How do we measure success?

One thing I’ve noticed in my 10 years of trying to ‘make it in music’ is that I’ve found I do not have a choice, so to speak, in whether or not I want to continue to making music in some form or another. Sure I can look at it as a career and decide whether or not this is profitable right now and decide to try something else for the sake of economic gain, but that doesn’t not mean I can or even should try to stop making music. The journey makes us ask some important questions though.

Why do we make music?

Is it really a job choice or career choice if you will?

What happens if we decide that it’s not working out as one of those two things?

Should we decide to just drop it and do something else?

Is that even possible?

Trying to be successful in music can become very frustrating and despairing at times, and make us feel like we are going crazy! But what I’ve found is that If I were to try and put it aside and not create anymore then that would drive me even more insane. This type of revelation has led me to the realization that I can’t solely make music for the sake of becoming a star or hit songwriter. I have to make music because it’s inside of me and needs to be expressed. This gift we have and have worked so hard at creating simply can’t be denied because it may not have any monetary gains from it right now. What we decide to do with the gift of music is up to us, what the world decides to do with it is not, so we can’t base our dedication and love for it on whether or not the world rewards us with what we think we deserve.

There are many people who would just LOVE to be able to express themselves musically. As artists, we are able to do that. That is enough for me to be happy and fulfilled in doing this and going on this journey. Sure we all would love to be able to earn a living just creating music and even make it famous in some capacity. But this does not mean that if those things don’t come along that one should then just quit music all together. I really don’t think one would be able to do that in the long term without suffering from it on some level. Sometimes we can feel bitter about it all because our situation is not favorable or as we would have wanted it or feel we deserve. That to me is natural, but don’t call it quits for that reason.

Find it within yourself to keep doing what you love for the sake of that love. It doesn’t have to be ideal right now for you to keep pursuing your dreams and creating music, it just needs to come out and be expressed, and that is the best any of us can do.

My name is JJ McGuigan and I am a songwriter located in Wichita KS. I am moving to Austin TX this summer. I have been writing songs for 10 years and was a finalist on a VH1 songwriting contest for their ‘Save the Music’ campaign.

  • David

    Great post. I was just discussing this idea of success with a band member when I came across your story. It certainly hit the nail on the head.

  • Eric John Kaiser

    Great perspective! Thanks for sharing. I totally agree with your point of view. I make a living as indie musician and creating songs is a need and it also helps me go through the ups and downs of business. Keep up the good work! 😉

  • Darren Brady

    Great read JJ. Just what I needed today to remind me why I create music (and build tools to help others express themselves muscially as well.) Keep it up man and good luck in Texas!

  • DaPaul

    From DaPaul:

    Hi JJ,

    It’s great to know that as a young songwriter you’ve got your music philosophy sorted and understand why your doing what your doing. I am sure this will help you to weather the music storms of life. I personally have discovered this same truth as I fell in love with the piano & singing in the 80’s, my success has been enjoyable but also fair-weathered. One of my mentors George Shearing said ‘I always tell people I was in the music business for 30 years and ten minutes’ as his hit ‘Lullaby of Birdland’ which he is mostly well known for took that amount off time to be recognised (10 mins). Persistence is the door to be opened and resistance of self is the key. For me the journey is not so much about writing a hit song and success as it is about mastering my craft and knowing deep inside I gave my all to the gift of music. I wish you well in your career.

    Thank you for sharing


  • Dielle

    Thank you! People often say to me ‘hang in there you’ll make it’ or ‘I can’t believe you’re not famous!’ But I have to remind them (and myself) that my dream was to be creatively fulfilled and make my living from music. It’s true – that’s what I do every day. It’s hard sometimes, but you have remember why we walked down this road in the first place x stay strong all xxx

  • Peter

    Thank you! Keep motivated and measure your success by how well received your music is by the target audience, look at your personal growth, observe your level of mastery and ask yourself if you’re doing your absolute best in every way possible. That should be a good measure if all your answers are yes. God bless you all!

  • Adam Price

    Music is the gift we have inside us, and it finds us… I sing as a full time professional in nursing homes, retirement villages, adult day care, respite and palliative care facilities and did so for a good few years for next to nothing, what kept me going was the joy it brought me and my heart first, as well as the amazing joy in brought the listeners… Yes, I do also have a hobby making albums and they do get air play across the world also, but if I was to rely on that, I would surely go broke, so what keeps me going with music is the joy it brings us… It’s as you say it’s a gift we have and what we do with it is up to us, but what others decide to do with it is up to them, keep going whether they like or buy our work or not… Music should NEVER be just about the money, it’s a heart thing!

  • Casey Edgar

    Good luck in Austin JJ! Great read and we all need a boost every now and then!

  • You don’t choose music, music chooses you!

    • Adam Price

      Yes, so true Bill, how have you been mate?

      • Hi Adam! I’ve been great! Working on two new albums at once! Semi-retired from my day job, so I have quite a bit more time! Lovin’ it!

        • adamjp

          Wow that’s sounds almost as crazy as me, I’m doing the same thing and lovin it also… Keep doin’ what you love mate 🙂