People come up to me all the time and comment about our documentary We Are Twisted F***ing Sister and remark about how shocking it was that it took us so long to get a record deal. They almost invariably ask if I ever wanted to give up during those 10 years before we got signed.
It would seem to the casual observer of our documentary that after each excruciating rejection, one would want to just give up. But we all just took the hits and shook them off. Though trust me, it was never easy. I learned lessons of survival with each one, which is why I can speak with such authority about how a small business can keep coming back over and over again.
1. Utilize Your Passion. Whether you want to be a rock star or create the ultimate app, this is the foundation of it all. This is the well you draw from in the earliest stages of your business when money is scarce and all you have to bank on is your belief that your goals will be accomplished. The cliché, "Just love what you do, the money will follow" is true...and it's not.
The belief that you have enough passion to help you navigate the hard and lean times is admirable, but if growth hasn't occurred in the allotted time frame that you may (or may not) have created for yourself, passion alone won't pay the bills or put food on the table. After a stretch of time of not making any profit, your family and/or significant other (or all) will remind you about your part of not living up to a certain standard at a particular time of your life. "Do you really still want to live with your parents when you are 30? I don't think so." You will know when the lack of forward movement starts to take its toll. Passion has a built-in deadline and you need to be aware of it--no matter who brings it to your attention.
2. Be in it for the Long Game. It's not just about how you start, it's about how you finish. Of course many things can happen on the lengthy road to success but understanding where you want to go is just as important as how you start. I processed the lessons learned early on and made the adjustments (especially in terms of hiring and firing members due to substance-abuse issues) that I was sure would prevent me from being in a successful rock band.
3. Decide if You Want a Partner. You have a choice when you start a company of whether you want to be the sole "hero" or if you want to have partners. If you want to be in it alone, that will always cost you more because you are paying people who have no real investment to do the work for you. There's also no guarantee that they will be there for you in the end. Partners on the other hand will share the pain in the beginning, both financially and emotionally. They'll carry some of the load of the inevitable challenges because (hopefully) they are fighting for the same outcome and will be just as willing to sacrifice as much as you are to get to where you both want to be.
4. Put Your Ego in Storage. Ego can destroy your dream. I have seen too many really good artists fail in their quest to succeed because of their own distorted perception of their talent. This can be tough if you are a classic Type-A personality. Many years ago I asked Ahmet Ertegun, the legendary chairman of Atlantic Records Group (my record label), how it had managed to become so successful and for so long (present day included). He had said, "Success is easier if you don't mind who gets the credit." He was always generous in acknowledging those in his company who had made things happen. It was also a belief that I had instinctively. I brought in band members who eventually became partners--and for which without their contributions and sacrifices I would never have become successful.
5. Listen to Your Critics. I have found that family and friends' analysis is usually not the most objective, and oftentimes one should steer clear of taking it all to heart. I have heard the same thing from other musicians. It is important to be weary of people's agendas when it comes to advice about your product. So often jealous family members and good, well-intentioned friends scuttle one's dreams, which is why you must digest a lot of information before adapting or changing your vision. Also, just because someone tells you that your product sucks and you think the person saying so is a complete idiot, doesn't mean it doesn't suck and can't be improved. This answers directly the question I was asked about the amount of rejection and how we were able to endure it as a band during our 10-year battle before getting a record deal.
We did not get signed sooner because, as good as we thought we were, our songs were just not good enough. We kept going back over and over until the music (and our image) was ready. It turned out that we made it when we were really ready for Prime Time. It just took time and we knew that our critics were right.
We listened. You should, too.