Defining Success: What It Means To “Make It”

This post is by Hypebot intern Hisham Dahud. His Twitter: @HishamDahud.

image from www.metal-rules.com Throughout my young music career, I've encountered far too many people obsessed with this idea of "making it big" – of becoming some sort of popular music star; with the word "big" associated with attaining a high degree of fame. For these people, how much closer they are to "making it big" is how they measure their success.

So does fame and recognition really determine how successful you are in today's music business?

I think not.

If all you want is to attain fame, than I have good news for you: these days it's easier than ever! Just get a YouTube account and let your imagination run wild…

Take the recent case of Optimo 55 Souf, a rapper from Aurora, IL, who posted a video of him getting hit by an ice cream truck while dancing in the street filming for a DIY music video. The video went viral and caught the attention of comedian Daniel Tosh, host of Tosh.0 on Comedy Central. After helping the rapper make a professional (yet still spoof) music video, the song skyrocketed up the iTunes hip-hop singles chart to #15.

Or think back to Antoine Dodson – the Huntsville, Alabama resident made famous by Auto Tune the News' "Bed Intruder Song." He saw a great deal of fame and recognition after a hilarious music video spoof. The song was so high in demand, that an "iTunes version" was produced and it went on to enter the US Billboard Hot 100 at #89, selling 30k downloads.

In the end however, these cases will probably be remembered as nothing more than one-time events that captured the attention of millions of people for a brief period in history.

Legacy is Greater Than Currency

Many musicians seem to be angered or even discouraged by the Antoine Dodsons and Justin Biebers of the world. They feel as though individuals who seemingly caught a lucky break with relatively little effort have somehow undermined their talent.

Christopher Knab recently wrote a great article distinguishing between a "fantasy" music career and a real one. In it he says:

"You are a musician, and real musicians never stop playing their music, no matter how frustrating that road may be."

A real music career is one of longevity and sustainability.

For most levelheaded musicians, "making it" simply means reaching a point where music becomes a full-time job. If you are in a paid position of regular employment, and it somehow involves your music, then you've succeed (or are succeeding) in the music business.

Recognizing that "success" is a relative term, I'm sure most of us would be thrilled to enter the Billboard Hot 100 at some point. Personally however, I believe it's how your music will be remembered that determines how successful of a career you've had.  

We all aren't destined to become rock stars. For most of us, the life of endless partying and mansions in Malibu simply isn't going to happen. That's an inaccurate telling of the life music star, anyway.

Knab comments,

"The error is thinking that after a certain point the work stops and the party begins. Actually, the work never stops. If you thought struggling to make it was rough, imagine the day-to-day reality of maintaining star status. Do you have any idea how much work it takes to tour non-stop for eighteen months? Try that fantasy on for size…"

At the end of the day, we as musicians must remember to strive for artistic excellence. We'll feel happier, more fulfilled, and the returns will appropriately follow.

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  1. I have worked at majors and indies and I always tell young artists the same thing. Make your goal to have a career making music, maybe it’s in a band, maybe it’s as a songwriter, producer, studio musician, etc. Make that the goal, to make a living creating music, then you are a success. Now if you happen to sell a million records and become rich and famous along the way great, but make the goal to have a career making music. Then you never have to work 9 to 6 and that is truly a success!

  2. “If you are in a paid position of regular employment, and it somehow involves your music, then you’ve succeed (or are succeeding) in the music business. ”
    Couldn’t have put it better!

  3. I am a full time musician, and I work 7.30am to about 6pm and then from about 9.30pm to midnight. And thats on the days I’m not gigging. I don’t really have days off, I don’t have a mansion, still struggle with the rent, but would not change it for the world:-)

  4. There are many elements of an artists career that have to work in congruency with each other – especially now. The industry has changed, and it’s not just about the music anymore but more so on how you engage your fans. Of course music is big part of that, but now, musicians and bands have to focus on their brand to give them an edge and stick out of the pack. The Internet is a huge stomping ground in regard to promotion – but the vast amount of bands are mere needles in a haystack. It’s a different level of thinking for the DIY artist. Bands need to continually offer compelling reasons to motivate their fans to stay on board. I tell my clients that there is big difference between a musician and a music artist. It’s the latter that you want to attain. Perception is everything.

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