Ask a Failed Musician: What Defines Success In This Weird Industry?
|Black Flag: Very influential, not always critically praised|
Dear Failed Musician,
I gather your discussion [in a previous column] really focuses on commercial success, which I don't think is everyone's view of success. I think some of us are just happy to put out music and have a few people enjoy it. Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to turn down a million dollars if it came my way but I never expected that in the first place. So, my definition of success is just, 'Hey, we made a good record,' and, 'Oh, look, some small genre-specific zine in Europe likes us. Well, that's nice.' But more often than not, success isn't simply a rehearsal space fridge filled with beer.
I think the answer to your question can be found in the following key phrase in your email: "Some of us are just happy to put out music and have a few people enjoy it."
Are there musicians who say "I want NO people to enjoy my music"? Doubtful. Sure, there are musicians who openly and genuinely don't care if they never make a dime as long as they get to continue making their art. So, by that logic, success isn't defined by money.
Though, like you mentioned, it wouldn't be such a terrible thing to have. That Kimmel performance in front of millions in Times Square on New Year's Eve earned me just enough money to buy a new iPod and a steak dinner. And that was at the height of my career. The iPod is now dead.
But, getting by on so little wasn't a big deal to me. I was driven by another thing, and I believe other musicians are, too. Influence is currency musicians value more than money. If you have the respect of fans and your peers, it tells you that what you are creating is good. In few other industries do you see people who are living like animals and conversely earning the most praise.