Rejected from Pandora

A few years ago, I got a rejection notice from Pandora. I had submitted a new song months prior.

But there’s more to the story.

I had always thought about submitting music to Pandora so that new listeners could find me. I figured that so many new artists are discovered on Pandora, so why not me?

For years, I resisted the idea of submitting music to Pandora. I figured my tunes weren’t up to snuff yet – I was still learning as a songwriter and producer, and while my songs sounded fine to me, would they meet the mark of the music curators at Pandora?

And then, while I was working on my second studio album, a friend convinced me to try working with an experienced producer rather than self-producing. I went for it, and for one song that cost a little over a grand to make, I finally had a track that was approved by someone in the industry. And furthermore, this expert producer actually liked the song. He even thought it had a place in the TV world.

The song of mine that we recorded had been road tested and was a fan favorite. We got a professional drummer, and the producer layered tons of cool other instruments on top of my guitar and vocal. It also just meant a lot to me, lyrically and musically.

So I submitted. And about a few months later, I got an email that said something to the effect of:

“Dear Artist,

After careful review of your submission, we have chosen not to include your song in our service. We want to assure you that an actual person listened to the music.Please try again another time.”

I like that they included that last part, just in case I wanted to reassure myself that a robot couldn’t identify the magic of my material.

I decided I’d not try again.

And furthermore, I decided I wouldn’t try to convince gatekeepers that I was worth anything, because I’d end up feeling worthless. That’s part of the joy of creating in 2018 – we don’t need gatekeepers. Artists and bands in the 90’s sure needed record labels to promote their stuff and get played on the radio. JK Rowling definitely needed a publisher to make Harry Potter a hit.

But books like 50 Shades of Gray went directly to the market and thrived – it was only after the success of the book that a publisher got interested. Same with OAR. Same with Chance the Rapper.

I get tweets and emails occasionally from well meaning people who ask me to submit my music to NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert. I respond with the same message every time: “Thanks for letting me know, but I don’t participate in competitions to get picked by a gatekeeper. I don’t want anyone to put a ranking on my art.”

Perhaps that’s more explanation than necessary, but I think it’s important for people to understand.

Since then, I’ve lived by one mantra only: make art because it’s interesting to me, and then find people who will probably also find it interesting and see what happens. If 10 people dig a song, then that’s the reach of that song. And it’s not nothing. Affecting 10 people is hard work, it requires insight and creativity and empathy. If a song had a radius of 100k people, great. But it doesn’t mean that my worth is multiplied by four – it just means, that for a particular piece, I was able to resonate with a larger cross-section of people.

When you think about it, it’s the same for any artist, big or small. Sure, some artists have fame or momentum or trust on their side, which helps… but ultimately, if the work doesn’t resonate as widely as the last one did, then it doesn’t matter how many followers you have. The viral video I made in 2012 made me look like a superstar. The thing I found fascinating, it turns out, is also fascinating to a large portion of the internet.

But the video I released after that, which was about tea and friendship, has 300 views. And the other hundreds of videos that came before the viral one have less than that. Sometimes work resonates in a big way. Sometimes it doesn’t.

So what good is Pandora’s opinion?