Failure: An Attainable Goal – By Timothy Owen

Note: Timothy Owen was a winning finalist in our “Searchlight” SonicBids songwriting contest. Though he didn’t “win” the final vote, we considered him a winner with his song, “Miles Away”.

Timothy wrote me an email wanting me to change his status on the In Search of a Song submission list on SonicBids to be “rejected”, instead of “accepted”, but I didn’t feel that I should  agree to his request.  We did pick him as a winner, and though I’ve had a great laugh at this essay of his, I disagree with his premise that rejection is an attainable goal. What is success anyway? I got some personal musical pleasure from listening to his song, and it made a difference in my life, if  even in some small way. It was enough for me to click the “Accepted” button among many other submissions in October. So I ask you… is this “rejection” or “failure?”

I’m also pretty amused at his attempt to be accepted by being rejected! It doesn’t sound like he’s really taking his own advice seriously now does it?
Good luck with your rejections Timothy!

If you’d like to reject Timothy yourself, please feel free to write him a rejection letter at:

Here’s his essay on why he wants to be rejected:

Failure: An Attainable Goal

Does this scenario sound familiar? You have a day job but have been making music since childhood. Long content to perform to your pets, family and maybe drunks at the local open mic, you decide to try for greater success and wider validation as an artist. You save some money so that you can make a great recording of your best songs. You go through all the stages of recording(It could be alright, it will be alright, it could be great, oh know it could be terrible, it’s definitely terrible I should scrap it, well I’ll just finish it, ok it’s alright) and you come out with a fair representation of your art. So, you take a deep breath, convince yourself that you don’t fear rejection and you find a couple of competitions, agencies or licensing departments to shop your music too. The weeks go by and you realize that you really do care whether or not your music is appreciated. Then you get the form rejection letters. You swallow your pride, collect yourself and try again. Again the rejection letters come, and you know on some level that you can’t take this kind of proliferate rejection. You once again are contented to play music for your pets, and friends but you feel a little less like a musician than you did when you started. If this is your story, it seems to me that you made one crucial mistake: You were trying for success, when you should have been trying for rejection.

We are a society that places concrete value on success and yet what does that success really get you? Take the scenario above but throw in the variation that one of your songs is accepted. You’re ecstatic, overjoyed, thrilled, for a while. The glow of success lasts for a while but like a drug it wears off and leaves you wanting, craving, and needing more. Instead of being content just to give it your best, the bar has been set at success and now and you are tormented by the possibility that your lone success was a fluke. Even more of a hazard is the nagging fear that your best days are behind you, that you have lost the magical touch you had a least once and will never again write as well as you once did. Success is truly a siren song, for these reasons and for the reason that it takes us away from placing importance on the process of creating and producing art and places it on something that we have no control over: The reception our art receives by a fickle public.

Producing art for the purpose of success is the best way to ensure the artistic process become mired in self-doubt, confusion and inertia. When thinking about artistic creation I am always reminded of the character Arthur Dent in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. It is said in this epic masterpiece that humans are completely capable of flying as long as they don’t realize they are flying, doubt that they should be able to be flying and fall from the sky. So it is with artistic creation. Anybody who has had the experience of creating something that clearly did not come from them, but rather that used them as a medium to manifest from the ether knows that it is an incredibly gratifying experience. Yet, if we try to be that channel, if we attempt to create something transcendent, it is almost impossible to do so. Much like 12 year old boys learn to scope girls without actually looking at them, the artist has to learn how to see transcendence without looking for it.

Once the art is created, we have done half of our job. The other part is to send it out into the world. Once we have channeled art, and sent it like a message in a bottle to land upon distant shores, we have succeeded in our job as an artist. Yet the craving for success leads us to concentrate on and worry about a part of the process that we have no power over: Acceptance by others. Concentration on this aspect of art acts as an artistic poison because we start to try. We try to be something, to create something rather, that will be embraced by the world, rather than simply channeling whatever comes through us. In so doing we do a potentially great disservice to the world. After all, the art that we channel may not be meant for consumption by society. It may be meant simply to heal your wounds, or it may be meaningful to no-one but your mother or significant other.

I have been making music and writing stories my entire life and have often fallen into the trap of craving success. The most tangible consequence of spending any energy concentrating on acceptance of my art is stagnation in the process of creation itself. The cycle I illustrated above played itself out over and over again, each time eroding my artistic confidence and each time leading me to wish that I could create something that would validate my artistic existence. So I would get a rejection, spend six months trying desperately to create something good, give up on it, stumble upon something brilliant while I wasn’t expecting it, submit it, get a rejection letter back and repeat the cycle. It was getting old, to be honest. I started to think that I should just give up when I realized I was looking at it the wrong way. I was hoping for acceptance when I should have been hoping for rejection.

Rejection is a salve for the soul. Rejection is a confirmation that you have done your job as an artist and multiple rejections mean that you are well on the path to eternal artistic contentment. For the few artists who find consistent acceptance there is a whole different path of potential pitfalls, but for those of us who receive consistent rejection and continue to distribute our art, we can find deep joy in the fact that we have freed ourselves from our egos . By freeing ourselves from the attachment to success we are free to revel in the magic of artistic creation. By trying for rejection we free up all the energy we have spent on the useless exercise of hoping for success and dealing with failure. Instead of hoping for long elusive success I set myself a new goal: 100 rejections. Now every rejection is a reminder that I am on the right artistic path, that I am divorced from the outcome and am free to simply create. Look at it this way: Artistic success has never been more fleeting, rejection never so readily available. It is pure masochism to hope for that which is less abundant.

The emergence of websites like Sonic-bids has exponentially increased the availability of opportunities to a larger number of artists than ever. However, because it has increased the number of suitors for these opportunities at an even greater level, rejection has never been more attainable than it is right now. Hell, if you really tried, I mean if you waited for just the right time, I’ll bet you could get one hundred rejections in one day. Just imagine what that would do for your artisto-spiritual development. The implications are truly staggering. Now I submit to every competition, tour, conference, and licensing opportunity I can find, then simply cross my fingers and hope for rejection.

The music world has not disappointed. I am currently up to fifteen rejections and have only been trying for a month or two. In fact, I’m due for a whole slew of rejections in the next couple of weeks. The beauty of it is that rejection has become a barometer for my spiritual progress and emotional stability. If my ego starts to scream, to cry and to feel worthless, I know I have some work to do. I meditate, hike, or go surfing. I connect to forces beyond my control and once again seek sweet failure. History gives me no reason to fear for the failure of my failures. In a lifetime I am about 0/120, but I’m not counting any of the rejections before I had this grand revelation toward my 100.

What will I do then when I reach my goal of 100 rejections? I suppose I’ll go for a thousand. Or maybe I’ll make a rule that if I do fail and receive an acceptance, I have to start back at 0. Either way it would be impossible to relay the positive influence that the desire for rejection has had in my life. Artistic creation is once again entirely magical, and my ego doesn’t really factor in to my artistic life anymore, an incredible development. Of course if you are reading this, it means that I have failed to fail for someone has found value in this essay. Please though, don’t worry about me, I’ll be just fine. Thanks to the soothing balm of failure I think I’ll be able to weather the pain of a single success.

Timothy Owen is an unsuccessful musician and writer currently residing in Oakland, CA where he is a sporadically successful recording and live sound engineer and producer. He is the founder and CEO of the chronically underperforming Hooray, We, Win records. As a musician his biggest and only fans are his mother and his cat. His ex-girlfriend was a fan.


About Executive Producer Rich Reardin

Rich Reardin is the Executive Producer of IN SEARCH OF A SONG with Jason WIlber. Rich is a radio producer, recording engineer, artist, cartoonist, and musician.
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