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.