I remember the moment I felt the most frustrated with my music career. It was well before my music career had actually begun. I had a middle-of-the-night radio show at a college station, a Macintosh Plus and D-70 keyboard in my dorm room, and big dreams. But none of my demos had gotten any love from music labels.
The moment: I was crossing the street, padded envelope in hand, preparing to drop yet another cassette demo in the mail to yet another label. I needed, and felt like I deserved, a cathartic release to the pent-up frustration I was feeling. Success must be right around the corner. This had to be the track that got me signed.
Well, it wasn’t. Nor was the next one. Or the one after that.
It’s a cliche that success is “right around the corner” from disappointment, rejection, paralyzing self-doubt, and abject failure. It’s not true, most of time. Usually what follows peak frustration is more frustration, hard work, more rejection, deliberate and painstaking improvement of skills, and eventually, possibly, small incremental successes. “Big breaks” which to an outsider seem to be based on phenomenal luck are more often the result of throwing enormous amounts of competently cooked pasta against the wall. Some of it will eventually stick.
I did eventually sign a couple tracks to a San Francisco disco label that was branching out into house and techno. Then I signed a track to a major label rave compilation.
Then more demos, more rejection.
It’s not like you reach a certain level of success and you no longer have to deal with being rejected (or worse, ignored). If you’re in the arts, it’s part of the territory. You can pretend you don’t care, but everyone cares. You might not care about the money or fame, but everyone wants to be acknowledged.
To get to my big break (John Digweed discovering a self-published Jondi & Spesh vinyl release in a Berkeley record store bin) I had to write a bunch more tracks, find a music partner/co-writer, put out half a dozen releases on our own credit-card funded imprint, be completely ignored by local tastemakers and scenesters for years, and generally fuel my efforts with youthful bravado, stubbornness, and plastic.
What followed was a pretty damn good couple decades, the dividends of which I am still enjoying today. Top-charting dance tracks, major TV and videogame licensing deals, US and European DJ tours (fancy hotels, limo rides, big venues and crowds), and co-hosting an epic dance music event that had a line stretching around the block every week. Though music is no longer my #1 focus, I still enthusiastically produce tracks and co-manage Loöq Records.
So what is my #1 creative focus? Writing. Fiction writing, specifically. And in that area, I’m enjoying/enduring a good run of frustration and rejection. I’m older now and I have a few life accomplishments under my belt, so the rejection doesn’t hurt as much. But it still stings! I’m currently writing and submitting science-fiction short stories to pro markets and my rejection notices just entered the double digits. Ha, that’s nothing! (think veteran writers). I don’t know if I’m at peak frustration yet. I’m not naive enough to assume that success is right around the corner.
Starting a new creative career over age 40 might be called quixotic. Less generously, deluded. More optimistically (and how I choose to frame it): an attempt at reinvention, mid-life learning, and hopefully, eventually, meaningful contribution (entertaining and inspiring readers).
I guess I’m writing this to encourage you, if you’re in a similar space. This post from Ferrett Steinmetz gave me the courage and fortitude to make a serious attempt at writing (and more recently to start submitting my work). Incidentally, the author of that post is having a great run. You can purchase his debut novel here.
Thanks for joining me on my own ride.