How to Become at Expert at Being Rejected
We work in what I believe is the coolest most fun industry in the world. I fee that being part of entertaining the masses is a great privilege. Those of us who get to pursue a career in film/TV/Gaming etc. are so very lucky that we essentially get to make living doing what we love, and it’s pretty cool.
I’ve been fortunate enough to spend two decades working in music for film and TV, and I’ve loved every minute of it. Except all those moments that I’ve hated, primarily dealing with rejection. Being rejected sucks. Being told “no, not you” never feels good. Hearing “we decided to go with someone else” stings. Getting told what isn’t working in what we did isn’t exactly a great boost to our self-esteem.
Yet surviving in this industry means we will experience a lot of rejection. It’s just part of life as a media composer (or music editor, or music supervisor, or actor or director or DP or editor…) If we stop to think about it, that’s to be expected and a natural consequence of putting oneself out there.
After all, there are a lot of people vying for every opportunity and each potential prospect is unique. Naturally circumstances won’t align just right for us every time. It’s predictable that things won’t always work out for one of a myriad reasons.
It’s easy to get caught up in one’s own estimation of one’s music and feel frustrated when one isn’t picked for a project. But the quality of our music isn’t usually even in the top five considerations when filmmakers consider whether or not to hire us. Yes, sometimes they love our music and reach out to us, but that more typically happens after we’ve had at least a modicum of success and professional visibility. Certainly when we’re building our career, and this is still true even for veterans, the primary reasons for getting hired or not have little or nothing to do with our actual music.
First and foremost filmmakers need to know of you – whether it’s a personal relationship, or through recommendations of colleagues. After all if they don’t know about you, your odds of successfully landing the gig are nearly zero, even if you cold contact them. Next, do they feel you have enough credits/experience to do the job? Do they think you’re capable of delivering for this specific job? Do they like you? Are you available? Are you affordable? Who else is vying for the same position and are they better positioned to complete the task? Do they bring added value that you do not or vice-versa? All of these considerations usually supersede whether or not they like your music.
Some of these things are in your control (availability, affordability), some are not (no matter how awesome you are, not everyone is going to like you, the rest of the field that is being considered and what they bring to the table). With all of these variables and considerations, it would be entirely unreasonable to expect to get every gig you apply for, which means you will experience rejection. So the question is how do you deal with it?
I recently found out I didn’t get a job I had wanted badly. I worked on a pilot for a show that I really loved. Originally I was brought in to music edit, but I had an opportunity to score it and they loved my music. I had built relationships with the director, picture editor, producers and show runner. We seemed to hit it off well, and while it was a very tricky show, we were very happy with the result and the show got picked up to series. The producers sang my praises, the show-runner sent me a very flattering and complementary email thanking me for my work and my contribution to getting the pilot made and its success being picked.
But things were then put on hold for a while, and I spent an entire year nurturing these new relationships. Everyone but the show-runner had dropped off the project and moved on to other things. I stayed in touch with everyone, including the show-runner and we were on friendly terms. I made my desire to score the show clear. Two months ago the show-runner told me they were going into post in November and that he already discussed me with others on the team – new producers & post supervisor. I followed up and despite all of these great things going for me, they ultimately went with someone else with whom executives from the production company had a long standing relationship.
It sucks. It doesn’t feel good. It’s frustrating. It hurts. It’s disheartening. It’s a setback.
I bet you agreed with the above sentence, but actually I would argue it’s not a setback. It may feel like a setback, but it’s actually a step forward. How so? Let’s look at it.
I had an opportunity to score the pilot, and my work impressed the producers, who have since moved on to other things and I’m still on very good terms with them and have a great relationship with them, which may well lead to other scoring opportunities on future projects. Before this pilot I didn’t have that. Step forward. The same is true with the picture editor and he now knows me as both a music editor and a composer and may recommend me for future projects. Step forward. The show-runner likes my work and me and was sorry this didn’t work out, but said he would love to work with me again in the future. Step forward. The new producers and post-supervisor on the show, whom I don’t know, have been told about me and now I’m on their radar. Next time my name comes up it’ll ring a bell. Step forward. The executives at the production company have now heard of me and heard my music, so even more people who are now aware of me that weren’t prior to this. Step forward.
Say the odds of landing a gig are 1 in 100 based on all the unique variables that each opportunity brings with it. If you only have 1 relationship that could potentially yield a gig, you may have to wait for 99 jobs to come and go to others before you get hired. If you have 10 such relationships, each may have 9 opportunities that come your way and don’t work out before you get one. If you have 100 such relationships you’re probably working, and I if you have 1,000, you’re likely picking and choosing which projects to accept out of multiple opportunities. Therefore, every time you get a “no” you’re one step closer to getting that coveted “yes.” Being one step closer is exciting!
That’s what I mean by embracing rejection. It’s OK to sulk for a bit (in private). Talk to your partner, your close friends, your therapist. Vent. Get it off your chest and move on. Remember, as much as it stings in the moment, you’re one step closer to the goal.
There’s a saying that it takes 10,000 hours of experience to become an expert at anything. If you’re going to build a long lasting career, you’ll have to go after a lot of potential opportunities, you’ll have to put yourself out there and you’ll experience rejection along the way. Do it a lot. So much that you become an expert at it, and in doing so not only will you get lots of “yeses” along the way, but you’ll also get really good at dealing with rejection and not letting it get you down. You’ll get really good at analyzing each experience and learning from it.
Was there anything you could have done differently to improve you odds of landing the gig? If so, make sure you do better next time. If not, pat yourself on the back for doing everything you could have, be proud of yourself for making the effort and move on. And the more you experience rejection, the better you’ll get at it, which in turn will also improve your odds of success.
If you’re not being rejected, you’re either incredibly lucky, or you’re not putting yourself out there enough. So embrace rejection, become an expert at it, which in turn will help you become more successful.