How To Be A Successful Musician

Whether you achieve success in music or not is entirely dependent on your ability to discern, identify, and define what success actually means to you when it comes to music.


In its simplest form, success means: “The accomplishment of an aim or a purpose”. When you look at this definition alone, you can see that it’s without a point of reference. So in practical terms, that could mean anything.


You have to form your own definition of what success in music looks like to you. If you don’t, you don’t know what you’re working towards. You have to know where you want to end up, so that you can reverse engineer and start doing the right things to get there.


The reason we struggle with defining what success means to us on a personal level, is that we are tribal creatures. And in that tribal narrative, we’ve come to use the word success in a way that refers to “the attainment of fame, wealth, or social status”; Things we can all collectively detect and agree to have some sort of value within the norms of our society. Value that we can use, leverage, and exchange quite easily among the majority of the population.


But this can be a trap. Because when we know something is valued and admired by others, we seize to look inwards, we stop ascertaining the inner workings of our desires. It’s easier to accept an external definition since it requires no work from our part. And when we hit those targets, we get acceptance and admiration from others, which further facilitates a disinterest in pursuing inner desires.


Your version of success can absolutely, and most likely will, include wealth, status, and fame to a varying degree, but it’s most likely not the whole story.


The issue is, a lot of the internal good stuff can’t easily be detected or measured by most outsiders. Things like how much you care about your friends and family, how proud you are of your kid, how a walk in the forest on a sunny day brings peace to your mind, or how amazing you feel when you’re playing your instrument or when you’re writing music. These are things we aren’t so vocal about publicly, and when we notice the lack of enforcement from others, that these are the best things in life, we hesitate.

When we stop listening to the internal narrative that we feel to be true for ourselves, we’re disconnected from our own truth. Which means that defining deep happiness inducing success becomes very difficult.


Certain media outlets display success in the music industry to look like it’s only about big stages, big money, big booties, and flashing lights. But that’s the product of entertainment, not the product of music. And even if we think about it as a part of music, it’s only one extremely narrow slice of a huge cake. And the machine tries to pound it in our heads that this is the definition of success in music, because it makes them more money, it’s a business strategy, it keeps other markets from forming.


Fame, wealth, and status are great resources to have. They make life a lot easier in many ways. And you will get some of those things as a result of being skilled in your craft, but they should never be the reason you’re doing it. Many people mistake these resources, these by-products to be the actual thing, the embodiment of success. They are a result, a consequence, a side-effect of what you do.


So I offer you an alternative definition. One that is based on happiness. Something I learned from Tom Bilyeu, who learned it from Victor Frankl, is that happiness can’t be pursued, it must ensue. That means, in order to be happy, one must strive to live a life that is happy, not a life that races towards a finish line where you attain happiness as a reward of your hard work.


So, in order to find your definition of what success, what happiness means to you in music, create a list of the things you actually want from it. Boil it down to the purest, most fundamental, essential truths you can. Things that make you smile and proud, things that give you a sense of purpose and meaning.

Do you:

  • Want to play live?
  • Just enjoy recording?
  • Is it about giving something to others?
  • Do you just want to make it for yourself?
  • Do you want to make a certain amount of money?
  • Is it about just being able to pay bills to do what you love?
  • Is it a hobby or a profession?
  • What kind of a connection do you want with your listeners, if any at all?
  • What do you want to evoke in people when they hear your music? What is the meaning of it all, if anything?

A lot of musicians don’t ask these things from themselves. And if you don’t, how can you reach success if you never define what it actually means to you?


One last thing; success is an ever-changing target. It’s a catalyst, it keeps you going. That’s why you don’t want to make success itself the target. It should always be a byproduct of the process, because once you do hit your target of wealth, fame and money.. What then?


So don’t think you’re in a rush to find the final perfect definition of success means to you. As you grow as a person, those goals shift as you become wiser, more knowledgeable, and get to know yourself better. Always take steps that make sense to you right now. And it’s ok that they’ll be different in a year’s time, that’s called growth.


If you’re even able to identify what you’re proud of doing, what gives you a sense of purpose, meaning, and puts a smile on your face, and you’re in a position to execute on that, then you’re already pretty damn successful to me.