What Is Success In Music? – Part 1: Let’s Define YOUR Terms!

What Is Success In Music? – Part 1: Let’s Define YOUR Terms!

April 19, 2019 0 By Teaj
Steiger 14 in Amsterdam tour stop

Playing Steiger 14 in Amsterdam.

In 1997, I toured Europe.

It was my second time, and the tour was fantastic. I joined forces with four other great musician/songwriters, mostly from Nashville, that were a blast to hang out and make music with.

We each showcased our own songs at different points in the shows, while the others provided the rhythm section.

We covered thousands of miles, from the canals of Amsterdam to the mountains of Romania.

And how much money had we earned, when the tour was finally over and done??

Music in the Romanian mountains

Before a show in the Romanian mountains!

Around $400 each.

When I ask “what is success in music?”, to ME, that tour definitely makes the list. But you may be thinking… in light of all the work that goes into a tour of that magnitude, that couldn’t possibly be “success”.

But you would be wrong.

Not only did that tour boost our international following, our national street cred’ and our musician self-esteem – it also allowed us to live a little slice of life that very few people get to experience… touring foreign countries as performing songwriters, meeting unforgettable new friends and forging music career relationships that still stand to this day.

In short, it was amazing. and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.


Now, of course, the rest of my “normal” life up to that point had to either totally change, or be put on hold, for this tour to happen.

I’d be gone for almost a month, and since I knew we might not make much on the tour after overhead, I decided to quit my job, end my apartment lease, leave all my stuff with family in Michigan and go for it.

Glad I did too. No regrets at all. To sail to new opportunities, you sometimes have to leave the safety of familiar shores.


Sailing new waters for music


Now, sure, when I got back I had to re-invent life a bit, but I had already charted my course, counted the cost, and knew that was coming. It was a small price to pay for all the adventure and audience-building I’d earn in that trip, lemme tell ya.

Success as a musician often means measuring up what you’ll have to commit to against what you’ll have to change… not only monetarily, but also in relationships, career, geography… your whole world might have to be reorganized!

But it’s not always about how much money you earn. Or, at least, it doesn’t have to be. There’s a lot of things way more important.

Just ask anyone who’s been rich a long time. They know. 😉

Different Strokes

synth musicianEveryone’s circumstances are different, and it’s to be expected that not everyone would, or should, jump at every opportunity.

Some are very averse to risk-taking, and prefer a life that’s more “in equilibrium”, consistent and the epitome of security.

Others (like me) have a more “wandering spirit”, where if something comes up that demands you totally change everything you’ve been doing… well, that’s cool. “You only live once – let’s make it exciting!”

Neither is wrong, and all the preferences and tendencies between those two extremes are valid too.

But the bottom line is this: we should all have “success in music” defined according to our own parameters and belief systems. If we do, then, at any given time, we will be able to easily and wholeheartedly commit to any opportunities for advancement that come our way, that are appropriate to our own goals and definitions.

The first step to that end??

Answering some questions… !

A Little Q & A…

I’ve taken quite a few different kinds of personality and career tests over the course of my career, the most recurring being the “Myers-Briggs Test”.

I highly suggest that you take a deeper look into your personality by easily filling out one of these questionnaires. They reveal a lot about yourself, especially concerning the social patterns that you tend to fall into.

‘Cause, after all… knowing yourself is the first requirement for knowing where you should be going.

THIS FREE, QUICK TEST is based on the Myers-Briggs setup, and gives you a fascinating look into your own psyche.


Musician writing a song


But we’re here also because we’re musicians, so let’s focus the lens a bit more in our direction, and see what we can learn about our own patterns of preference.

Answer the set of questions below to start revealing your own persistent inclinations. The examination is designed to help you realize what your personal idea of “success in music” really is.

After you answer the questions, add up your scores and then we’ll look at the answer key.

Sharpen pencil, aaaaand… GO!!

The Musician Personality Poll

Answer these questions as quickly as possible. Don’t overthink it. Just go with your gut and it’ll best reflect how you truly feel about each one.guitar on back musician

  • Which would make you happier: Writing a good song, or playing a live gig?
  • Which would you prefer: Spending a day composing a song, or spending a day filming a music video?
  • If you had a choice, would you rather: play 3 concerts in 3 days, or spend 3 days isolated away to completely write 3 songs?
  • Which of these would get you pumped more: playing/singing on your friends album, or contributing a song to your friend’s album?
  • Would you be content if someone ELSE made your song famous?
  • Which would impress you more: an exceptional performance of a song, or an exceptional song to perform?
  • Which would you choose for a music career: lots of money with little fame, or lots of fame with little money?
  • Which would give you a greater feeling of accomplishment: finishing a full album of recorded songs, or finishing a multi-city live tour?
  • Which would make you more sad: your ability to play your instrument taken, or your ability to compose taken?
  • If you had a choice, would you rather: be paid a lot for a live music tour, or paid a lot for your YouTube music videos?
  • Which one would mean more to you: being interviewed on the Tonight Show for your music, or holding the finished master copy of your new album in your hands?
  • Which would rock your world more: getting a song of yours in the soundtrack of a TV show, or getting interviewed on TV for your music?
  • Which would further your music career dreams more: releasing a new music video, or releasing a new single?
  • Which would mean more to you: having your music video go viral, or winning a local music competition?
  • Which energizes you more: the thought of touring your own country, or the thought of touring another country?
  • Which would make you feel more alive: seeing your audience as you play live, or watching your number of music video views climb high on YouTube?

Working Your Core

So… were those easy, or hard for you to answer??

All those questions help you get at the core of what really motivates you as a musician. Interestingly, even though that was a lot of questions, they all can really be boiled down to what I call…

4 musical tendencies


  1. Composing
  2. Peforming
  3. Fame
  4. Fortune

We all find in music that certain aspects of the business drive us more than others. That’s only natural, since we’re all wired differently as individuals. Even the basic personality trait of whether you’re an Introvert or an Extrovert will tie into this greatly (and if you don’t know, follow the Personality Test link above and find out!).

Recording new songs in Altensteig, Germany

Recording new material in Altensteig, Germany.

My tendency is a good example: though I’ve had the privilege of experiencing all four Core motivations to some extent, I know which one is my “non-negotiable” – WRITING SONGS.

I will absolutely be composing ’til the day I die, even if I NEVER get to play them live, NEVER get paid anything for them, and never get them heard by an audience. None of that matters to me, ’cause I just LOVE WRITING.

Now, for you, it might be a complete 180 – you might have never written anything, but will jump at the chance to play your instrument anywhere, anytime, for any reason.

Or, you may be finding that putting yourself and your music out there in video format really pumps you up, and dreams of monetizing your channel fill your head!

There’re endless permutations to the Core Four, but in most cases only one will ultimately tip the scale for you when making career decisions.

So, with that in mind, and in light of how you answered all the questions above, here’s your final query:

If you could only choose ONE of these for yourself and your music, which would it be:famous musician

  • Playing with amazing technique
  • Earning an amazing income
  • Writing amazing songs
  • Being immensely famous

Whichever of those is most important to you should be the guiding principle in what “success” means to you.

And remember: none are “wrong”. But some might be “wrong for you”. Catch my drift?

With the wide, wide world of the Internet available to us today, it’s possible to concentrate on any one, or a combination, of those to make your music dreams a reality.

All it takes is knowing where to focus… then doing it.

Your Bliss, Your Bliss, Is On, That List…

Cruise Ship Musician

Cruise Ship gig, anyone?!

It’s been said by many in different ways, but it’s a maxim that I believe in, ‘cuz I’ve seen it at work in my own career:

“Follow your bliss. The rest will follow.”

The Personality Poll above helped you gain a good idea of what your bliss IS, so now it’s time to start guiding your ship in that direction.

In Part 2 of our series, we’ll talk about your Poll answers again, but we’ll be even more practical and YOU-centered by asking: “What do I do now that I’ve “honed in” on my own personal preferences??”

By the time we’re done, if anyone asks you “what is success in music?”…

… you’ll know. 😉

Best of success to you, from all your efforts!!