Whether you're just starting your music career or you're a seasoned pro, there will always be opportunities that require you to assess whether they're right for your career, your trajectory, and your professional brand.
Do not live by the misleading expression, "Let the bridges you burn the light the way." Rather, try to create, grow, and develop as many genuine and trusting connections as possible and build longstanding relationships you can rely upon.
Not every opportunity is worth your time, energy, and resources. You know those local promoters or that friends’ band who asks you to play a hometown gig every week? Or that tour offer supporting a band that doesn’t really fit your M.O.?
Bless their souls. We all have them and the music industry ecosystem wouldn’t be stable without them. The good news – you can always say no, it’s just about declining the offers politely and tactfully, making sure to preserve the relationship.
Below are five ways to politely decline an opportunity that you don’t think is right for your career.
1. Suggest someone else
If you're asked to perform, drop a verse, co-write, or produce for a fellow musician but the opportunity doesn't feel true to your brand or your goals, one approach to turning an offer down is by suggesting you may not be the best fit for their song, show, project, etc., but that you would be happy to help find an artist/musician who would be a better fit.
Not all opportunities are the right fit for you, but helping your friend or peer find a good match as an alternative will go a long way in maintaining your relationship with him or her. Send a list of viable options and offer an introduction. Everyone will appreciate it.
2. Say "no" nicely, and send a thank-you gift
Let’s say you're offered a tour, but you’re already committed elsewhere, or you can’t make the finances work with the support budget your friend has offered. For this type of opportunity, it’s best to decline politely and perhaps send a thank-you gift (bottle of whiskey, beer, nice coffee, etc.).
The essence here is that you're not turning something down without thought, and sending a gift shows that you really considered the opportunity and wish him or her the best.
Just because it’s not right at this very second doesn’t mean it won’t be right later, so try to keep these relationships cordial and doors open. A small thoughtful gift can go a long way in creating long-term amnesty and mutual respect among musicians.
3. Get creative with alternatives
If, for instance, a fellow musician from your city/scene or from another city/scene asks you to open for him or her and you'd like to decline this offer but not burn the bridge, get creative with an alternative.
Instead of a full set, you could do a DJ set or perform acoustically instead. Or, see if your friend would be open to you coming onstage as a “surprise” during his or her set to do a few songs. This would ensure it doesn’t hurt any of your radius-clause agreements for other shows. Or, play the show but you request that you're billed as a “surprise guest” in order for it to help build mystery in the show's promotion and not to hurt your branding.
There are many ways to skin a cat, so get creative and collaborative by figuring out supportive ways to be a part of an experience without compromising your brand goals.
4. Include him or her in something that is on brand
If a promoter for a venue approaches you to book a show, but it's not a great fit – maybe you're still working out parts of your live set or your show requires a specific attention to lighting or stage design that would be compromised in that venue – offer an alternative that's on brand for you.
Involve that promoter in your album-release show next year as a partner or give him or her tickets to give away for a different show you're doing. If you're not playing smaller venues, maybe offer to do an afterparty DJ set for that promoter/venue at a later date. There may be ways to include them in initiatives you already have in play.
5. Be honest
At the end of the day, we can’t be everything for everyone, and sometimes it’s best to just be honest. Explain where you are in your career, year, or album or touring cycle and explain that it's a tough decision, but ultimately, you can’t spread yourself too thin, no matter how amazing the opportunity.
A helpful tool is meeting the other person where he or she is and asking the same from him or her. If that person were in your shoes, what would he or she do? Let him or her know that you have no idea what the future may hold, and there may be possibilities for collaboration and support down the road, but the timing just isn't right this time around.
Jennifer Newman Sharpe is founder and CEO of Sparkplug, a sharing economy marketplace where musicians rent instruments, gear, and space to and from each other. Rent what you own, find what you need. Sign up for your free membership at sparkplug.it and follow @sparkplug on Twitter.