I'd been fortunate to experience praise about my singing voice over the years but I’d also accumulated much more experience with rejection than I ever wanted to know about.
When I started singing professionally in the ’90s (now don’t snicker, it was a great era!) the landscape was the same for women in music as it is now. Sex sells and for the most part, men still run the show. Sexy women front bands because sexy women get the local gigs. And why? It's usually men that hire them. Just facts.
I was aware of this fact when an audition fell on my lap to sing with an A-circuit band. (For those who don't know, Vancouver used to have a thriving club scene featuring live bands everywhere and DJs were for in-between sets...they were in gay bars and after-hour raves - not the massive festivals like we see now.)
So, I got this band audition via word of mouth from a producer that hired me for a studio gig the year before. When the opportunity came, I already knew there was a high potential for rejection because, quite frankly, I was never a thin person. Sure, I had a way with makeup, looked good in photos and I also knew I had a voice that made people pay attention. But I was not that sexy chick singer that you saw in these kinds of band or anywhere on TV.
When I got to the rehearsal space, I did my thing, was told they’d call me, etc. And as I was leaving, I saw one of my competitors. I stuck around outside to listen to her sing through the closed door. Hmm. I wasn’t impressed, so I thought I had a good chance.
About two weeks later I got the call saying I was hired and we needed to rehearse for a big gig coming up in five days. Wow. There were a couple more rehearsals to do and we did some photos for the promo poster. After the photos, I was coming back from the bathroom and could hear the boys were having a private conversation about me. I listened at that door again, hearing them talking about my being “big”, expressing BIG concerns and that the producer who recommended me didn’t know that I had put on some pounds since he last saw me.
I got really upset as I walked in and grabbed my wardrobe from the rack, telling them I was done - and I did it in full-on French. But before I could dash, I was literally pulled back with blubbering apologies. They were literally begging me not to leave. The band had signed a contract that they could not back out of. They needed me. Well, I needed the experience but mostly, I wanted to show them what I was really made of.
During that first gig, I had lyric sheets taped to the floor - rather unprofessional to the trained eye - but somehow it seemed my performance was good enough for the audience and to warrant a bottle of Cristal champagne being sent backstage for me by someone wanting a special request. My lead partner in the band – the one who thought I was too big – reluctantly handed the golden bottle to me with the message and then quickly added, “Oh it’s for the whole band, right. You know guys just do this to show off to their dates but uh, you can keep it.”
I took the champagne from him and smiled.
This man would never know what it took for me to get up on that stage in the first place. They didn’t know I was already very experienced with rejection, especially the worst kind. The silent kind.
The silent rejection of a 17-year-old mom who couldn’t take care of me. The silent rejection of a father who would never claim me. The silent rejection of racism. The silent rejection of never being comforted when I cried in a foster home. The silent rejection of your family who will never acknowledge your dreams or successes. The silent rejection of your own heart thinking you don't deserve space because you don't have what your family or the world seems to want.
I had to learn about the pain of rejection from a very, very young age. And I think the reason why rejection hurts so much is that it gives us the chilling feeling that we are alone. Indeed, the reality is that most of us will have to follow our dreams alone. And being alone is really terrifying for many people. So while you may think of my life as perhaps a little tragic, I have some very good news for you.
While you may fear the reality of being alone, it is that very aloneness that presents a new reality.
In this world, there are two paths you can take. You can let the voices around you consume who you are, letting them lay their feet on your throat.
Or you can turn inward and listen. Listen to that voice inside – that deep, deep-inside voice that we were all born with but forget about far too quickly. And you let that deep-inside voice talk to you because it’s a solid feeling voice.
And, later, when you grow, you meet kinder people who see who you are. And that deep-inside voice grows stronger. And it starts to sing.
It sings because it knows the truth. And as you keep allowing her to sing, she becomes louder than all the other sounds. And eventually,
you start to believe her instead of the world. And then, finally, you can start the work to train and develop to refine your expression. But first, I had to allow my inner voice to grow rooted, to grow stronger - and it saved me.
If you think that your personal experiences in life have nothing to do with your voice – my friend, you are wrong. Your personal experiences, your life, your attitude, your values, is exactly what your audience will hear on a subconscious level.
When your inner voice is strong, your vocals become above reproach. This doesn’t mean that you cannot learn or refine your skills or lose all sense of humility…. but your individual expression, your trademark qualities, your tone, your quirks, your inflections, all that is uniquely you needs to be accepted and loved by you. Only then will you be in a better position to process or even dismiss criticisms from those who actually have no qualifications to comment. Does that stop people from criticizing you, from rejecting you? Nope, but you now know what a lightweight opinion is. And you can also learn to understand when someone has an agenda that has nothing to do with your artistic expression.
The key skill to develop here is: know your value, be honest about your strengths and weaknesses and own it all. We’re all in development here on planet earth. And as far as maturity and dignity go, regardless of your vocal ability, you can always be a cut above in your response. A response of grace and acceptance without a need to defend yourself. Because you’ve only witnessed an opinion. It’s not an attack.
This is what people will remember.
It was several weeks after that first gig that my lead partner told me I inspired him to sing better after watching how the audience responded to me pouring my soul into songs. I was surprised because, at that time, I wasn’t as self-aware as I am now. Maybe I wasn’t technically perfect, but it’s true, I always sang with 120% investment. I really didn’t know any other way.
Several weeks later, when we were traveling in a van to another gig, one of the other musicians confessed that they originally hired that first girl because she was thinner than me. He couldn’t understand why they chose her first.
Neither did I.
I made rejection my super-power before I could even make a sound.