Introduction: Grassroots Rejection
“You should have just tried being a grassroots music-maker for a month. We're obliged to pay for our music to be rejected by curators, we have to pay twice to receive all the royalties streaming pays out, which Spotify can no longer be bothered to pay out at all if we fall below a threshold of 1,000 annual streams.”
My default is to leave positive comments on posts or not at all, but occasionally my grumpiness gets the better of me. This was the case when I commented on an article shared by The Guardian entitled, ‘An experiment in ritual humiliation’: would a month of rejection therapy make me fearless?
Chapter One: Therapy Rejection
The article details a journalist’s one month experiment with a daily dose of Rejection Therapy. Apparently all the rage of TikTok [I must have missed the 98m tags], Rejection Therapy is the act of seeking out rejection in order to become more resilient and less afraid of it. This, according to the theory, allows you to take more risks, and be less adversely affected by any subsequent negative outcome. The journalist’s writing makes for an engaging read, one that is both quietly insightful and humorous in its honesty. And while the text does give examples of individuals emboldened by rejection therapy, I find it hard to see it as anything other than an excuse for egocentric influencers to indulge their antisocial tendencies, by making complete strangers feel uncomfortable.
Chapter Two: Ingrained Rejection
“You should have just tried being a grassroots music-maker for a month.”
The idea of people actively seeking out rejection under the guise of self-improvement is at the very least bemusing, if not out and out hilarious, to a grassroots music-maker. Rejection is so ingrained in our day-to-day, a lot of the low level rejection fails to bother the threshold of our emotional awareness. Unanswered submissions to playlist, blog, and radio are part of the fabric of our lives. The silent rejection of indifference is little more than wallpaper in our world. We long ago accepted the polite, but total lack of interest our music inspires in friends, family, and fellow music-maker alike. After all, we reason, our music can not be to everyone’s taste.
Chapter Three: Bountiful Rejection
“We're obliged to pay for our music to be rejected by curators.”
Rejection is so much a part of grassroots music-making, paying for the privilege is now entirely normalized on the independent music scene. We dutifully pay for and dole out credits on pay-for-submission sites like Submit Hub and Groover in order to have our music actively rejected by curator, blogger, and DJ. I say actively because, rather than silent indifference of unanswered and/or ignored free rejections, bought-and-paid-for rejections guarantee our music is at least heard before being cast aside. Truly, we are blessed to live in times of such bountiful rejection.
Chapter Four: Industry Rejection
“We have to pay twice to receive all the royalties streaming pays out”
We live in a time of unparalleled access to global music distribution, every aspect is managed in convenient off-the-shelf services. To take advantage, grassroots artists need only avail themselves of subscription distribution services such as Distrokid or pay-as-you-go services such as CDBaby. Except, of course, in the case of Mechanical Royalties earned on streaming platforms, where Distrokid users must pay to register their music with Songtrust, and CDBaby users must pay extra for their CDBaby Boost service [which liaises with The Mechanical Licensing Collective]. Despite the advances in technology, the bureaucracy of the music industry remains firmly cast in a macro-economic model that favors the major labels and wholly rejects the modern day reality of music creation and distribution for independent artists and bands.
Chapter Five: Royalty Rejection
“Spotify can no longer be bothered to pay out at all if we fall below a threshold of 1,000 annual streams.”
With independent music-makers so hardened to rejection, is it any wonder Spotify would be so impressed by our resilience that it would up the ante in 2024. In order to earn royalties, every track on Spotify must achieve a year-on-year total of at least 1,000 streams. Spotify is, in effect, rejecting the very notion that grassroots music warrants the effort of paying royalties. We only have ourselves to blame really, if only we weren’t so damn tough. There is, of course, much more to be said on this subject, and I already spoke at length in my previous blog post and video essay, “Generation Silenced”.
Conclusion: Weather the Rejection
Upon consulting with Dr Becky Spelman, a counseling psychologist and clinical director of Private Therapy Clinic, the journalist quickly learns that “..while rejection therapy may have some benefits, there are also potential risks.” Technological advancements now afford grassroots music-makers a great deal of freedom in deciding how and where we distribute our music, but support systems, communities and networks are few and scattered across the independent music scene.
With each new release, we take a plunge into the deep end of rejection. The vast majority of us do so with little support or guidance to help us weather the perpetual storm of rejection. While it is true that many of us weather this storm well enough, it does not mean we are not damaged by it. Each of us who regularly take the plunge, must do so mindful of the stress and strain it puts upon our emotional buoyancy. It is only by taking care of ourselves, we address the gradual erosion of rejection. It is only by taking care of ourselves, we will continue to swim and not sink.
Rejection Normalized: The Reality of Grassroots Music-Making