Dear Musicians, What Is Success To You?
"Success: the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame."
Well, according to Merriam-Webster it is anyway.
But does this really pin-point everyone's ideas of success?
I suppose on some level these are the three ideals we all aspire to have - or at least one or two of them anyway...
Surely then this is the reason people get into making music, for the achievement of success?
Or is there something more to it?
Do artists wish to play music for a crowd because they enjoy the experience of performing and seeing an audience's reaction to their music? Or can there only be satisfaction in performing when there is something else to gain from it, something more than a musician's love for their art?
A friend was telling me recently about a guy who has been putting on bands in Leeds for 11 years. The shows started small but grew bigger; they were still 'indy' and fully self-funded but undeniably popular.
They put on Minus the Bear last year, supported by Joan of Arc, and they hosted a sold out show for 450 people in Leeds. However, the very next night the bands played Riverside Newcastle in front of only 25/30 people.
These are bands with over ten years of experience behind them, so surely they wouldn't need the promotion? Yet the numbers suggest that Leeds promoted them and Newcastle didn't; the results are in.
So the question to ask is, I suppose, will either of these bands ever come back to Newcastle? Why would they, if they can play a sold out show just a couple of hours down the road instead.
If you really love what you do though, if you really love to perform, would crowd size stop you?
Ally Morton, of Electronic post-punk/fuzz duo Massa Confusa, spoke to me about his gig experiences and what exactly success means to him. Firstly the duo’s guitarist/vocalist/programmer talked about why he prefers to play smaller gigs.
“I prefer small intimate venues as you can connect with the crowd more. Plus when it sells out you can pretend you’re a big name!”
“We had a terrible experience with O2 Academy 2, Newcastle. We were thrown first on a four band bill and asked to sell our own tickets in order to receive any kind of payment. If someone came to see us and one of the other bands, we only got payment if the ticket was bought directly from us.”
Due to the format in which the tickets were sold Massa Confusa only made seven pounds that night, yet this didn’t phase them.
“Success for me is being able to play in different places and meet new people. We don’t have a large fan base, but every fan counts. If we play a gig and at least one person speaks to us with positive comments then we are happy.”
North East based duo, Human X also contributed their views on success as an upcoming band and their reasons behind doing what they do.
Paul G Clark, writer/producer/guitarist for Human X, isn't fazed about playing their music in front of a small crowd:
"My philosophy has always been to give 100% to the performance in respect to the few people who did show up; after all it only takes one person to tell dozens of friends what a great show they saw."
What's more, Lindsey Brooks, singer/songwriter/piano virtuoso for Human X, even prefers performing in front of smaller crowds.
"It feels a lot more personal and I can connect with the audience more. I also love seeing the crowd's reaction and that's a lot harder to do in a bigger venue with a larger crowd"
No matter the size of the audience, Human X are grateful to whatever support their fans can give them.
Lindsey went on to describe her feelings further:
"Seeing a crowd's reaction has always been important to me. They are essentially the ones who make our music successful and that inspires me to keep growing and learning as a musician. Without that support and inspiration, we wouldn't have had half the opportunities we've been given already"
"As a young musician, I already feel successful. Performing my own songs and inspiring others with music is my dream career. If I manage to make a living out of that alone, that's just an added bonus."
In terms of success, the emotive rock-pop electronica duo clearly believes there is more to it than just creating a large fan base and achieving wealth, with Paul stating:
"Success for me is simply writing and producing songs and in some small way replicating my heroes."
So perhaps our version of success isn't necessarily the same as everyone else's; perhaps it can't be pinpointed by a dictionary definition.
When it comes to music, something that is entirely dependent on individuality, an artist's personal success will be just as unique as their music.
Human X's Paul Clark for example, found a passion awakening for music at age 12, and at that age can you really have aspirations motivated by money, wealth or fame?
I write because I enjoy it, and that’s the basic principle behind it.
But if I was to one day earn back my student loan because someone enjoyed reading my thoughts then I wouldn't complain...
And who wouldn't. wanna’ read them, ey?