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The Secret DJ: "Rejection is a fact of life for any DJ"

Rejection is a part of being a DJ, it’s how you deal with it that defines you

  • Words: The Secret DJ | ILLUSTRATION: TIM, TOM AND TERRY
  • 14 April 2020

If there are defining moments in any career, industry or indeed in life itself, they don’t come bigger than rejection. If music is simply the binary condition of sounds vs silence, so that anyone who understands the silences truly understands music, the same is true of positives and negatives. If you don’t understand the lows and only deal in highs, you cease to hear life’s melody. There’s a lot of pressure these days to only deal in positivity. It’s a trap. Dealing with downs is everything.

I’m not here to bum you in the ear like an amateur rapper cornering you in a club. But I do want to talk about rejection. If you’re in the creative industries you’ll get a rejection pie in the face every single day – if you’re doing it right, that is. Anyone who’s properly out there with their bits on the board is waiting for the chop. And let me tell you, it never, ever stops. At best, you can hope for a peak decade where a lot goes your way – but trust me, it will end. Everything ends. If you survive long enough you’ll return to the point you started from, where no-one wanted to know you. I’ve been in this thing for over thirty years and I deal with a ton of rejection Every. Single. Day.

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Rejection is the grease that lubes your machine. If you actually believe you’re so talented that the first person you approach is going to slip on their own juices in the rush to give you everything, you’ve lost the game before you began. Expect rejection. It really, really isn’t personal. For one thing, there’s so much crap out there you would not believe it. It is immense. Most people think they’re DJs now, so music people are constantly bombarded by promos and invites just like you are. They have too much social media to engage with, just like you do. There’s too much noise and information out there. Your tiny wee self against such volume means it’s very likely you’ll be rejected automatically. People swipe left now on almost everything, all the time, as a reflex. They only respond to the very hyped, and are pretty jaded about that as well.

It works both ways. When you’re rejecting someone, be nice. True, I can’t be arsed with dickheads online. I’ll block anyone at the drop of a hat – mostly because I have a couple of serious stalkers who often pop up with fake accounts so I err on the side of caution and block as soon as someone gets nasty. I’d be lying if I said I regretted blocking anyone, but if that’s you, too, be prepared to pay the price. Every now and then someone will send me a screenshot of a group of spurned fans, loons and stalkers all having a lovely online party and hating on me with fierceness like unto the sun. You’d be shocked at some of the stuff they come out with. If you can’t handle that sort of negativity you’d best never reject anyone.

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Not answering emails is a thing now, regrettably; the business equivalent of ghosting. If you absolutely want to make an enemy of someone for life, this is a great way to go about it. Nothing says ‘you are of no consequence to me’ better than totally ignoring someone. Because other people do it to you, you start to think it’s fine, then normal, then something you should be doing to look important.

But in the music business, the people at the top – and by that I mean the real top – are nice as pie. They engage, are polite and available. It’s the middle tier who bring all the attitude. So when you’re dealing with some average joe who won’t even deign to reply, you may as well give up. The message he or she is sending is not that they’re incredibly important and special, it’s that they’re an amateur.

I advise caution on how you react to promos, too. I once got swamped by them – as you do – and thought the quickest way to stem the flood was to click ‘spam’ on Gmail. One label’s reaction was to follow me for two weeks on every form of social media to tell me I was a very large cunt. This was not a good look for anyone.

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Rejection can be made personal. I don’t approach friends for biz: they won’t appreciate being put on the spot, and if things go tits up and a project has to be cancelled, it can hurt. That kind of rejection can come between friends and be deadly toxic.

Most of all, though, DJs must have grace in the booth. I’ve had people ruin a night for me – and consequently for the rest of the club – with a nasty comment designed to get a reaction, something that generally only works these days if I’m exhausted. A thick skin is essential if you want to survive.

To put it all in perspective I visualise a photo of me printed in this magazine some 20+ years ago. I must have been in Ibiza, and inexplicably I had my top off, something that rarely happens unless I’m about to die of heatstroke or am in a car accident. The image was captioned very simply with the immortal legend: “[The Secret DJ]: shit tits.” Thank you Mixmag! Harsh, but fair.

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