“No” Rarely Means “No”

by Fett

It makes me sad when people I know, especially songwriters and musicians, give up too early don’t let things happen to their full potential. In the songwriting world, this often means quitting too early in the pitching process. Many people give up when they hear the word “no,” and some of them even do so the very first time they hear it. The problem is, the word “no” from a publisher or producer or A&R person rarely actually means “no.” It usually just means “not at this time” or “not in this particular instance.”

As an example, let’s say you pitch one of your songs to a publisher and immediately get a “we’re not interested in this song” response. Perhaps what you don’t know at the time is that the publisher is looking for a very specific type of song that’s very different from yours. In this case, “no” simply means “this song is not appropriate for what we need right now” and the follow-up clauses, which the publisher might not state out loud is, “this song might be appropriate for a different project down the road” or “if you have something more in line with what we’re looking for, then we’d like to hear it.” In this case, it’s just a case of timing, and the publisher’s “we’re not interested in this song” response is no reflection on you, your abilities as a songwriter, or even the song in particular.

Here’s a real-life, personal illustration of why it’s important to never assume that “no” is the final answer. Back in the days when I had a day job, I always had a serious music career on the side. My day job was my ally, because it made it possible for me to fund my music “habit” and have the time to write, rehearse, perform and record my material. But I wanted more. I wanted to get into a full-time music career. At one point I realized that Nashville was the next logical step for me musically, so I asked for a transfer to my day job’s Nashville office. “No” was the immediate response, with a number of reasons attached. I kept asking and kept hearing “no” over and over again. But six months later, the company agreed to transfer me to the Nashville office.

I then asked the company to cover my moving expenses. Of course, “no” was the first thing I heard. I kept asking. When I moved a couple of months later, the company not only covered my moving expenses, but also gave me a moving allowance and paid the closing costs on the old house that I sold and the new one that I bought.

The following year, I asked the head of the Nashville office if I could switch from full-time to part-time status so I could focus more on my music career. “Absolutely NOT” was his response. “We don’t do that sort of thing here.” But I kept asking, and proving myself in my job. After a year, the company agreed to let me have a modified work schedule, so I could put in my 40 hours in four days instead of five. I had to work long hours Monday through Thursday, but I had Fridays to focus on my music. That gave me four days at the day job and three days to focus on music—almost a 50/50 split.

But that wasn’t enough. I kept asking for part-time status. The company kept saying “no.” It took another two years of asking, but eventually the company agreed to let me work a 30-hour week over three days instead of a 40-hour week over 4 days. I still had the long hours Monday through Wednesday, but I now was able to focus more than half of every week on my music career instead of my day job. And even though I was now part time, they let me maintain my status as a regular employee.

I maintained that schedule for another five years, and it made an enormous difference in the growth of my music career—so much so that I knew I would soon be able to afford to work on my music full time. I just need a way to go that last mile of transition from one career to the other. Then the ultimate opportunity arose: a big layoff. I had been with the company for twenty years at this point, and I knew that a huge layoff package would be the financial “bridge” that I needed to finally make the transition. I volunteered to be laid off. “No” was the immediate response from the HR Department. “The rules state that long-term employees like you will be the very last to be considered for a layoff.” For the next six months, I kept asking anyway. Eventually they agreed to break the “rules” and grant my request.

But that wasn’t enough. After twenty years of service, I wanted the complete layoff package of a full-time employee, even though I had been a part- time employee for five years by that point. “That’s ridiculous!” was the HR department’s response. Another “no.” But I kept asking. Eventually, they agreed to revert me to full-time status before the layoff, which made an enormous difference in the total value of my layoff package. I was free from a day job forever, and had enough financial security from the layoff package to make the transition to a full-time music career—my life’s dream.

That was several years ago, and when I look back, I’m amazed at how many times the company said “no” and I just kept asking. If I had given up the first time I heard a “no” I never would have moved to Nashville. And if I had given up at any of those other “no” points along the way, I might not be making music for a full-time living today. The next time you hear the word “no” from anyone in the music industry, remind yourself that it really means “no for this specific situation” or “no for this specific time” and keep plugging away at it. Eventually, nearly every “no” becomes a “yes” if you don’t give up. I’m living proof!



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