A big part of my job as a DJ and radio curator is to find undiscovered talent and introduce their music to my audience.
I have a TV show called SKEE TV on Fuse where I showcase what's next in music, sports, and entertainment, and I often feature new and upcoming artists. I particularly look for those operating outside the system, as I believe true talent will always shine through regardless of the backing of money or power. I even launched a talent search contest to find the best unsigned acts to feature on our SKEE TV stage.
As you can imagine, my email, Twitter, and other channels are always jammed with artists trying to get noticed. I'm sure the same holds true for anyone in a similar gatekeeper role. Whereas I evaluate new artists, there are investors evaluating new entrepreneurs and companies, hiring managers evaluating potential new employees, and so on.
Although the talent we're assessing may be different, there are many similarities to how those vying for our attention should go about getting noticed. Because while the newcomers all have good intentions, some just approach the situation the wrong way.
Whether you're aspiring as an artist, starting a company, or looking for your first job, the odds are you're not ready for prime time yet. That's a reality you need to both accept and embrace. It's not that you don't have the talent or the drive--even Michael Jordan didn't go straight to the NBA. Raw talent alone needs honing.
According to my experience, there are three P's to getting yourself, your company, and your work noticed.
As a gatekeeper, I may recognize talent, but I also recognize timing. I was the first DJ to play Kendrick Lamar, Lady Gaga, and Lorde, not just because I thought they had talent, but also because I was able to see that they were all on the brink of exploding. I knew they had put in the work over the years. I had witnessed it firsthand with Lamar, who I initially noticed as a raw, talented 16-year-old. Back then, I knew he wasn't ready (I remember saying that if he could ever learn how to do more than freestyle--like make a song or an album--he might be OK. Ha!). He went on to master his craft, and when the timing was right, things just clicked. It doesn't happen overnight for anybody.
Artists need to practice, rehearse, and gig in obscurity before they're ready for the big time. Job seekers will need to accept those lower-level positions or unpaid internships long before they can stroll into the corner office. And entrepreneurs must take the time to build the foundation of a company or product with actual sales or traffic results before seeking investment.
When you are ready to reach out to the gatekeepers, make sure you approach them correctly. Nothing annoys them more than people looking for easy breaks and complaining along the way. For example, some artists even react angrily if I don't respond or when I say they're not ready. I've been accused of and spammed for not supporting new artists as a whole simply because I didn't play a particular one.
I get hundreds of demos on a regular basis (and don't have enough time in the day to listen to them all, even if I wanted to). Companies are inundated with job applications. Investors probably see more pitch decks than they know what to do with. It's good to have faith in yourself and believe you're better than the rest. You may even be right. But blind faith isn't helpful. Gatekeepers can be blunt, dismissive, or even downright cruel, so you had better develop a thick skin and take rejection with a smile.
Don't waste your time complaining. Use rejection as a learning process. Be open to criticism, and learn from it. There are no handouts in this or any business.
I've been at the entry level myself and know what it's like looking at those at the top, thinking they don't deserve their positions or are not as talented as I am. But every successful artist, businessperson, or job seeker started off doing things themselves before looking to others to validate them.
If you can't help yourself by building a fan base--or, in the case of startups, attracting customers--then what good are you going to be later? If you can't handle the adversity in the early phases of your career, how can you be expected to handle the hardships that will inevitably come up later? Complaining now means you'll complain or blame others--or downright quit--later. I don't want to work with anyone like that.
So get out there. Be patient. Be polite. And persevere. Gatekeepers aren't going anywhere, and neither will you unless you learn how to work with them.