Success means different
things to different people, and being a successful musician depends
on how you look at it. What constitutes success is based solely on
how you feel as there is no objective measurement that determines
what success is. Its purely subjective. So the question is not,
"What is success?" The correct question to ask yourself
is "What does being a successful musician mean to me?" Since
I cannot answer that question for you , for the purposes of
this discussion, lets talk about me for awhile!!
What success as a musician
means to me (which for me includes playing guitar, singing, writing
& arranging rock/pop tunes and playing improvised music in a band
setting) has continued to mutate since day one. When I started playing
guitar it was SUCCESS the first time I could finger a chord without
the strings buzzing. Then I felt another great moment arrive the first
time I could actually put chords together to play a song. It was "Crocodile
Rock" and I played it endlessly, because I could.
As I kept at it, my
sights continued to be set higher and higher. I took some guitar lessons
and that solidified my knowledge of chord forms up and down the neck.
At that point I could play a lot of the songs I always wanted to play
by my favorite bands at the time( the WHO, The DEAD, Led Zeppelin,
Allman Bros.) and it became possible for me to play in band setting
with other musicians.
One day my drummer
friend invited a very accomplished guitarist to jam with our terminally
unwashed band of amateurs. My mind was blown just being in the same
room with this guy. He could really play amazing lead guitar and played
for me, note for note, an Al Dimeola solo. After that all I wanted
to do was play lead guitar! One year (and five blistered fingers!)
later I was able to play lead guitar and was the envy of all my friends.
Boy, did I feel successful!
And on and on and on
it went until I was in my first real band and played my first club
gig. The crowd (at the Keystone, Palo Alto) went wild for us that
night, and even stomped and screamed until we came back out for an
encore. This experience severely upped the ante for what I considered
success to be. Shortly thereafter, I quit my day job cause I
was certain I was on the fast track to rock and roll stardom.
Once I left "regular
life" to pursue music as a career, the only vision I had of success
was the ultimate success of becoming a full blown rock star. I wanted
it all; the GIRLS, the MONEY, the FAME, the whole nine yards !!!
Well, it is stating
the obvious to tell you all that I never got there. I played in some
great bands and some terrible ones. I played big club gigs, small
club gigs, parties and weddings. I played in packed sweaty rooms with
crazy screaming people and rooms where you could hear a pin drop.
I had a great time (still do when I play the odd gig here and there)
and have no regrets. Except one, I didnt succeed.
You see, to me success
became an all or nothing proposition. It was rock star or bust. But
as I was trying to point out earlier, there are many different levels
of success. I could have settled for a lower rung on the totem pole.
I could have decided that being able to make a living playing music,
without being a "ROCK STAR" with a capitol R, was acceptable.
Because there are alot of ways to make money with music.
I would like to illustrate
this by pointing out some of the musicians who are "successful"
on the level of playing music for a living. These people are not rock
stars by any means, but Im sure that you have at least heard
of some of them. Lets start with one of my favorites, John Hiatt.
He is a great songwriter who has written many hit songs for other
artists more famous than he, he has also written songs for movie soundtracks
as well as released many albums on his own. He tours extensively and
he has his small following of rabid fans so that he easily sells out
large club size venues across the country. Basically, I would give
my left nut (ok, ok, an exaggeration!!) for his career.
Similarly, Tom Waits
and David Lindley have made many records, both have an avid audience
and neither are big stars. Tom Waits also has his actors income to
keep him going and David Lindley is mostly known for his incredible
slide work as a session man for Jackson Browne. But both make a very
comfortable living as musicians. Wouldnt that be nice?
Two great guitarists
that I very much admire, Adrian Belew and Robben Ford have had (and
are still having) exceptional careers without being household names,
and both have played with an incredible array of awesome musicians.
Adrian Belew has played in the past with Frank Zappa, Talking Heads,
and David Bowie. He currently shares the guitar chores with another
formidable guitarist, Robert Fripp, in the re-formed King Crimson.
Robben Ford not only makes his own great blues oriented albums, but
he used to play with the jazz ensemble the Yellowjackets and also
gigged extensively with the greatest jazz artist of the twentieth
century, Miles Davis.
There are many more
great examples of the working mans" approach to music.
One is "Little Charlie and the Nightcats" who play sold
out shows up and down the west coast. Bands such as "Cowboy Junkies,
"Widespread Panic" and "Leftover Salmon" are in
the midst of fine careers without having ascended into the ether.
But maybe they will, someday.
There are a lot of
options as far as being able to make money with music. One very good
way to explore the other avenues to "success" is to get
involved with music schools and college music programs. These institutions
are tied in to the music business in a way that bands playing the
club circuit will never be. They offer career advice and have placement
programs for people who want to be working in music and are not necessarily
tied to the rock star model. It may not be as attractive as being
a ROCK STAR (girls,money,fame
) but it sure beats selling electronics
for a living, doesnt it?