What are the keys to being a successful musician?
I don’t know. I am not a successful musician. You probably haven’t heard of me unless you personally know me or you’ve stumbled upon one of the random gigs that I play here in Little Rock, AR. I don’t have any songs on the radio, I don’t have an album coming out, and I do not make hundreds of thousands of dollars— shit, I barely even make tens of thousands of dollars. So I am unsuccessful right?
Wrong. Being a pop-star is far from the only pathway to musical success. I think people in America (this isn’t a political statement or anything, I just sincerely don’t know what it is like to be a musician in Equatorial Guinea, or Spain, or Australia, etc…) believe that to be successful in Music, you have to “make it”— and making it means having millions of people know your name and your song. Yet that is not necessarily “making it” in music, that is just becoming famous, and there are a great many “musicians” who become famous not for any deep musical skill or artistry, but just for making a spectacle of themselves in a candy-coated pop package. Success in music (and in life) is a process and not a destination. Like any other field, having traits such as dedication, skill, organization, and punctuality is conducive to success. Yet it in pursuing a life with music, you get to define what success is for you. There are no inherent limits on what music should sound like, and there are no limits on what musical success should look like. Perhaps success for you is having your band play frequently in your hometown clubs and venues; perhaps it is you learning a new piece of music for the piano every week; perhaps it is you teaching music at an elementary school; and yes perhaps it is rising to the top of the charts. Yet part of being successful in music is being clear about your own desires, and not letting other people’s images of success corrupt your process by influencing you too strongly.
Personally, I am trying to make a career out of music— I wish to make it my livelihood. My aim here is not to surge to the stratosphere of fame and fortune (though that wouldn’t necessarily hurt my feelings either). It is to work consistently to make sure my musicianship is growing, my creativity is being fulfilled, and I am making enough money to be comfortable and happy. I currently do this by giving guitar lessons, playing gigs, writing and recording music, and keeping this blog. This is success for me— I am successful.