Famous music rejections

“And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” One of the world’s most successful writers, J.K. Rowling said those words in a speech extolling the virtues of failure at a Harvard graduation ceremony in 2008.

Here was one of the richest women in the world reminding thousands of overachieving students that it’s important to fail. And Rowling is not the only successful artist to have publicly acknowledged their early career failures and rejections – many musicians have shared their own stories in an effort to encourage aspiring creators to keep striving for success.

1. U2

In 1979, Bono (then known as Paul Hewson) sent a demo tape to RSO Records in London, hoping to catch the attention of the label. However, he received a generic rejection letter from a company employee, letting him know that RSO felt U2’s music “is not suitable for us at present.”

2. Madonna

Before she was the most-successful female musician of all time, Madonna was trying her best to get her songs heart by record executives. In the early 80s, Madonna’s manager received a polite but firm rejection from the President of Millennium Records, Jimmy Lenner. Lenner wrote that he did not “feel that she is ready yet”. Encouragingly, however, he said that he would “wait for more.” We wonder if he liked what he’s heard since.

3. Elvis Presley

After performing at Nashville’s famous Grand Ole Opry, the theatre’s manager sought Elvis out to tell him that he had better return to Memphis and continue driving trucks.

4. Ed Sheeran

He’s one of the most popular musicians in the world at the moment, selling albums to fans of all ages, but Sheeran was reportedly rejected by record labels because he was “slightly chubby and ginger”. 

5. Deee-Lite

The band that gave the 1990s one of its defining hits in the form of ‘Groove Is in the Heart’, Deee-Lite had been performing for years before finally releasing their signature song. Before that, they had received many rejections, including one that dubbed their music “completely unoriginal”.

6. The Beatles

Yep. The Beatles were once passed over in favour of Brian Poole and the Tremeloes. According to the Beatles’ own producer, George Martin, the band’s audition was less than stellar, and they deserved to be rejected. Just shows you that even the greats have bad days.

When did a rejection inspire you to keep pushing ahead? Share your story with us in the comments below!

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