Making It - Musical Success

What is musical success, a record contract? Quitting your day job? Artistic fulfillment? It's different for everyone, but it doesn't hurt to figure it out for yourself.

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So how do you answer the question "what is musical success"?

Plenty of people make a living in music, but they aren't all lead guitar players in a metal band or lead singers in a rock band. In fact, the percentage of total musicians who actually do those things which originally brought music to your attention is quite low. For every James Hetfield there are a million choir directors. For every Randy Rhoads or Zakk Wylde there are ten million session bassists.

But success does not have to mean making a living. Plenty of bankers and plumbers and school nurses have bands on the side. Some people tend bar, teach private lessons or create web sites. Success does not have to mean quitting your day (or night) job. Some musicians have no interest in doing it for a living.

So what does success mean for them? Maybe all they want to do is create some change, to use music as a way of getting their message to the public. Perhaps it's just to have fun, and if jamming in the basement is fun for them, then musical success has been achieved.

I think the idea of success as signing a legal document and becoming a touring star can be a dangerous one, dangerous because it is exceedingly rare, and also because it creates unrealistic expectations in young players. Now you can argue that with enough motivation you can achieve anything, and that may be true in a high school pep assembly/self help book sense, but in reality it probably won't pan out. As much as I may be motivated to do so, I'll never make it as a rapper. Lucky for me I don't want to be a rapper.

But that's so negative and pessimistic!

Is it? I decided a long time ago that I do not want to become a rock star and tour the countryside. It's a hard life, and judging by popular songs like Metallica's "Wherever I May Roam" or Megadeth's "Killing Road" it doesn't sound all that appealing to me. But I would still like to be a successful musician. But success to me means something different.

I currently own a home and a modest little studio. As time goes by I plan to build this studio - financing it privately - and eventually I would like to have artists and musicians, poets and writers come to my house and share in the experience. I think it would be fun to record all I can and amass an amazing collection of work, classic conversations between local legends, simply to listen to and play for others.

I don't plan to make any money doing it, as a matter of fact I will probably lose money and that's okay. How many people surf or fly radio controlled airplanes, or real airplanes? How many people rebuild classic cars or motorcycles? What does success mean to them? Winning the Indianapolis 500, or having the pleasure of driving a mint GTO?

It's all about appreciation, satisfaction and quality. Musical success to me is having the ability to hold a CD (or whatever media exists at the time) in my hand containing some great music that I was a part of. I don't care if it makes a million dollars, and I don't care of I ever win a Grammy for it. Just the satisfaction of knowing I was there will be enough.

But if making a living as a musician is a goal for you, go for it! Just keep in mind that AC/DC and System of a Down are as lottery winners, members of the lucky handful amidst the clamor of wannabes. I have taught lessons and it's a great job! Very satisfying work. I've also done charity work, recording a children's song about washing your hands when you sneeze. Is that selling out? Not when you don't get paid!

Overall I've had a great time, and I'd say my "career" has been a success. It is a success in my own terms, not Hit Parader's or MTV's terms. Unlike many of the stars, I plan on enjoying my success well into my 70's - even my 80's health permitting.

So define your goals based upon your own desires and don't be afraid to let those desires evolve. Music is what you make it, so "making it" can mean plugging in and playing. Or it can mean selling out arenas in Hong Kong. It's up to you.

73 comments sorted by best / new / date

    gnr_fan_17
    But I don't get what the deal is! If you make millions of dollars in a deal by making an album that has sold thousands of copies, is that selling out, no!
    Tom Martin
    I agree with a lot of the things you said, but it isn't as impossible as you might think to get far in the music business. I'm in a band now, we havn't been going long, and we already have many gigs, a reasonable fan base, merchandise, bbc radio play and even more coming up in the next few months. Its not a lottery to get your band famous, its all hard work, perseverance and good songs! My band has worked really hard to get what we've got so far, and we're not going to stop working when/if we get signed.
    sevendayloss
    ehhh discouraging. and the lottery line not really... if you practice enough and have good music you can make it but i still respect his views and understand his opinons. either way good job.
    Arkane
    Good article, but for me success is making a living off of music. Id be happy being a music teacher as long as it has to do with music. A record deal would be nice though.
    dandesmond
    I dont think getting signed is selling out. Maybe some people want to make music for a living instead of a dead end job. Never know. Awesome article
    gnr_fan_17
    Very good insight. Good points there. But cannot help but dream about being a rock star.
    SteevOnator
    Good article.. but you can make it in the music business if you work ethic equals how bad you want to achieve that goal. Proven
    Virleo
    Oh, and very nice article! Got me thinking or better said "rethinking" my goals. If you truly love music then perhaps you can share it with others without having to strive for fame. Although it does seem as though rock stars are a dying breed. Slowly fading away..So maybe we shouldn't be content with only pleasing ourselves..
    Virleo
    Yeah whos really gonna turn down that kinda money
    I am. Has it ever occurred to you that there are people who don't want to be filthy rich? ..But I suppose that the majority wouldn't turn down the money.
    Coverge
    I've also done charity work, recording a children's song about washing your hands when you sneeze. Is that selling out? Not when you don't get paid!
    ahaha, well put
    Nirvana_RATM2
    making it: selling out
    thats retarded. So guns n roses , metallica , zeppelin , sabbath have sold out? Pearl jam , Motley Crue have sold out? Thats utter BS , i dont understand people mentalitys , rock n roll is all about trying hard and pursuing your dream. My dream is to be a rock star , no im not brainless i have a plan and i will take action on it. If i "make it" i dont see how i sell out , yea I'm getting money but i mean i worked damn hard for it didn't I?
    greeneggs'n'ham
    [b]Hendrix_101090[ /b] wrote: i bet this guy like tryed really hard to make and then failed at it
    o shut up.
    the.iron.maiden
    loads of people are in it to be famous, but people like me just want to be free to say anything, and be free on stage. even if its in front of 20 people in a pub. i need people to hear me, not see me. and if it comes with money, is that just an added plus to heaven?
    Jaboom
    Nice article! Music is truly a gift for all. I've had some local professional music success over my 20 years of guitar playing but no longer play live. I've built a small studio in my home and now I enjoy the limitless possibilities of musical composition. Sure I'd love to be able to share my ideas with the masses, and who knows, maybe it'll still happen. Right now I am very happy trying "new things" with composition writing then recording them. Superior Drummer 2.0 is my drummer and I play all the other instruments guitar, bass, and Korg. I multitrack in Pro Tools. There are so many musical forms to play with I think I'll be happy the rest of my life exploring them. I consider this a success! And I consider myself a "do-er" because I am creating music.
    axe_grinder247
    this article is perfect for the dreamers who aren't "do-ers"...for people who expect to be the best and live this luxorious lifestyle and such with the least amount of effort...ask any famous musician, and they'll say their determination is what got them where they are...the reason why so few people make it is lack of determination and preparation...not a lot of people have the inspiration to practice for 7-8 hours at a time or to sacrifice their social lives to prepare for a somewhat "in the sky" job...but for the small percentage who do, this article means nothing
    green boy
    great article dude...its totaly insperational in a sence wifout the u-can-do-anyhting-if-u-be live-it bullshit...great thats a 10 from me.
    ooblah
    This article makes me want to give up playing guitar for some reason. Its realistic though, when you think about it bands like AC/DC are lottery winners in a way compared to all those other people.
    kurt_isnot_dead
    you cant be more honest, succes it's not a static place, every person has to go to different places to find the one that belongs to himself
    xbrentx
    hey, theres nothing wrong with pleasing yourself. and no, you wont go blind if you do it a lot.
    I beg to differ! lol. joking. great article, but for someone like myself who can really do nothing else except play guitar and drive a forklift I don't have too many options. I enjoy playing for myself, but I would also enjoy that rush of being onstage in front of millions of people screaming for me to play.
    Climber10
    Great article, but i'm shoked at a lot of the comments here. Many of these people have COMPLETELY missed the point of what you were saying. They're locked inside their some preconcieved notion that you have to be huge to enjoy music, or that it's about the money, if it's just about the money for you, put down the guitar. Music is about passion and the love of it, not the pay check.
    Guitar Wizard
    So what does success mean for them? Maybe all they want to do is create some change, to use music as a way of getting their message to the public. Perhaps it's just to have fun, and if jamming in the basement is fun for them, then musical success has been achieved.
    First off, your article is great. But in this paragraph, I think only some music success is achieved when a band finds playing in the basement fun. If they had played publically and later produced an album that sold nationwide, then I think total music success is achieved.
    MuffinMan
    right on man, playing in my room, just having a blast, thats what music is to me. I dont care whether or not anybody listens, its just misuc, and music keeps me going. Article = 100% truth; if you want to strive for fame, go ahead, hopefully you'll make it. But as for me, I am gunna just noodle and be happy. peace man.
    batiosilver08
    Good article man people just wanna get big and make money. If those people succeed, thats were our shitty music comes from. I do want to tour, but not be some big famous,egotistical typical rockstar, i just want my music to be heard.
    jsav4589
    very true my friend, i agree.
    cap'nkirk wrote: Nirvana_RATM2 wrote: making it: selling out thats retarded. So guns n roses , metallica , zeppelin , sabbath have sold out? Pearl jam , Motley Crue have sold out? Thats utter BS , i dont understand people mentalitys , rock n roll is all about trying hard and pursuing your dream. My dream is to be a rock star , no im not brainless i have a plan and i will take action on it. If i "make it" i dont see how i sell out , yea I'm getting money but i mean i worked damn hard for it didn't I? i see "selling out" as a person or a band who goes by the trends in music for the sake of making money. If you make it big because you stuck to your guns and didn't give up a part of who you are for the pursuit of money, then you're good. But, for anyone who thinks making it is the same as selling out, you probably are afraid of success and that's sad.
    jsav4589
    not exactly, selling out would be doing something for the money and not for the love. your saying that your totally against all musical artists you look up to because they all made it.
    EZLN libertad wrote: making it: selling out
    cap'nkirk
    Nirvana_RATM2 wrote: making it: selling out thats retarded. So guns n roses , metallica , zeppelin , sabbath have sold out? Pearl jam , Motley Crue have sold out? Thats utter BS , i dont understand people mentalitys , rock n roll is all about trying hard and pursuing your dream. My dream is to be a rock star , no im not brainless i have a plan and i will take action on it. If i "make it" i dont see how i sell out , yea I'm getting money but i mean i worked damn hard for it didn't I?
    i see "selling out" as a person or a band who goes by the trends in music for the sake of making money. If you make it big because you stuck to your guns and didn't give up a part of who you are for the pursuit of money, then you're good. But, for anyone who thinks making it is the same as selling out, you probably are afraid of success and that's sad.
    cap'nkirk
    it's a good article, but you call AC/DC and SOAD lottery winners, and obviously you can't win the lotto unless you play. I don't see why anybody couldn't make it in the business. It's about passion and dedication. If you want to make it big (depending on your idea of big), all you have to do is never settle and go for the throat of the labels. Make them want you.
    jklsadj;sadjfak
    i wanna be a rockstar, i wont lie. I know it probly wont happen, but it would be so much fun. what id like to know, is what are your odds of making it in a band like...oh say, pennywise, or something. you never see em on tv or radio, but they dont have to get real jobs. meh, im not gonna give up, if music doesnt work out for me, whatever, at least ill have had all that fun doing it.
    G-Sage
    all i can say is this is a great article and I respect this guy for doing what feels right for him. it sounds like you love how its going so keep on it!
    Mickey Lightnin
    arh, if yu wanna be a rock star go for it, think business mindedly, preasently yu'd be fillin an empty niche market, thes no rock stars any more, only the legends that are agein every day. Yu cn try hard n do well or jus enjoy every second of it n if yu do well, what a ****in bonus man! Live yu dreams n make new ones, dreams are wat aspire us t be human, rock on doods a love yee all
    hellcat28
    Good article!!! I really dont care for fame and im just happy playing in small punk scenes!
    Mispeled
    Very good article. This is the kind of thing I wish I could give something bigger than a 10.
    anthonyzoso89
    good article, you dont have to impress the people out there, as long as your impressing yourself i think its all good
    IPLAYBASS
    Great article. I think people just get to wrapped up and making it big and forget the fun and pleasing side of music.
    dimebag7
    someone should write a colum on record deals like talk aobut em, good job thoguh
    Atreideslegend
    i can see where you're coming from but i do believe that people should make their own minds about things like this. I mean i agree with everything that your saying wholeheartedly and am glad you shared your opinion but a part of me says that people should try to work things liek this out for themselves. I dont think you should try to explain/suggest how people should think even if theyre goals are completely unrealistic. However, it does sound like you have a very nice musical career and i would love to live like that one day.
    crankshaft
    Not bad. but i have to say system of a down is way to overrated, and lacks much talent. How did they ever get a record deal? There horrible.