially making your own pie! Great job, Champian!


  17. Words to live by.. Nice Champian!! A trumpet player friend of mine once said to me.. “Never ask why you got the call or why you didn’t”


  18. Fabulous and eloquent! Thank you~


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