8 rejection letters that'll make you question the music industry
by Tyler Munro
March 6, 2014
Wayne Gretzky missed 100% of the shot he didn’t take, and Michael Jordan succeeds because of his failures.
Taking rejection, owning it, and using that horrible feeling to better yourself is the first step to success. We all fear rejection—anyone who says they don’t is lying—but learning to deal with it is what can make you thrive. Below, artists, record labels, and managers are forced to deal with the cards they’re dealt. But as you’ll quickly learn, not all rejection letters are as nice as the rest.
Better known as Bono, this rejection letter sent to U2’s Paul Hewson in 1979 by RSO Recordings is one of the more succinct ones on this list, but it’s making the rounds right now with good reason. Sent one year before Boy, U2’s major label debut, it highlights the harsh reality of the record industry: Not everyone’s going to get it.
From Paul McCartney, to “John”
Paul McCartney is kind of the best, isn’t he?
This letter, Sent in 1968 from Paul’s office at Apple Corps in London mere days before the Beatles entered the studio to record The White Album, this letter is to the point without being mean or harsh; it’s encouraging and, in its closing line (keep smiling!), absolutely sweet. We don’t know who “John” is, but we’ll wager this letter got him through some tough times as an artist. Keep in mind that this was written at the Beatles’ absolute commercial peak; months later, The White Album would go onto top charts worldwide, eventually going 19 times platinum across the globe.
From Sub Pop: “Dear Loser”
Sub Pop’s sense of humour is long documented, but incredible Kurt Cobain hoaxes aside, their jokes can sometimes be a little too biting. Case in point: this 1990s rejection letter, which playfully refers to the interested party simply as “Loser.” There’s clearly no malice here, and the tone is obviously meant to reflect the label’s playful backbone, but as opening lines go, this must have been a bit of a kick in the gut for the artist in question. Unfortunately, we’re not sure who that is.
To Sub Pop, from The Mummies
Sub Pop can get it as good as they give it, and that came to a head in 1993 when, after requesting The Mummies for their ongoing singles club, they were served this letter by the Califonia garage punks. The joke actually went one step further later that year when the band released its Uncontrollable Urge single, which was packaged as Sub Pop Singles release in spite of the fact it wasn’t. You couldn’t get away with that kind of infrigement these days, but it makes for one hell of a story.
Today, Madonna is one of the most endured artists in pop music, but it wasn’t always smooth sailing for Madge: In 1981, Millennium Records’ Jimmy Ienner sent her manager this letter, saying that while he saw the potential, he didn’t feel she was “ready” yet. Two years later, her self-titled debut was released by Warner Bros. Within the year, it had sold more than 2.8 million copies.
Nick Cave to MTV
In 1996, Nick Cave was nominated for an MTV Award for Best Male Artist, an honour he graciously and eloquently declined to be party to. “I have always been of the opinion that my music is unique and individual and exists beyond the realms inhabited by those who would reduce things to mere measuring. I am in competition with no-one,” he wrote. “My relationship with my muse is a delicate one at the best of times and I feel that it is my duty to protect her from influences that may offend her fragile nature.”
Whatever you say, Nick!
Whitey might not be a household name, but he was still justifiably offended when London production company Betty TV tried to use his music for free. The London DJ was rightfully cheesed by the notion that the Discovery owned company “couldn’t budget for music,” and after being publicly called out, Betty were quick to apologize.
Venom, from EMI
This one’s our favourite for a couple of reasons. Not only is it succinct, to the point, and quite frankly pretty creative, but this letter from EMI Records to black metal pioneers Venom would eventually prove redundant; while this pre-Welcome to Hell rejection letter came off pretty harsh, EMI would eventually go on to distribute Venom’s entire catalogue. Like with the Sex Pistols, the joke was on them in the end.