Saturday, 23 April 2011

What is musical success anyway?

What is success anyway? Most of the bands I loved never sold many records or made any money - Voivod, Celtic Frost, Jerry Goodman, Andre LeFosse, Badfinger, Acid Reign etc were/are certainly not rich through music.

So success is really making music you are happy with, its the only way to define success and stay sane.

I think its amazing that my album Ghost connected to an audience of a few thousand people. Its never going to mean anything to the mainstream but to me they are numbers I didn't expect and I've made some good friends along the way.  The support of Echoes Radio, Classic Rock Prog, R2, the dividing line guys, word of mouth from the audience and hundreds of bloggers and podcasters has made a massive difference. I am eternally grateful (and surprised).

So now I have a new album almost done - just overdubs to do really. We'll add bass, drums and violins next (mellotron is already on there). I hope it connects to the audience like Ghost did, I really do but its not written as Ghost 2:The Cash In - its really different, REALLY REALLY different. Electric guitars - more percussion, thrashy bits. All sorts. There are still the melodies and the odd timings but I don't believe the route to success is to repeat the past.

The trick is to do music you honestly love and are excited about and hope others feel the same. Thats all you can do. You can't patronise your audience, you need to take risks  - who cares about safe music (those that do will be off listening to bands remaking Porcupine Tree/Marillion records anyway).


Alex Brubaker said...

It's always hard, as a listener, to remove yourself from who you think the artist is. If you look at two albums that are nothing like each other and try to compare them, you'll have no ability to quantify which is better. I've found that many of my favorite artists have made such turns and, at first, it really disappoints me. But after I take it out of the context of the other albums, they're still brilliant works.

Musical success, beyond enjoying the music you play, is continuing to write things that are brilliant. That doesn't mean that they sound the same and definitely doesn't mean that they have to make you tons of money. I'm looking forward to your next album as something completely new.

rubken said...

Spot on Matt.

I think this has always been true and is probably even more so in the age of independent musicians promoting themselves on the interwebs. The enthusiasm of the artist for their work is powerful when it's genuine, but it's not like a spot on Saturday kid's TV, you can't kid people when you are in touch with them all the time through social media.

Money would be nice, but in the end quality of life and being able to face yourself in the mirror in the morning are probably more important. Perhaps whether other people like the music becomes a secondary concern.

Make what you want/need to make and at least you've been true to yourself. Chances are that's what your real fans will want to hear anyway.

@jonathanchill said...

I think about this a lot. Late last year, after four years of on/off music making (a few weeks work if you condensed it), I released a record with a great fiends. Some music we're really proud of. We decided to charge for it, even though it was very niche and so much music is given away. we wanted people to prescribe a value to our music, and if they didn't feel it had value enough to buy, to make that decision not to.

As we expected we have sold few.But every sale we make feels like a massive victory. A validation. A gift even. It's hard enoughtoget people to pay for music full stop let alone get lots of people paying- particularly if it's not a popular type of music.

For me, we made that release a success the moment we got it printec, and confirmed at the first sale. The idea that someone would be happy to pay for our music when so much stuff is free IS a victory. It's a small victory yes, but a victory all the same.

I do come at this from a slightly different angle because I own a business (where I make a living ... I am not rich by any standar financially), and I never expected or cared about making any money from this. It was always about someone - some people - buying it that I didn't know, that really and truly wanted it, and then even better, wanted to tell people about it. Every step of the process has been a success for me - partly because of the angle I'm coming from (have job, music is serious 'hobby' ... Which doesn't do it justice but there it is), and partly because of the perspective I have on that.

For me, if you managed to make some music, that's a success. If you released it, that's more success. If someone buys it, that's more success - and so on and so forth. That's the reality. Whether you believe that entirely depends on what *you* want from it.

Love music. Love what you do. Accept it's hard, accept it's tough, and line up your victories. Remember that just by *making* something in the first place you already did more than most people can, or can bother to do. If that's sounds like 'settling' or lowering expectations, I don't give a fuck. Perhaps that's my greatest success - small success, but success all the same.

Dementio13 said...

Good post, this is such a pertinent issue for me right now. I've been asking myself this question for a while now, but only this week was spurred to find an answer.

I sent a track for submission to a national radio show last week which got rejected. I wasn't expecting a reply, but the DJ obviously took the time to offer advice, so kudos to him, I guess. However the nature of the advice was, like I said, honest, but patronising. Basically, he assumed that I was purely an electronica artist, and told me that my music wasn't 'inventive' enough for the genre (these media types seem to love their little pigeon-holes!). As I'm sure you, and many other independent artists, appreciate (is it 'prog', is it 'electronica', is it 'post-rock', etc, etc?); there are always going to be difficulties for artists that straddle genres, in this marketplace.

It made me question a) why I'd sent the track in the first place, and b) what constitutes 'success' for me. I asked myself why I actually make music in the first place, and then why I feel compelled to share it. The answer is that I love the process of making music, and the emotional effect of listening to it. Essentially, I make music that I'd like to hear as a listener. I do however, love it when people hear my music, and especially if they enjoy it and share it.

And that's the crux really. Like you Matt, I enjoy the process, it's woven into my fabric. Unlike you, I don't sell much; but get lots of free downloads. And like @jonathanchill, I have a decent job which pays OK so I don't have to worry about the financial strain. But the main motivation is that I love making music; and that defines success, for me.

Incidentally, I would echo your sentiment about honesty: the two things that were reinforced for me after my radio-snub were, be yourself, and don't let anyone else define what your music is, or should be.

As per usual, a thought-provoking and relevant post, Matt. Nice one.

Afcollective said...

Hi Matt
Great blog and perspective on what is success. For me It's all about supporting great talent Whether I am buying their music playing it on internet radio or recording them or my poetry/music in my wee studio Money is purely secondary and fortunately not that important to me While the main music industry still regards success as how many cd sales you have, It heartens me that because of the advances in technology anyone can make the music they want to a high stanar and get it onto the internet. If someone comes along an likes it great If someone wants to buy it and support the artist even better. The beauty of indie artists is that you are in control of your art and No Compromise required. Keep up the great work and good luck wsith the new album..
Djay Buddha


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