Why you should learn to say "No" like Simon Cowell.

If you believe the news reports from the Television Critics Association, there's "no villain" on American Idol now that Simon Cowell has left for the American version of X-Factor.

That's a shame.

American culture has evolved in the past few decades to the point where it's almost criminal to deny someone their request. Thankfully, it's still just almost criminal. If I swing through the Burger King drive-thru, I can't get the cops to arrest the manager if they won't exactly make it my way:

Simon Cowell achieved success in the music business by having the courage to say "no" in an industry ripe with people who say "yes."

Every time you hear about a music legend hitting the rocks or falling apart, it's not hard to find an entourage full of folks who don't know how to say "no." Imagine how our world would have been different if someone had the courage to say things like:

  • "No, I think you should really check the public records before you marry that person."

  • "No, it's probably not a great idea for you to hang out all night in the public restroom at the park."

  • "No, let's not put that carousel in the back yard and invite the neighbor kids over."

Professional music managers master the art of saying "no" in a way that filters or curates a client's activity toward the best possible opportunities and outcomes.

But it's easy to pick on Simon Cowell because he's crushing the dreams of undiscovered musicians, right? In his own way, he's trying to curate popular culture. Regardless of whether or not you think he's qualified to actually make those decisions is beside the point (for now).

If you start to think about your own mission, to grow your audience and build your music career, you're going to have to start making some of the same critical decisions about the opportunities you face every day. If you can't learn to say "no," you won't survive.

"Yes" Is Not Your Enemy

When you're trying to grow your audience, you're often caught in a web of favors and obligations:

  • Come to my show, and I'll come to yours.

  • Tweet about my MP3 link, and I'll tweet about yours.

  • Move my couch, and I'll move amps into your practice space.

Before long, you're going to be overwhelmed with requests.

Without the ability to filter and refuse those requests, you're never going to get to the great work that will attract an audience in the first place.

  • Start by understanding the real opportunity behind every request. It's one thing to build your favor bank. It's another thing to get sucked in to a regular commitment doing something you can't stand.

  • Evaluate whether the opportunity really leads to a "win-win." Will you really get value from the exchange, or are you really just doing something for "exposure" or "connections?"

  • Measure the bottom line impact of the request. A far-flung fan can't wait for you to play a gig they've proposed... that's 2,000 miles from your home. Is that gig worth the expense and the effort, or should you really focus on something with a bigger impact?

You don't have to be as terse or as pouty as Simon Cowell when you say "no." In fact, it's important to find a way to thank the requestor for inviting you to the opportunity. Be clear if it's not right, or if it's "not right now." Decline politely, but firmly, so nobody comes away with the wrong impression.

More Ways to Say No

Saying "no" might be the new black. Plenty of great thinkers have weighed in on how to say "no" effectively in a variety of situations:

Ready to take things to the next level?

It's not enough to learn how to say "no." You've got to learn how to hear "no."

...to be continued.

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